Brian Robison: 'It will never be goodbye'

For the first time in 11 years, since his NFL career started with the Minnesota Vikings, defensive end Brian Robison retired in his own words.

Robison signed a one-day contract in late April to officially retire with the Vikings. No. 96 and his “reel ‘em in” sack celebrations will be stowed away and traded in for actual fishing gear and time with his wife and two kids.

With at least a dozen former teammates in attendance on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center, Robison took the podium for more than 50 minutes. He thanked those teammates, his coaches throughout his career, his family and his wife. It was an emotional news conference, and it’s hit Robison since his September 2018 release that his football playing career is over.

“The hardest thing for me to walk away from was the guys. I knew that that was the last time that I would actually have that type of brotherhood around me,” Robison said.

He was a fourth round draft choice in 2007 out of the University of Texas. He won a national championship with the Longhorns, as well as two Rose Bowls, and became one of the more popular defensive ends in Vikings’ history.

Robison played in 173 career games for the Vikings and recorded 60 sacks, which is ninth all-time and fifth in Vikings’ history. He was named to the All-Rookie team in 2007, and only missed three games in his 11 seasons.

“Incredible tribute to not only his athletic ability, but how he took care of himself and how he defined what a true pro’s pro is,” Vikings’ General Manager Rick Spielman said. “If you look that up in the dictionary, there’s no question that B-Rob’s name is going to come up.”

He recorded 204 career tackles, and spent five seasons at defensive end for Mike Zimmer. He’s also the last Viking to sack Brett Favre.

“He was a very, very good leader. Extremely hard worker, helped the younger players all the time as much as he could. One of the smartest defensive players that I’ve ever coached,” Zimmer said.

Football started for Robison, a Texas native, when he was 4 years old. That’s the first time he put on a full set of pads. His parents worked long hours and full days as a cop and a nurse. His dad would often get home at 4 a.m., then go to work at 7 a.m. His mother worked overnights to spend her days with him.

“I got to take a trip back a few years ago and see what a 4-year-old looks like in a full uniform. It’s pretty comical, they look like they’re wearing skinny jeans with pads in it, helmets that are probably four sizes too big, shoulder pads that look more like body armor,” Robison said. “They kind of look like the big guy from Game of Thrones.”

His football career started to get more serious when he was in junior high. He wanted to play linebacker and running back. After tryouts, his coaches wanted him to play center and defensive tackle.

Everything changed for Robison when his dad took him to see two of the best high school teams in Texas, North Shore and Judson, square off. The two schools had several NFL and Division I players.

“I got to the point where I thought I was so good that I didn’t have to work for it. After watching that game, I looked at myself and I said, ‘You ain’t crap,’” Robison said. “I told my dad when I left that football game that I wanted to work harder than anybody else because I wanted to be better than anybody else.”

That started with workouts at home. His dad attached a chain to a tire and had Robison drag it, in 110-degree heat, to the end of the driveway and back.

He went onto become the first Splendora High School football player to see varsity action as a freshman. He played nose tackle, and his task was to get past an all-state center and get into the backfield. He got roughed up early, but finished his first varsity game with four tackles for a loss.

When it came time to look at colleges, he was a huge fan of both Texas A&M and Florida State. He “hated” his visit to Texas A&M and had differences with Florida State that he preferred not to discuss. His top four schools from there were LSU, Texas, Arkansas and Houston.

After a conversation and dinner with Mack Brown and family, he was a Longhorn. It was at Texas where he moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he made his living in the NFL.

In 2007, he became a fourth-round draft choice of the Vikings. His wife was brought to tears at the thought of coming to Minnesota.

“I remember looking at my wife when we got the call. She’s like who is it. I’m like we’re going to Minnesota. I see her and she just literally gets this somber look on her face. She’s like just enjoy your time with your family, we’ll talk about it later,” Robison said. “Later comes around, I said Jamie what’s wrong? She just goes into tears, there’s going to be nothing but snow and ice, and it’s going to be cold. I don’t know how to deal with that. You’re talking about a woman who when it gets down to 65 degrees, she puts a jacket on.”

Now 11 playing years later, Robison helped lead the Vikings to four NFC North titles, five playoff appearances and two NFC title game appearances.

The 2009 NFC title game, an overtime loss at New Orleans, is still a bitter pill to swallow for Robison.

“That was the first real time that I was able to sit there and think that was an opportunity that got squandered. That team should’ve brought a Super Bowl championship to the state of Minnesota,” Robison said.

When asked if there was one game he’ll always remember, it didn’t take long for him to answer: The Minneapolis Miracle. The NFC Divisional Playoff win over New Orleans in walk-off fashion got the Vikings to within one game of playing for a Super Bowl in their brand new home stadium.

“That game was the ultimate team game. We had to have every piece of the puzzle fall in the right place to win that game. That roller coaster of emotions is what an NFL career is,” Robison said.

Robison’s goal in football, other than winning, was always the same. He wanted to have fun, he wanted to be a good teammate and he wanted to give everything he had on the field. He also wanted to be loyal. He took two pay cuts to stay with the Vikings and was never comfortable leaving Minnesota.

He could’ve pursued other free agent offers, but it didn’t feel right.

“Minnesota was where I wanted to be,” Robison said. “These guys in this room is who I wanted to be with, and it’s where I was happy.”