Chances are, you’ve heard of Johnny Robinson. Or, at least, you should have. The former Kansas City Chiefs’ safety this month was nominated as the senior finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
But Tom Pratt? Nope, chances are, you probably don’t know of him.
But Tom Pratt knows of Johnny Robinson.
In fact, Pratt was the defensive line coach on the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs’ team that not only won Super Bowl IV but was one of the greatest defenses ever — leading the league in fewest rushing yards, passing yards, total yards and fewest points allowed.
There were five Chiefs chosen from that defense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and, if elected in February, Robinson becomes the sixth — as he should, Pratt said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
“There was nobody tougher than Johnny Robinson,” said Pratt, a defensive assistant last year at the age of 82 with Arizona. “This guy knew how to play the game and did play the game.
As an example, Pratt pointed to the 1969 playoffs when Robinson was hurt late in the AFL championship game with Oakland. The Chiefs would win it, 17-7, but at a cost: Robinson suffered three broken ribs on a play that Pratt had no trouble recalling.
“Johnny went for an interception,” Pratt recalled, “and laid out completely and caught the ball at its highest point. But he was out of bounds. And when he was out of bounds the official on the sideline froze, and Johnny came down on his (Robinson’s) head. I don’t know how many ribs he broke (it was three), but it was a real severe injury for Johnny.
“Now, next week, because we went on to win the game, Johnny’s playing the Super Bowl. and we say, ‘He probably won’t play; he’s got the ribs and this whole thing.’ (And) Johnny says, ‘Hey, I’m playing.’ It didn’t matter. I mean. they wrapped him up in every piece of tape they had and gave him as many aspirins as he could take, and he played in the game — recovered a fumble in the Super Bowl.
“Just was a great player. That was one of the toughest acts by a player, I think, in a game I’ve ever been associated with in all the years I coached.”
Robinson not only forced a fumble; he recovered it, too, and had an interception. Robinson would retire after the 1971 season with a career that included 57 interceptions — still good for 13th best all-time in the NFL — after the Chiefs in 1962 switched him from running back to safety.
Curiously, Robinson’s critics complain that, like Hall-of-Famer Paul Krause, the Chiefs’ safety had all those interceptions because he played too deep. No kidding. Krause is the all-time interception leader in the NFL and did not reach the Hall until 1998. It took Robinson 20 more years before he was nominated as a senior finalist.
“We start comparing some of the other players to Johnny,” said Pratt, “and Paul Krause is the leader in interceptions and was a great, great player and considered one of the best zone players of all time. And he had 81 interceptions in 16 seasons, whereas Johnny had 57 in essentially 10 years because he didn’t play defense until ’62 … was when he started.
“So from that standpoint, I think Johnny was certainly qualified in every respect. Now, as far as playing too deep, we were playing zone … so he’s back playing the deep middle. But there was nobody tougher than Johnny Robinson.”