Phil Anastasia: Phil Anastasia: Moorestown honors a giant

Former Moorestown and NFL star Dave Robinson (center) greets a fan. At right is his former high school coach, Dick Loring. Robinson, 72, had his old number, 89, retired Thursday night. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Former Moorestown and NFL star Dave Robinson (center) greets a fan. At right is his former high school coach, Dick Loring. Robinson, 72, had his old number, 89, retired Thursday night. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 14, 2013

Dave Robinson played on some of the most famous teams in football history, including the first two Super Bowl champions.

He'll always have a special place in his heart for those Green Bay Packers teams and the man he called his "Italian father," legendary coach Vince Lombardi.

But Robinson, a 72-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer, doesn't need to recall his time in the NFL's Title Town of the 1960s or even his sensational career at Penn State to summon up some of his best memories of the sport.

He always will have Moorestown in the late 1950s.

"They say no matter how far you go, you always have to come home," Robinson said Thursday night, standing outside a couple of white hospitality tents in front of the Moorestown football field.

It was "Dave Robinson Night" at Moorestown, as the high school welcomed back one of its most accomplished and popular graduates - a giant of a man renowned as much for his gentle nature and gregarious personality as his athletic ability.

"There's not a mean bone in his body," said Hank David, a 1958 Moorestown graduate who was a two-way halfback for the Quakers' 1957 undefeated team.

Robinson was a two-way junior end for those teams, a freak of nature on the field and gravitational force who drew his teammates together.

"He was always the guy on the bus riding to and from games who always would be joking with everybody," said David, a retired physician. "The man never had a bad word to say about anybody. Some people are just naturally good, and that's him."

Robinson said he was "moved to tears" when he heard Moorestown planned to retire his No. 89 jersey. He said he was overwhelmed by Thursday's turnout of family and friends - many in Green Bay Packers regalia featuring his No. 89 - as a lot of those folks weren't able to attend his induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in August.

Robinson signed autographs and posed for pictures for more than an hour. He hugged old friends and let their grandchildren wear his Super Bowl ring in photographs.

Robinson tossed the coin before the game, standing near the "DR 89" on the field. He was surrounded by many of the town's youth football players during a halftime ceremony in which he became the first athlete in the school's history to have his number retired.

"I never thought they would retire 89," said Robinson, who also played on back-to-back undefeated basketball teams as a junior and senior at Moorestown.

Robinson and Rancocas Valley's Franco Harris, who came along nine years and 11 miles down the road, probably are the two most accomplished football players in South Jersey history.

Harris was a star running back for the team that dominated the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Robinson was a huge part of the team that ushered in the NFL's modern era, Lombardi's Packers. Robinson started at linebacker for the first two Super Bowl champions and was named to the NFL's all-decade team of the 1960s.

Robinson said Lombardi reminded him of his own father.

"My father was a disciplinarian, and that was Coach Lombardi," Robinson said. "He was like a great Italian father and nothing was too good for the family, and his team was the family."

For all his success in college and professional football, Robinson said there was something special about his time at Moorestown.

"We were as close as brothers," Robinson said of his teammates. "My four brothers have passed, but I still have these guys as my brothers.

"I tell people you have to live through it to really understand what a great time it was. I was this 15-year-old boy who came here, and I learned so much about football and about life.

"It will always be special to me. We might be a little older now and we might be a little slower and we might have bad knees and bad hearts and all kinds of problems, but we're still a unit. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us."

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