If fortitude is a virtue, Michael Robinson must be a saint. Logic suggests that the veteran fullback wasn’t supposed to be there, in that Jersey City hotel, preparing to play in Super Bowl XLVIII. He had come to terms with the end of his playing career just three months prior, all but precluding any final attempt at winning a championship in the NFL.
Robinson has been a man of belief for as long as he can remember. Not just through faith, but in the universe and its plan for all of us; in quantum physics, he tells me, with much assurance; in the inevitability of receiving blessings upon blessings, but only after letting go of attachment. Despite the trials, tribulations, and terror of his own mortality, Robinson was there, blessed with another chance. Finality be damned, he was in that Jersey City hotel, preparing to play in Super Bowl XLVIII. Robinson’s confidence, built through a surprisingly minimal amount of film study — he swears that he and Marshawn Lynch watched only a single quarter of film on the Denver Broncos before Lynch turned to him, deadpan, and said “we’re gonna beat the shit out of these guys” — was unwavering. He remained steadfast in his conviction that the following day would end in glory.
With mere hours remaining until the most important football game of Robinson’s life, the reality of these blessings crept in, took root, and overruled media-born exhaustion with an anticipation that stemmed from the road wearily traveled. So, at an instant where intensity intertwined emotion, teetering on the cusp of achieving what every athlete dreams of, Robinson did what he had done so many times before; what was once a habit and had become so much more.
He picked up his camera.
Broadcast journalism wasn’t simply Robinson’s vehicle to play football at Penn State University. He is a realist, an essential trait for someone who ends up in a sport that rarely offers longevity. “I knew I wanted to be in media when my playing days were done,” he says of his rookie year in San Francisco. “I didn’t want my first time on camera to be when I was getting paid for it. I wanted to capture my voice, who I am, while I was still relevant in the NFL.”
Robinson informed the 49ers’ PR staff of his precocious goal to talk on TV one day and his desire to accrue expertise in the now. Thus was born a team-driven segment entitled the Rookie Report, allowing the eponymous newcomer to prepare for his future with plenty of time to spare. “I’d go in the locker room and mess with guys after practice,” Robinson recollects. “I asked them the weirdest questions. We barely talked about football.” While it remains unconfirmed that these sessions provided Vernon Davis the confidence to one day express an unmatched zeal for holiday starch on national television, we can’t rule out the possibility.
Things took a turn in 2010 when Robinson was released by the 49ers. On draft day in 2006, he had prayed to himself, ‘Please don’t let me go to Seattle, San Francisco, or Oakland on the west coast.’ Naturally, he ended up playing his entire NFL career based out of the Pacific time zone, what with the Seahawks snapping him up next.
The Rookie Report didn’t follow its creator north to Seattle. Through a season that resulted in a division title and one of the more preposterous upsets in playoff history, Robinson fortified relationships with teammates, entrenching himself as a central leadership presence in the locker room.
The NFL lockout in 2011 thrust Robinson’s future into a fugue; he had no idea when he would get to play football again. So living and lifting became one and the same. Peers ranging from Darrelle Revis to Donovan McNabb congregated in Arizona to stay fit and it struck Robinson that this was the perfect opportunity to seize control of his career. He possessed his own cameras and had been teaching himself how to edit video since his time in San Francisco. Documenting weight room antics seemed like the logical course of action.
By the time a new collective bargaining agreement was reached, Robinson had an updated reel, an established rapport with Pete Carroll and John Schneider, and a desire to continue filming. The Seahawks’ organization was initially hesitant to allow cameras in the locker room — lest we forget Carroll’s first tenet of team building. But both parties discussed intent and an accord was struck. “They trusted me and the fact that I wouldn’t do anything to put the team at any disadvantage,” Robinson says.
Now with executive permission, he decided a branding change was in order. The Rookie Report was no more. From its crimson ashes rose the Real Rob Report, a weekly cutup of compelling discussion and complete nonsense, which would quickly become ubiquitous throughout Seattle fandom. The show grew so popular that one day Carroll called Robinson into his office, asking if it had become a distraction — Seattle’s team captain was interviewing teammates, coaches, and media before synthesizing footage every Wednesday night, like clockwork. “I said ‘nah man, I like doing it and I love playing football at the same time,’” recites Robinson. Football, be it from schedules set by weekly games or the necessity of staying in a constant rhythm, became complementary to Robinson’s self-prescribed editing process. Carroll trusted his team captain to find an optimal balance.
When asked why viewers resonated so strongly with the weekly segment, Robinson answers quickly and confidently: “Because it was real.” It’s something he takes pride in. It’s why he goes by Real Mike Rob. “Everything that I get my hands on has to be authentic,” he says, expressing a desire for his work to speak to everybody: from the dad that just took his son to the barbershop to the teenager discovering the niche depths of YouTube for the first time. It appears Robinson believes, knows, that honesty in accessibility isn’t something to ration; it has to be the default.
Today and tomorrow, the Real Rob Report exists as a window through which the past is within reach; an exclusive portal into the most exciting crescendo in the history of Seattle sports. If nostalgia is your fix, take a trip down memory lane to witness a rookie Russell Wilson hop on the team plane, fresh off a preseason victory, attempting (unsuccessfully) to contain his excitement. Continue on as 24-year old Richard Sherman joins in the aisle, gaze boring directly into the camera, and gasses his quarterback up, a jumble of words streaming out of his mouth in that perfect Richard Sherman way of doing things. Wilson blushes, grinning ear to ear, before his fellow star concludes with a simple statement: “That boy good.” Roll the intro.
Things moved slowly but eventually, Robinson’s teammates began to actively seek out appearances on the show. “It went from guys running from the camera to guys going ‘Hey Mike, come on over here and film me,’” he says. Even the team’s most private personalities actively involved themselves, including Marshawn Lynch, Seattle’s lovable, media-averse battering ram. “Hell, Marshawn invented a segment,” laughs Robinson. “Messin’ with Marshawn ended up getting 10 million views. Like are you kidding me? That’s big shit. That locker room felt like the Real Rob Report was ours.”
While Robinson had always planned to make digital media his trade after football, a 2013 diagnosis — a third midseason trip to the hospital revealed liver and kidney failure — accelerated his timeline. “I had totally given up on the NFL,” says Robinson bluntly. I ask how long it took to accept his newly perceived reality. “[It’s] pretty immediate,” he remarks, “when a doctor comes in and tells you you can’t take more than two Tylenol for the rest of your life or you’ll die.” Difficult to argue.
In minutes, Robinson was planning his next steps. He walks me through his thought process at the time. “‘Okay, I’m not playing no more, it’s all good,’” he says convincingly. “‘Move back home. Get established in media. If I’m not gonna be on camera, at least I can edit. I know how to do that. I’m very fluent in it. It’s all good.’”
Robinson begins to repeat a phrase that I can only assume he reflexively uttered to himself countless times in those trying weeks: “It’s about survival.” Even after becoming hospitalized, unemployed, and then down 20 pounds of muscle, Robinson kept working, staying in shape and editing every week, proving his mettle, preserving his livelihood(s). “It’s about survival.”
And then things flipped, as quickly as they had before. Both satisfaction with Robinson’s recovery and a hamstring strain to replacement fullback Derrick Coleman prompted the Seahawks to bring back their team captain. Fate had reconsidered, decreeing that football hadn’t quite finished with Robinson; that one last checkpoint awaited before denouement. “Once I let go of my attachment to the NFL, I got a call,” he says. “And went to a Super Bowl. And won a Super Bowl. And then it was over.” This time, Robinson had been afforded the privilege of agency in his conclusion. Six years down the road, his gratitude for this hasn’t lessened.
Despite seemingly boundless hardship, Robinson looks back fondly upon the 2013 season and all that came with it. “I went through a lot that year,” he cautiously recalls. “Not a lot of people continue to play football after that, so I felt very lucky.” Robinson recognizes the adversity as a detour on the journey to his profession’s pinnacle; he simply took the scenic route. “It was gratifying to know that I was able to do all that and still be a part of something great like a championship team in Seattle.”
Robinson continues to reminisce, this time in the evening before The Game, as he describes it. “I was in my ego, man,” he tells me, with a smile. “I knew we were gonna win.” No matter how much of the statement consists of bravado versus rationale, he was, and is, right. Thanks to the Real Rob Report, we have the receipts to prove it. Peyton never had a chance.
Nowadays, Robinson is well on his way toward similar heights in phase two. As an on-air talent for the NFL Network, he has manifested his vision from all those years ago, when he was but a youthful, moonlighting entrepreneur. His fabled pulpit, the Real Rob Report, was created in pursuit of this vision and will go down in Seahawks lore as an intersection between exclusivity and accessibility; a long-running series literally dedicated to keeping it real.
On this particular morning, the show functions as a vessel allowing Robinson and myself to re-experience the golden moment before the golden moment. The video starts up. Our fearless narrator has turned the camera to capture his own face, words ringing poignant and authentic, just as they are intended to. He describes his emotions — “happy, excited, nervous, jittery, itchy, all at the same time” — before issuing heartfelt thanks to each and every fan that has stuck with him and his teammates. The patient timbre of his voice fills the space calmly, boldly, hopefully:
“The next time I talk to you, we’ll be world champs.”
And they were.