Penn State Football: For MRob, All of the STK and Plenty of the Sizzle
It is closing in on midnight and a joking Michael Robinson is holding court at one end of a long banquette in STK, exactly the kind of new-age restaurant you would expect to find on the edge of West Hollywood, located between Melrose Avenue and Sunset Boulevard.
STK is a stylized sexy steakhouse, with its soft amber lights and smoky hues, smokin’ guys and smoldering women.
Although he lives in Arizona and plays pro football in San Francisco, MRob looks right at home at this Los Angeles locale noted for its prime beef -- on the menu and among the clientele.
Ah, looks. Robinson’s face is thinner than the one that hosted a cherubic smile while he was at Penn State. Even when he willed Penn State to an 11-1 record and a No. 3 final ranking as the Big Ten’s Outstanding Offensive Player in 2005, MRob was a stocky sort. Cocky, too.
No more. On either count.
Now, he’s rock hard, almost thin when you think of his earlier incarNittanyNation. On this evening out in L.A., his muted gold linen shirt and matching slacks flow straight down, in even, clean lines. Nary a bulge on his 27-year-old frame. No way he’s only 6-foot-1. MRob stands, walks, even sits with a confident affectation.
His NFL season had ended 52 days ago, with a 28-6 victory at St. Louis that gave the 49ers an 8-8 record. Usually, by now, his weight is up to 230 pounds or more. Not these days. He’s 221 -- and counting.
MRob’s smarter now, in oh-so-many ways. When he’s handed a menu, he surveys it closely, carefully. Then he pauses to make a call on his cell, one of several that night. (But more on that later.) The waiter returns.
Robinson makes a pair of wise choices: swordfish and broccoli. “And no bread,” he reminds us later.
THE PENN STATE CONNECTION
Friends take notice. A few Penn Staters, in town for a pair of university events, are joined at the table by MRob’s business manager, Rich France, a high-energy and personable 1997 Penn State grad who lives in L.A.
(When he was an R.A. at Penn State, France roomed one move-in weekend with university president Graham Spanier. “Boxers or briefs?” France was asked about GSpan. “Pajamas,” Rich smiled. To his credit, when Spanier saw France 13 years later, he immediately recognized his old roomie. And then asked France to be on his Big Ten TV show.)
Robinson flew into Los Angeles from his offseason home in Chandler, Ariz., to make some connections with fellow alumni working in the entertainment industry. The trip may have already paid dividends for Robinson, who enters his fifth season with the 49ers this fall.
He talked with producer Riva Marker, who has high-profile movies featuring Katie Holmes (“The Romantics”) and Julianna Moore and Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right”) about to hit the screens. Robinson thinks a looming lockout by the NFL has great documentary potential.
“A lockout would not only impact the players, whose average playing career is 2.2 years,” Robinson said. “But it would hurt hundreds and hundreds of people, the concessions people, the people in the front office, everyone associated with the game -- except the owners.”
For Robinson, that’s a story worth telling. He knows that in some ways, he already got his. He has a half-decade in the NFL, is in the middle of a new contract and is Mr. Heinz 57 for the 49ers.
SPECIAL TEAMS, SPECIAL PLAYER
Robinson is captain of San Fran’s special teams and has twice been a Pro Bowl alternate. In 2009 he was the 49ers’ leading kick returner, made 20 special teams tackles and grabbed six passes playing practically every offensive position but quarterback and the interior line.
“I’m a hybrid back, a jack of all trades. Like I was at Penn State until my last season,” he said with pride, not resignation. “I’ve made it to the pension -- three years and three games for benefits – and I have worked for four offensive coordinators and a couple of head coaches” in Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.
The MRob at STK a few weeks ago is not the same guy who was admittedly living life in the faster lane when he first entered The League. That guy would have just been getting started, and he would have been eyeing up a lot more than the menu.
“When guys get in The League, making all that money, they go crazy a little bit,” he said. “I have to admit I did that. But now I’m focused, with an eye to the future.”
MRob’s lean look and diet fare are evidence of that. This isn’t your father’s Michael Robinson. This is the father, Michael Robinson.
Last year, he got married. Then, a few months ago, he and Shameka had a son, Michael Robinson the 5th. That completes a family that includes his 6-year-old stepson Raylin and 2-year-old daughter Mikayla.
It’s a family that is at the forefront of his mind the entire night in L.A. He talks frequently of his kids and his wife. And he is the one on the phone while in STK, calling home, saying ILVU.
Back home in Chandler, MRob coaches Raylin’s spring flag football team. The team name? The 49ers, of course.
“I’m having fun having a family,” he says. He smiles.
MRob was always a multi-tasker, even at Penn State. He earned two degrees. He played like, what, eight different positions as a Nittany Lion? He got in a few scraps off the field when he had too much time on his hands. And he became the symbol of Penn State’s return from the ashes in 2005.
The fourth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft is still an overachiever with a work ethic engrained into him by his mother, Rita Ross. She worked two and even three jobs to provide the best for MRob and his brother, Anthony Ricks. The material gifts were immaterial; the real lessons are finally starting to kick in.
“Because of her, I am still the first to practice and the last one to leave,” he says. “There’s something about me. If I’m not busy, something’s wrong.”
Hence Los Angeles. Already, MRob has crafted a nice off-the-field resume. He did a softball game for ESPNU. He broadcast the Texas spring football game. He’s about to announce some radio and podcast work for a station in San Francisco. There’s the possibility of a restaurant back home in Virginia.
He also does the highly entertaining and quite professional feature on the 49ers’ Web site, called “The Robinson Report on TV 49.” It started as the “Rookie Report,” but once MRob stuck with the team, so did the series.
Robinson credits Penn State with getting him ready for the NFL, in front of the camera, on the field and on the homefront.
“One thing I can say is that Penn State got me really, really prepared for the National Football League,” he said. “Going through all of my experiences and adversity -- getting into some trouble off the field, concussions, playing a lot of positions -- that taught me a great deal.
“That prepared me for the NFL, it taught me how to manage my time, how to manage my money, what to with my free time.
“Most of all, it helped me to prioritize.”
Here was the acid test for MRob, one of many, that night at STK in L.A.:
“Wanna go out, Michael, after we’re done with dinner?” a tablemate asked him.
“Nah,” he said. “It’s even later back home and I have an early flight. Thanks, though.”
Then he flashed that broad, charming MRob smile. Michael Robinson has never been fitter.