MOBILE — Fred Robbins was on the second floor lobby at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel, the annual nerve center for the Reese's Senior Bowl.
This is where it all began 16 years ago for Robbins, a Tate High and Wake Forest graduate, when he fulfilled his own dream.
Suddenly, Robbins looked up in conversation, "Hey Steuss!"
Walking down the hallway was Todd Steussie, who played 14 NFL seasons as a durable offensive tackle, including for the Minnesota Vikings during Robbins' rookie season. The two former teammates, then opponents, embraced and instantly reflected on old times. The memories never fade.
"You play in the league 12 years and there are so many guys, and coaches, and every year they come here," said Robbins, who played in the 2000 Senior Bowl to begin his pro football career as versatile defensive tackle. "Guys involved in the league look forward to this after a whole year."
Robbins is staying more involved this week than before. On Saturday, he joins Paul Chestnutt in the radio booth for the game broadcast on ESPN-Pensacola (AM 1450 and FM 101.1) of the 67th Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
"I'm going to be doing what I love and what I know. That's the best part of it," said Robbins, referencing his radio analyst debut.
Wednesday was special, too. You had Fred Robbins and Charlie Ward together, both of whom live and work in Pensacola, talking football. The Washington High coach has been instantly recognized by many NFL coaches who stop to talk. This particular day also enabled Alabama quarterback Jake Coker to meet Ward and gain knowledge from a Heisman Trophy winning QB from two decades ago.
Robbins, meanwhile, is working with 12 prospective defensive players, including Penn State's Austin Johnson, one of the rising prospects in this game. Robbins works with the players at EXOS, the athletic performance facility connected with Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze. It has been the training center of choice for so many pros and prospective pros.
Robbins, who was a starter on the New York Giants defensive line that contributed to that stunning upset of the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, enjoys the connection with today's players.
"The NFL has changed for so much, even in the time I've been retired (5 years now)," said Robbins, who along with wife, Tia, founded Mr. Robbins Neighborhood to help young athletes learn the importance of education, values and futures beyond football. "There are so many different offenses now that I have to stay in true. The game, the league is so different.
"These guys I work with, they are smart kids. These guys listen. They want to learn. They know it's a big change for them. I think the guys today grasp the concept that it is more from the neck up than just how much physical part I can do."
Few players last as long as Robbins did. Twelve seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman puts him in elite company. One reason for it, as Robbins has told future players, is versatility. Being able to play multiple positions on the line.
"I tell linemen, don't say (to NFL teams), you play left end, or you play nose (tackle) say you play defensive line. Learn how to play everything," he said. "You will last longer in the NFL"
Robbins had little idea how long he would last, or even if he could stick in the NFL, when coming to the 2000 Senior Bowl. As so often happens, the team that drafted him (Minnesota Vikings) showed the least interest in him during the week.
"I really thought I was going to get picked by Carolina (Panthers)," said Robbins. "They were coaching the game that year. They worked me out at Wake Forest and I went to their place. I never met with the Vikings one time. I didn't have lunch, dinner, no meeting whatsoever when I was here that week.
"Then on draft day, I get this call from 952 (Minneapolis) area code from Denny Green (then head coach), telling me they were going to take me (in second round of that year's draft). Minnesota came out of nowhere. So you never know."
His first trip back to the Senior Bowl occurred last season. Robbins attended a morning practice to watch guys he had trained. The practiced ended around noon. By evening, Robbins was still at the hotel, because so many NFL personnel were talking to him, after not seeing him since he retired.
It's the respect he earned playing 12 years in the NFL.
"It brings a ton of memories back," he said, after finishing an hour-long radio show on ESPN-Pensacola. "Things have changed over the years. Just getting back in this setting... sometimes it's hard to believe that I walked this path, I was here the same way these guys are now.
"I am just doing my part to help these guys understand what they are getting into. It's hard to understand. Nobody does. Until you are in the league."
WANT TO GO?
What: 67th annual Reese's Senior Bowl.
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile.
Tickets: $10, $20, $30.
TV: The NFL Network
Radio: ESPN-Pensacola (101.1 FM, 1450 AM). Paul Chestnutt play-by-play, Fred Robbins analyst.
Friday: 3:30-6 p.m. The annual Coca-Cola Meet The Players Day at the Mobile Convention Center. Open to the public. All players to attend and sign autographs. Also included is Senior Bowl Experience, an interactive fun center for fans and kids.
Note: Unlike past years, people will not be able to rush the field after Saturday's game. There will be no fan access to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium field for sponsors, VIP or anyone trying to enter.
FRED ROBBINS BIO
Born: March 25, 1977
High school: Tate
College: Wake Forest
Playing career: 12 seasons. Played at 6-4, 325 after drafted in second round by Minnesota Vikings. Played four seasons for Vikings, six years with New York Giants, two years with St. Louis Rams.