Robinson is Pack's secret weapon Butler gets publicity, but free safety a key to Green Bay's defense


Super Bowl Xxxii

January 23, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- As one of the more fashionable weapons in the Green Bay defense, and as a guy who can let fly with a good quote as deftly as he can drop a receiver or break up a pass, safety LeRoy Butler draws his share of attention.

But, while you're waiting to see where Butler lines up in defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur's imaginative schemes, or from what angle he blitzes Denver quarterback John Elway, don't forget to notice free safety Eugene Robinson.

Robinson, a 13-year veteran who spent 11 years with the Seattle Seahawks before getting traded to the Packers just before the start of their 1996 training camp, gets better with age. He leads active players with 49 career interceptions. He picked off San Francisco quarterback Steve Young early in the NFC championship game two weeks ago, and returned it 58 yards to set up the touchdown that gave the Packers a 10-0 lead.

"Eugene has instincts and ball-hawking skills that enable me to move up close to the line of scrimmage. I think he surprises people the way he can still play, but there is nothing he hasn't seen or done," Butler said. "San Francisco thought they had a mismatch [tight end Brent Jones] with Eugene, and he ends up making the play that changed the complexion of the game."

Said Elway, who has faced Robinson some two dozen times in his career: "Of all the times I played him, I beat him once [when Robinson played in Seattle]. He even came up to me during the game and said, 'You got me.' I got him off-balance, moved him to one side, and I came back to the other side for the completion on a seam route. I haven't gotten him since."

Robinson talks a game every bit as well as he plays it.

"I always knew I could play football, even though I was always the smallest guy and was never the fastest guy. But I was always the one making the big play at the right time, because I anticipated things better than most did. I just had a feel for the game."

Freeman feeling ill

Super Bowl XXXII had its first, pre-game casualty yesterday, as a stomach virus got the best of Green Bay wide receiver Antonio Freeman.

Freeman, who came down with the flu on Wednesday night, failed to make it to the morning, media session and did not practice in the afternoon.

Packers coach Mike Holmgren did not sound concerned about Freeman's status for Sunday's game.

"He was pretty sick last night, but he is a tough guy and I expect him to be ready for the game," Holmgren said.

Unsung hero

Blocking backs are destined to go largely unappreciated. All of which is fine with Denver fullback Howard Griffith.

If he's lucky, Griffith may get to touch the ball three times in a game. But as the guy who is paid to clear the way for tailback Terrell Davis -- who led the AFC with 1,750 rushing yards and is the key to a Broncos victory on Sunday -- Griffith knows his value.

So does Davis. He already has paid Griffith's way for a weeklong trip to Hawaii, where Davis is headed to play in next week's Pro Bowl.

Although Griffith, 6 feet and 240 pounds, would love to get more recognition, he realizes his blocking is what has kept him in the NFL for five seasons. Griffith spent his first two years on practice rosters in Buffalo and San Diego, before breaking in with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993. He left the Rams after the 1994 season for Carolina, where he helped the Panthers reach the NFC championship game last year, before leaving as an unrestricted free agent to come to Denver.

"You have to understand your role, and I understood that the thing that was going to keep me in this league was being a blocking back," Griffith said.

Davis runs into Brown

Terrell Davis is well aware of the impact he needs to have in order for Denver to break a 13-year drought for the AFC. He also knows all too well of the challenge that lies ahead for the Broncos' superb offensive line -- namely, neutralize massive defensive tackle Gilbert Brown.

Davis ran into Brown earlier this week at a local club.

"It was funny, because [Brown] grabbed me and gave me a bear hug," Davis said. "I told him, 'Look man, I think I'm going to see enough of you on Sunday.' But he's a cool cat. Their franchise relies a lot on the strength of that man."

Do the Broncos have any special plans to keep Brown off balance?

"No. We've got plays that go at him and plays that go away from him," Davis said. "We have the mentality that we can run the ball, and that we control what we do."


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