The Carolina Panthers were told a story before leaving for Santa Clara to play in the Super Bowl, but it wasn't one the players expected. Eugene Robinson, who serves as the Panthers' radio color analyst, had a stern message for the current players: Don't make the same mistake I did.
Robinson was preparing for the Super Bowl in 1998 when the then-Falcons safety made a terrible decision that would change how his career was viewed. He was arrested the night before the game for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. In a cruel twist of irony it happened on the same day he was given the Bart Starr award for outstanding character and leadership.
Robinson hasn't spoken much about that night in Miami or the game itself in which he gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass as the Falcons lost to the Broncos, but the cautionary tale he told the Panthers resonated with veterans and young players alike, according to the Charlotte Observer.
"That's the first time I heard that story. I didn't know anything about it," tight end Ed Dickson said. "It says a lot that he would open up and say something about it. Because a lot of people would hold it in and not even talk about that moment."
Head coach Ron Rivera praised Robinson for having the courage to speak to the team about the risks, temptations and pitfalls of being caught on football's brightest stage. SB Nation's Louis Bien spoke to Panthers safety Kurt Coleman about the speech.
"I remember when it actually came out. Some of these young guys may not be old enough. I think that the courage that Eugene has showed -- I've gotten to know Eugene throughout the season. Great man, and a great part about it is we've all made mistakes in our lives that I think we've learned from. The great part about what he shared with us is he knows the feeling of defeat, and he believes that why would we do something to jeopardize anything off the field that would hinder us from wining this game? Obviously if you lose the game because the other team is better, you can live with that. But can you live with something off the field that hindered your team -- and selfishly -- hindered your team during the game?"
Robinson didn't want to talk about the speech he gave the team, but it clearly made an impression on players who are garnering more attention this week than they're likely to receive for the rest of their careers. Wide receiver Brenton Bersin took notice.
"He was basically saying don't mess up," Bersin said. "And don't let the hoopla and all the stuff that's available to you, you don't have to be doing all that stuff."
These stories are nothing new in professional sports, but having the courage to re-live them years later to help ensure other players don't make the same mistake -- that's something special.