Super Bowl Champion and current NFL analyst, Michael Robinson talks about the pros and cons of playing in the NFL, and how he’s enriching the lives of young athletes through his foundation, Excel to Excellence.
As a former professional football player and Super Bowl champ, Michael Robinson knows you have to play to win—not only in the game—but also in life. That's exactly what the NFL Network analyst, father of four, and former Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers star is aiming to teach aspiring athletes who join his "reverse fantasy football" foundation, Excel to Excellence. An organization dedicated to teaching young athletes the importance of education and developing sustainable skills early on in life, Team Excel operates as one part friendly competition and one part mentorship program, with the help of other professional athletes who get involved as guides, advisors, and role models.
Despite gearing up to host the annual Penn State Blue & White Benefit on April 15 (purchase tickets here), where all proceeds will go to benefit Team Excel, Robinson took the time to chat with Philadelphia Style about his journey into the NFL, how he transitioned into a career in sports broadcasting after retirement, and what principles drove him to found Excel to Excellence Foundation.
Many people in the sport have sung your praises for being a great person with a positive attitude. Has your outlook on the game evolved over the years? MICHAEL ROBINSON: I've always been about winning. Winning in life. Winning in football. At Penn State, I played a multitude of positions: running back, quarterback, wide receiver, return punch. I did it all. It really kept me in the league for eight years, kept me on the roster. Being able to have all of that in your background really makes you valuable to a team when there’s only 45 players available on gameday. When you look at what I’m doing now in my post-career, being an analyst at the NFL Network—I don’t know if there is another person talking football that’s thrown at a high level, caught at a high level, ran at a high level, blocked at a high level, played at a high level.
Did you always know you wanted to go into broadcasting after your NFL career? MR: I’ve always wanted to be connected to the game of football. I went to Penn State, got into public relations because broadcasting wasn’t available yet. I knew when I got drafted that the stopwatch had started on my career, and that it was a matter of time until it was over. More often than not, the injuries sneak up on us before we’re ready, so I always wanted to be ready. As soon as I got into the league, I started my own show for the network, started doing things for my team’s website. I was like, “Okay. Let me use this platform to make sure that I secure a post-career job.”
What was your journey towards launching Excel to Excellence like? What is your goal is with this organization? MR: I always knew that I wanted to have a foundation, but I wanted something with some teeth. I wanted something that could be around when I’m long gone; a legacy. I started really growing this program, Team Excel, which is pretty much reverse fantasy football. When I say reverse, it’s the athletes, the business community, and the mentors investing in the actual players. I wanted to create something that can have athletes know that they’re attaining sustainable skills.
What I’ve come to find out is to be a pro athlete [or] an athlete even at the collegiate level...you’re trained to be early, to have no excuses, protect the team by all costs. You’re bred for success. But more often than not, athletes, we can’t take the X’s and O’s, and put it into words or life skills. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to meet these kids at a young age before they get into the pros, before they get into college, and make them aware of the things they need to be successful. I want them to be servant leaders because with all of the issues going on in the world, you can’t change grown people, but you can definitely change our future with the young people.
What message do you have for young athletes? MR: Team Excel is a mentorship program. Ultimately, I would love our athletes to come through Team Excel and come back and be a mentor for another young person. You have to learn how to serve people in order to lead. You have to learn how to follow in order to lead, and that’s what I’m showing them. I’m showing them that a guy that’s walked your streets, a guy that’s encountered the same drug dealers, a guy that’s encountered the same adversity that you encounter everyday, overcame it.
What were the best and worst parts about playing in the NFL? MR: I mean the worst parts are definitely...headaches. Sometimes, even now, they don’t necessarily go away. I found I have some things going on in my head: you see a CAT scan and an MRI of your head, and you see scarring and you’re like, “Whoa! I don’t feel like I look like that!” [Laughs] But it happens, and you understand that these are the possible dangers of playing this game. It’s afforded me a great head start in life. My family is comfortable. To me, that was the best part of football.
Do you have any favorite spots in Philly? MR: I always got to find me a chicken cheesesteak. I’ve got family from Philly: my mom’s from Germantown, I went to Germantown High School. Philly’s all in my blood. I love the people, I love how they talk trash on sports radio. I love how they’re so passionate about their teams! That’s what sports is all about: the passion [...] I love the grit, I love the realness, and I love the blue-collar worker mentality that comes from the people of Philadelphia.