Pain a big part of Robinson's game
NEW YORK -- Two Tylenol.
That's it. That's the only daily weapon Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson possesses to fight the pain and inflammation caused by playing football. For a guy whose job is to slam into linebackers so they don't slam into his teammates, two Tylenol is the equivalent of wearing flip-flops in the snow.
But the way Robinson and his wife, Shameka, see it, playing in pain is better than not playing at all -- at least for the time being. Robinson turns 31 on Feb. 6. He has four kids: two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 11 months to 10 years. This is his eighth year in the NFL, and he doesn't know what next season might bring. The only thing in front of him at the moment is Super Bowl XLVIII, his first time on football's biggest stage.
It's a remarkable ending to a difficult season for Robinson, who has spent four years with Seattle. During the preseason, he had to be hospitalized for several days after having an adverse reaction to Indocin and Toradol, the anti-inflammatory medication he had taken his entire career. Unbeknownst to him, he had a blood deficiency that put him at risk. His liver and kidneys were failing.
When he recovered, the Seahawks cut him. He had lost more than 30 pounds, down to 212, and doctors advised him to never again take any anti-inflammatory drugs, because he likely wouldn't survive another bad reaction. But Robinson didn't want to walk away from the game just yet. So he fought to get back into shape, returning to his playing weight of 245 pounds.
On Oct. 22, the Seahawks re-signed Robinson after injuries sidelined fullbacks Derrick Coleman and Spencer Ware.
"You can see the emotion come out of Michael," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said this week. "He's a guy who thought, 'Maybe I'll never get this chance again.' Then he comes back to play, and he gets to play in the Super Bowl. I totally get it and respect it."
Robinson told espnW that once he left the hospital last August, he and his wife discussed their future at length. "My goal is when I'm 50 and 60 years old to still be able to do normal stuff, to be there for my kids," he said. "I think that's what the fans really don't understand, the decisions that need to be made on a weekly basis, a daily basis, by players. My wife and I decided that I would get healthy first, and then we would just look at it every week."
Robinson, who becomes a free agent after the Super Bowl, now takes those two Tylenol before practice.
"They must help a little bit, but I can't really tell," he said. On game days, he also takes another pain medication just before stepping onto the field, but it wears off a few hours later and leaves him "feeling like a train wreck." When he was using anti-inflammatories, he wouldn't feel the painful effects of a game until the drugs wore off three days later.
When asked how long he might continue playing this way, Robinson shrugged and said, "I don't know -- we'll see."
Until last fall, he never gave much thought to the drugs he was putting into his body. It was just part of football culture. Even when he first started feeling sick -- he couldn't eat or sleep, and his urine had hints of red -- he was convinced he just had the flu. It wasn't until weeks after he was released from the hospital that he recognized the severity of what had happened.
"At the time, I just thought I was a little bit sick," Robinson said. "But then I had a specialist telling me I wouldn't survive if it happened again, and that I needed to cut anti-inflammatories out of my game. I had never played without them."
Now he finds himself battling the pain with a limited arsenal, with a drug meant to help everyday folks suffering from mild headaches and other little twinges. "It's been an adjustment for me," he said. "But I do think the league is moving toward more players who don't take any anti-inflammatory at all."
Robinson will play a key role for the Seahawks on Sunday, blocking for running back Marshawn Lynch and leading the special-teams unit. Meanwhile, he hopes his story will have an impact on younger players, because he wants them to have a better understanding of the decisions they make as they come up through the ranks. After all, pain is the body's way of telling you that something isn't right -- and you can only mask it for so long.
"I want this to help guys out there who might be taking anti-inflammatories every week, without really knowing why, maybe just because it's the culture," he said. "If a player can hear my story and it helps him take better care of himself, that's what this is about."