Former Bears defensive lineman Bryan Robinson was found dead in a Milwaukee motel room Saturday. While circumstances surrounding the death of the 41-year-old prompted a series of questions, some of which authorities continue to investigate, former teammates and coaches mourned the loss of a tough player and respected mentor.
“My heart is broken,” former Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said Monday. “It is hard to explain because I have a big void in my chest. A lot of people play for you … but B-Rob was one of my guys. He was welcome to my house.”
Robinson was pronounced dead at 10:17 p.m. Saturday after being found at Midpoint Motel on the city’s northwest side. Cause of death is pending further toxicology after an autopsy Monday, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office. Milwaukee Police Sgt. Tim Gauerke said Robinson’s death is being investigated as a sudden death and not a homicide.
A 14-year NFL veteran, Robinson spent six seasons with the Bears from 1998 to 2003. He also played for the Rams, Dolphins, Bengals and Cardinals, last playing in 2010. Robinson appeared in 207 career games and was an anchor on the line for the 2001 NFC Central champion Bears. He played in Super Bowl XLIII with the Cardinals.
Motel staff, which told authorities Robinson was a regular guest, discovered him at about 8:30 p.m. after entering his room. Robinson had rented the room for six hours and had not departed on time. He checked in with an unidentified male with a thin build and dreadlocks, who left between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to the police report.
A crushed toilet paper roll was in the crook of Robinson’s left arm, the report said. Also discovered in the room were two bottles of Jungle Juice Plus, the brand name for a popper that includes acetone and nitrite and is huffed to relax the body. One bottle was empty. Authorities found marijuana, a mostly full bottle of Crown Royal whisky and the keys to Robinson’s Land Rover, which is registered to his wife, Angela, and was in the parking lot.
Robinson’s career with the Bears is probably best remembered for the “Walter Payton game” on Nov. 7, 1999, against the Packers, the Bears’ first game after the death of the Hall of Fame running back six days earlier. Robinson blocked a 28-yard field-goal attempt by Ryan Longwell as time expired to preserve a 14-13 victory at Lambeau Field and snap a 10-game losing streak to the Packers.
“I think Walter Payton actually picked me up a little bit and boosted me up in the air because I can’t jump that high,” Robinson said after the game. “Walter had a lot to do with it. I know he did.”
But Robinson was much more than a special teams contributor. He finished his career with 24 sacks, including 161/2 with the Bears. He was released in a cost-cutting move before the 2004 season as coach Lovie Smith didn’t deem him a fit for the defense.
Before Robinson left, he did a good job mentoring rookies Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, who were drafted to replace him. Robinson felt veterans had not been helpful when he was a rookie with the Rams and vowed never to be that guy.
He had off-field issues, twice getting charged with DUI, but throughout his career he was considered a good teammate. Late in the 2003 season, a man accused him of sexual assault. After a search warrant was executed at Robinson’s Gurnee home, prosecutors declined to charge Robinson with any wrongdoing.
Robinson was with the Bears when coach Dick Jauron and his staff arrived in 1999, and the defense was tailored around him, with fellow end Phillip Daniels arriving the following year.
“He was a tough player,” Blache said. “He was a fiery guy. He had a little bit of a short fuse, but he was always with you and you knew that. You could challenge him and push him and he was going to compete. He was a valuable piece to our defense and he wasn’t a glamorous piece. I don’t care what we asked him to do, he did it.”
Teammates also held Robinson in high regard.
“He was kind of a jerk to me, but if you took it the right way, it was helpful to you, especially to me as a rookie,” former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “He became one of my better friends on the team. B-Rob was very good at what he did and he never made mental mistakes. He always knew where to be and where other guys were supposed to be, and he didn’t accept that when other guys screwed up.
“He made plays but he freed other guys up to make plays, too, and he was good at it. He was definitely one of the leaders of the team my first few years.”
Defensive end Alex Brown was a rookie in 2002, and his opening in the starting lineup came when Robinson was suspended for a game after a DUI arrest.
“I was the youngest person in that room,” Brown said. “B-Rob always had an open door, and that helped because when I walked in, you had B-Rob, Ted (Washington), Keith (Traylor) and Phillip. They had been playing together for a while, and B-Rob never told me anything wrong. He would always be honest with me and just taught me how to be a pro. He worked his ass off to become a good football player, and he told me when you get an opportunity, take it.
“Even (after Brown replaced Robinson), he never stopped helping me. … Not many people in the NFL are like that.”
Robinson, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, joined the Rams as an undrafted free agent from Fresno State in 1997 and signed with the Bears the next season. They used the transition tag on Robinson before the 2001 season, then signed him to a $20 million extension.
Teammates said they had not been in touch with Robinson in recent years. That distance didn’t diminish their memories of a man they respected in the locker room.
Bryan Robinson file
Born: June 22, 1974, in Toledo, Ohio.
Died: June 11, 2016, in Milwaukee.
Colleges: College of the Desert, Fresno State.
NFL teams: Rams (1997), Bears (1998-2003), Dolphins (2004), Bengals (2005-07), Cardinals (2008-10).
Positions: Defensive end, defensive tackle.
Career highlights: Undrafted free agent appeared in 207 regular-season games (90 with Bears) with 170 starts (82 with Bears). … Credited with 24 career sacks and six forced fumbles. … Appeared in eight playoff games, all starts, including four after 2008 season, when Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII. … Played under transition tag with Bears in 2001 before signing $20 million extension.
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