JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Michael Robinson gave himself a deadline. The Seattle Seahawks cut the former Penn State quarterback in August after a protracted illness caused him to lose more than 30 pounds. He was out of football, and made the determination that he would retire if he did sign a new contract by Week 10 or 11.
Robinson re-signed with Seattle on Oct. 22. After the Seahawks won the NFC Championship on Jan. 19, the 30-year-old fullback cried until he said no tears remained.
He cried because he was going to the Super Bowl. He cried because it was almost all taken away from him. He cried because he's football's version of an old man, having aged from Penn State's Orange Bowl-winning quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist to a man aware of his professional mortality.
"I had a long year," Robinson said. "Being cut, being sick. Not really knowing the extent of the sickness. I didn't know my kidneys were failing and my liver were failing. I just thought I was getting a bug."
Robinson prepared for his fourth season in Seattle this summer when his body had a negative reaction to an anti-inflammatory drug called Indocin. He felt sick after an Aug. 17 preseason against the Denver Broncos, who are the Seahawks' opponent in the Super Bowl. Robinson went to the hospital twice, and returned home both times. They could not figure out the problem. He kept losing weight.
When he returned to the hospital for a third time, a liver and kidney specialist came. Both organs were failing. He needed morphine to deal with the pain. That's when Robinson knew it was more serious than the flu.
The illness kept Robinson from playing in the final two preseason games. He was due $2.5 million and was not yet close to returning. The Seahawks had two rookie fullbacks. Robinson understood his roster spot was endangered. He did not play enough to keep his job, and the price did not warrant the patience.
"If you think there's loyalty in this business," Robinson said, "shame on you."
He spent nearly two months rebuilding his body and regaining his strength. Robinson's listed weight is 240 pounds, and he had dropped to 212 pounds during the illness. He spent time with some off-field endeavors -- he's involved in the media, has a fresh food vending enterprise, and is a silent partner in a debt consolidation business.
"Probably there were moments when Michael thought he might not ever get another chance," coach Pete Carroll said.
The New York Giants and Tennessee Titans showed interest, but Robinson did not like the fit in either place. He watched all the Seahawks games and maintained a strong reputation in the locker room. Rookie fullback Derrick Coleman's Week 7 injury opened a spot, and Robinson's NFL unemployment ended.
Robinson did not mind Mondays to Saturdays during the first seven weeks. Sundays infuriated him. He analyzed the game, but he knew he could still play. Yet if he was not offered a spot he liked, Robinson would have accepted moving on.
"I don't want football to define me," Robinson said. "I'm a man, a Christian, a husband, a father, who just happens to play football. I would have been OK with it."
He's lasted longer than most players who change positions. Although Robinson played some running back at Penn State earlier in his career, he emerged as a star at quarterback in 2005.
Robinson earned Big Ten offensive player of the year while leading the Lions to an 11-1 finish, an Orange Bowl victory, and the No. 3 overall ranking. He was a dual threat, and he thought he would get a chance to play the position in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Robinson in the fourth round of the 2006 draft and immediately moved him to running back. He became the starting fullback in 2008. His quarterbacking was in the past.
"When they're paying your bills," Robinson said, "you've got to go ahead and roll with it."
When Robinson asked if he would have stayed at quarterback if he was drafted nearly a decade later, he joked he might be a first-round pick.
Then he admitted he does not put much thought into it. Robinson has carved a nice NFL career, including a Pro Bowl bid in 2011. He's a key player in the locker room, with a stall next to star running back Marshawn Lynch's and a voice that resonates among one of the NFL's youngest rosters.
"He is a big factor on our team because we don't have that many older guys and he really stands for the old guard," Carroll said.
Robinson knows it's a young man's game. He's on the wrong side of 30 and plays a position fighting extinction. The Super Bowl is Robinson's final game under contract. He admitted Coleman is the Seahawks' fullback of the future.
Those tears flowed because he's still playing, but also because the end could soon be in sight. He still thinks he can produce in the NFL. His past five months already showed the vulnerability of a football player's career.
"I've always known that we're a play away from not playing anymore," Robinson said. "I've always known you need a backup plan or something to go into when football's over. I think I enjoy game days a lot more now, because I know how fast it could be taken away from you. So after that whole ordeal, it made it new to me again."
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