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MOUTHS OF MIAMI; Robinson: The Falcons veteran is making a ringing impression with his Packers gem and, as always, with his words.; SUPER BOWL XXXIII


MIAMI -- Eugene Robinson is wearing a gaudy ring this week to send a not-so-subtle message to his teammates.

The talkative Atlanta Falcons safety is flashing the Super Bowl XXXI ring he won with the Green Bay Packers two years ago to let his teammates know the prize is within their reach Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

Appearing in his third straight Super Bowl, Robinson, who left the Packers as a free agent after last season, first wore the ring at the start of training camp.

At that time, the Super Bowl wasn't even on the Falcons' radar screen. But when he put it on again two weeks ago before the NFC title game, the Falcons realized they had a realistic shot to earn their own rings.

"I wanted to make it tangible for the other guys," he said. "A lot of guys look at the ring and want to put it on. They say, 'Let me see that thing, Gene, I'm going to get me one of those.' I tell them that we can all have our own rings. We can do this."

He has another message for his teammates. "I try to make it real for them -- don't be mesmerized by the Super Bowl. We can go out there and win a Super Bowl."

Robinson certainly isn't mesmerized. He loves center stage.

Speaking into a microphone during Media Day at Pro Player Stadium yesterday, he seemed to relish the attention.

"I'm a guy who'll talk your ear off," he said.

It wasn't long before he was comparing the Falcons to Clark Kent. He not only talks, but he's colorful.

"We're an underdog that has a lot of weapons. We're like Clark Kent. We go out and do the daily New Journal or Tribune or whatever he does. And then he goes into the phone booth and he takes off his shirt and now he's Superman.

"That's an underdog because you don't expect that guy to do what he does. No one expected the lowly Falcons to come here and have a 16-2 record and be vying for a championship. We just look like Clark Kent," he said.

On a more serious note, Robinson's arrival in Atlanta is a tale of free agency and how it affects the game and makes it harder to keep championship teams together.

The Packers were ready this year to move Darren Sharper -- the brother of Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper -- into a starting position. They offered Robinson $600,000 to stick around as a backup to groom Sharper.

Robinson, 35, wanted $1 million to stay. When the Packers said no, he signed a deal with the Falcons that paid him $1.75 million this season.

"Could they have given me that extra $400,000 to keep me there to have a bona fide starter to continue to groom that young man [Sharper] because he's going to be a heck of a safety? It was a $400,000 decision. Maybe it would have paid dividends. Who knows? I happen to think it would have paid dividends," he said.

He added, "In hindsight, [Packers general manager] Ron Wolf was a genius for bringing me there [from Seattle in 1996]. Now that I'm gone, you figure it out. You make the decision."

As it turned out, the Packers may have missed Robinson on the play that ended their season in San Francisco -- Steve Young's last-gasp touchdown pass to Terrell Owens when Sharper failed to make the play.

"I bet you that play will never happen to Darren again, because experience is his best teacher," Robinson said.

Robinson, a 14-year veteran, said many people have told him he would have prevented Owens from making the game-winning catch.

"Yeah, I think I would have made that play," he said.

Nobody knows if he would have, but he did make the play that saved the Falcons' season in overtime in Minnesota in the NFC title game. It happened when Randall Cunningham lofted one of those high passes to the Atlanta 15 that Randy Moss had been jumping up to catch all year.

If Moss caught it, the Vikings would have been in field-goal position and the game all but over.

"Yeah, Moss is faster than me," Robinson said. "Yeah, Moss can outjump me. But when the ball was in the air, I just said, 'I'm just going to play the ball.' All my career, all I ever did was play the ball.

"We had studied the film and we'd seen that Randall tends to underthrow Moss because of Moss' speed. And he underthrew him this time, too."

Robinson and Moss both leaped into the air, but Robinson managed to knock the ball away. The Vikings punted, the Falcons drove for the winning field goal and the Falcons are in the Super Bowl.

Now they're facing the same Denver team that deprived Robinson of a second straight title last year.

"I got tired of seeing that commercial of John Elway jumping over guys on third down. I can remember that play vividly because I was thinking 'throw the ball.' I was covering Shannon Sharpe and if he throws it, I've got a good chance for an interception."

Elway ran for a first down and helped the Broncos win their first Super Bowl.

Robinson now has another shot at the Broncos. He wants to be part of an upset the way the Broncos were last year.

"Having won a Super Bowl and losing one last year, I really want to win another one," Robinson said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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