Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Bonesville The Magazine Teaser
Saturday, August 9, 2008
By Ron Cherubini

A Family Story: NFL Star Knew He Could Always Come Home

Had it been different, the Tootie Robbins saga may not have been worth telling

By Ron Cherubini.
All rights reserved.

Many reasons lead players to select one college over another. In most cases, the final decision distills down into one reason: comfort.

For Tootie Robbins, one of the most talented and recognized offensive linemen in the history of the East Carolina football program, the comfort factor made the difference. In making his choice back in 1978, it was because of the strong-sense of family that resonated in every conversation – from those with Coach Pat Dye to those with the people you meet on campus during a typical recruiting weekend.

Growing up the son of a sharecropper, Robbins recalled a youth well-insulated where work, play, and worship was experienced with extended family. His world view was shaped by the boundaries of a parcel of land worked by his family and that of his uncles.

He learned from birth that family is all that mattered. By the time Robbins began interacting with those external to the farm, his sense of family and his expectations for those in his inner circle were firmly entrenched.

So when it came to choosing the Pirates over many others, including several so-called “bigger name” schools, there was a single, albeit less concrete, factor: Family.

Far away, he said, he felt family – the type he needed – at only one place – East Carolina. It is a story that he shares in common with many other past Pirate greats. But for Robbins, it had a bit of twist, and had he not been so true to his beliefs, this story and many others would not have been possible.

See, Robbins’ career as a Pirate gridder nearly ended in 1979 when he quit the program and returned to the farm in Merry Hill (NC). That’s right. The 12-year NFL veteran and former ECU star nearly shut the door on his football career in 1979.

Had it not been for the strong sense of family deep within him and within those at the university, Robbins would have gone down as another irrelevant footnote in the program's history.

To set the context: Robbins and Coach Dye’s offensive line coach had a disagreement that escalated into a verbal exchange that prompted Robbins to leave the program. He went home to the open arms of his understanding parents, got a job and considered looking around at other colleges. But, he never started that search because his heart really only wanted to be at ECU… even if that meant never playing again.

“Fortunately for me, they hired Ed Emory (in 1980) – who I love dearly to this day – and he sent one of his assistant coaches to come talk to me to see if I was interested in coming back to East Carolina,” Robbins said in an interview for the 2008 edition of Bonesville The Magazine. “I told him I wasn’t sure. But then he came back and I told him, ‘Yes, I want to come back.’

"(East Carolina) could have closed the doors to me but they didn’t do that. They opened their arms to me and they allowed me back in. That day I told them, ‘I’ll give you everything I got on the field and off the field. I will represent East Carolina to the fullest. I will never bring shame to East Carolina.’ And, I live by that even today. I have nothing negative to say about the school. Even if I did, I wouldn’t say it, but I don’t.

"I cannot think of anything negative to say about East Carolina. I am very blessed to have been given the opportunity to go to East Carolina. I was thankful for that second chance.

“I believe that incident made me the person I am today and the athlete I was at East Carolina. Being surrounded by good people – people I would call family – and Coach Emory did wonderful things for me. He gave me an opportunity to show everyone that East Carolina invested well in giving me that scholarship and bringing me back.”

To this day, Robbins cites this family atmosphere at ECU as being the difference not only in his college choice, but ultimately in helping to shape him into more than the average football player.

“My work ethic, making sacrifices, believing in the people around me, that is what (carried me),” Robbins said. “If you believe in the people around you, they will believe in you. And, if you never forget where you come from, you can remain grounded (in life).

"East Carolina was like family for me and (if) there is any advice I would give a (prospective athlete), it would be to make sure that the school you go to has that family connection feel.”

Robbins made that choice and in doing so, he became one of the most dominating offensive tackles in program history. He became a stalwart in the NFL. And, he still serves as a great positive example of the type of players who find their way to East Carolina each year.

Read more about the life and times of Tootie Robbins as he takes a ride in The Pirate Time Machine in this year’s edition of Bonesville The Magazine.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

Dig into Ron Cherubini's Bonesville archives.

08/09/2008 02:49:20 AM

©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.