By: Robert Zeglinski
Professionalism is difficult in dire straits. When everyone and everything around you is preoccupied with falling apart, when desolation has had its say, having the temerity to maintain a smile, to thrive, is the rarest of gifts. The human instinct in such situations is to enter the side cellar, curl up into a ball, go into fetal position, and wait the calamity of a tornado outside out. It’s better to acknowledge the problem and act as if it has no effect save for how it’s forcing you to uproot your entire existence. But those with courage and talent in one are different. They’re wired in such a fashion that adversity can’t phase them if it pulled out all the stops. If adversity played every trick in the book, Allen Robinson was prepared for every surprise.
The Bears did not meet expectations in 2019. An 8-8 finish marked by consternation over the future and wasted opportunity has cast a cloud of significant doubt over an organization that was beaming only six months ago. It’s veterans, professionals, such as Robinson, who proved the Bears could count on him in a pinch, that maintain an optimistic vision of something transcendent. Of something worth playing for and sacrificing your body for. Even in the midst of one of the more agonizing slow burn tailspins in franchise history, the 26-year-old Robinson never lost sight of what mattered and what he could control. He plugged and played, and plugged in plays as the only verifiable threat on a listless Chicago offense.
He gave the Bears something to look forward to.
In a comeback season for the ages (relatively speaking), Robinson shined in a fashion that would’ve stood out had the Bears lived up to their billing. He enjoyed the best season of his young career.
“It’s been a tough year for us, but I think the biggest thing is that we kept fighting,” said Robinson in a somber post-season locker room at Halas Hall.
A fitting assessment considering it was Robinson who led the pack of never electing to wave the white flag. A man who never stopped fighting and never backed down.
If you ask Robinson, the Bears were never in a tailspin. As long as he was healthy and contributing, they always had a chance at relevancy. They always had a prayer of making something of themselves, of their team, of the last calendar year of a decade meaning more. To Robinson, as long as he was playing like the franchise player he was purported to be, he exercised every ounce of his power in assistance of that lost vision.
It was only two years ago that Robinson limped off the field at NRG Stadium in Houston. An ACL tear that threw his outlook and playing days into doubt was the least of his concern. He was unaware of the struggles to come. The strength needed to work past mental and physical demons that come as part of a anxious package deal with ACL injuries. But the focus and determination to prove detractors wrong drove a young receiver mad, in a good way. To prove to himself that he was capable of rebounding and making something of himself yet.
Two years later, after settling into a role of comfort as one of the NFL’s most underrated No. 1 targets, the proof is in the orange and blue pudding. Robinson alone is responsible for enacting the tasty mixing and matching of sugars, starches, flavors, and oils. He’s made a delectable rice pudding to be proud of.
The ledger of accomplishments over the past four months for Robinson isn’t gaudy. But it doesn’t have to be. He made the most of what was given to him, of the 154 targets (many airmailed, many at his feet) toward his lengthy direction. 98 receptions, the fifth-most in single-season Bears history. 1,147 yards, the eighth-most in single-season Bears history. The humiliation of any cornerback who dared line up across from him, even when they knew the ball was absolutely coming in his direction. A vaunted security blanket even a wet blanket of a quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky couldn’t miss on his worst day.
This was the Robinson the Bears thought they were paying for when they acquired him in free agency two off-seasons ago. A game-changer regardless of the tumultuous circumstances surrounding his exploits. A real No. 1 receiver, not merely a No. 1 target in an offense by default. This is the Robinson the Bears can continue to build around, to assuage and feed. This is the Robinson the Bears can work to perhaps find a quarterback that actually maximizes his fabulous skill-set. Trubisky won’t do it, as neither did Blake Bortles, as neither has any passer Robinson has worked with since high school.
But maybe someone eventually will. That’s the moment Robinson is appreciated by more than the carcass of an offense he was forced to drag around his ankles for the duration of a season. That’s the deserved day where Robinson lives in the conversation of the game’s very best. That’s the moment he leaves the hush of the periphery and is paraded around and celebrated.
The Bears might be close to a rebound come the start of next decade. Barring a few tweaks here and there, it’s not a hearty, bold position of contention. If Robinson has any say, the best player on an otherwise hapless team, believes that sentiment as such, then they are indeed very close. If Robinson has any say, another leaping reception or two over a whelming defender is enough of a statement of his belief in what’s to come in itself.
Adversity will strike the Bears again, and soon. At the head of the pack to confront its misery and madness will stand Robinson. As he always has.
“Looking back at the year, seeing how everything went, for us to go 8-8, I don’t think we’re far at all,” said Robinson. “I think we’re pretty close.”
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.