Oct 31, 2022
Dave Robinson, Graig Nettles and Alan Trammell all reached the pinnacle of success in professional sports.
Robinson was a star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers teams that won NFL championships in 1965, 1966 and 1967 – the latter two culminating with victories in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.
Nettles was a power hitting and Gold Glove third baseman for the New York Yankees teams that won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.
And Trammell was an elite shortstop who earned World Series MVP honors in leading the Detroit Tigers to the title in 1984.
The trio was in town on Sunday, putting their signatures on a variety of sports memorabilia for collectors at the Legends & Stars show at Batavia Downs Gaming. Each of them gave about five minutes of their time to The Batavian.
ROBINSON PLAYED FOR TWO GREATS
Dave Robinson’s stellar NFL career took place in Green Bay (1963-1972) and Washington (1973-74), playing for two legendary coaches – Vince Lombardi and George Allen, respectively. He said he still follows both teams and felt mixed emotions when they faced off against each other last week.
“Once a Packer always a Packer,” Robinson, now 81, said. “I really wanted to see the Packers break that (then three-game) losing streak that they had, but I hated to see them do it against the Commanders (formerly Redskins) – and they didn’t. But that's the only time I really have a conflict is when the two teams play each other.”
Robinson brought up Lombardi and Allen, noting that they were similar in their approach to the game.
“They both did things thousands of times, so it became second nature to you,” he said. “The difference was that when Lombardi did it, he did it in a thousand different ways. George used to do the same thing over and over again. So, his game got a little stale by the end of the season. That’s why his playoff record wasn’t that great because the players weren’t as motivated. They had heard it all before.”
Robinson is one of a dozen “Lombardi” Packers inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his honor coming in 2013.
“I think there are six in there from the defense,” he said. “We didn’t know that we’d end up in the Hall of Fame, but we knew we had a tough bunch of guys.”
He said that Lombardi, understanding that most quarterbacks were right-handed and teams tended to run more plays to the right, built up the left side of the defense.
“We had Willie Davis to my insider, Herb Adderley to my outside, inside linebacker was Ray Nitschke and safety was Willie Wood,” he offered. “When you looked to your right, there were five future Hall of Famers on the field at one time.”
Following Green Bay’s victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, Robinson said he went up to tell Oakland (and former Buffalo Bills) quarterback Daryle Lamonica “nice game,” when Lamonica shared that he was told all week to not throw the ball to the right.
Robinson said that Lamonica told him that by the fourth quarter, he thought he had lulled the Packers to sleep and tried to hit receiver Fred Belitnikoff with a quick slant to that side. That’s when Adderley intercepted the ball and returned it 60 yards for the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history.
“I said to him, ‘They told you don’t do it. You should have listened to your coaches,” Robinson said with a hearty laugh.
NETTLES CRITIQUES CURRENT YANKEES
Nettles, now 78, said he continues to follow the fortunes of the Yankees, the club he played on from 1973-83. All told, Nettles played for six teams – ending his 22-year career in 1988.
Assessing this year’s loss to Houston in the American League Championship Series, Nettles said it seemed as though the Yankees’ hitters were swinging for the fences.
“Well, to me it looked like everybody’s trying to hit home runs instead of getting base hits,” he said. “A lot of strikeouts and a lot of swinging at bad pitches. It seems they would take a good pitch and swing at the bad pitches.”
He said he noticed many times that batters were taking the first pitch, which would end up right over the heart of the plate.
“For some reason, guys like to take the first pitch and that’s usually the best pitch. My theory was to guess strike on the first pitch and swing at it,” he added.
When asked about Aaron Judge and his American League record 62 homers, Nettles said “it was great for baseball and I sure hope he stays with the Yankees.”
“You know, he gambled on himself with the contract (by not signing a long-term deal with New York prior to the season) and now he’s got every right to listen to the offers,” he said. “But I hoe he stays in New York with the Yankees.”
When asked why he doesn’t attend Yankees’ Old Timers Day festivities, Nettles said “they stopped inviting me about five years ago and I don’t know why, really.”
“I don't know if somebody – whoever is in charge, somebody doesn't like me. I don't know.”
When asked if his nickname “Puff” stemmed from him being a practical joker, Nettles said he got that moniker from his ability to leave the scene without anyone noticing.
“It’s just that I could disappear quickly, after a couple of beers,” he said. “I just say goodbye. I don't even say goodbye. If I had one night having too many beers, the next day I was hurting. So, the next night I just left after about two beers … and they didn’t know where I went.”
When asked about the 1978 playoff game against the Boston Red Sox (won by the Yankees, 5-4), Nettles talked about the last out – a foul pop-up off the bat of Carl Yastrzemski that landed in Nettles’ glove.
“I’m just glad it wasn't hit very high because I didn't like pop-ups,” he said. “That was the hardest thing for me because you never practice them; you can’t practice them during batting practice.”
TRAMMELL REMEMBERS MAGICAL YEAR
The 1984 Detroit Tigers arguably is one of the greatest teams ever – a team that won 35 of its first 40 games, went 104-58 during the regular season and captured the World Series in five games against the San Diego Padres.
Trammell, now 64, was the leader of that bunch, which was managed by the legendary Sparky Anderson, and included stars such as relief pitcher Willie Hernandez (who won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award), second baseman Lou Whitaker, catcher Lance Parrish, outfielders Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon and starting pitcher Jack Morris.
When asked about the team’s place in MLB history, Trammell said, “I’m not going to be the one to try to rank it because that’s too hard, but during that particular year … it didn’t matter if we were playing the 1927 Yankees (with Babe Ruth), we were going to win.”
“That was just our feeling. Going into the Series, if you don't feel confident that you’re going to win, then you shouldn’t be there. So, my point is that it was our year and nobody was going to beat us in that particular year.”
Trammell, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, mentioned that the 35-5 start is the best in baseball history, adding that the team won 17 road games in a row as well.
“We were confident and we had a pretty balanced team,” he said. “I was hoping that maybe we'd be able to win another championship, but unfortunately, that didn't happen. But at least for that one year, we were the best.”
By Mike Pettinella, https://www.thebatavian.com