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Eugene Robinson, arrested before last Falcons Super Bowl, won't let 'one mistake' define him

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It's a night three-time Pro Bowl safety Eugene Robinson will never forget, one he calls the "worst night of my life."

It's a night in which he uncontrollably sobbed more than any time in his 53 years.

It's a night that will be mentioned often over the next week as the Atlanta Falcons prepare for a trip to Houston to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

That's because in 1999, the night before the Falcons last played in the Super Bowl, Robinson was arrested on a charge of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in a seedy section of Miami.

Robinson doesn't mind talking about that night. Now a radio and broadcast analyst for the Panthers, he shared what happened with Carolina players the week before they faced Denver in Super Bowl 50 a year ago.

He says he was a "knucklehead."

But it's not a night that Robinson will let define him, or one he believes should define him.

He reminded of all the kids he has had a positive influence on the past 16 years as a football, wrestling and track coach at Charlotte Christian School. He reminded of how many of those kids came up and "thanked Coach Rob" for his influence on Tuesday during a ceremony to retire the number of Stephen Curry.

He reminded of the mother who called to thank him earlier this week for attending the funeral of her daughter, who got through many of her chemotherapy treatments watching Robinson co-host a morning television show on Charlotte's NBC affiliate.

"So, the sum total of my life is not defined by one Super Bowl mistake," Robinson said. "It's the daily interactions with people that's really made a difference."

Robinson understands his night before the Super Bowl blunder will get rehashed because of the circumstances. That it happened hours after he was given the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award for the player who exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home and community made it even more "embarrassing."

"You've got to have material to write," Robinson said. "So from that aspect, I understand that. But it's not something that's not been told, something that hasn't been rehashed, something that I haven't been forthcoming about."

Robinson is all about repeating his story if it will help Atlanta or New England players avoid his pitfall. That's why he shared his story with Carolina players, something coach Ron Rivera called "courageous."

Robinson knew immediately his words resonated with Carolina players.

"I just know the looks that I got, some of the thanks I got later from guys, without even saying a word I knew it spoke volumes," he said.

With time, Robinson has found it easier to talk about that night. He talked about it the last time the Super Bowl was in Houston in 2004.

"This is something I've already dealt with, and because I've already dealt with it it's easy to talk about now," said Robinson, who gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass from Denver's John Elway in the Falcons' 34-19 loss to the Broncos.

"It's not something new. It's something fresher because it's Atlanta."

Robinson still cheers for the Falcons when they're not playing Carolina, so he'll be pulling for them against New England.

He's still forever indebted to former Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who gave him the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl after his mistake.

Robinson just doesn't let what happened 18 years ago define him, even if others do.

"I'm the same guy I've always been, one that that's been encouraging," he said. "It's never stopped. God has always used that to build his kingdom.

"How people remember me, that's up to them. How the people I interact with and I come across, that's where I want to make a difference."