Paul Robinson was one of 12 children of Leslie Robinson Sr. (1907-1987) and Levada Mallard Robinson (1909-1956), both of Crockett, Texas, who were married in 1926. In 1951, the family moved to Arizona where Leslie worked as a farm contractor. Paul attended Marana High School, where he played basketball and football but especially excelled at track.
He graduated from high school in 1963 and attended Eastern Arizona College, a community college in Thatcher. He then received a track scholarship to the University of Arizona and ran track for two years for the Wildcats. However, when his track scholarship ended, Robinson turned to football out of necessity for one season, becoming the team’s #2 running back his senior year.
After just one year of college football not much was expected of Robinson but he would go on to be, for a year, the best running back in the AFL. Not surprisingly, it was the legendary Paul Brown who found him.
Robinson’s first contract paid him a $15,000 base salary, with a $15,000 signing bonus. For their $30,000 investment, the Bengals got themselves the AFL’s Rookie of the Year. In his rookie year, which was also the Bengals first year in existence, Paul scored the first touchdown in Bengals history against the San Diego Chargers in an eventual 29-13 loss. Paul Robinson went on to rush for 1,023 yards and score eight touchdowns in his inaugural season which made Robinson just the second player ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first year of professional football in the United States. The other was the legendary Cookie Gilchrist, who ran for 1,096 yards for the Buffalo Bills in 1962.
After finishing second only to Joe Namath as the league MVP in 1968, Paul Robinson’s numbers dropped off in later years, but he played another six years in the AFL & NFL. When Paul Robinson left the NFL after the 1973 season, he had carried the ball 737 times for 2,947 career rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He also had 90 receptions for 612 yards and two scores. Paul Robinson spent the 1974 season with the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League, where he helped the Americans win the WFL’s only championship game before the league folded at the end of the season.
Paul Robinson is largely forgotten because of the way his career dropped off after his rookie season but what he did in that one year behind an expansion offensive line was truly amazing and should never be forgotten.