Minnesota stretches 79,610 square miles and features 11,842 lakes.
The lure of bass fishing prompted Brian Robison to explore the far reaches of Minnesota on land and water.
Everywhere he went, whether it was up north, out west or in the southeast corner, he was welcomed by the people of the state.
He hugged them right back, smiled for pictures, inked autographs and gladly talked football and life, becoming a folksy hero.
Strangers quickly and easily became friends, professional guides became brothers and hosts became extended family members. His time was their time, a shared experience often in scenic environments.
“My 11 years here and many journeys have taken me all over this great state and allowed me to meet some amazing people,” Brian hand-wrote in a letter to announce his retirement from football.
B-Rob gave plenty of thanks in the letter, mentioning several friends around the state by name.
His letter prompted Vikings.com to reach out and gather stories of their journeys together.
Chapter 1: The Best Neighbors You Could Ever Imagine
“I will have some long-lasting relationships but none greater than in Savage. … We gained friendships that will last a lifetime and even gained another part of our family in the Gilbertsons. … We love you and can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done.”
A Savage neighborhood west of a strip mall and just north of a five-lane highway seemed like an odd place for a horse trailer to pull up and start unloading.
Nancy Gilbertson watched in wonder, noticing a man and a woman getting out, “and a dog, and another dog, and then there was another dog.”
“You’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ Then, there was hay or straw all over the street. It was like, ‘OK, do they know they’re living in Minnesota, in a suburb?’ ”
Nancy and her husband, Rich, walked over and introduced themselves to the couple.
“They gave us their names, which meant nothing to us,” Nancy recalled. “We’re both Vikings fans, but I wasn’t ever really a big draft person, so I hadn’t really seen the draft and didn’t know who he was. I said to Jayme, ‘What brought you up here?’ She said, ‘My fiancé’s job.’ I said, ‘Oh, what does he do?’ She just kind of went, ‘He plays for the Minnesota Vikings.’ That was our first encounter. We were like, ‘You’re definitely in a neighborhood that would love the Vikings. We’ve got two Packer fans, but don’t hold that against us.’ ”
The Gilbertsons welcomed Brian and Jayme, two native Texans, to the Bold North.
Nancy admits she initially was trying to “buddy them up with our daughter and her husband,” but the contemporaries didn’t live nearby.
“It was much easier for us to stay close, and we did,” Nancy said.
The Gilbertsons became more than just neighbors, almost like Minnesota parents, to the Robisons.
Neighbor in Savage
They were there for them when a water pipe in the garage hadn’t been properly cleared for winter and burst, an unfortunate lesson, but not enough to prevent the Robisons from appreciating certain aspects of a dramatically different climate.
“Rich taught him to walk on water,” Nancy joked. “OK, it was frozen, and they were ice fishing, but we taught him how to walk on water.”
Rich took Brian and his father, Jimmy, snowmobiling.
The Robisons, in turn, hosted the Gilbertsons in Texas, where the only ice fishing involves reaching into a cooler.
Nancy credited Brian’s upbringing for him being so “down to earth,” a phrase mentioned often by interviewees for this story. She enjoyed seeing the Robison family expand with the births of daughter, Madelyn, and son, Parker.
The Gilbertsons attended multiple Vikings games and met a lot of Brian’s teammates, but they most enjoyed a front-row seat to a good-vibes family.
“It was awesome to be able to experience all of that, but it was more awesome to know Brian and Jayme and the kids,” Nancy said.
Brian was a jokester, yet hypercompetitive at Wii games, and a less-than-good karaoke singer.
“We bought the Wii when it first came out, and he bought one,” Nancy recalled. “He went out and found the Wii Fit boards and all of those games that came with Wii Fit. I wanted one, so I went out and got one.
“It became a challenge to see who could do the ski jumping the farthest. I’m not very good at it, so I wasn’t doing really well, and then it became who could go the least,” she continued. “It got so competitive, it wasn’t even just who could do the best, but who could do the worst.”
According to Nancy, the man from Splendora, Texas, is no troubadour. She advised, “Don’t ever ask him to sing Karaoke.
“He’s terrible at it, but he doesn’t think so,” Nancy said, admitting that she doesn’t “sing in front of anyone.”
“He definitely will sing it out, no question,” she added. “Everything was bad. It really didn’t matter. He could sing country, rap, get himself a little Drake going on. He could do it, but none of it was very good.”
Robison said it was in Savage where his family grew and discovered the Gilbertsons are “the best neighbors you could ever imagine.”
Chapter 2: Taste of Texas Meets Minnesota
“[Savage] is where Jayme and I purchased our first home, where our family grew, where you can go to the Buffalo Tap and have a Juicy Lucy named after me. Ask the owner Jon, and he will tell you how it came about.”
The Buffalo Tap is a Savage staple for residents and passers-through, and Brian was able to help leave his mark on the restaurant when a “B Rob Juicy Lucy” was placed on the menu, which noted, “Our Hometown Defensive End #96 came up with this monumental Juicy Lucy.”
Two-thirds of a pound of ground elk meat were stuffed with spicy cheese curds and pepper jack cheese, before being topped with more pepper jack, jalapeno bacon, jalapeno peppers and spicy barbecue sauce.
“Brian had been a customer for about a year, maybe, and we had been talking about getting a burger going for him,” Buffalo Tap Owner Jon Fraser said. “We put our heads together and brainstormed on a fun burger.”
The burger was spotlighted during an “On the job with B-Rob” television segment for FOX Sports North a few years back.
Elk was selected because it is leaner in fat, but Jon said some didn’t quite know what they were getting into for size.
“The cheese curds really fill it up and make it look like it’s about to explode,” Jon said. “When they eat it, it’s like nothing they’ve ever had, and then all of the spices and the flavor from the elk blends pretty well.”
Jon and his father have owned Buffalo Tap for 12 years.
“I was still young, getting my start, and he was also getting his start, so it’s kind of moving up together,” Jon said.
As Brian’s career progressed, drawing more and more recognition reaching the top 10 for sacks in Vikings history, he remained grounded with everyone in the restaurant.
“He’s one of the more laid-back people I’ve ever met, really nice, and had a minute for everyone that would come say hi,” Jon said. “He loved to meet new people and would treat the staff excellent and other customers and fans that would stop by and see him and recognize him.
“When he’s here, he’s just a down-to-earth guy, as real as they come,” Jon added. “You can tell that family and friends are an important part of his life.”
Chapter 3: Fishing and Football Meet at Quarterback
“I have met amazing people everywhere in between these places, the Holmers, Peppermint Twist, the list goes on and on.”
The first time that Jason Holmer and Brian went out on the water together, Brian was a pending free agent close to signing an extension.
“All day long, I was like, ‘Don’t get hurt, please,’ ” recalled Jason, the Founder of bassutopia.com and host of Bass Utopia TV.
Brian didn’t and was able to ink a four-year deal soon thereafter.
Jason is no stranger to guiding celebrities, but the first day out on the water with Brian was “like we were old friends again, fishing together.”
Brian didn’t need the level of instruction required by some of Jason’s other clients so they could be “just a couple of guys that liked to bass fish, hanging out.” They also could have a good time poking fun at one another “if one was out-fishing the other.”
Always determined for success on the water, Jason said he could also see “stress melt away” during each trip and an uncanny friendliness to people that they met along the way.
“One of the things that always struck me about him, I’ve done quite a bit of guiding with professional athletes, and he was just the most humble, down-to-earth, didn’t want any special treatments, didn’t realize the celebrity he had, which I always really respected about him,” Jason said. “We’d stop at a gas station, and I’d offer to go inside so that no one would bother him, and he was like, ‘Nobody knows who I am.’ Yeah, they know who you are, Brian.”
Cast, set, reel and hoist was just bound to make its way to the gridiron.
Brian discussed the possibility of crossing the streams of fishing and football with a few folks, including Jason and his sister while they were out one day, searching for smallmouth bass.
“My sister and I were giving him a hard time about his sack dance, because having gotten to know him, it didn’t really fit him, so we were just kind of chatting about that — ‘You should really do a hook set, reel in the quarterback like a fish and show him off and then let him go so you can catch him again.’ ”
Brian went through the motion a little bit from the boat.
“That next game, he got Tony Romo,” Jason said. “That was the first one he got, and then he did it. My phone started blowing up. My sister and everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he actually did it.’ It was pretty fun.”
Brian got the Cowboys QB twice that night in November 2013, the second and final time he played in Dallas, and Brian’s sack celebration was enjoyed by fans for years to come.
When the trips concluded — and sometimes before they even started — Brian made sure to spend time with Jason’s family, playing catch with Jason’s son, Nick, and daughter, Natalie, and even wrestling with Nick. He also made sure to hit up Peppermint Twist, the legendary Delano drive-in, before heading home.
“It would have been easy for him to just jump in the boat and go fishing, get back and jump in his truck and leave quickly, but he always took that extra time, and as a parent, I really appreciated that, especially with my son looking up to athletes,” Jason said. “For him to have a role model like Brian was just such an awesome thing.”
Jason was then able to help Brian’s Reel ’Em In Foundation establish its first fishing tournament in Wabasha in 2017. Another tourney followed the next year and featured 2018 Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
“He’s one of the most down to earth, humble athletes I’ve ever been around,” Jason said. “I just feel really lucky to call him a friend.”
Both tournaments benefitted K9s4Cops, an organization with special significance to Brian, whose father is a retired police officer.
Brian’s work on behalf of K9s4Cops has helped the organization equip law enforcement agencies with service dogs.
Chapter 4: ‘Kind of a Wabasha hero’
“Southeast, you have the city of Wabasha that has been the home to my “Reel ’Em In” Foundation events. The people there have supported us in ways my family could’ve never imagined. All of this couldn’t have been accomplished without the Springer family.”
Chad Springer was in a deer hunting stand when he let the call go to voicemail.
When the Wabasha City Administrator played it back, he learned that Brian was looking to put together a fishing tournament in the town of about 2,500 along the Mississippi River that would feature top anglers and Vikings teammates.
Brian headed to Southeast Minnesota and met up with Chad, who took him around town on the Saturday before Easter.
“I realized right away from him that it’s more than about money and fame and all that,” Chad said. “The dude was a real guy, and he was down to earth.”
They drove by the firehouse where the all-volunteer staff was hosting an egg hunt.
Chad figured Brian would want to circle back later to inquire about having the ladder truck on display at the tournament, but Brian said, “Swing in there. I want to stop.”
“We went in, and he obviously was the hit of the show,” Chad recalled. “He took all of the time he needed to sign autographs and take pictures. The kids and their families thought it was the neatest thing. From then on, he kind of became a Wabasha hero to the kids and parents down here.”
The two finished their canvasing, went fishing and barbecued at Chad’s house. Brian played basketball with Chad’s sons, Parker and Caleb, and opted into attending a fundraiser for St. Jude.
“The kids really look up to him,” Chad said. “At first, it was, ‘Oh, wow, a Viking.’ Now it’s, ‘Hi, Brian,’ just like he’s Uncle Joe.”
Wabasha City Administrator
When Brian’s tournament rolled around, Chad was amazed at how hands-on he, his family and a couple of close friends were with planning and executing the tournament.
“My wife (Alison) and I were welcomed right into that ream, and we were able to help,” Chad said.
The Springer family also enjoyed dog sitting for Brian’s black Lab, which got along well with theirs.
Sadly, the Springer’s dog, Timber, had to be put down. Brian sent condolence notes when he got the news.
The family was able to honor its beloved pet, however, after purchasing naming rights to a future K9 through the fundraiser. They chose Timber.
“It was things like that that Brian has brought into our family that we’ll be forever grateful for,” Chad said. “I hope we’ve touched him in some way, as well. We stay in touch, and I see it as a lifetime friendship.”
The first Wabasha tournament’s success led to a return trip, and Chad said the banquet for the second tournament sold out in 45 minutes.
“He could have easily over-packed it and made it an uncomfortable experience for people, but he didn’t,” Chad said. “He added what he could but didn’t want to ruin the experience that people had for paying $50 a ticket to come in and get to be elbow-to-elbow with some of the Vikings greats and some of the best fishermen in the world.”
Brian doesn’t have a tournament in Wabasha this year, but he does have another one in Texas, and Chad and Alison are going to help with it.
In the meantime, Chad is enjoying quality time with his family through a reignited passion for fishing, a flame that Brian stoked.
“I grew up on the river, I fished all the time as a kid and then I kind of lost it, kind of lost the passion for it, got busy with other things,” Chad explained. “My 14-year-old, when he was about 10 really started to show an interest, so I did what I could to get him out. … Now, my son and I go out all of the time ... I’ve thanked [Brian] every day for that because that’s something that my son and I do together a lot now.”
Chapter 5: Sportsmen relate
“[The Springer family has] become great friends of ours, along with the Reeve family, who got me back into hunting again. Even though I didn’t harvest a deer, I will be back.”
When Pat Reeve was approached about donating for Brian’s first tournament, the co-host of Outdoor Channel’s Driven with Pat & Nicole said yes because they knew of Brian’s love for the outdoors. The nationally known husband and wife hunting duo (and owners of drivenhunter.com) couldn’t make it to the event, but Pat reached out and offered the opportunity to hunt the couple’s farms in Southern Minnesota.
Brian asked about learning how to bow hunt, so Pat took him out several times, and now Brian has another activity to enjoy with his son.
Pat and Brian clicked immediately.
“It’s like you’ve known him forever,” Pat said. “He’s just real down to earth, can talk to anybody and will take the time to do that.”
But how is Brian at bow hunting?
“I always told him he needed to stick to football,” Pat said with a laugh. “He’s a big guy, so he’s tall and has a long wingspan. His arms are long, so that means he’s got to shoot a very long draw length for a bow. That takes a while to catch on to that sport. It’s not something you just pick up overnight.
“He stayed with it and enjoys the hunting aspect because it is a challenge. You’ve got to have the animal close. It just takes a lot of patience. He had hunted in Texas, but that was gun hunting and he never had bow hunted. We got him a Mathews bow and got him all set up. His son, Parker, has a bow now, so I think he’s going out and practicing.”
Pat said Brian was able to fill the target, but “an element of buck fever” crept in and kept Brian from executing the shot when a solid opportunity presented.
“That’s OK. I explained it, that’s bow hunting,” Pat said. “It takes a skilled archer a lot of time.”
The Reeve family was able to attend the second tournament in Wabasha, and their own background furthered their appreciation for the Robisons’ involvement level.
“He had his hands in everything, from A to Z, in that foundation and event in lining up everything,” Pat said. “It was just really pretty amazing, to say the least. Most people in his position would never take the time to do that because they’re just too busy for it. That goes to show you what kind of man he really is. He believes in making a difference, and he has in many people’s lives, not just in football, but outside football.”
Pat’s rural neighbors, Tim and Diane Pries, love the Vikings, so he asked Brian to surprise them.
“We go over and knock on their door. I have Brian hiding around the corner,” Pat recalled. “[Diane] opened the door and said, ‘You’re on my crap list because I heard Brian Robison was hunting here and you did not bring him by and you know how big a Vikings fan I am. I can’t believe that.’
“I said, ‘Is there any way I can make it up to you?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. That would take a lot.’
‘Well, what if I was to say that Brian would like to say hi to you?’
“I said, ‘Hey Brian, why don’t you come out and say hi?’ He steps around the corner, and she screamed for like two minutes straight.”
Brian went in and signed the Pries’ Vikings memorabilia wall, snapped some pics and had some laughs. He also was able to extend hospitality to the Reeve family by hosting them at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last year and Vikings games.
“We have other friends in the NFL that played for other teams, and Brian is just one of those guys that’s like your big brother and best friend all together, just one of those great guys,” Pat said. “His leadership shined through as a senior member of the Vikings for a long time.”
Chapter 6: A Proper Introduction
“Up north, there’s the Pattenns and the T Pattenn Café in Orr. They have the best caramel roll you will ever eat (ask for icing).”
Roughly four hours due north of the Twin Cities, T Pattenn Café sits right by Pelican Lake in Orr.
The café that opened in 1935 is a place where breakfast time is any time. It is known as “Home of the Big Donut” but also serves up a caramel roll that Brian champions.
It also is home to spitfire owner Tara Pattenn, who now knows that Brian will want white frosting put on top of the caramel roll and then “microwaved for a little bit so all of that just seeps right into it.”
Brian’s first visit with his buddies was memorable, but not for why one might think.
Tara Pattenn, Orr, Minnesota
“The first time he came in, it’s quite hilarious, because we did not recognize him … because he had his hair cut short by this time,” Tara recalled. “I waited on them like I normally do, gave them a whole bunch of crap because that’s what I do. They paid and went out, and Skeeter came over and asked if I knew who it was.”
“I said, ‘No.’
‘That’s Brian Robison.’
“I said, ‘Shut up, really? Go out there and tell Brian to get his ass back in here so my boyfriend can properly meet him.’
“That’s where we started.”
Brian obliged to the request, and the group was there “every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner” during that trip and has returned annually. Tara also keeps tabs on Brian via social media.
“He truly is a sweetheart,” Tara said. “He got to meet all of my family. I realize they’re coming up here for fishing and vacation and all of that, but it is never a bother for him to stop and say hi to the kids and take a picture and [sign an] autograph. Every one of my nine grandchildren has autographs and pictures. He went out of his way to make a special point to not leave without finding my mother and saying bye to her and giving her a hug.”
Brian also was happy to record a video message for the North Woods Grizzlies the day before their state playoff game a couple years ago.
Five generations of Tara’s family have worked in the café that Tara has owned since 1989. They look forward to continue hosting one of their own again next time.
“As soon as I see him, I get the biggest hug,” Tara said. “The Vikings were lucky to have him, because as far as I’m concerned, he’s a role model on and off the field. You couldn’t ask for a nicer person. … Brian always has time, anywhere he goes for anybody.”
Chapter 7: Leg-wrestling and Bear-hugging
“Little west in Longville, you have Little Boy Resort and its owners, the Lorens. They are about as good of people you’ll come by with an awesome campground.”
When the winds on Lake Mille Lacs were too rough, Brian and Jeremiah Johnson headed about 70 miles northwest to Little Boy Resort in Longville that is more than 80 years old.
Jeremiah had a buddy familiar with Little Boy Lake, which led to somewhat of a chance encounter for Brian with the Lorens family that has grown into a recurring connection.
The big black truck with Texas plates rolled into the lot and was directed to the office. Troy Lorens, the provider of the directions, didn’t recognize the driver.
Even though Brian had recently parted ways with his ponytail, Troy’s son, Dillon, immediately recognized the Vikings defensive end and explained to his mother, Nancy, who isn’t a sports fan but has since become a B-Rob fan.
“It was kind of like Old Home Week, in that we had never met him before,” but immediately connected, Nancy explained. “After that weekend, we were hugging and chatting on Facebook. It was like we were best friends. A lot of our guests feel that way; we get to be like family.”
The Lorens family is heading into its 15th summer as owners and has seen Brian be so hospitable to other guests’ asks for autographs and pictures during every visit, as well as a less-common request.
Nancy explained the spectacle of Brian getting a leg-wrestling lesson from resorter Joyce Leidenfrost.
Joyce, who has raised money for Make-A-Wish by designing and selling T-shirts, had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
“Somebody said there’s one thing that she would love to do. [Brian] said, ‘What’s that?’
‘She wants to leg-wrestle Brian Robison.’
“He was like, ‘Game-on. I’m all for it. What’s leg-wrestling?’
“She did the 1, 2, 3 and flipped him right over the top of her,” Nancy recalled. “He was like, ‘Wait a minute, what just happened?’ ”
Nancy hasn’t tried, but she can personally vouch that Brian is “just a great guy and the best bear-hugger ever.”
And a tremendous conversationalist who is happy to sit in the resort’s store and talk about football and non-football topics.
“Even though he was dying to get out on the water and fish, he never made you feel like, ‘Hurry up and finish this conversation. I’ve got to go,’ ” Nancy said. “It just always touched my heart to think that he was so genuine and cared about everybody, so I always felt good around him.”
Chapter 8: A Budding Bromance
“Just north of Mille Lacs, you have Josh Goolsbee and his Lonesome Pine Restaurant that has some of the best food I’ve ever had.”
“Hello, Josh, I’m Craig Peters with the Vikings calling to do a story about Brian Robison.”
“Myyyy mannnnnnnn! How did you get my number? Why are you calling me? What’s your deal?”
Josh Goolsbee’s reaction to being asked to participate in this story is unforgettable.
He didn’t have enough time to talk about his friendship with Brian Robison that night but was able to reschedule.
“My man crush/bromance started with B-Rob back in 2010,” Josh explained.
Josh said Brian was an “easy guy to root for, the underdog guy” as a fourth-round pick rising up the ranks to become a starter. Josh was able to connect via social media where Brian “would always interact” with fans.
He recalled a bus trip by fans to watch the Vikings play the last time that Minnesota visited Kansas City and explained how purple and gold, along with a 96, has been painted on his toes for multiple seasons.
“We started painting toenails in the lakes area with the American flag on them one year to show spirit,” Josh said. “For the past several Vikings seasons, my toes are always purple and gold. That’s the super groupie that I am.”
Josh also connected in person at training camps and after games at the Metrodome and University of Minnesota.
“B-Rob comes off the tongue, and Rob-ih-son comes off the tongue so well,” Josh explained. “You can just, ‘Beeeeeeeeeeeeeee-Rob!’ or ‘Robbbbbbbbbbbbb-ih-sonnnnnnn!’ ”
“Every time without a doubt, he would come over, picture, handshake, talk, so it just kind of grew from there,” Josh said.
Josh Goolsbee, Owner
The owner of the Lonesome Pine Restaurant on Bay Lake in Deerwood has enjoyed Brian and friends/family stopping in for meals.
“I finally got him in here for a meal with his buddies and dad several times,” Josh said. “It’s been a treat, an honor and a pleasure to be able to sit down and chat, not so much even football, but just life.”
What did Brian order?
“I tried to get him to switch it up, but he was big on our filet mignons,” Josh said. “I never wanted him to order them, but cheese curds. C’mon. Dessert, we have mud pie and mini-doughnuts and cheesecake. I think he didn’t want to eat as much for dinner because he knew I was going to kill him for dessert. He would definitely leave here, probably a little more uncomfortably full than I would have wanted, but the man enjoys food. That was part of our connection.”
Chapter 9: More Than Fishing Buddies
Editor’s note: When asked for contact information of the people he named, Brian sent a number for Jeremiah Johnson and added, “This could be another good one for you, being I go fishing with Jeremiah a lot.” He was right.
When Jeremiah Johnson met Brian a few years back at the Bassmaster Classic, “basically the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” Jeremiah had seen the hookset sack celebration and suggested they go explore Lake Mille Lacs and thereabouts.
“Our personalities clicked, and the rest was history from there,” Jeremiah explained. “We ended up fishing a bunch and spending a bunch of time together out on the water.”
The relationship has grown from fishing buddies to full-fledged friends who have taken family vacations together.
Jeremiah has enjoyed experiencing Brian’s “love for people, not just me.”
“When we went fishing, he made time for everybody,” Jeremiah said. “He’d stop and sign autographs in the bait shop up in Longville and at Little Boy Resort. We’d go get ice cream in Longville and he’d take pictures, I’d hold his ice cream cone, it was melting, and he didn’t care. If it took an hour, he wanted to make sure that everybody got a picture and an autograph. That’s just how he was.”
What’s Brian like on the water?
“Brian has got a lot of energy. Sometimes you see it, and sometimes you don’t,” Jeremiah said. “Sometimes you see that big teddy bear, and he’s kind of calm and kind of Neanderthals around. Brian kind of has that strut to him when you watch him walk. He’s got the real big legs on him, but we get pretty fun out there on the boat.
“We both have hyperactivity,” Jeremiah added. “That’s why I think our personality clicks so well. We get pretty hyped when we catch a fish. It’s fun to get super excited, first-off, about being out there together and second when we catch something, we’re pretty jacked up about it.”
The friendship between Jeremiah Johnson and Brian Robison began with their love for fishing and runs deep.
Jeremiah also noted Brian’s loyalty to and passion for the Vikings shined in the way he customized his truck, boat, reels and rod socks.
“He was the most loyal player, and I follow a lot of the Vikings players, he was probably the most loyal player that they’ll ever have and see,” Jeremiah said. “I really hope that the organization and the Wilf family really know, off the football field, what this guy was to that organization. He was so dedicated and loyal.
“I’m like, ‘Do you have Vikings boxers on right now? Or a [Vikings] cup?’ I think his cup probably had horns on it.’ He was that loyal, man, and that’s a special player, because there’s guys that will jump ship in a heartbeat, and Brian thought about his family, about the organization, his teammates and put them before dollar signs. To me, that’s somebody special.”
Like Jason Holmer, Jeremiah has been able to guide other athletes and musicians on trips. He agreed that an excursion with Brian has a different feel.
“He’s like my brother, one of those guys that it’s pretty hard not to like him,” Jeremiah said. “The more you get to know him, it’s like, we’ve got a lot of stuff in common. He’s a good person, but he cares about you, too. That’s the big thing, Brian’s heart.”
Jeremiah, who doesn’t like to ask anybody for anything, has felt the love personally in good times and bad.
When his sister, Kelly Sanvik, was diagnosed with ALS and told she had a few months to live, Brian helped with some items to be auctioned to raise funds and sent flowers when Kelly passed away. Brian also helped Jeremiah through a nasty breakup with multiple types of support and provided mentorship through different situations.
“What you see out of Brian is what you get, 100 percent on and off the field,” Jeremiah said. “To me, that’s one hell of a man.
“He was there for me when I was at my lowest … but he didn’t have to be that kind of friend,” Jeremiah said.
Chapter 10: “Let’s go fishing”
“My wife and I will tell you that Texas is our home. … With that said, Minnesota, no matter what happens from here on out or where the Robison family goes, you will always have a piece of our heart.”
Jeremiah appreciated the numerous ways Brian had been there for him through thick and thin.
It turns out that Jeremiah was able to return support to help Brian through a difficult time.
The two were supposed to go fishing on Saturday, Sept. 1. When Jeremiah called at 9:30 that morning to check in, Brian said some news came up, he couldn’t talk about it and also couldn’t go fishing.
“I heard something in his voice. He sounded really down and out about something,” Jeremiah recalled. “I said, ‘Is it something with your family? Is everything OK?’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you about it tomorrow, but I can’t really speak on it now.’
“He called me later that night, ‘Man, I got cut.’
‘Yeah, I got let go. It’s part of being in the NFL. It’s what happens. It’s a business.’
“He said, ‘This is some of the toughest news I’ve ever gotten.’
“I said, ‘Let’s get you on the boat. Let’s go fishing and get your mind off of it.’ ”
When Jeremiah got to Brian’s house the next day, he gave him a big hug.
“He was actually pulling his locker room sign out of his truck,” Jeremiah said. “He had that in his hand and a big bin with all of his stuff, his football gloves and everything. He was pretty emotional, and I was pretty emotional.
“I said, ‘Everything happens for a reason, bud. Let’s just go fishing, get your mind off it and have a great day.’
Brian didn’t say anything immediately. He reached into his bin, grabbed a pair of cleats, one of the last pairs he ever played in, autographed them and said thanks for being a great friend.
Jeremiah, who attended Minnesota’s home preseason game against Seattle, placed the shoes in his trophy case.
“Nobody at the time knew this was going to be his last time on the field,” Jeremiah said. “I literally got to watch him play in those cleats for the last time. I never, for a million years, thought it was going to be the last time I saw Brian on the U.S. Bank Stadium field.”
The men went out on the water and reeled ’em in.
“He was hooting and hollering,” Jeremiah said. “We were having all sorts of fun until this guy moved in on us.”
There have been other days that Jeremiah and Brian won’t forget — like the time they caught “more than 200 smallies” but ended the day with Brian’s 21-foot Ranger coming off the trailer (Brian and Jeremiah were able to maneuver the boat back up to the trailer) — but perhaps none that were more important.
Before Brian headed out for his first fall not in Minnesota since he was drafted in 2007, he headed back to the Springer home in Wabasha.
“He was pretty distraught, he came down to the house and we just sat on the patio and talked,” Chad remembered. “It was about six days after he was cut. He brought his Parker down, and my Parker took him fishing. We just talked about life and looked down.
“He said, ‘It’s going to be more of that.’
“I said, ‘Man, I envy you. I’m sure it’s tough now, but you’re going to get to take that little man out fishing for the next 20 years. You can show him video of you playing football, but this is something you two get to do together, and I think you’re going to love it. You could tell he was happy about the new chapter he was going to be able to do.”
Chapter 11: Fond Farewell
“Some of the best and fondest memories will be from our time here. This is not goodbye by any means, but rather until the next time.”
The inevitable always eventually prevails, no matter how many people wish it away.
One can’t play NFL football forever, but Brian was able to suit up for one franchise and put that team first for 11 seasons. His 173 games are third-most by a defensive end in Vikings history, trailing only Jim Marshall and Carl Eller.
Like those legendary predecessors, Robison’s impact on Minnesota reaches beyond what he did on the gridiron.
Although Texas has drawn the Robison family home, Brian frequently plans to make his way up north and stay down to earth.
Knowing that, and the fact that there are so many bright days ahead for Brian and his family, ease the sting of missing a one-of-a-kind person.
“There were a lot of tears,” Nancy Gilbertson said. “Brian knows. He tries to laugh it off. He’s a jokester, he tries to keep me laughing because otherwise I’m crying.
“We try to keep it light, but we’re still in touch regularly, and he said, ‘No matter what, that’ll always be the case,’ ” she added. “That does help, but it’s a long distance. I’ll miss watching the kids grow up and seeing them do their thing, but he promises to come visit, and we’ll do the same.”
As Josh Goolsbee explained, “Texas is home, Minnesota means a lot to him, and he’ll always be around in the state, fishing, doing charity work. He’s not gone.”
Story by Craig Peters