MABANK, Texas — Former two-time All-Pro linebacker Isiah Robertson, a Southern University legend who starred with the Los Angeles Rams during the 1970s, was killed when the limousine he was driving skidded on a rain-slicked curve on a dark, rural East Texas highway and was hit by two other vehicles.
The Texas Department of Public Safety reported the crash happened about 10 p.m. Thursday on Texas Route 198 almost 6 miles north of Mabank and 50 miles southeast of Dallas.
A DPS statement says the limousine Robertson was driving entered the curve at an unsafe speed for the rainy conditions. It veered off the road and skidded sideways before coming to a stop partially on the road. A pickup truck following behind hit the limo, knocking the limo into the southbound lane where it was slammed by an oncoming car.
Robertson, a 69-year-old New Orleans native was taken to an Athens hospital 20 miles away, where he died. The truck driver was treated for minor injuries and discharged. The other car driver was unhurt.
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Robertson from Southern in the first round of the 1971 NFL draft. He remained with the Rams through 1978, then played from 1979-82 for the Buffalo Bills.
He was named first-team All-Pro in 1973 and 1976 and was chosen for the Pro Bowl in his rookie 1971 season and five straight years from 1973-77.
In a statement, the Rams said: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our legends, Isiah Robertson. He will be remembered not only for the great player he was, helping our team achieve multiple division championships in the '70s, but also by the work he did helping others through the House of Isaiah recovery center he founded in Texas."
Fans of Southern football during the late 1960s and early 1970s know Robertson's story. He played on a 1969 Jaguars team that featured 10 future NFL players and four future Pro Bowlers and a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, cornerback Mel Blount.
"It was an honor to play with those guys and see them go so far in their career," Robertson said last year. "For a small black university like Southern, compared to Ohio State and Purdue and Texas, it was amazing to see the success we had on the pro level."
Robertson was later inducted to the Southern University Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame and the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.
Last year, he went into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
The highlight of that stellar 1969 season came against Grambling, when Robertson intercepted a pass in the end zone with no time left and returned it 102 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Robertson still holds the record for longest interception return in series history.
The next year, he became the first Jaguars player to make The Sporting News and Time All-America teams, as well as the AP and UPI small college All-America teams.
He remains the only Southern player selected in the first round of the NFL draft; the Rams picked him 10th in 1971.
During his time in Beverly Hills, Robertson golfed with Jack Nicklaus and threw parties with Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett.
He owned 14 houses across the country. He was the first black man to own a home at Beau Chene Country Club in Covington — a dream come true for someone who grew up in a completely different world just a few miles down the road.
Robertson had roles in movies and television. He once presented the nominations for best actor at the Emmy Awards.
By the time he was traded to the Bills in 1979, Robertson signed a four-year contract worth $1 million, making him one of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL.
But his life turned upside down.
Robertson admitted to "dabbling" in drugs during his pro career but claimed it wasn't serious. It wasn't until after retirement that Robertson sunk into a full-blown crack-cocaine addiction.
For about two years, he was in denial about his problem. But Robertson would eventually admit to blowing through $25,000 in a month.
The lowest of lows came in 1986, when Robertson was involved in what he described as a dope deal gone bad. One thing led to another, and the drug dealers beat him within an inch of his life.
"They took a shotgun and almost beat me to death," he said. "They had the gun right there in my mouth about to pull the trigger, and the gun jammed."
Robertson escaped, but in a 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said the beating left him with 13 broken teeth and a head injury that required 100 stitches.
Robertson spent the next few years getting clean. He eventually landed in Mabank, where he opened the House of Isaiah, a faith-based rehab facility for drug and alcohol addicts who have nowhere else to go.
The program helped more than 5,000 young men over the past 29 years return to society, Robertson said. That work — not the accolades, fame and money that came with football — is what Robertson considered his greatest accomplishment.
"If you knew somebody in a burning building and you knew that person needed help, would you run in and grab that person and save their life?" asked Mark Pincus, who worked with Robertson at the House of Isaiah. "(Robertson) runs into people's homes, the most inner part of their houses, and grabs men and helps them overcome these drug afflictions."
Robertson served on the board of directors for the NFL Players Association and as president of the Dallas chapter. He was also involved with the Special Olympics and coached several Little League baseball teams.
Robertson was also active at Southern as a recruiter in Dallas with the "I Recruit SU" program.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Isaiah 'Butch' Robertson,” SU athletic director Roman Banks said in a statement. “ ‘Butch’ embodied the spirit of Southern University and represented this institution with class and dignity everywhere he went.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.