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November 20, 2012Denard Robinson down, immediately holding his elbow, a pained looked on his usually smiling face.
The Wolverines were driving in a crucial game at Nebraska, and looked as though they might punch it in, until Robinson went down. Michigan fans held their breath. But how many times throughout his illustrious career had Robinson suffered some sort of bump or bruise only to storm back on the field?
This was more serious. He received treatment right there on the field, didn't test his arm with warmup snaps on the sideline. When he donned a heavy blue coat - the only person on the sideline in a coat - in the second half, it was clear he wasn't coming back out.
A week later, he dressed but did not play. The same story the next week. And as junior quarterback Devin Gardner shined in his stead, and Michigan fans everywhere began to debate Robinson's legacy and future, those thoughts never crossed the quarterback's mind.
"I always think positive," he said. "I always think, 'Yeah, I'm going to get back on the field.' Every time you see me, I always stay positive. I never think negative at all. No matter how down I am or how down the situation is, I'm always going to be positive about it."
When Robinson was held out of Michigan's 35-13 win at Minnesota - the first game in his career that he did not see the field - fans saw it as a tragedy.
Robinson saw it as an opportunity.
"I was on the sideline the whole time, talking to Devin and into the game. I was having fun with it," Robinson said. "You'll never see me down at all.
"I do want to go into coaching. When I looked at it, I thought, 'I do want to be a coach some day.' So coach Devin, help him out. Help someone else on the field. And make sure everyone is into the game. That's how I looked at it - a way to work on those skills. I am one of the captains on the team, so I have to bring the energy every time I'm on the sidelines. So that's what I did."
After two-and-a-half games watching instead of playing, Robinson finally got back on the field in last week's 42-17 win over Iowa on Senior Day.
It wasn't in his normal role, though, playing spot duty all over the field - at running back, at quarterback, catching screen passes and running the option. He finished with 122 all-purpose yards (98 yards rushing and 24 yards receiving).
Robinson said it was the first time since his freshman year at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School that he had played a position other than quarterback. Back then, his coaches used him as a cornerback, too.
He had never caught a pass in a game before Saturday, either.
But, again, Robinson never balked at the proposition. He stayed positive - embraced the role.
"It's kind of exciting, being back on the field," Robinson said. "I took two weeks off, and it feels good to be back out there on the football field with my teammates. It feels great.
"I'm a competitor. Whatever it takes to get on the field and make plays, I'm going to try and do. I want to be accountable to my team."
And it worked. Michigan used the packaged with Robinson in the backfield to rip the Iowa defense. The Wolverines scored on their first six possessions of the game.
"At first, Iowa didn't know what to do," Robinson said. "I think at first, they didn't even think I was going to play. And then they see me in there, and then I actually got the ball and it was like, 'OK.' It was fun. There was confusion. You could see it on their face."
Robinson is still under "treatment" for the elbow, though he didn't go into what that meant.
He is still wearing a protective pad on his right elbow, but he said he did some throwing in practice Tuesday and "felt pretty good."
He fielded a handful of questions about his elbow injury before changing the topic - to the task at hand.
"It's The Game," Robinson said. "I'm focused on beating those guys and being prepared for the guys who will be in front of us, because they have a good defense and they're undefeated. This is a Big Ten Championship Game for us, so we have to be prepared."
When asked if he could throw the ball Saturday, he flashed his smile, and said, "You'll have to see Saturday."