By Micah Edwards
Many people would be proud to accomplish just one of the things that Robert Topp has done in his lifetime: A National Football League football player for two seasons for the New York Giants, serving in the United States Air Force and a medical doctor for the past 54 years.
But Topp, age 84, usually prefers to remain silent about these accomplishments. Consider this a rare moment when Topp sheds his customary humble demeanor to share highlights of a life well lived.
In his youth, Topp went from Kalamazoo Central High School to the University of Michigan, and received varsity letters from different sports including football, basketball and baseball.
Topp played football for U of M and graduated in 1954 with a degree in physical education. He laughed as he recalled doing his student teaching in physical education at Ann Arbor High: “I said, ‘Gee, are you going to try to spend the rest of your life trying to make kids take a shower?’” Topp said.
After graduating, Topp was offered the opportunity to play in the NFL, but he was almost forced to put that dream on hold.
“I was in ROTC, and I was supposed to go in the service, but I asked if my service could start later so I could try to play with the New York Giants,” Topp said.
His request was granted. The Giants drafted Topp in 1954, and he played with the likes of Tom Landry and Frank Gifford, with Vince Lombardi as coach. One of his biggest football accomplishments didn’t happen on the field itself, but on the sideline.
During a 1956 game against the Cleveland Browns, Topp worked with his assistant coach, Landry, to intercept radio signals that the Browns were using to relay information from their coach to their quarterback.
In the second half, the Browns quit their radio communications. Topp and Landry thought it was because their opponents had figured out their signals were being intercepted.
“It turns out that they stopped doing it because the radio broke,” Topp said, and offered a smile.
Despite only having that strategy for the first half of the game, the Giants still won 21-9.
After his football career ended, Topp went back to school, this time to pursue medicine, with a specialty in emergency medicine. Over the years he worked in anesthesiology, the emergency room, and served as a medical director. Topp still keeps his medical license active and occasionally works at the Alamo Nursing Home and Rehab Center.
Topp’s proposal to his wife, Shirley, was another of his unique accomplishments. One week after his graduation, Robert and Shirley were on their way to his parent’s house, when he surprised her en route with the fact that he had already told his family that they were getting married.
“He said the whole family is there. This is April. ‘We’re getting married in June,’ he said,” Shirley Topp recalled.
The two are still together 54 years later.
He picked up the new skill of stained glass art, and maintains his health and determination with a simple prescription: “Two fingers of vodka each night before bed.”