By Tom Weber
A word of advice to all the would-be crooks in downstate Illinois – don’t mess with a Saluki football player.
The players didn’t feel threatened by the group of teenagers, since Pickard stands 6-foot-5-inches and weighs close to 300 pounds, while Robertson checks in at 6-foot-3-inches and 250 pounds. Nevertheless, they kept an eye on the trio, because it appeared they were preparing an operation.
“One of the guys stood by the door, away from his friends,” Robertson explained. “Two stops passed, and one of his friends gave him his cap and made a weird gesture. He didn’t put the hat on.”
Alarmed that a crime might be about to happen, the players’ senses were heightened. They noticed an older gentleman working feverishly on his iPhone, oblivious to his surroundings.
At the next stop, one of the youths swiped the man’s phone. Before the thief could make it to the exit, however, Pickard pancaked him in a manner befitting his status as an All-American left tackle.
“There wasn’t any thought process to it,” Pickard said. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him snatch it. It was a straight tackle. I played defense in high school, and maybe I was reliving my glory days.”
The train, which was filled with rush hour passengers, erupted with applause at the sight of two ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands.
“They were patting us on the back and yelling at the guy,” Robertson said.
Added Pickard, “Apparently, this happens all the time, and the people were surprised to see us fight back.”
The Saluki gridders placed their captive in a seat and restrained him while they called the police. They were advised to hold the thief until police could meet them at the final stop.
“He wasn’t too thrilled about being caught,” Pickard recalled. “He told me to let him go, but I had him dead to rights.”
The accomplices got away, but the iPhone was safely recovered and returned to its rightful owner.
“The police were surprised that we caught them,” Robertson said. “Usually when it happens, they get away with it.”
The intended victim showed his appreciation by paying for the players’ cab fare back to their stop.
“The guy was going on a business trip that weekend and had all of his presentation and notes on it,” Robertson said. “He was very grateful. I’m just happy we could help somebody.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself a hero, Robertson warns potential criminals not to cross a Saluki football player.
“I would tell them not to do anything stupid,” he said. “You’ll get caught, and you’ll pay for it.”
Tom Weber is the director of media relations at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.