Offseason Biography: Conrad Dobler

The second in an occasional series of posts seeking to shed some light on the forgotten NFL greats of yore…

  • Name: Conrad Francis Dobler
  • Born: October 1, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois
  • Position: Right Guard
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches
  • Weight: 254 pounds
  • College: Wyoming
  • NFL Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1972-1977), New Orleans Saints (1978-1979), Buffalo Bills (1980-1981)
  • Main Claims to Fame (in order of importance):

1. HE WAS THE DIRTIEST [expletive of your choice] EVER. Considering he played the same sport as Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, Bill Romanowski and Erik Williams, that’s high praise. And unlike most other dirty players whose play gets described in euphemisms such as “he’s a hard-nosed player” or “he plays to the echo of the whistle,” Dobler’s meanness was discussed completely out in the open – he even made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a result of that notoriety. Wikipedia (always the most trustworthy source) credits Paul Zimmerman as saying about Dobler: “Conrad Dobler was mean dirty. He tried to hurt people in a bad way…he made teams that he played on better. He played hurt, didn’t complain, but he was a filthy, filthy player.” Dobler even got Alex Karras to foam at the mouth during a Monday Night Football game in 1975: “There you have it, folks: holding, tripping, kicking. All on the same play. That’s Conrad Dobler, the dirtiest player in professional football.”

2. No, seriously – HE WAS THE DIRTIEST PLAYER EVER. One activity that Dobler was most fond of, even though he often denied it (“I can say with a clear conscience that I have never knowingly bit another football player. For one thing, I believe in good hygiene.”), was having a little chomp on the flesh of his opponents. Apparently his appetite became so voracious during the 1974 playoff game between the Cardinals and Vikings that Vikings defensive tackle Doug Sutherland asked the team trainer for a rabies shot at halftime (according to the Football Hall of Shame). “I never played a football game before where I also had to worry about rabies,” said Sutherland afterwards. Obviously that quote came before Jim Harbaugh started patrolling the sidelines but the message remains as harrowing today as it was then. Ultimately, though, as Dobler’s coach Don Coryell once put it, “He may bite a little, but that’s not going to end a guy’s career.” That’s a fair point, Don.

3. It’s worth emphasizing again JUST HOW UNBELIEVABLY DIRTY THIS GUY WAS. There are several wonderful Dobler stories that have stood the test of time. One of the best describes how Dobler took some liberties with a plaster cast he wore on his broken left hand in the 1974 season. In typical Dobler fashion, he denied any specific wrongdoing in one breath (“I was sticking it (the cast) out there and they just happened to run into it”) and mischievously describing the finer tricks of the trade in the next (“The most effective place to use it is the throat. It really makes a guy stop short.”). Before one game, Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey asked to get a closer look at the cast (apparently Bergey had never seen any Three Stooges shorts before that day). Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo write in The Football Hall of Shame, “Dobler told him to look at it real close. When Bergey bent down, Dobler raised his arm up and smashed Bergey in the mouth.”

4. He was so dirty, he’d go out of his way to hurt already-injured players. The Football Hall of Shame relays an anecdote about a time Cowboys defensive back Cliff Harris was slow to get up after a play and, ever the humanitarian, Dobler was hit with a wonderful idea. “I was about 20 yards away. But I thought, ‘Why not? What the hell!’ I hit him alongside the earlobe and his head bounced three or four times.” Imagine that happening in a game nowadays – I’m pretty sure Skip Bayless’s head would explode (and that wouldn’t actually be the worst thing in the world). In perhaps an even more famous display of, er, kindness, Dobler once ran 50 yards out of his way to spit in injured Eagles’ player Bill Bradley’s face.

5. He was so dirty, even Merlin Olsen got mad at him. This is worth emphasizing because successfully antagonizing a devout Mormon and the sidekick to Pa Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie takes a special type of deviance to pull off. But Dobler achieved the impossible during the 1975 playoff game between the Cardinals and Rams, as Edwin Shrake noted in the January 5, 1976 issue of SI: “Shortly before the half Olsen had been tackled and pinned to the mat by Dobler, who had yanked Olsen’s jersey down so that a shoulder pad stuck out. Olsen jumped up, aimed an angry punch at Dobler‘s groin and followed it with a lecture on etiquette. ‘Conrad likes for people to talk about him, so I’m not going to mention him,’ Olsen said later. ‘But somewhere down the line somebody is going to break his neck, and I won’t send flowers.'” Again, it’s worth repeating that Dobler got THIS GUY…

 …to kick him in the groin and talk enthusiastically about a hypothetical scenario in which his neck was broken. That’s dirty.

6. How much clearer can I say that he was the DIRTIEST…PLAYER…IN THE LEAGUE??? But he had a good sense of humor about it, so it’s all good! In that cover article in SI from 1977, Dobler rather thoughtfully and charmingly argued his case on a wide array of subjects ranging from biting (“If someone stuck his hand in your face mask and put his fingers in your mouth, what would you do?”), holding (“Sometimes I hold by accident. You know, I get my hand caught in a face mask. But always remember this: at no time do my fingers leave my hand.”), his fears of getting to know his opponents too well (“At the Pro Bowl you get to know and like your opponents. And when you like a guy, you don’t step on his fingers or kick him getting up.”) and worrying that his reputation may be preceding him too much with officials (“In one game I was called for tripping a guy who was standing up. Sure I tried to trip him, but I didn’t succeed, and attempted tripping is not illegal. Oh, hell, the officials are only human.”). He was a very witty monster!

7. He was also a very good guard. Made three Pro Bowls in a row with the Cardinals (1975-1977), anchored the right side of the Cardinal line with Dan Dierdorf, ranks 64th all-time among guards in Approximate Value according to Pro Football Reference, blah blah blah boring MORE BITING STORIES PLEASE.

So today we salute you, Conrad Francis Dobler, for all your contributions to this great sport you love. Your time on the NFL gridiron may be gone…but it shall NEVER be forgotten.

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Offseason Biography: Dick Shiner

The first in an occasional series of posts seeking to shed some light on the forgotten NFL greats of yore…

  • Name: Richard Earl “Dick” Shiner
  • Born: July 18, 1942 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Height: 6 feet 0 inches
  • Weight: 197 pounds
  • College: Maryland
  • NFL Teams: Washington Redskins (1964-1966), Cleveland Browns (1967), Pittsburgh Steelers (1968-1969), New York Giants (1970), Atlanta Falcons (1971-1973), New England Patriots (1973-1974)
  • Main Claims to Fame (in order of importance):

  1. His name. I’m sure people in the ’40s had much cleaner minds than we all do now and weren’t as aware of the hilarity double entendres can bring into our lives, but come on. His parents HAD to know what they were doing when they named him Richard, right? You can’t give him that first name in conjunction with the last name “Shiner” and NOT know the eventual consequences that kid’s going to face starting at approximately age eight and ending approximately never. I refuse to believe they could be that oblivious and for that alone, DCFS should have taken poor Dick out of the Shiner household and placed him in foster care where he could have been given another boring ’40s name. Like Glen. Or Burt. Of course, if that had happened Mr. Shiner would have just gone down as another unmemorable career backup in the Stoney Case or Cody Carlson mold. So everything happens for a reason, I guess.
  2. He backed up a couple of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. During his stint with the Redskins, he was the second-string behind Sonny Jurgensen and got some action in 1965, going 28-of-65 for 470 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Unfortunately for Dick, Otto Graham became the Redskins coach in 1966 and, as Sports Illustrated put it in their 1966 preview, convinced Jurgensen to “(trim) down his familiar paunch.” Sonny’s post-paunch efficacy rose dramatically and that left no window of opportunity for Shiner in the nation’s capital. He would later back up Fran Tarkenton on the 1970 Giants and actually put up a better Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure than ‘ol Fran – 6.00 to 5.57. Sure, Dick only dropped back 13 times that whole season but sample sizes don’t matter! So that’s a pretty good thing to put on your resume – “I studied under two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and emulated their good qualities (strong arm, decisive decision-making, quick wits) and disregarded their bad ones (paunch).” Better to put that than “I couldn’t beat out Bob Berry for playing time on the ’71 Falcons.”
  3. He was very good at taking orders. His college coach Tom Nugent told John Underwood in the October 15, 1962 issue of SI that “if I told [Shiner] to take three steps back and fall down, he’d do it.” What a team player! Anybody who can do that belongs in the NFL, no questions asked.
  4. He was nicknamed “The Rifleman.” In college, anyway – I don’t think it’s legal for any person not named Chuck to hold on to that nickname for more than three years. From that same issue of SI: “One Shiner pass split the palm of an end’s hand and put him out for weeks. But with Maryland winning as it is, and Shiner completing a majority of his passes, his coaches wouldn’t dream of changing his style, even if he used up a dozen ends.” Nor should they have! All football teams, collegiate or otherwise, run at least fifteen players deep at receiver and wouldn’t have to resort to lining the head groundskeeper at flanker if their quarterback broke the hands of his top dozen receivers. This was a good career move by coach Nugent.
  5. His mechanics were fundamentally sound. Except for the times where he “often throws off the wrong foot,” according to the September 22, 1969 issue of SI. For a quarterback getting his first extended action as a starting quarterback on a terrible pre-Steel Curtain Steelers team, you’d almost think that would be a problem. On the other hand, the magazine went on to note that Dick “has a lot of confidence and a good touch” and as wide receiver Roy Jefferson noted, “All we need is confidence and a little luck and we’ll be on our way to a new Steeler tradition.” Hey, he turned out to be pretty right about that! Unfortunately, Dick did not get to be a part of that Steeler tradition after he went 3-16-1 in his two seasons starting for Pittsburgh.
  6. Norm Van Brocklin believed in him. This would have meant a whole lot more if Van Brocklin wasn’t one of the worst head coaches ever, proving to be as adept a hard-headed dingus as he was a phenomenal quarterback. As SI wrote in its November 19, 1973 issue, “Van Brocklin, who had decided on his quarterback more by default than logic, was determined to prove that journeyman Dick Shiner could win for the Falcons, although he had never won consistently for any other team.” Other than that? NO ISSUES HERE. Dick wound up getting sacked eleven times in just 75 dropbacks and got shipped off to New England to back up Jim Plunkett.
  7. Lee Corso also believed in him. Corso was the assistant coach at Maryland who ended up convincing Shiner to skip out on Duke and play for the Terrapins instead. No word on whether Corso did an Irish jig during the recruiting process.
  8. He got booed in practice… Having to back up Sonny Jurgensen will make you seem rather impotent in comparison, but poor Dick probably didn’t deserve that! “Sonny’s the best passer I ever saw,” he said in 2007. “When I was his backup with the Redskins, we’d practice down by the river and people would come out and watch and we’d have a crowd sitting up there on the bank. And Sonny would always put on a show, throwing the ball behind his back, sprinting to his right and throwing a strike back across the field to some fast wide receiver 30 yards down the far sideline…So, when it came my turn to run the offense, I couldn’t do any of that stuff, and the crowd up on the bank would always boo. They’d boo me in practice!” And that’s why you always want to be the backup quarterback on a team with a bad quarterback.
  9. …But once got cheered during a game. An actual, real game! This is hilarious. That same 2007 article from above presents the highlight of Shiner’s NFL career as the one time Jurgensen sucked horrendously (“Sunday, Nov. 28, 1965”) and Shiner got sent in for spot duty. “Shiner buttoned his Redskins helmet,” Wilt Browning writes, “and as he did, the roar from the crowd began to build. By the time Shiner trotted onto the well-worn D.C. Stadium turf, the cheers were thunderous.” Getting token cheers from a ticked-off crowd who would have cheered the insertion of the backup quarterback even if it was Nikita Krushchev? That, my friends, is living the NFL high life.

So today we salute you, Richard Earl “Dick Shiner,” for all your contributions to this great sport you love. Your time on the NFL gridiron may be gone…but it shall NEVER be forgotten.