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.