Conrad Dobler

Player Profile: Conrad Dobler

(Dobler was a textbook blocker.  By this, I mean that
if he had a textbook, he would beat the shit out
of you with it).

Conrad Dobler had a friend with a father who was a mortician.  One day Dobler climbed into a casket, "Just to see how comfortable it was."  He reported that, "It was very comfortable.  You ought to try it sometime."  He spent ten years in the NFL trying to help opposing defensive linemen and linebackers enjoy that experience as much as he had.

He once said, Don't get into a pissing contest with a skunk.  Coming from someone else, y
ou might think that's some piece of folksy advice.  It wasn't.  It was a warning to his opponents.

Drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1972 draft, Dobler was cut before he ever played a game for the team.  Given a second try, Dobler decided that he would do whatever it took to stick around this time.  He couldn't just be Conrad Dobler out there, he told Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago.  He wasn't big enough, fast enough, or strong enough for that.  He had to be The Conrad Dobler, a monster, an irrational whirlwind of a player whose behavior opponents could never predict. 

In short, he turned himself into the kind of skunk that nobody would want to get into a pissing contest with.  He sprayed his way to a ten-year NFL career with the Cardinals, Saints, and Bills, including three trips to the Pro Bowl.

Dobler probably wouldn't fare too well in today's NFL, simply because there are too many cameras.  But in the simpler, lower-tech world of the 1970s NFL, Dobler knew what he could get away with - a lot.  And he did every last bit of it.

(Here is a blocking technique that Dobler
called "the Curly."  Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.)

A typical play for Conrad: as the defensive tackle came out of his stance, Dobler would spit in his face.  This, naturally, would cause the defender to become disoriented, and, more often than not, jump in the air to hopefully swat at a pass.  Dobler, who in the late-90s said that he could tell offensive line play had "gone to hell" because he saw defenders "jumping all the time," would punch the lineman under his chest padding, an uppercut directly to the solar plexus.  Alternatively, he'd pull the guy's armpit hair, and if you've ever been unlucky enough to have that happen, you know that gets you to hunch over in a hurry.

Tom Banks, Dobler's linemate with the Cardinals, said Dobler was the only person he ever saw make an NFL defender cry on the field.  Apparently, a series of punches to the solar-plexus had brought the player to the ground, reeling in pain.  Terry Metcalf fumbled, and the ball bounced toward the downed man.  Dobler dove into the pile, but instead of going for the ball, he went for his mark's ankle with his teeth and bit as hard as he could.  When the play was over and the pile cleared, the player remained on the ground, crying hysterically.

One of his most notorious feuds was with Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey.  "I knew he was a better player than me," Dobler said.  "So I wanted to make him think so much about what I was going to do to him that he couldn't think about what he needed to do to be successful."  After playing Dobler twice a year, for six seasons, Bergey could draw only one conclusion: "I hated him.  I hated everything about him.  I wanted to do everything I could to him."

Bergey and Dobler had a chance to play a round of golf together, some twenty years after Conrad left the Cardinals, and, even though both men's bodies were far from what they were during their NFL days, their competitiveness had not waned at all.  After playing 18 holes, Bergey bought Dobler a beer. As they sat down and started to enjoy their drink, Bergey said, "I bought that for you so I'd feel better about what I have to say.  I hated you twenty years ago.  Hated you.  And, after playing eighteen holes of golf with you, I think I still hate you."

Merlin Olsen, the legendary defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, hated him too.  During his first season in the NFL, Dobler kicked the vetran Olsen in the head.  "That's how he established himself," Olsen told SI.  "He adapted to the game.  He wasn't a great football player.  He was a great brawler."

When Olsen got the title role in the TV series Father Murphy, he used the bully pulpit to deliver his message about Dobler to the world.  During a funeral scene in a cemetery, the one headstone visible in the shot behind Olsen had a very clear name printed upon it: Conrad Dobler.

Olsen, who, despite his fearsome reputation as a member of the Fearsome Foursome, dedicated his post-NFL life to environmental and humanitarian activism, as well as reminding you to send your mom something on Mother's Day.  Sadly, he died a couple of years ago.

Dobler, on the other hand, is still kicking.  Well, metaphorically speaking, anyway:

(Whomever Dobler bit, it seems unlikely that his ankle
looks worse than Conrad's knee does these days)

These days, Dobler is 90% disabled.  He's had numerous knee and back surgeries, and he needs more.  In 2001, his wife, whom he described as the "only positive influence [he's] ever had in life," became a paraplegic after she fell out of a hammock in 2001. He had a business providing logistical support to hospitals, but it's gone downhill in the past few years, and he's struggling to afford the medical treatment that he and his wife need.  "Wal-Mart greeters get better coverage" than former NFL players, he said.

Conrad Dobler does not want your pity, though.  "The NFL is not a game.  It's survival.  I did what I had to do to survive, and so I think what I did was fair," he says. 

But he got Phil Mickelson's.  The 3-time Masters champ saw a piece about the struggles of the Dobler family when watching ESPN one night in 2007.  At the time, the Doblers were trying to figure out how they could afford to send their daughter, Holli, to college.

Mickelson called the next day and said he wanted to help.  He paid for her entire education at Miami University of Ohio.  A few years later, he paid for their son, Stephen, to go there, too.

"The only thing you can call it is a random act of kindness," Dobler said.  "If I could get up a ladder I'd paint his house." 

Dobler's wife, Joy, said Conrad cried when he got of the phone with Mickelson. 

Conrad Dobler has made people cry, and he has been made to cry. 

His acting career, on the other hand, might make all of us cry:

Conrad Dobler Causes Trouble