Conrad Dobler, who Sports Illustrated once anointed “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player,” has passed away at the age of 72 according to his family and former teammates.
Dobler played college ball at Wyoming and was a 5th round draft choice in 1972 by the St. Louis Football Cardinals where he played six seasons. He was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 1978 where he added toughness to a historically losing organization before finishing his career in Buffalo in 1980 and 1981.
“Our hearts go out to the family, friends and former teammates of Conrad Dobler,” Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said in the team’s statement “He was the kind of tough, physical and fierce player that you love to line up with as a teammate and hate to line up against as an opponent. On the field, Conrad was a big reason for the success of the Cardiac Cards of the 1970s. Away from it, he brought authentic joy and caring to everyone who had the privilege of being his friend and that is what I will remember most.”
“Conrad was like a brother to me,” former teammate and friend Dan Dierdorf said during an interview with Gabe Kuhn on 92.3 ESPN Radio in Memphis. “He was just one year younger than I and we played side-by-side for six years. He was family.”
Dierdorf said that Dobler loved his reputation as the dirtiest player in football. “But deep down inside, he was a giant pussycat. He was as soft as a guy could be and I’ll miss him desperately.”
“He was a hard-nosed, tough ballplayer,” former teammate Bob Rowe said. “I practiced against him for many years. I’m glad he was on our team and I didn’t have to play against him on Sundays.”
Dobler’s career in St. Louis started off slowly. The 6 foot-3, 250 pound guard was released during his first training camp by head coach Bob Hollway, but a few weeks later, Dobler returned to the team, proved himself on special teams, and was in the starting lineup against the New York Giants on October 22, a position he would never relinquish.
“When I came back (after being released) I decided that I’d just play my own game,” Dobler said in a Sports Illustrated interview in 1977. “I’d do what I do best and make the other guys play into my hands, make them have to beat me.”
The larger-than-life figure became part of one of the most incredible offensive lines in NFL history in the mid-1970s and was named to three consecutive Pro Bowls 1975-1977. In 1975, the Cardinals offensive line consisting of Dobler, Dan DIerdorf, Tom Banks, Bob Young and Roger Finnie allowed only 8 sacks during the season, a then NFL record. He started 125 of 129 games that he played during his NFL career.
Dobler relished his reputation as a dirty player. “People say I take cheap shots,” he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in a 1975 interview. “There might be some basis to that… almost everybody does once in a while. Sometimes I’ll apologize for them. But not very often.”
“It was all about taking the guy across from you out of his game plan,” he told the Arizona Republic in 1996. “I’d do whatever it took to get a guy out of his rhythm.”
Dobler had many rivals, but none were as big as Rams Hall of Fame defensive lineman Merlin Olsen who always complained about number 66. After being manhandled by Dobler in a 1976 game at the Coliseum, Olsen swore that he would never utter Conrad’s name again.
“One game, I knocked the crap out of Merlin Olsen. If you wanted to see it on instant replay, you had to go to the kitchen because I knocked him so far out of the TV frame. After the game, he says, “One of these days, someone’s going to break Dobler’s neck, and I’m not going to send any flowers.” What happens? He gets the $500,000 FTD commercial, and I don’t get s***. He goes to the Pro Bowl fourteen times. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s probably got more money than God. When he was doing Father Murphy on NBC, he had a graveyard scene. One of the tombs said: CONRAD DOBLER. GONE, BUT NOT FORGIVEN. It’s been twenty years since I played him, and I’m still on his f****** mind. And I like that.”
Dobler suffered through tragedy and hard luck after retiring from the league. He spent many years taking care of his wife Joy after she was paralyzed after a fall at their home in 2001.
Dobler himself paid a high price for his NFL career, most of which was played on Astroturf. He had nine knee replacements and numerous other surgeries to repair his broken down body. Like many other disabled pro football veterans, Dobler could not gain disability assistance from the NFL.
Even though he was 93 percent disabled, the NFL kept rejecting his disability claims. So he’s angry at the NFL for its apathy toward old retired players with serious health problems and angry toward today’s players for their callous lack of concern for the old vets when it comes to giving up a bigger slice of the pie during labor negotiations.
“They vote for their best interests, not for their brothers,” Dobler once told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Condolences go out to Conrad Dobler’s friends and family.
Terribly sorry to hear about this.
The Father Murphy tombstone story is a classic. Thanks for all the good quotes you uncovered from Conrad Dobler. He was a good storyteller as well as a good player.
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Thanks, Mark. I wish I had been home when I heard the news that Conrad had passed. I wrote most of this story from memory on an airplane last Monday! I had to go back and fact-check and get quotes late Monday evening. Conrad’s death has hit some of his former teammates pretty hard. Very sad.