Conrad Dobler made a clean living being dirty.
A spit in the face.
A hard squeeze of the privates.
A crooked finger in the eye.
An elbow to the gut…
All under the pile.
Where it was hard to see.
Virtually impossible, actually.
But not to feel.
Legendary St. Louis Cardinals offensive guard Conrad Dobler, renowned as the NFL’s dirtiest player during his era, died at the age of 72 on February 13.
Over a 10-year NFL career, he heartily embraced his role as a fierce protector–at any cost–joining with future Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, to represent two pieces of one of the best offensive lines in league annals.
The group also included Bob Young, Tom Banks and Roger Finnie; the 5 were considered the first to introduce weightlifting and powerlifting into the training regimen.
They were incredibly strong at the point of attack all along the line, and through the line of scrimmage.
Ask quarterback Jim Hart.
In fact, Dierdorf went the entire 1976 and ’77 seasons without allowing a single sack.
The line itself allowed only eight sacks all year in 1975, then a league record.
Dobler was a 3-time Pro Bowl player.
He was also named a second-team All-Pro with the Cardinals; short stints with the Saints and the Bills wrapped it up for him.
“I’ll do anything I can get away with to protect my quarterback,” Dobler told Sports Illustrated in 1977.
Illegal tactics like holding, eye-gouging, leg-whipping, biting…so what?
He had a job to do.
But as is so often the case, that job ate more than a pound of flesh.
Post-retirement, Dobler lamented that it would be nice to have “a little bit of my health back.”
The joints in his hands were one problem.
His knees were another, to the tune of nine knee replacement surgeries.
And then there was his brain.
His family has donated Dobler’s brain to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center for study.
Center director Dr. Ann McKee and her team have examined the brains of 376 former NFL players.
345 were diagnosed with CTE.
A rate of 91.7%.
Football takes a horrible toll on its players.
Along with his brain, Dobler’s spine and other tissue will be donated to the BU program.
“He was very proactive in really wanting to donate his brain for future players to get ahead,” his son Stephen remarked.
His daughter Holli said that over the past five years her father struggled increasingly with memory loss, decision-making and daily activity.
“It was degenerative. It was progressively getting worse.”
Football is America’s pastime today.
People love to play it and watch it.
Those who play, love it.
Until they don’t.
In nine to twelve months, the analysis of Conrad Dobler’s brain will be complete.
Just like his life on this planet.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in February 2023.]