TUCKER: Dobler gave his life to football. Was it worth it?
CHEYENNE – Conrad Dobler gave his life to football.
He gave his knees, his back, his shoulder and elbows. Now, he’s reluctantly handing over his brain.
Like most football fans, I find myself getting upset about the state of today’s game. The NFL might as well be touch football. In the college game, one hit can cost you a game. Maybe even two. That’s a lot for an amateur who only gets 12 games a season.
It’s frustrating. It feels like the sport we grew up with is being ripped away from us.
Then you meet guys like Dobler. You read stories about Jim Kiick and the dementia that is now part of his day-to-day existence.
Listening to a daughter tell me that her father might only have a couple of years left is rattling, to say the least.
This is her father.
We loved him on Saturdays and Sundays on television and stadiums across the country during his career.
She has loved him every day.
Erin Dobler-Lewin wasn’t even alive when her dad bashed away at NFL defensive lineman. All she knows are the tales -- and the impact it’s had on the man sitting at her table asking for the second time why he is even in Colorado.
We got the ass kicker.
She is getting her ass kicked.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Sure, Dobler masks a lot of the pain with humor. He is still very much the fun-loving, trash-talking football player. He loves his reputation. He thrives on the stories of pissing off Merlin Olsen, “Mean” Joe Greene and Bill Bergey. His chest puffs out. A devilish grin creases his face.
He reminisced about the plane trips in the NFL. Dobler and his offensive line buddies chugging whiskey in the back row, laughing about the shenanigans that take place when the final whistle blows.
He loves being known for his nastiness.
He loves being a ladies’ man.
He loves his stature.
But those days are long gone. All that remains is a broken man with a shattered body and a mind that is slipping away with each passing day.
He doesn’t regret a minute of it, but he’s frustrated. He hates that he needs a cane to maneuver around. He loathes not being able to play 18 holes. He doesn’t want to rely on anyone. He wants to be normal again.
Dobler choked up and shed a tear when we talked about his late wife, Joy Dobler. She was good for his mental health. He admitted as much. Though she was in a wheelchair after becoming paralyzed in 2001, she was very much the constant in Dobler’s life.
She kept him in check. She loved him despite his flaws.
I had a pit in my stomach as I drove away from Dobler-Lewin’s Pueblo home. In one instance, I was lucky enough to meet and interview a legend. I would tell everyone with in ear shot that the dirtiest player in NFL history played at Wyoming. I was proud of that. Still am.
But reality quickly sets in.
We got to enjoy Dobler. His family is picking up the pieces. They are the ones behind the scenes. They see the daily struggles.
We see the finger-biting, leg-whipping beast of a man in the beer commercial.
I don’t know how many years Dobler has left. I don’t know if he can ever live an independent, productive life.
He doesn’t want you to feel bad for him. He doesn’t feel bad for himself.
He had a great life. He had money, girls and glory. Nothing will ever change that.
Dobler says he still gets roughly 10 letters in the mail each week. The Cardinals, Bills and Saints forward all fan scribes to him. He signs every autograph. He writes his fans back. He cherishes those envelopes.
It gives the illusion that he is still a star.
It makes him feel good.
As long as the letters keep coming, he knows he is remembered.
That, along with his family, is what keeps him going.
MORE FROM CODY TUCKER:
I’m not going to rail on football and concussions. I'm not a doctor. I haven't consulted with medical professionals. Remember, I’m the one that gets upset when yellow flags fly after big hits.
But I did see a broken man sitting across the table from me. A larger-than-life figure who can't remember what he had for breakfast. Can't recall hos many grandchildren he has. Was quoted in 2016 as saying he couldn't remember his own children's names.
For me, a selfish feeling crept in.
After all, this man -- father and grandfather of 11 -- gave his entire life to football.
I can't help but feel that the game gave him back to his family a mere shell of the man.
It doesn't seem fair.