Conrad Dobler played in New Orleans for two years in the 1970s. He blocked for Archie Manning on the first .500 team in Saints franchise history. He adores the Saints. He mostly wants them to win. There's just one problem the legendary tough guy has with his old squad: He dislikes the team's most popular player.
Let's just say quarterback Drew Brees and Dobler won't be going out for beignets any time soon. His comments to CBSSports.com about Brees, particularly since Dobler is a former Saints player, are sure to cause a bit of a stir with the Super Bowl just days away.
|Conrad Dobler laments what he sees as a selfish attitude by current NFL players. (Getty Images)|
Then Dobler, who has been heavily involved in attempting to gain better benefits for older retired players, unleashed on Brees, who was once critical of the Gridiron Greats, an organization dedicated to improving the financial and physical well-being of older NFL retirees.
"Drew Brees is a great quarterback, but personally I don't care for him," Dobler said. "I don't like him very much. He basically called us a bunch of whiny old men. He's in the Super Bowl but doesn't understand the history of the game.
"He's never called the retired players or communicated with us for saying something that was false about us. We're not complainers. We just want the system to be better. He portrayed us as irresponsible. Older players aren't the irresponsible ones."
Then, referring to Plaxico Burress, Dobler said, "You don't see retired players shooting themselves in the leg at a nightclub the way current players do."
Dobler was then asked if he has ever spoken to Brees. "Drew Brees is way too important to speak with us," he said. "Most of the current players ignore us. Brees is no different."
This is what Brees told USA Today last January when speaking of the complaints of the retired players: "There's some guys out there that have made bad business decisions. They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They've had a couple divorces and they're making payments to this place and that place. And that's why they don't have money. And they're coming to us to basically say, 'Please make up for my bad judgment.' In that case, that's not our fault as players."
Brees added that he respected retired players -- "They shaped the game for us. Because of those guys, we have an opportunity to play this game, to make the money that we make" -- but didn't agree with their criticism of the union on the issue.
What continues to anger Dobler is that while some of what Brees says is accurate, many of the problems former players face are due to catastrophic injury from years of NFL beating, not necessarily poor business decisions, and certainly not laziness.
Dobler wouldn't say this directly, but there seems to be an internal conflict within him about the Saints. He spent two years there and a part of Dobler wants New Orleans to win. But his dislike of Brees is so strong, is it difficult for him to fully root for the team?
One thing is certain: Dobler is still as tough and opinionated as he has always been.
Agree or disagree with his stance on Brees and modern players -- "Players today, it's a 'me' generation. They care more about having seven cars than helping retired players" -- Dobler's handling of his current personal situation is nothing short of heroic.
In the 1970s, while playing the bulk of his 10-year career for St. Louis and New Orleans, it was Dobler who became almost a symbol for gritty and at times ugly football. He spit, head-slapped, leg-whipped, head-kicked and punched players in the solar plexus as they raised their hands to block passes. In some ways, Dobler was a catalyst for the gluttony of player-safety rules in the decades that followed.
Dobler loved playing, but the sport he loved destroyed his body. He has had 32 knee surgeries and nine knee replacements. When I spoke to Dobler this week he had just had the braces from one of his legs removed and was told by the doctor he'll be able to keep that leg for another few years. Maybe. The possibility of amputation remains very real.
Dobler was also told he would soon need a shoulder replacement. Dobler joked, "I told the doctor, 'Cool your jets pal. Do you need new tires for your car or something?'"
What's not funny is that Dobler must take Vicodin daily for the pain and for several months had to be given antibiotics intravenously to stave off infections. Despite his serious injuries, Dobler has been turned down multiple times by the NFL Players Association for disability benefits.
But there's no time for self-pity. His wife, Joy, became a quadriplegic in 2001 after a freak accident in which she broke her neck after falling out of a hammock. Dobler cares for her. Dobler's finances became so strained and his story so stunning that, after learning of the situation, golfer Phil Mickelson paid the college tuition of Dobler's two daughters.
"I wish there was a better phrase for Phil than 'thank you' because that phrase is just inadequate for everything he's done for my family," said Dobler.
Dobler is chronicling his life in a new warts-and-all biography called Pride and Perseverance. Dobler hopes to use his case as a way to generate publicity and funds for spinal cord research.
Dobler remembers his Saints experience as mostly a positive one. "The fans were always with us and supportive," he said.
Dobler clearly has affection for the Saints. Just not all of them.