posted on Feb, 26 2007 @ 01:13 PM
Angel answers the prayers of Football's Dirtiest Player
By Dan O'Neill ST.LOUIS POST-DISPATCH Sunday, Feb. 11 2007
In 1977, Conrad Dobler graced the cover of Sports Illustrated accompanied by the unflattering headline "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player." He wore
the label like a badge of honor. He was brash, colorful and reckless. Dobler was a three-time All-Pro offensive lineman for the "Cardiac Cardinals"
in the mid-1970s. His life - and his outlook -have changed dramatically since. On July 4, 2001, his wife fell out of a hammock and became paralyzed
from the neck down. Five years of therapy later, Joy Dobler has made progress, but her paralysis remains severe.
Dobler himself is a physical wreck. Last year alone, he had seven surgeries on his right knee. He developed a staph infection in the right knee and
doctors feared they would not be able to save the leg. He was on an IV for nine months. During that same period, doctors found he had a pulmonary
embolism. They told No. 66 he might have only days to live, but he recovered. Through it all, Dobler somehow has kept his sense of humor.
"It's been tough - tough on my kids, tough on my wife," said Dobler, who has six children. The financial burden on the Doblers has been
overwhelming. In the initial year of Joy's treatment alone, the cost was $18,000 a month. Today's NFL player might carry that around as pocket
change, but Dobler never made a ton of money. His first contract with the Cardinals in 1972 was for $17,000. His top salary was $130,000 with
Dobler built a successful business, Superior Healthcare Staffing. But he has had to downsize and sell most of his assets to pay medical bills that
keep coming. With its insidious disregard for former players, the NFL is no help. The league, the players and the union jettison former gladiators
like they are biodegradable orange peels. "Out of 7,000 former players who played in the NFL, about 144 have been declared eligible for disability,"
Dobler said. "Statistically, it is the safest industry in the world to get involved in."
You would think there is a better chance of a Wal-Mart greeter being hurt in a handshake. And don't dare suggest otherwise; squeaky wheels like
Dobler never get oiled. "My disability file is a foot tall and the NFL will do nothing for me," Dobler added. "I've been turned down more often
than a mattress at Marriott."
Into this tragic story rides an unlikely knight. One day the phone rang at Dobler's home in Leawood, Kan. On the other end was Glenn Cohen, a lawyer
for Phil Mickelson. Cohen informed Dobler that his client had become aware of the situation and wanted to help by paying for his daughter's college
education. Holli Dobler is now a sophomore at Miami University in Ohio. It's an expensive ticket, but it is the school of her choice, a school she is
able to attend because of Mickelson's generosity. Conrad Dobler has never met Phil Mickelson, never even talked to him."I asked his lawyer, 'Why is
he doing this? I don't even know Phil,' "Dobler said. "He said, 'Because he can.' "You know, I was raised a Catholic and everyone used to say
there is an angel someplace looking out after you. You never take it seriously and then something like this happens. It forces you to have a different
The NFL's outrageous lack of accountability is an important message here. They who are living so lavishly in pro football's house are responsible
to those who are paying the mortgage with pain pills, surgeries and prosthetics. At the same time, the Mickelson sidebar is a beacon, evidence that
there is still some humility and decency among sports figures.
The winner of 29 PGA Tour events and three major championships, Mickelson also contributes $100 per birdie and $500 per eagle to Birdies for the
Brave, which forwards the money to Homes for Our Troops and Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Both are organizations that support wounded
soldiers and families that have lost loved ones in combat. Mickelson does that in a public way, to raise awareness, invite additional contributions.
When asked about assisting the Doblers, Mickelson politely declines to comment. He's not looking for publicity, just looking to help. He has even
included cost of living increases in his contributions.
Holli Dobler takes nothing for granted. She works as a waitress between her19 hours of classes. She maintains a 3.8 grade-point average and e-mails
Mickelson regular reports on her progress. Recently, Glenn Cohen called again. Mickelson has invited the Doblers to be guests at The Memorial
Tournament in May and asked Holli to walk the course with him during practice rounds. It will be an opportunity for the Doblers to say thanks, and
Conrad isn't sure he'll be able to get the words out. "I don't know if I can do it without getting choked up," he said. "You ask yourself, 'Why
me?' There are a lot of other people who need help. My wife spends a lot of time raising money for spinal cord injuries, but we never felt we'd be
on the receiving end. He's a remarkable person."