Conrad Dobler: the offensive lineman’s Cardinals lost a playoff game to the Rams in 1975, but he still is proud of the effect he had on Merlin Olsen that day – The Game I’ll Never Forget
THE MOST MEMORABLE GAME of my career had to be when I ran defensive lineman Merlin Olsen off the field in our playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1975. Here’s a guy who’s in the Hall of Fame and made 14 Pro Bowls. When the fourth quarter came around, he took himself out of the game and walked off the field. That was a lot of fun.
He got so mad at me, hated me so much after that game, he never stopped hating me. Let me tell a story about what happened at my first Pro Bowl, in 1975, soon after that playoff game. The Rams coaches always coached the Pro Bowl because that honor goes to the team that loses in the conference championship game. They always lost in the conference title game, so Chuck Knox had a lot of opportunities to coach the Pro Bowl.
Anyway, I was getting my ankles taped in the trainer’s room before the game, and there were three or four other Rams players in there, including Jack Youngblood and Hacksaw Reynolds. Then Merlin Olsen walked in. It was the Pro Bowl–we all were supposed to be on the same team. Olsen came over to me and said, “You know what Dobler? Next time we play you, I’m going to kick you right square in the stomach.”
Because of my tough-guy reputation was I supposed to jump off the table and take a swing at this guy? What was I really supposed to do? The other Rams players were kind of laughing and giggling. Why would he have made a comment like that?
I couldn’t believe he had taken what had happened in the course of a game personally. That’s football. You don’t like the way a guy plays? That’s fine. Doff bitch about it–just go out there and do your job or play within the rules and the bounds that your opponent has set for you.
I basically told him there were a lot people who wanted to kick me like that. I told him, “I guess you can just grab ticket and go wait in line.”
But that just goes to show how mud he hated me after I dominated him in that playoff game.
The Cardinals didn’t get a chance to go to very many playoff games. Still, we were an exciting team. I really enjoyed my years in St. Louis. I grew not only at a football player there, but as a man.
When people talk about the Cardinals they talk about the owner, Bill Bidwill. They talk about what a jerk he is. I’m sure when he was a kid and had to go to all those training camps, the players abused him. I mean, he was an 11- or 12-year-old kid at a training camp in the 1950s and ’60s. They probably taped him to benches and stuff like that.
When he became owner of the team, maybe he said, “Now is my chance to get even with these players.” He certainly proved himself correct on that point. As much as people say winning is a habit, so is losing. In fact, losing is a habit Bill Bidwill can’t seem to break.
Anyway, coach Don Coryell did a great job of keeping us together until he realized he couldn’t win unless he got some defensive players. But he couldn’t get defensive players because no one really wanted to come to St. Louis. Players couldn’t make any money there. Still, the offense was always outstanding. We had Jim Hart at quarterback, Terry Metcalf, Mel Gray, and some other gays. Really exciting players.
We had a dominant offensive line. We had Dan Dierdorf, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Election into the Hall of Fame is based more on how many Super Bowls you played in than what you actually did as an offensive lineman. There are some guards and offensive tackles who are in the Hall of Fame but shouldn’t have even been considered for that honor. But they went to a lot of Super Bowls, guys who couldn’t hold a candle to Bob Young or Tom Banks or me.
We ended up having a good year in ’75 and got ourselves into the playoffs. In the first round, we went to Los Angeles to play the Rams. All the newspapers were talking about our matchup. Merlin said before the game that “one of these days, someone’s going to break Dobler’s neck, and I’m not going to send any flowers.” Of course, he got that flower commercial, and I got nothing.
As I said, I ended up having a hell of a game. In fact, I was knocking Olsen off the ball five yards–he couldn’t get off the line of scrimmage on a pass rush. If you wanted to see him on instant replay after I blocked him, you would have had to go into the kitchen because I knocked him so far off the screen. And if you went into the kitchen, you still probably couldn’t see him.
We lost the game, 35-23, but it still created a unique situation. Since then, Merlin Olsen has done “Little House on the Prairie,” he’s been inducted into the Hall of Fame, he’s called games for NBC, he’s become the owner of car dealerships, he’s done all of those commercials, and he’s made more money than God. It’s been all these years, and you know what? I’m still in his mind.
I like that.
Conrad Dobler’s Most Memorable Game
Divisional Playoffs; December 27, 1975; Memorial Coliseum; Los Angeles
St. Louis 0 9 7 7-23
Las Angeles 14 14 0 7-35
Scoring Cardinals Rams
Los Angeles–Jaworski, 5-yard run (Dempsey kick) 0 7
Los Angeles–Jack Youngblood, 47-yard 0 14
interception return (Dempsey kick)
Los Angeles–Simpson, 65-yard interception return 0 21
St. Louis–Otis, 3-yard run (kick failed) 6 21
Los Angeles–Jackson, 66-yard pass from 6 28
Jaworski (Dempsey kick)
St. Louis–Bakken, 29-yard field goal 9 28
St. Louis-M. Gray, 11-yard pass from Hart 16 28
Los Angeles–Jessie, 2-yard run after fumble 16 35
recovery (Dempsey kick)
St. Louis–Jones, 3-yard run (Bakken kick) 23 35
Team statistics Cardinals Rams
First downs 22 26
Rushing yards 95 237
Passes (attempts-completions-interceptions) 22-41-3 12-23-0
Punts-average 6-42.7 5-31.6
Fumbles-lost 3-2 5-3
Penalties-yards 6-70 5-38
Cardinals: Otis 12 rushes for 38 yards, Jones 6-28, Metcalf 8-27,
Rams: McCutcheon 37-202, Scribner 4-16, Bryant 3-12, Jaworski 6-7.
Cardinals: Hart 22 completions, 41 attempts, 291 yards, 1 touchdown,
Rams: Jaworski: 12-23-203-1-0.
Cardinals: Metcalf 6 receptions for 94 yards, Gray 3-52, Otis 4-52,
Harris 2-33, Latin 2-23, Jones 2-19, Cain 2-17, Smith 1-1.
Rams: Jackson 2-84, Jessie 4-52, Nelson 1-33, Bryant 2-26,
RELATED ARTICLE: Still swinging.
JULY 4, 2001, STARTED OUT AS A DAY FOR Conrad Dobler to celebrate life.
The former offensive lineman–whose penchant for biting, kicking, and leg-whipping foes gave him a repetition as the dirtiest player in toe NFL during the 1970s and ’80s–had long ago traded in his pads for a place in the corporate world. He worked as diligently and determinedly building his company, a nurse staffing agency, as he once did trying to open holes for running backs. That company grew to have offices in several cities throughout the United States, and it made Dobler and ms wife, Joy, very wealthy.
By all accounts, Joy was aptly named. She was a registered nurse who always managed to carve out time in her day to take care of her husband and their five kids. She “sacrificed herself the way moms do.” Conrad would later say.
On that July day, Joy wanted to take a break from the summer heat and settled into a hammock. But when the hammock gave way, the Doblers’ life came crashing down with it Joy Dobler was lust a foot and a half off the ground. but when she fell, she broke her neck and ended up paralyzed from the waist down.
Joy now is working with the same doctors who have tried to help paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve walk again. While she dedicates herself to getting back on her feet, Dobler has assumed her role as the caretaker of the family.
“I miss her,” says Dobler now 52. “She’s my partner, my wife, toe mother of my kids, The kids and have been bacheloring it by ourselves, What she’s going through … she’s probably handling it well. What I’m trying to do is make sure she has nothing to worry about other than completely committing herself to rehabbing herself. That’s dedicating her mental state, physical state to trying to walk again, and that’s what she’s doing. So I have live-in help with her.”
Dobler knows all about commitment. He was one of the hardest-working players in NFL history. Drafted in the fifth round of the 1972 draft out of Wyoming by St. Louis, tie spent six seasons with the Cardinals, two with the New Orleans Saints and two with the Buffalo Bills, He earned three trips to the Pro Bowl, battling any way he could to gain an advantage.
Some of the stories about Dobler have become legendary. During one game, he broke the arm of a former teammate who had been too aggressive in a practice years earlier.
Another time he bit an opponent’s finger so hard it bled. Dobler reasoned that the guy shouldn’t have had his hand inside his face mask. “I knew his fingers weren’t there to stroke my mustache,” he says with a shrug, Word of his biting spread throughout the league, allegedly prompting Minnesota Vikings defensive line men to ask for rabies shots.
His long-running feud with Hall-of-Famer Merlin Olsen, the subject of the accompanying “Game I’ll Never Forget,” was particularly notorious. When told of Dobler’s memories of forcing him out of the 1975 playoff game between the Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, Olsen chuckled and said,” I really don’t want to play games with that because … Conrad’s entitled to his memories. Certainly, I never found myself out of the ballgame. In fact, I don’t remember missing any plays in that game. I remember that we won the game. I do remember being–frustrated that Conrad was not called for some of what he was doing the field.
“That was just the reality he tried to play the game without all those shenanigans, he probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a few games in the NFL, anyway.”
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