On July 3, 1980, the Buffalo Bills sent a draft choice to New Orleans to acquire three-time Pro Bowl guard Conrad Dobler. He was nearing the end of his career, and those Pro Bowls were during his time with his first team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
He came with a reputation, too. Dobler was dubbed "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player" in a cover story for Sports Illustrated in 1977. As ESPN noted in 2007: "He punched 'Mean' Joe Greene, he kicked Merlin Olsen in the head, he bit, he gouged, and once, he spit on a downed and injured opponent, the ' Bill Bradley."
Today, Dobler is fighting for the rights of retired NFL players because he, himself, is living in a medical wasteland. A year ago, he filed a class-action suit against the NFLPA to gain more benefits for retired players. In that 1977 interview with SI, Dobler said he had the "bones of a 65-year-old" when he was just 26. To date, he has had 32 knee surgeries and nine knee replacements, one almost costing him his leg when he contracted a MRSA infection.
For those of you with a strong stomach, you can check out a picture Dobler's knees. Michael Weinreb described them as "misshapen melons in a discount supermarket bin."
The NFL retirement board, he says, has repeatedly rejected his application for disability benefits.
He's tried walking with a cane, but now his cane shoulder needs surgery from the strain of the daily activity. Without health insurance, it would certainly be costly.
The LA Times reported just last week that the easiest option to end the constant pain in his right leg would be to amputate. He has resisted, largely because he is the primary caregiver for his paralyzed wife.
In 2007, Dobler's wife fell out of a hammock at their home and became a paraplegic. The couple's medical bills have forced the family to put their house on the market (in an effort to downsize), spend most of their savings, and take on business ventures on a far ranging scope just to get by. It's also the main reason Dobler is fighting for former players' benefits.
According to doctors, all the tragedy that has befallen Dobler has driven him to the brink of sanity.
"They said I seemed to be very depressed and suicidal," he says. "I said, 'If you had to go through what I've had to go through in the last eight or nine years - with my health problems, my wife's health problems, our business and the economy - if you weren't suicidal, if you weren't depressed, you're not human.'"
One bit of good that has surfaced came from an unexpected place: when HBO aired a Real Sports segment on Dobler's plight a few years ago, Phil Mickelson reached out, offering to send the Doblers' two children to college since Conrad and his wife couldn't afford to send them.
Dobler has written two books about his professional career and struggle with his health issues: They Call me Dirty and Pride and Perseverance: A Story of Courage, Hope, and Redemption.