Smoking a Virginia slims and stroking his black pussycat while seated in the living room of his home near Kansas City, Mo., Conrad Dobler looks like a middle-aged graduate of sensitivity training, a contrast to his nefarious past. But the onetime deacon of dirty football opens his mouth, and all is right with the world.
"The reason you came here is because you know I'm not politically correct, like those uptight suits who run the NFL," says Dobler, who played guard for the Cardinals, Saints and Bills from 1972 through '81. "I hear coaches say intimidation's not part of the game—that's bull——. The NFL is trying to make people think this is not a violent sport. It's almost as if they're trying to turn it into a gentlemen's sport instead of the blood sport it used to be."
Twenty-one years ago, Dobler fought, clawed and bit his way onto SI's cover as pro football's dirtiest player. Dobler says the biting was a bit exaggerated, though. "I bit a finger, but I didn't know they'd be paying $35 million for ears," he says, with a bow to Mike Tyson. "I would've done that, taken a couple of psychological exams and been set for life."
Judging by the posh home he shares with his second wife, Joy, in Leawood, Kans., Dobler, who co-owns a multimillion-dollar placement service for nurses, has few financial worries. What does stress him is the recent wave of fines the NFL has doled out to players for the type of aggressive, nasty behavior that was his trademark. "For decades, no one said anything about late hits or dirty play," Dobler says. "It's only in the last 10 years that it has become an issue. The league wants to protect its star players, the quarterbacks and receivers, because when a star goes down it hurts ticket sales, and the club has to pay big money for a replacement."
Whom does Dobler view as the latest heir to his throne? "Nobody," he says. "I see defensive linemen jump to knock a pass down. When that happened near me, I'd smack 'em in the solar plexus, and that got their hands down real quick. It's as if nobody wants to see anybody else get injured—like they've got a fraternity, and they all want to be part of a millionaire's club."