Rich Dobbert never made it out of NFL training camp with the Washington Redskins in 1969. But before being cut following the team’s first preseason game that summer, the former Newfield lineman, class of 1965, acquired a lifetime’s worth of memories by crossing paths with several iconic Hall of Famers.
How’s this for a career highlight reel: He was coached by Vince Lombardi (in his final season on an NFL sideline), sat in a team meeting with Sonny Jurgensen and rode to practice with Sam Huff.
Not bad considering Dobbert never expected to be even be drafted. “My reaction was just ‘wow.’ It was a surprise,” Dobbert, 69, said by telephone from his home in Deerfield Beach, Fla., on Friday where he reported that Hurricane Matthew “just missed us.”
Dobbert was one of six players inducted on Saturday into the Newfield High School Football Hall of Fame, which was formed in 2013 by current assistant football coach and varsity baseball coach Eric Joyner. The others were co-captains Frank Hausner and John Randolph (of the school’s first team in 1959); Nick Bruckner (Class of ’79, who played on special teams for the Jets from 1983-85); his brother John (Class of ’81) and Rob Burnett (Class of ’85, who had a 14-year NFL career highlighted by starring on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense that demolished the Giants. 34-7, in the 2001 Super Bowl.) They were honored at halftime of yesterday’s 29-21 Newfield victory over Centereach.
Dobbert, a small-college All-American center out of Springfield College in 1968, was the 428th pick in the 17th round of the 1969 NFL draft. When he found out he was going to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, later that summer, then the training camp of the Redskins, he worked diligently to be ready for the tough practices he expected from the legendary taskmaster Lombardi.
“I ran wind sprints all summer. I tried to do everything I could to come to camp in shape because I knew how tough Lombardi was. I didn’t care if it was the middle of the night; I’d run wind sprints with my friends timing me.”
Dobbert didn’t have an NFL career like Burnett, but he crammed a lot of memories into his short stint. Of Lombardi, a Hall of Fame coach for what he accomplished with the Green Bay Packers, Dobbert said, “He was unbelievable. He was hands-on. This guy had eyes all over the field. I remember one time I beat out a defensive back in a short sprint and from way across the field, I got an ‘attaboy’ from Coach Lombardi. I don’t know how he saw everything because we were all in different sections.”
While Dobbert experienced the gruff, stern side of Lombardi — “Practices were really tough. Lots of calisthenics. Lots of wind sprints.” — he also witnessed a softer side. “He was kind of funny sometimes,” Dobbert recalled. “We had a freak lightning storm that came up quickly. So he ran to stand next to the tallest people. There were two of us that were about 6-7, and he [Lombardi was 5-8] comes running up to us. He’s smiling and he goes, ‘Well if lightning hits, it’s going to hit high.’”
At Dobbert’s first team meeting with the Redskins, after being switched from center to defensive end to offensive tackle, Jurgensen, a Hall of Fame quarterback, lit up a cigar while other players smoked cigarettes. “That surprised me — that professional athletes would smoke in training camp,” Dobbert said.
He was impressed by Huff, the former Giants’ middle linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer who played a final NFL season for the Redskins as a favor to Lombardi. “He was a real nice guy. He had his car at camp and he would give us rookies a ride to the practice field. He wasn’t that muscular but I’ve never seen a player so quick. I had to block him in a live scrimmage in practice. I was able to get him once.”
After his first and only preseason game, a Redskins’ victory over the Colts, Dobbert recalled that there was a cold-cuts-and-beer victory party thrown by Lombardi when the team returned from its bus trip to Baltimore. The next day, an assistant coach told him, “You’ve got to turn in your playbook,” but Dobbert didn’t have unrealistic expectations anyway. And he fondly recalled that Lombardi told him he’d try to get him traded to another NFL team. “I thought that was nice,” he said.
Dobbert elected to return to Springfield College to get his degree, taught for 10 years in his hometown school district and eventually moved to Florida, where he recently retired as a lieutenant in the corrections department of the Broward County police department after 20 years. He said he is wheelchair bound these days and would not have been able to attend the ceremony even if Hurricane Matthew hadn’t struck. But he felt the long-distance love from his old school.
“I’m quite surprised and honored,” he said. “I played football, basketball and was the county shot-put champion in track and field. Actually, I didn’t do anything in football; I didn’t think I was that good.”
Good enough to have a pretty nice scrapbook in the corners of his mind.