The once- famed National Football League was stacked in times past with real men with names like Griese, Staubach, Sayers, Butkus, Landry, and Shula. Those were times in which men were real men who did not measure their masculinity in terms of tricked-out Escalades, bling, and making ESPN’s Top Ten Plays list, nor showing their pampered asses by taking a knee when a show of reverence was the laudable action.
Those days are long gone, faded away like present-day NFL television ratings and ticket sales, and there’s a delicious irony in that. For once upon a time, real men toiled under the brutish, boot-camp-like snarling demands of superiors such as Lombardi, Halas, and Grant. Had Vince Lombardi been Colin Kaepernick’s head coach, he would have found a new place to stick his trophy. Problem solved.
Before the Escalades and Bentleys, the mansions and camera appearances, professional football players ascended to a higher code of discipline and personal responsibility. This was necessary in the days which offered no guaranteed multi-million dollar contracts. Professional football players had more in common with a racehorse who was put down after breaking his leg than those who get to stay at home and soak in their whirlpool while enduring the arduous concussion protocol, all expenses paid.
Into such a prehistoric sporting world entered an impressive, 6’2″ Texan named Thomas Henry Nobis, Jr., a recent graduate of the University of Texas. While playing for the Longhorns, it was not uncommon for the 240-pound linebacker to put opposing quarterbacks and running backs on their posteriors an unheard of twenty times in one contest.
Such impressive feats made Nobis the number one draft choice of the newly-minted Atlanta Falcons in 1966, where he continued his bone-jarring vetoing of every ball carrier who came near the middle linebacker’s real estate for the next eleven seasons. Being one of the greatest defenders to ever put on a set of pads did not translate to success on the field, as Nobis the Great toiled amongst lesser talents. The hapless Falcons had but one bright spot on the field, and he wore jersey number 60. Had the same jersey been worn in other environs such as Dallas, Chicago or Pittsburgh, nobody reading this would be scratching their head going “Tommy Who?”
Nobis played in an era with names like Butkus, Staubach, Lambert, Anderson, and Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka who said: “I’d rather play against Dick Butkus than Nobis.”
Nobis won many awards, enough to fill a big wall and big cabinet in front of it, but was overlooked for the NFL’s highest honor, the Hall Of Fame. That the NFL now bows before the knees of such stellar citizens as P. Diddy and the aforementioned Kaepernick only demonstrates it offers no home for a man with the honor of Nobis.
After he retired, Nobis further proved his mettle away from the lights and cameras, establishing “Nobis Works” near Atlanta, a charitable foundation which specializes in job training and placement for persons with disabilities. He never said it, but it was (and is) a how-to manual for how the poor and disadvantaged are to be cared for, far from the government plantation’s soul-sucking methods.
After an extended illness, Nobis died at age 74 on December 13, 2017, with his wife at his side, and a little bit more of a better era of class and professionalism died alongside.
Were today’s NFL stacked with fields full of Nobi, I would be a Sunday ticket holder. Tommy played when the game was about the game, not about players inserting their warped ideals into the equation.
I’m an NFL fan no more. I doubt Tommy Nobis would be, either.
© Copyright 2017 Tim Holcombe