KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The framed Sports Illustrated cover hangs on a wall in Conrad Dobler's office in Overland Park, and each week, he receives requests from fans asking him to sign their copies of the magazine.
Fan mail has picked up recently as comparisons are being made between Dobler, who in July, 1977, was crowned by SI as "Pro Football's Dirtiest Player," and the game's newest villain, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Don't even go there.
Suh, who has been repeatedly fined during his two-year career for questionable hits, was suspended for two games by the league on Tuesday for his slamming Green Bay guard Evan Dietrich-Smith and then stomping on his arm during their Thanksgiving Day game.
"I never did anything like that," said Dobler, a three-time Pro Bowl guard for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1970s. "It's a pretty violent game . . . people are going to lose their temper. But doing something like that, it's totally ridiculous. What's so sad about it is, that offensive lineman should have got up and kicked the (stuff) out of him, but he would have been fined, too.
"In years past, when we played, we didn't have to have the commissioner fine us. As an offensive line, we would have found the guy. We'd take care of it on the field."
That's what happened, coincidentally, in a Thanksgiving Day game Dobler played in between the Cardinals and Miami Dolphins in 1977. The Cardinals, riding a six-game winning streak, were playing their third game in 10 days, and their bodies were weary and frustration rose as Miami's Bob Griese threw six touchdown passes in a 55-14 rout of St. Louis.
Dolphins rookie defensive end A.J. Duhe was running at the mouth, and Dobler remembers saying in the huddle, "We've got to shut that guy up. If there's an interception or something like that, let's go find him."
Instead, center Tom Banks snapped the ball and speared Duhe, sparking a fracas.
"A.J. got to his knees and went to attack Tommy, so I ran into him and knocked him down and fell on top of him," Dobler recalled. "I'm thinking, I'm going to get thrown out of the game for this, so I'm going to play it cool. I get back to the line of scrimmage on the next play, and A.J. and linebacker Bob Matheson both lined up on over me and were spitting on top of my helmet.
"I knew the next play a donnybrook was going to happen. I'm trying to avoid 'em because I know the official wanted to throw me out the first time. We ran a draw play, and they're just beating on me, and the back ran past them for like 50 yards. They didn't even care about him. There are two of them on me, so I figured well, the best I can do is pull them by the face mask and pull them on top of me, so when the other guys start kicking me, they're not going to be able to get to me."
Dobler was ejected from the game, and curiously enough, the Cardinals visited the New York Giants the next week so he met with commissioner Pete Rozelle on the day after the game, just as Suh met with Roger Goodell a couple of weeks ago. Dobler received the only fine of his career, for $2,500, "which back in those days was a lot of money," he said.
"I played the game tough," said Dobler, who operates Mobile Health Clinics and Superior Healthcare Staffing in Overland Park, Kan. "I've had 32 knee surgeries, nine total knee replacements. I took my shots, too. It's not like these were defenseless nuns out there. I took it to them. I played the game the way just like they played it. If they're going to do a head slap, then I'm going to do a head slap."
Dobler also had a similar incident to Suh's Thanksgiving Day stomp in a game against the New York Giants.
"I did step on a guy's head -- that keeps ending up on highlight films," Dobler said. "But what they don't tell you . . . it was after an interception, and he was going after my legs and trying to tackle me. I pushed off his body . . . and I didn't step on him that hard either."
Dobler, 61, doesn't think the blows he struck in the '70s nor some of Suh's now, are as violent or vicious as others, including the helmet-to-helmet hit delivered by New York Giants defensive back Kenny Phillips on New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham on Monday night.
"They talk about me being dirty," Dobler said. "You don't think that shot that tight end took across the middle . . . I didn't do anything that bad. Certainly people got hurt when they played against me, but that's the nature of the game. If they're going to give Suh a two-game suspension for what he did, stepping on a guy's arm . . .
"Suh has a mean streak, but his ability gets lost in that, too. He's also a pretty damn good football player. I played 10 years, in three Pro Bowls, I played on an offensive line that allowed only seven sacks (in 1975) . . . just a dirty, filthy player isn't going to last long."
Dobler was always uneasy about the reputation that resulted from the Sports Illustrated cover story.
"Joe Greene had been on the cover as the meanest man in the NFL, so they couldn't use that again," Dobler said. "I always said, if Joe Greene had been four years younger, and I was four years older, I would have been Mean Conrad Dobler, and Joe Greene would have been a dirty ballplayer . . ."
The story actually had been written in 1976, Dobler said, but it was bumped from the magazine in favor of the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton fight.
"A year later, in July, not a darn thing was going on in sports," he said, "and they had it in the can, so they put it on the cover."
His life has never been the same.