He doesn’t walk like a Hall of Famer. Not a trace of a limp—maybe even a little bounce in his step—as he crosses Reade Street in Lower Manhattan. As we enter the restaurant, he holds the door for me. Apparently, he does have “the social skills”.
While crossing the dining room to his favorite booth, he exchanges nods and smiles with most of the other customers—this is a neighborhood place, and he is a neighborhood guy. As we sit, he gets one final greeting, from Robert DeNiro, who salutes from a nearby table.
The Hall of Famer waves back, then leans in toward me in a conspiratorial whisper: “H-h-h-h-his name is Bobby, too!”
Mr. Coach Klein (Head Football Coach, SCLSU, 1991-present): It doesn’t feel like 15 years ago. I can close my eyes and see every play of that Bourbon Bowl like I’m watching it on TV. A lot of lives changed that day.
Lyle Robideaux (Linebacker, SCLSU, 1996-1999): We were just country kids, and we beat Red Beaulieu’s Louisiana Cougars. Even the announcers were going nuts.
Dan Fouts (Broadcaster): To this day, I have no off-air relationship with Brent Musburger.
Mr. Coach Klein: True to his word, Bobby stayed with us three more years, until graduation. We all kind of basked in his glow—maybe a little too much. I knew we were through the looking glass when the Minnesota Vikings hired Farmer Fran as their offensive coordinator.
“Farmer” Fran [last name unknown] (Assistant Coach, SCLSU, 1981-2000; Vikings Offensive Coordinator, Sept. 9th to 23rd, 2000): Dem Bibes dun pay neh fuzzafoo! Wide meh, dide meh, den dun fah meh azza free wheeze!
Randy Moss (Vikings WR, 1998-2004): More than any other coach I ever played for, I felt like Farmer Fran understood me. But I couldn’t really understand him. Cool nipple rings, though.
Mr. Coach Klein: As soon as Bobby finished his senior season, we knew his next step was the NFL. But nobody was sure how high he would go in the draft. Sure, he was the most dominant defensive presence in the history of college football. But he was 35 years old.
As he sips one of the five waters the waitress wordlessly placed in front of him (two sparkling, two flat, one tap), Bobby looks content. Other than the 2010 lawsuit brought against him by his landlord for having a mule (“Steve”) living in his Tribeca loft, he’s kept a low profile since retirement, disappearing into the anonymity afforded by the big city. He pops up here and there: backstage at the Garden during Captain Insano’s farewell match, at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Bloomberg’s Clean Water Initiative, doing an occasional “Top Ten List” on Letterman. But by and large, the man across the table staring blankly into the middle distance has kept a low profile.
His wife is another story.
Vicki Vallencourt Boucher Seacrest Boucher: Those first few months in the NFL were the worst. Bobby was working so hard to memorize all them plays, and practicing all the time. I got real lonesome. You know what I mean?
Mr. Coach Klein: The league was ready for Bobby. Bill Cowher came up with “the Boucher Formation” – nine offensive lineman, one flanker, quarterback in “super-shotgun” position, ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. And it actually sort of worked, until, you know… the Broncos game.
Vicki Vallencourt Boucher Seacrest Boucher: By that time, I was all done with being some football widow. I had a dream about Julius Caesar, and right in the middle of it, Julius turns to me and says, “Vicki, you know where you need to go? Los Angeles, California!” I woke up and packed my bags. Left Bobby my wedding ring and a note.
Bill Romanowski (Broncos LB, 1996-2001): We heard about his wife leaving him, and were giving him a pretty hard time about it once the game started. We were kind of graphic. In retrospect, that wasn’t such a great idea.
Dan Fouts: What happened in Denver just wasn’t right. A lot of those players had families.
Mr. Coach Klein: In the aftermath of the Broncos game, Commissioner Tagliabue enacted the so-called “Boucher Rule”. No more visualizing and attacking. I thought it would be the end of Bobby’s career, and so did he. Only one person still believed in him.
Helen Boucher (mother of Bobby): When the man with the glasses made it hard for my Bobby to play the foosball, he wanted to up and quit. I told him he’s still just as good as them other gargantuans, and that my boy ain’t no quitter. I said maybe he should ride his lawn mower up to his next game in the New England, so he had time to think and whatnot.
Mr. Coach Klein: Bobby was never the same dominating player after Denver, but he was a very good player. And he didn’t play with the same anguish. He said it was fun to play without using his medulla oblongata so much.
Vicki Vallencourt Boucher Seacrest Boucher: By this time I was happily remarried. But I couldn’t get Bobby out of my head. He’d send me cute notes that said stuff like, “I still like your boobies.” And, uh… I guess just basically versions of that. How could I resist?
“Farmer” Fran: Baba duh doot dat oh blat!
After lunch, we walk over to the Hudson River. He likes to look out over the water on summer afternoons. He tells me about a smartphone app he’s developed that combines his wife’s love of astrology, his mama’s bayou wisdom, and his knowledge of football. I have no idea how it works; he explained it to me like five times, but it made zero sense. I finally pretended I understood because it was starting to get uncomfortable and I wanted to move the conversation forward.
But he says it’s gonna be the best contuter-phone button thing ever. And you know what I think?
He can do it.
Tim Herlihy, a former head writer of Saturday Night Live, has written, co-written or produced 16 feature film comedies. His most recent, Grown Ups 2 (co-written with Fred Wolf and Adam Sandler) opens July 12th.
While the SI magazine editors were busy catching up with for-real former players, we turned our attention to those athletes of yesteryear who actually made an impact on the world: the fictional ones. Extra Mustard will be posting the whereabouts of six iconic sports-movie protagonists, as described by those characters' creators. Here's who's coming soon.
Wednesday, July 3: Adam McKay on Ricky Bobby, from Talladega Nights (2006)
Friday, July 5: Sam Harper on Henry Rowengartner, from Rookie of the Year (1993)
Wednesday, July 10: Aaron Mendelsohn on Buddy, from Air Bud 1-5 (1997-2003)