To Kevin Gogan, it was a gift from the gods. Here was Gogan, the
San Francisco 49ers guard, in a heap of pro football's Grade A
flesh, and amid the pushing and grabbing he saw a smidgen of
daylight between himself and Neil Smith, the Denver Broncos
defensive end who seconds earlier, in retaliation for a punch in
the chest, had slugged Gogan in the back of the head. Even if he
deserves it, Gogan doesn't take a poke from anybody, and Smith
was about to experience the swift kick of injustice. "It was
amazing," Gogan recalls. "All of a sudden, this space opened
that was the perfect size for me to get my leg through and kick
him in the nuts."
This is an article from the Oct. 26, 1998 issue
Never mind that this happened last February at the Pro Bowl, a
postseason exhibition in which the league's elite players expend
about as much effort as porn-film actors delivering dialogue.
Never mind that Gogan had just spent several days lounging
poolside at a luxurious Oahu resort. When you are 6'7", 330
pounds and the dirtiest player in football, the low road always
beckons. Says Gogan, "The referee told me it was the most
vicious kick to the groin he had seen in 23 years."
Here are other ways big number 66 has gotten his kicks: While
playing with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders from 1994
through '96, Gogan and linemates Steve Wisniewski and Dan Turk
would patrol the locker room giving "attitude adjustments" to
players they felt weren't practicing hard enough, a process that
typically came down to the three behemoths pinning the offending
teammate against his locker until he was sufficiently repentant.
During a game, if he's facing an opponent who has imperfect
teeth, Gogan will tell him to consider signing with the Niners
because they have a good dental plan. Once a play begins--and,
sometimes, after it is whistled dead--Gogan will punch, kick,
trip, cut-block, sit on or attempt to neuter the man lined up
across from him.
"If those guys in the striped uniforms can't see it, Gogan will
do it," says Washington Redskins defensive tackle Dana
Stubblefield, who while playing with San Francisco last season
was on the receiving end of Gogan's antics in practice. "He
knows every trick in the dirty book. In fact, in the Book of
Dirty, Gogan's picture is right there on the first page, with a
note that says, 'We dedicate this to Kevin Gogan, the epitome of
what dirtiness stands for, the master of all that is nasty.'"
In an era when players are increasingly scrutinized and fined
for acts of malice on the field, Gogan, a 12-year veteran who
turns 34 next month, is an unabashed throwback who would just as
soon settle a score as spring a running back for one. You won't
find him or his partners in grime--Broncos linebacker Bill
Romanowski, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Corey Fuller, Arizona
Cardinals defensive tackle Eric Swann and Green Bay Packers
center Frank Winters, to name just a few--doing promotional ads
for the NFL. Instead they operate outside the lines of decorum,
in some cases to the delight of their coaches and teammates.
"Coaches want tough guys, players who love to hit and fly around
and do things that are mean and nasty," 49ers coach Steve
Mariucci says. "Not everyone can be like that, but if you can
have one or two players who are a little overaggressive, that's
Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer maintains that his
players engage in physical, one-on-one football within the
rules. Yet many rivals say he encourages late hits and knockout
blows. "They have a lot of thugs on that team," says Seattle
Seahawks guard Brian Habib, who chose not to name names. But
among the Chiefs mentioned often in SI's informal survey of
players and coaches are free safety Jerome Woods, who was fined
a total of $15,000 for hits on two Broncos (quarterback John
Elway and wideout Ed McCaffrey) in separate games last season,
and linebacker Anthony Davis, who was docked $7,500 for a
dead-ball blow to Niners quarterback Steve Young last November.
Then there is cornerback Dale Carter, who has been known to go
for opponents' knees in his normal role and in cameo appearances
as a wideout. In fact, for the last several years, Chiefs
receivers have been criticized for cut-blocking away from the
ball, a practice that is legal but widely frowned upon. "We do
it because if we knock those guys down, they get fewer
uncontested shots on the man with the ball, and that reduces
fumbles," Schottenheimer says. "If they want to make a rule
outlawing cutting in that situation, I'll be happy to abide by
What sets Gogan apart is the zest with which he seeks a physical
confrontation. "It seems like guys always want to mess with
people who don't want to be messed with," Gogan says. "I'm the
guy who enjoys going after the instigators. Sometimes, I don't
even go where the ball is. I just go after the man."
In a game last December against the Vikings, Gogan went after
Fuller, a notorious trash talker, spitter and high hitter who
earlier this month was fined $20,000 by the NFL for a
helmet-first blow that broke the jaw of Packers backup
quarterback Doug Pederson, who was playing because the Vikings
had the game comfortably in hand. "I don't hurt anyone
intentionally," Fuller says, "but I'm going to play hard. If you
don't want to play hard, get out of the game, because it's a
Fuller has been known to take that credo to extremes. Two years
ago he was so enraged by a late hit Winters had laid on him that
he went after the Packers center and poked him in the eye.
(Fuller was fined $30,000 for the gouge; Winters's shot cost him
$5,000.) One Tampa Bay Buccaneer says that in his team's
season-opening defeat at Minnesota, wideout Bert Emanuel "caught
his toe on the turf and badly sprained his ankle, and Fuller
stood over him yelling, 'I told you I'd get you out of the
game.'" Fuller denies making that comment, but says, "I'm trying
to be king of the jungle out there. Otherwise, at my position,
I'd be home watching very soon."
Gogan couldn't wait to bully this bully. "I was walking off the
field before a punt," Gogan says, "and Fuller was yapping at one
of our special teams guys, Curtis Buckley. So I said, 'Buck,
watch this,' and as I walked by I punched him right in the nuts."
At least that transgression--which, like many of Gogan's sins,
went undetected by officials--took place in a game that
mattered. Getting ejected from the Pro Bowl is akin to getting
booted from the Rose Bowl parade for speeding, but it was a feat
accomplished by Gogan and Smith, who have bad blood between them
dating back to the days when Gogan was with the Raiders and
Smith played for the rival Chiefs. They resumed their battle at
the Pro Bowl after Gogan saw Smith tangling with Vikings tackle
Todd Steussie, another player with a mean streak. Gogan stepped
in and punched Smith in the chest. Then, as Gogan walked back to
his huddle, Smith retaliated with a shot to Gogan's head,
setting off the scrum that ended with both men being ejected.
Gogan and Smith nearly came to blows while being escorted from
the field, and later Mariucci, who was coaching the NFC team,
sent Steve Young into the locker room to try to calm his testy
teammate. When Young returned to the sideline he told Mariucci,
"Forget it." A few minutes later Gogan reappeared on the
sideline, clad in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, and began jawing
across the field at Smith, who also had returned in street
clothes. "I'm still bitter about it," Gogan says. "If Neil Smith
has to take you straight-up, he won't take you. He's a p----."
Responds Smith, "I've been called worse."
If the 49ers and the Broncos meet in Super Bowl XXXIII, the
biggest fireworks display won't come at halftime. In addition to
the Gogan-Smith feud, many Niners eagerly await a chance to get
back at Romanowski, king of the stray forearm, who last December
earned a $7,500 fine for spitting in the face of San Francisco
wideout J.J. Stokes. Niners running back Garrison Hearst calls
Romanowski, who declined to be interviewed for this article,
"the dirtiest, nastiest guy I know." (Romanowski, through a
Broncos spokesperson, replied, "Garrison doesn't know me very
well.") Gogan says, "What he did to J.J. showed a lack of
respect. I will get Romanowski back for that."
What's more, there would be the face-off between offensive
linemen coached by Niners assistant Bobb McKittrick and pass
rushers schooled by Broncos assistant John Teerlinck--the two
position coaches most often cited by their peers for teaching
questionable tactics. McKittrick, who has held his post since
1979, introduced the cut-blocking techniques now practiced by at
least a dozen other teams, including the Broncos. Teerlinck, who
coached in Minnesota and Detroit before joining the Broncos in
1997, is notorious for encouraging linemen to go for the
quarterback's knees. Though Teerlinck declined to be
interviewed, a few of his former players say he taught them to
pretend they were tripping to hide the fact they were diving at
the legs of a fleeing quarterback. "He'd tell us, 'If a guy
beats you, lay out for him,'" says San Francisco defensive
lineman Roy Barker, who played for Teerlinck in Minnesota.
Two years ago, when Teerlinck was the Lions' assistant head
coach for defense, he was summoned to the NFL office in New York
City for a meeting with commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other
league officials. "The commissioner made it very clear that the
things we were seeing on videotape were unacceptable, and if it
could be proved that he was teaching these techniques, there
would be severe consequences," says NFL director of football
development Gene Washington, who doles out player fines. "After
that, we didn't see much of it anymore."
Since Washington, a standout receiver with the 49ers from 1969
through '77, assumed his post five years ago, the league has
been more vigilant, enforcing the rules and penalizing serious
offenders. Each week the league's supervisors of officials
review every play of every game, sometimes from as many as five
angles, and red-flag anything they think might be a finable
offense. Washington then views each play and renders a decision,
often fining players for transgressions that didn't draw a
penalty during the game. Though the system has its flaws--most
appeals are handled by Peter Hadhazy, the NFL's director of game
operations, whose office is next door to Washington's--it has
undoubtedly helped clean up the game. Washington and others say
a player such as Conrad Dobler, an offensive lineman regarded as
the league's dirtiest player in the '70s (box, left), would have
had to change his ways under such a system. "I don't think
anybody today can come anywhere close to someone who played 20
years ago, or even 10 years ago," Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy
Johnson says. "Nowadays, if you look wrong at a guy, you're
going to get a $5,000 fine. If Dobler were playing today, his
entire paycheck would go to the league, and then he'd owe them
Until a couple of years ago the player deemed the heir to Dobler
was Wisniewski, whose penchant for sustaining blocks up to the
whistle--or past it--made him extremely unpopular with
opponents. But Wisniewski, who has nonetheless been voted into
the Pro Bowl five times by those opponents, seems to have
reformed since incurring a total of $65,000 in fines during a
five-week stretch in the fall of '96. League executives say
Wisniewski was a flagrant violator scared straight by threats of
a suspension. Wisniewski believes that the league, by levying
unwarranted fines, was mostly responsible for creating his
image, and that the appeals process was "an absolute kangaroo
court." Seahawks defensive tackle Dan Saleaumua even supports
Wisniewski's contention that he is merely a hard-nosed blocker
whose biggest offense is his talent.
"How absurd is it that I'm thought of as dirty?" Wisniewski asks.
"I'm clean-cut, I don't wear any jewelry, I don't have tattoos, I
don't drink or do drugs, I'm involved in my church and with youth
charities, my family is my No. 1 priority, and I coach four- and
six-year-olds in soccer. I don't use abusive language. No one
I've blocked has ever been carted off with a serious injury."
Alas, Wisniewski is painted as something less than a Gandhi-like
figure by a couple of former teammates. Gogan says Wisniewski
taught him a "pin move" in which a hand to the inside hip of a
charging pass rusher can "produce 10 pounds of pressure and stop
him like a sack of potatoes. It's like a karate move, and it's
usually called holding when the officials see it." Adds Turk,
now a Redskins long snapper, "We'd have competitions to see how
many defensive backs we could pick off or how many linebackers
we could knock off their feet. We had two great moves: the
knife, where the guard acts like he's pass-blocking his man and
I'd shoot in from the side and cut him; and the fork, where I'd
pull back and one of the guards would take out the nosetackle.
Then we'd make a lot of false fork and knife calls to freak out
the defensive linemen. It would take them out of their game."
Says Gogan, "It was absolutely comical what went on. We'd pick
one guy to terrorize, and we'd do everything--punch him, kick him,
pin him, jump on him after the play, get him starting fights he
couldn't win." In other words there would be guaranteed misery
for some unfortunate opponent. "Opponent?" says Gogan. "Hell, we
do it in practice."
"He was dirty in college, too," says one player who was a
teammate of Gogan's at Washington and played against him in the
pros. "He's the biggest bully I've ever met."
Growing up in Pacifica, a town just south of San Francisco,
Gogan was ridiculed for his heftiness. "I've been hearing fat
jokes since the fourth grade," he says. "Everyone calls you fat,
like it's the newest thing, even if they're fat themselves." At
least his wife, Heather, three children--Hannah, 7; Zoe, 5; and
Eli, 2--and four dogs think he's cute.
"I hate the dancing and showboating that goes on in this game,
and I never initiate trash talk," Gogan says. "Am I out there
trying to end someone's career? No. Am I out there trying to
beat somebody? Yeah. But I never take it off the field--except
for maybe Neil Smith."
THE DIRTY DOZEN
The 12 players who would least likely make their way onto the
pages of Emily Post's Etiquette.
KEVIN GOGAN, G, 49ERS Claim to shame: goes off at wholly
inappropriate moments. Will spice up practice by mauling
teammates. "He'll dive over the pile to hit you, even after the
play," says Seahawks linebacker Darrin Smith. "If you're
anywhere near the pile, watch out."
BILL ROMANOWSKI, LB, BRONCOS Claim to shame: makes little effort
to hide transgressions. Spit on 49ers wideout J.J. Stokes in a
Monday night game. Broke then Panthers quarterback Kerry
Collins's jaw on a helmet-to-head hit in the '97 preseason, for
which he was fined $20,000. "He goes for the kill shot every
time," says one NFC quarterback.
RALPH TAMM, C, CHIEFS Claim to shame: vast repertoire of
techniques mastered over eleven seasons (box, page 68).
Signature moment came during a Monday night game with Denver in
'95, when he punched Raider Chester McGlockton in the groin.
COREY FULLER, CB, VIKINGS Claim to shame: filthy mouth. Known
for spitting at opponents and spewing trash talk while trolling
for cheap shots. Says one NFC Central quarterback, "He's always
bragging about how he's going to hurt you. Then he comes in late
and hits up high with his helmet."
MARK CARRIER, S, LIONS Claim to shame: likes to tackle with his
helmet. Has been cited by the NFL for such plays three times in
the past two seasons and five times in the last seven. The
latest, a blow in a Sept. 28 game that sidelined Bucs wideout
Brice Hunter, was an expensive one. Carrier drew a one-game
suspension without pay ($27,941).
DAVE WIDELL, C, FALCONS Claim to shame: compensates for lack of
ability by hitting players late or away from the ball. Seahawks
guard Brian Habib, who played with Widell in Denver, says, "At
the end of a play, he'll come up behind a guy and give him a
FRANK WINTERS, C, PACKERS Claim to shame: cheap shots near the
pile after the whistle blows. "I love Frank Winters," says 49ers
coach Steve Mariucci, a former Green Bay assistant. "He's a
teddy bear off the field, but he'll wait until the tackle is
made, then come in high and spear players standing around the
ball. Then he'll go back to the huddle laughing."
ERIK WILLIAMS, T, COWBOYS Claim to shame: will do anything to
avoid getting beat. Likes to head-slap and dole out shots to the
face of opponents. In a '95 playoff victory over the Packers,
felled defensive tackle John Jurkovic with lunging--albeit
legal--cut block, blowing out Jurkovic's knee. Says one 49er,
"He'll look you in the eye, then try to take your knee out.
He'll club you on the back, kick you, trip you, whatever."
ERIC SWANN, DT, CARDINALS Claim to shame: can easily be provoked
into losing his cool. In a preseason game against Seattle,
rookie guard Chris Brymer blocked Swann onto his back; Swann
retaliated later by pushing and kicking Brymer, and was ejected.
Swann was also booted from Arizona's '98 season opener after
tangling with Williams. "If you block him, he punches you," says
RODNEY HARRISON, S, CHARGERS Claim to shame: constantly looking
to make knockout blow. Was fined $10,000 for going after neck
and face of Chiefs wideout Andre Rison last year on a pass that
fell incomplete. Says Gogan, "He doesn't even tackle anybody. He
just runs up and flies toward the pile, looking to hit somebody
TODD STEUSSIE, T, VIKINGS Claim to shame: nasty cut blocks away
from the play. "Steussie commits what you might call cardinal
sins," says 49ers defensive end Gabe Wilkins. "He'll go after
your knees, even if you're 10 yards away from the play. All he
has to do is seal you off, but he'll still try to take you out."
WILLIAM FULLER, DE, CHARGERS Claim to shame: If Fuller (no
relation to Corey) has a favorite ballet, it would probably be
The Nutcracker. "He's one of those guys who goes for balls in a
pile," says 49ers tackle Derrick Deese, "and we're not talking
THE DEVIL HIMSELF
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 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."
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Offensive lineman Ralph Tamm has been around the block a few
times--and many of the blocks he threw in the process were
illegal. Now a long snapper with the Chiefs, Tamm built a
repertoire of tricks while playing on seven teams since he
joined the league as a ninth-round draft pick out of West
Chester (Pa.) University, in 1988. His motto: It's not dirty,
it's crafty. Here are some of the moves he's most proud of.
THE JACK "The most annoying thing for a defensive player is when
you get your hands inside his face mask or under his chin. You
only have to get your hand up there for a second. If your hand
slips up toward the guy's throat, jam it up there and then pull
it out. You really have to make a conscious effort to get it
out, or you could get flagged or, worse, bitten."
THE SNATCHDOWN "I picked this up from Jeff Bostic when I was
with the Redskins. Sometimes a defensive lineman will bull-rush
with his head down. If you see it coming, get your hands on the
front of his shoulder pads, take a couple of good hops backward
and, when he moves forward, use your leverage to drive him into
THE PUSH-AND-PULL "I got this from Russ Grimm in Washington. If
a pass rusher is attacking your outside shoulder, grab his
shoulder on the side he's attacking from and pull it down, then
push up on the shoulder he's leaving behind. If you press really
hard on the upside shoulder, you can roll him over and flat-back
THE SEPARATION HEAD BUTT "I saw the Bills' Jim Ritcher do this
on film, and I really admired it, so I copied it. When a pass
rusher knocks your hands down or lifts them to get loose from
you, use a head butt to create some space, buy a little time and
try something else."
THE LEG WHIP "This is a 49ers staple. If you try to cut block a
guy and miss him--or maybe he's moving away from you to follow
the flow of a running play--you lift your back leg and swing it
into the air. You try to trip him, but it looks like you're
doing something athletic or falling out of the way. Everyone
THE HEEL HOOK "This is sort of a desperation move, but if a guy
runs right by you, you can always fall and grab the back of his
heel with your hand."
THE BELT PULL "When I was with the 49ers, I flat-backed
[Chargers linebacker] Junior Seau in the end zone on a goal line
running play. I charged forward like I was going to throw a nice
clean block, then I got my helmet and one hand up in his chest.
I grabbed his belt buckle with my other hand, then lifted and
pulled in, and before he knew what hit him, he was down and we
had a touchdown."
"Otherwise, I'd be home watching soon."