Hobart graduate and former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, who died Saturday at the age of 71, was renowned for his toughness.
Former Dolphins coach Don Shula recalled in a statement how Kuechenberg played in Super Bowl VIII with a broken arm and got the better of Hall of Fame defensive lineman Alan Page.
Yet, that was only one side of Kuechenberg.
Russ Deal was the head coach when Kuechenberg donned the purple and gold. Deal’s sons, Mike and Mark, have maintained a friendship with both Bob Kuechenberg and his brother Rudy, who played five seasons in the NFL and still lives in Florida.
Mark Deal remembers when his father’s health was failing in 2001 in Sarasota, Florida. Bob and Rudy Kuechenberg drove three hours each way to see their former coach.
“They were like my dad’s two oldest sons, older than Mike and I,” Mark Deal said. “They spent the entire day with my dad. The day before, he never even responded. Bob and Rudy came in and somebody said, ‘Hey coach, it’s Bob and Rudy.’ He opened his eyes and he smiled.”
That was far from an isolated incident. Mark Deal played college football at Indiana and during that time remembers working out in the old Brickie Bowl with Kuechenberg. The professional gave the college kid some long-snapping tips that made a real difference.
“Bob was a terrific guy. He was a great football player but he was really a kind soul and I saw that,” said Mark Deal, who is the assistant athletic director for alumni relations at Indiana. “For as great of football players as the Kuechenbergs were, they really had a soft and tender side away from the field. I know that sounds crazy to say, but they really did.”
Kuechenberg was born in Gary in 1947 but grew up in Hobart and graduated from Hobart High School in 1965. Legendary coach Don Howell, who won three state titles, and defensive coordinator Tom Kerr took over in 1966. Howell was Kuechenberg’s position coach in high school.
Kuechenberg was around the Brickies program long after he left, Kerr said. He and Kerr became lifelong friends.
“I know I’ll miss him and I’m sure there’s a lot of people in Hobart who will miss him, too,” Kerr said. “He was one of the hardest-working, toughest guys who ever played for Hobart. He was something special.”
Kuechenberg played both offensive and defensive line at Notre Dame, where he was member of the 1966 national championship team. Kerr played at Michigan a few years before Kuechenberg played in South Bend. The two made friendly bets on the annual game every year.
“He was a very well-spoken and intelligent man. He knew what was going on in the world,” Kerr said. “He was always just a good, down-to-Earth type person. He was humble.”
Kuechenberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969 but never played there and signed with the Dolphins in 1970.
Kuechenberg played for Miami for 14 years, starting in 176 games. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and named a First-Team All-Pro in 1975 and 1978. He was a member of two Super Bowl championship teams, including the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.
Kuechenberg ran a construction supply business in Florida after retiring from the NFL.
Mark Deal said he always relished attending Kuechenberg’s last NFL game with his father in 1983 in the Orange Bowl.
“Bob loved Hobart. He loved Hobart High School football and he was so proud to be a Brickie,” Mark Deal said. “You could probably make the argument that Bob is the most accomplished Brickie football player ever.”
Shula also offered high praise, calling Kuechenberg one of the best players he ever coached; however, Kuechenberg never received a gold jacket or a bust in Canton, Ohio.
“He’s should be in the Hall of Fame,” Kerr said. “There’s something wrong that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.”
Kuechenberg was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame eight times between 2002 and 2009 but was never elected.
“I always told him, ‘When you go into Canton, I’ll be there’ because my dad couldn’t be,” Mark Deal said. “He deserves it.”