Star punter Roby dies
BY ARMANDO SALGUERO
He was an NFL punter with a linebacker's body and a champion's heart.
But that heart seemingly failed Reggie Roby on Tuesday when the former Dolphins standout died of an apparent heart attack at 43. An official cause of death is expected after an autopsy.
Roby was found by his wife, Melissa, Tuesday morning in their Nashville home. He was unconscious without a pulse. CPR was administered at his home, in the ambulance and in the Saint Thomas Hospital emergency room to no avail.
He was pronounced dead at 8:35 a.m., according to the hospital and family.
Roby leaves behind his wife, six children and a dual legacy as a punter with a booming leg and a charitable man with a giving spirit.
"This is a tremendous loss for his family but also for a lot of young boys in Nashville," said Joe Davis, founder of Backfield in Motion, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire Nashville's inner-city boys to become contributors to society.
Roby moved from South Florida three years ago and worked for the Nashville-based organization as the marketing and development director. He was currently overseeing 30 boys, according to Davis.
"He was probably the only male role model a lot of these young men had," Davis said. "He was very much a part of their lives. In fact, when their grades slipped or something happened at school, teachers would often call Reggie first."
In working for Backfield in Motion, Roby was simply putting to use a charitable spirit he often tried to keep veiled while he played with the Dolphins from 1983-92.
"Every Christmas morning he would get up and head off to some soup kitchen to help feed people," said Broward-based attorney Scott Alan Salomon, who represented Roby much of his 16-year career. "He didn't want the media to know about it because he wasn't doing it for the publicity.
"He was just doing it because it was in his heart. He was just a good man."
And people apparently responded to that. That is why Roby's passing reverberated throughout the NFL on Tuesday.
A BOND IS FORMED
New York Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff, who coached Roby throughout his Miami tenure, remembers that the player formed an easy, friendly bond with his son, John.
When the Dolphins decided to waive Roby in 1993, John Westhoff was not happy.
"[John] wouldn't talk to me for a week," Mike Westhoff said Tuesday. 'I explained, 'John, there's the business end to this.' He didn't want to hear that. All he knew was his buddy, a good player, was being released."
Roby, an imposing figure at 6-2 and 243 pounds, still holds the highest career playoff average of any Miami punter at 40.6, and his 77-yard kick vs. Buffalo in 1987 is still the longest net punt in team history.
"I remember him as having one of the strongest legs in the history of the NFL," former Dolphins coach Don Shula said in a statement. "Often on walk-throughs in domed stadiums the day before the game, he always would try to hit the top of the dome with a punt.
"He sometimes succeeded, which illustrates just how strong a leg he had. Reggie helped define the position, and even after he retired, every time I saw a long, high punt, it always reminded me of one of his kicks."
Said Westhoff: "He was physically an extremely gifted individual. He was a powerful, powerful person. His lower body, his thighs, he was massive. He was a pendulum punter, which meant he could keep his left foot on the ground, and when he kicked, his right knee would touch his face. Try that sometime. It's an impressive thing."
The Dolphins released Roby in the summer of 1993. He had suffered financial setbacks and was threatening to void his contract by filing for bankruptcy, which he eventually did.
He also had been injured much of 1992, and his average had dipped to a career-low 41.2 yards per kick. But upon his release, Roby was able to rebound.
He signed a lucrative contract with Washington and was named to his third Pro Bowl as a member of the Redskins after earning two trips to Hawaii as a Dolphin. He also had stints with Tampa Bay, Houston, Tennessee and San Francisco before he retired after the 2001 season.
"There were certainly many, many times after we released him I wished I had him back, that I wish he was right on the field with me," Westhoff said.
"He was a very, very good player, an accomplished punter and a fine man. It's a sad day, that's for sure."
Published by the Miami Herald on Feb. 22, 2005.