Former All-Pro linebacker Tommy Nobis had the most severe form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive blows to the head, when he died last year, researchers said.
Nobis, who was known as Mr. Falcon during his 11-year career with the Atlanta Falcons, died on Dec. 13, 2017. Devon Jackoniski, Nobis’ daughter, remembered her father and what the disease, commonly known as CTE, did to him as he played football and dealt with life after his career was over.
“Growing up, I remember my mom having to call his secretary when he was going out to training camp to let them know what kind of mood he was in. And then vice versa,” she told the Associated Press.
“We were pretty uneasy growing up. Although my dad had just some beautiful moments of being a wonderful man, emotionally he was so unstable it was just hard to get close to him.”
Nobis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1966 NFL Draft – the first ever selection by the Falcons. He never reached the playoffs with the Falcons and by the time Atlanta finally made the Super Bowl, doctors said he was too far gone to realize what that meant.
Nobis had the most severe form of the disease, showing a “severe loss of neurons and large CTE lesions throughout the cerebral cortex, Dr. Ann McKee, the director of Boston University’s CTE center, told the Associated Press.
After he retired from the NFL, Nobis spent 30 years in the Falcons’ front office, working in scouting, marketing, player development and corporate development.
Jackoniski told the Associated Press she doesn’t watch a lot of football anymore, though admitted she will have the Super Bowl on her television come Sunday. She was then asked what the sport meant to her family.
“Football was my father’s life, the air he breathed and therefore the air we breathed,” she said. “It brought discipline and recklessness, self-worth and depression, strength and weakness, determination and fear, teamwork and destruction of relationships, competition and dissension, friendships and loneliness, strategy and brutal honesty, entertainment and subsistence.
“In the end, it brought humility in every sense of the word.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By Ryan Gaydos