Seahawk Center Robbie Tobeck (’94 Phys. Ed.) has spent the past 13 years playing professional football. After going to both the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl last February, he took some time off to focus on his four children, McKenzie, Mason, Mia, and Madden, and to travel with his new bride, Sonya Rechkoff (’90 Ed). He also opened his home in Sammamish to Hannelore Sudermann for an interview about lessons learned in the pros, his love for the Northwest, and finding time for family.
Have a dream.
As every guy who goes to Washington State to play football does, you dream someday of playing in the NFL. I had a really good senior year. It was my first year to play center. I was just hoping that I would get a tryout at some point, somewhere. Then the draft happened, and I didn’t get drafted. But right after, my phone started ringing. There were three teams that were interested in me. I thought the best opportunity to make the team was in Atlanta.
Use your fear.
It was kind of a scary time. Atlanta didn’t have anything invested in me, really, other than giving me a shot and a tryout. I was a long shot to make it. My first kid was on the way. Everything I dreamed of my entire life, as far as playing pro football, was right in front of me. It was exciting, because that’s where I wanted to be at that point in my life. But also intimidating, because I thought, what am I going to do if this doesn’t work out?
Take good advice.
The good thing for me was George Yarno (’79 Crim. J.), who’s back at Washington State now as offensive line coach. He played pro football [for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] for a long time. He was so good in just telling me what to expect. I took his advice as far as how I approached practice, my first minicamp. By listening to him, that gave me an edge over some of the other guys I was competing with. In the NFL, especially being a free agent, undrafted, it’s “get it done or you’re gone.”
Put in your time and know when to shine.
My first year I was on what they call the developmental squad. I was on the team, but I wasn’t on the team. My salary was reduced. I made half of what the minimum was. It’s kind of like red-shirting in college, really. You practice, you work hard during the week, and then on Sunday the team travels, you stay home. That was OK. That gave me a foot in the door.
I had been getting worn out all year by Pierce Holt, who was an All-Pro, a big free agent signed from the ‘Niners. A great guy, but he used to just wear me out daily. Then one day in practice I got my hands on him and just locked him down. And the defensive line coach said “Ooohhhh.” He was giving Pierce a hard time and making a big deal about it, because I hadn’t blocked him all year. So the next play I knew that Pierce was going to be bringing it. He was going to be coming with everything he had, because he was a little bit embarrassed. The whole team was watching it. And I locked him up again and shut him down again the very next play. That’s when I realized I’ve gotten better. I can do this.
Have humor and attitude.
Football is very stressful and very intense. I try to have fun with it in the locker room. But also, I think I bring a little bit of an attitude on game day that some guys feed off of. It’s a tough-guy mentality. Even as a kid, it was important to me to be that way. I guess it comes from my dad, who is always considered a very tough man and a hard-working guy. He worked my butt off. He was a roofer. As a kid in Florida in the summertime and on the weekends I had to be on a roof when it’s 100 degrees out with 90 percent humidity. I was miserable. If nothing else, it taught me that I don’t want to do that for a living.
Finish what you start.
When I left Washington State, I needed the one class to finish my degree. So I took the course during the off-season. Why did I finish? I think you have go back to being a roofer. I knew that there were no guarantees for me in football. I was just hoping to get one year in and hang on for a little bit. I didn’t want to roof, and I didn’t really know much else at that point. It was like, whatever I do, I’m going to have that degree. At least I can walk into an interview and say, “I completed something.”
Know when to move home.
I played in Atlanta seven years. I had a lot of great memories there. I was fortunate enough to play in Super Bowl 33 against the Broncos. But Seattle is my adopted home. Other than staying in Atlanta, the one team I wanted to play for was Seattle. Coach Holmgren had been here for a year, and there were all the expectations of him building a winner and being a part of something. For me it was location and the opportunity to play for an organization that I really thought was turning a corner. It has been six years of a lot of work and some ups and downs, but this year we finally got there. It has made it all worthwhile.
Learn from losing.
This year, being a team that really wasn’t given a chance and looked past, to see it come together the way it did, there was a lot of reward in just the journey. People I talk to say there were problems in the officiating. But that’s something you can’t control. What I do is look in the mirror and say, “As Robbie Tobeck, as a Seahawk, or as my team, what could we have done to win that football game?” We had an opportunity to make some plays we didn’t make. Before you can point your finger, or get your hands up in the air, or get mad, you’ve got to look in the mirror and make sure you’re doing everything you could have done. It just gives us some more motivation for next year to get it right.
Relish your wins.
Going to the Pro Bowl–that’s a dream come true. I consider myself a team guy. But in the end you’re an individual, and you have individual goals. One of mine has always been to play in the Pro Bowl. For me it was a validation of 13 years of hard work. Being over there in Hawaii, it was even better than I thought it would be.
Take your licks.
I get on guys as much as anybody. If anybody does anything that’s out of place, I pick up on it right away. If you’re going to be the type of guy that does something like that, when it’s turned on you, you’ve got to laugh. I’m six-two-and-a-half, 295 pounds. I’m the smallest lineman by three inches and 20 pounds. Last year after practice, coach brought out this big box and said, “Guys, this is the first annual coaches’ award given to a Seahawk that doesn’t always get recognized.” He said the coaches had taken their own money and bought this gift, a custom set of golf clubs. Then he said they were recognizing me. I was almost choked up. I thought “Wow, this is unbelievable.” Then the coach reaches into this box and picks up this little tiny set of golf clubs. And everyone laughs. I’m glad I have that kind of relationship with the coach. He knows that I can handle it. I understand what he’s doing when he’s giving me a hard time. It’s an honor for me to know that the coach has enough respect for you to trust you that way.
Find family time.
During the season, you get one day off. Tuesday. Which doesn’t do much for time with the kids. But my son, Mason, and my son, Madden, come to all the football games. As a father and a husband, you’re there as much as you can be. The reward from going through a long season is having this off-season, where I don’t miss anything. I’m at every game and most of the practices. I help coach. You get a lot of time to make up for it.
I grew up with no money. When I started making money playing football, I didn’t want to be a screw-up. So I got every book and read about investing and mutual funds and stocks and retirement. I enjoyed it. Now I work for another Cougar, Paul Dent (’93 Bus.), who is with Allstate. I knew him from college. I do life insurance and retirement planning, college planning, all that stuff. Working in the insurance and financial services industries is something I plan on doing full time when my football career is over.
I think part of the success I’ve had is that I’ve always known that football is here today and gone tomorrow. I never thought I’d make it 13 years. Other than Tom Rouen, our corner, I’m the oldest guy on the team. It’s a young man’s game. To be still playing is crazy. I’d like to play one more year. When the next season ends, I’ll be turning 37. I look forward to losing weight and having more time to spend with my kids as they get older and to spend more time with my wife.