Nov. 3, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - One of the greatest offensive linemen in school history, Bob Whitfield earned first team All-America honors in 1990 and '91 before leaving Stanford after his junior season to enter the NFL Draft. Selected with the eighth pick overall by the Atlanta Falcons, Whitfield enjoyed a 15-year NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons (1992-2003), Jacksonville Jaguars (2004) and New York Giants (2005-06).
Bob splits his time between his homes in Los Angeles and Atlanta and is involved with Patchwerks, Inc., an independent entertainment company he founded in 1993 while playing for the Atlanta Falcons. He also "lives vicariously" through his four children, LaNiece, Kodi, Kairo and Kaleigh.
In this installment of GoStanford.com's feature series spotlighting Stanford's 2011 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees, Bob talks about his time at Stanford, blocking for Tommy Vardell, memories of Dennis Green and how his selection to the Hall of Fame has prompted him to complete some unfinished business on The Farm.
What was your reaction upon hearing you had been selected to Stanford's Athletic Hall of Fame?
The selection was a much needed boost for me. I was feeling lost without a sense of direction as I approached my 40th birthday. That phone call incited a riot in me to finish the job that I started in 1989. Shortly after hearing the news of my selection, I applied to return to Stanford to complete my studies in economics, along with a minor in film.
After I left my junior season to go pro, it took 12 seasons and a broken leg to get me back in school. After my retirement from the NFL, I took another quarter of study to close the gap in my missing degree requirements. This go around, it was Stanford honoring me with induction into its Hall of Fame that prompted for me to honor myself by returning to complete my degree.
Why did you choose to come to Stanford?
Stanford chose me! I was undecided on what school to choose between Stanford and Notre Dame. After intense scrutiny over my decision, I phoned Notre Dame to inform the athletic director that I will join the Fighting Irish in the fall. The response I received threw me for a loop. The Irish assumed I was going to be a Cardinal and therefore the scholarship that was offered was no longer available. Needless to say, they did offer me a walk on spot on the team, but their decision reaffirmed what my mother preached all along -- choose Stanford.
Just as the members of Stanford's offensive line takes great pride in blocking for the likes of Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor, your line also blocked for one of the school's all-time greats in Tommy Vardell. Tell us about your relationship with Tommy and the pride you took in blocking?
Touchdown Tommy was initially a battering ram type of back used in short yardage and goal line situations. Although his physical style and pure brawn was perfect for short yardage situations near the goal line, I sensed Tommy wanted a little more other than how he was being used. I unleashed his desire and said, "Follow me, Tommy and you will become a running back not a meathead!"
Tommy went on to rush for a heap of touchdowns and gain over 1,000 yards rushing. He followed right behind me in the NFL draft, too. I went to Atlanta with the eighth pick overall and Cleveland drafted him with the very next pick.
Stanford's recent offensive line dubbed themselves the "Tunnel Worker's Union" for its hard-working, blue-collar approach. You played on an offensive line called the "Northwest Road Warriors." Tell us a little bit about the camaraderie of your offensive line that featured players such as Steve Hoyem, Brian Cassidy and Glen Cavanaugh, to name a few.
I thank Steve, Brian, and Glen along with Chris Dalman for being so boring in postgame interviews that I was the only lineman any reporter ever wanted to talk to. Like all good hard working bunches you need one good spokesperson. Our line unit became a bunch of road graders as Denny Green instituted a more physical style of his offense. It was in those clutch moments when you need a yard that I trusted that Cassidy wouldn't mess it up, since we like to run behind his big butt. That's how a unit operates.
Do you still keep in contact with any of your former teammates?
We are teammates for life and we are stay connected on Facebook.
Favorite off-the-field memories of Stanford?
I always enjoyed the time with the boys. You spend so much time with all of your teammates that every moment is memorable. Whether it was the imposed study hall, to the Theta Delt's parties, to the plane rides on away games -- being around my teammates has always been my favorite memory.
Denny Green was my favorite professor. He taught football and a few life lessons that any 17-year old freshman would need. My father had already passed away by the time I entered Stanford, so Coach was like a dad to me. He always would attempt to trip me up by asking those types of self incriminating questions, such as "Have you been making that 9:00 am class?" I always answered yes (with my fingers crossed behind my back).
I talked with him about my under performance in the classroom and that only attention was paid to being a football player. I boycotted the first day of spring practice before the '91 season, to prove that football was not everything. Denny just demanded more study hall, more tutors, and extra laps for me to run for my so-called boycott. It was Denny who named me most improved on the team after that '91 season for my effort in the classroom.
What are some of your memories from Stanford's upset of top-ranked Notre Dame in 1990?
I remember NBC thought the game was going to be a blowout and we heard they did not want to broadcast the matchup in their national slot. I also remember those breakfast croissants being the best I ever tasted the morning before the game. After that, I only remember their tight end dropping that wide open pass that saved the victory for us.
What are some of your memories of Big Game?
We were 3-0 in Big Games when I was at Stanford. However, it was the '90 Big Game at Cal that was my favorite. There was a hostile crowd draped on that mountain outside their stadium. As we went to do warmup laps, the crowd knew the potential earning power of our football team as they adorned us with money. They made it rain, pennies, nickels, and dimes, so it was best to keep a helmet on. We had an axe to grind for sure. If there is any game that's a must win, it's the Big Game!
Memories of Dennis Green?
My favorite memory was a practice day in summer camp prior to the start of the season. The team had really worked hard and fatigue was setting in a little bit. The Avery Aquatic Center was right across from our hot and steamy practice field and I would always hear the sound of splashing water. It sounded so nice.
I really enjoyed watching the synchronized swimmers -- so lovely, so elegant. On one hot day in camp, Denny switched things up and opened up the oasis. Instead of finishing practice, we went swimming. I wish he would have let some of those synchronized mermaids stay in the pool!
You were a teammate of David Shaw. Did you see his head coaching potential even then?
His dad, Willie, was our defensive coordinator at the time. I remember thinking at the time that David could easily follow in Pop's footsteps and go into coaching.
Stanford's offensive line of present day has been one of the best units in the country for the last three seasons. Does that give you a sense of pride and what are some of your impressions about this year's line, including Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro?
I enjoy watching the unit play. They have a tough task protecting Andrew Luck and have done an excellent job. I pay close attention to Jonathan Martin as he plays my favorite position. He should be a great lineman in the NFL. He has a good frame, moves well and is a solid pass protector. I would still put about 10 more pounds on him.
Thoughts on the Stanford program today?
The aura of the program has changed to that of a formidable team to watch in the new Pac-12. It's has been a process of building with smart talented athletes a mentality of dominance on the field. The program has a lot of "swagger" and matches that with exceptional performances.
Where is home for you now?
I go between Atlanta and Los Angeles and live vicariously through my children. Kaleigh, 11, is most like her dad with her wit and comedic disposition, and delivers a nice kick in the other futbol. Kairo, 15, is also a football player that has his dad's good looks, a broken wrist, and a grade in French class that needs improving. Kodi, 17, is charming, highly intelligent, and eager to establish an identity for himself, apart from his dad's. LaNiece, 21, is a college senior that has to decide on what her next move will be and ask her dad for advice.
What projects/line of work are you currently involved with?
I created an entertainment company after my rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons, in 1993. Patchwerks Inc, is a premier independent entertainment production company that creates, produces, and acquires film, television, and music rights, and to exploit these rights through various media outlets. Currently, I am producing a documentary film project entitled "The Official" which is a look into the men who live their football dream by officiating the game.
What is the one thing you can't wait to do once you get back on campus?
I've always enjoyed the campus scenery. I will stroll through the Quad, breeze pass Memorial Auditorium. Just getting back on my old stomping grounds will be the perfect backdrop for a great weekend.