In 1979 Hayden Fry came to Iowa City to coach a football team that hadn’t had a winning season in almost two decades. In two years he would be coaching his first Rose Bowl, but to get there he needed to put a team together that could take the forgotten program out of the shadows.
His first recruiting class included a baseball player: a star pitcher out of Waterloo East named Reggie Roby. Nothing about Reggie was small; at 6’4” and over 250 pounds he was built like a lineman. The same howitzer arm that got him drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school made him a star quarterback for East High’s football team. As the team’s punter and kicker he was able to fire the ball long distances without even hopping on his plant foot to hit the ball with a little more power. Choosing football over baseball, Reggie moved 90 minutes south to join Hayden fry in rebuilding the Hawkeyes.
Reggie’s powerful leg earned him a job as the starting punter, kickoff specialist, PAT specialist, and long distance placekicker. As a freshman he averaged 42.6 yards per punt. When Reggie was a junior he helped Iowa have its first winning season in 20 years, won a Big Ten championship, earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, and set an NCAA record by averaging a whopping 49.8 yards per punt. He finished his career at Iowa with a career average of 45.6 yards per punt and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 6th round.
Reggie played 16 seasons in the NFL where he was one of the greatest punters of all time. He was the first punter in the NFL to have the now standard 2-step punting motion that allows the player to get kicks off faster. Reggie was a unique character in the NFL: he wore a wristwatch during games so he could check his own hang time, and during warmups in indoor stadiums he would try to hit the top of the dome with the football (and allegedly succeeded a few times). His career highlights included being a three-time Pro Bowler, playing in Super Bowl XIX against Joe Montana’s 49ers, and being named to the 1980’s All-Decade team by the Pro-Football Hall of Fame.
Reggie’s final punt came on December 27, 1998 against the St. Louis Rams. He announced his retirement shortly after. He ended his career with an average of 43.3 yards per punt, 161 punts inside the 20, and nearly 43,000 total yards. Six years later his wife and son would find him dead their Nashville home. He was only 43 years old.
I wanted to write about Reggie for OTE’s Iowa week for a few reasons. It’s hard to talk about Iowa football without mentioning punting, and Reggie was the best of the best. He had a rare gift and could change the course of a football game in the way that we usually only joke about punters being able to do.
Growing up in the 90’s he was one of a small handful of former Hawkeyes in the NFL I remember watching on TV. I remember thinking about Reggie as being “the best” punter, and while this may be due to him being a Hawkeye rather than me being a nine year old with an in-depth knowledge of career NFL punting statistics, I’ll always remember the pride I felt at someone from Iowa being the best player at their position in the best football league. I can think of no better way to wrap up Off Tackle Empire’s Iowa week than by memorializing a punter. We say “punting is winning” here a lot. If that’s true, Reggie Roby is your world champion.