Bob Kuechenberg, a former Miami Dolphins guard who was part of the legendary 1972 undefeated team, died on January 12, 2019 at the age of 71. His death was mourned by many fans, teammates, and coaches who remembered him as a tough, talented, and smart leader on the field. But what was the cause of his death, and what does it reveal about the health risks faced by many NFL players?
Bob Kuechenberg’s Football Career and Achievements
Bob Kuechenberg, also known as “Kooch”, was born on October 14, 1947 in Gary, Indiana. He attended Hobart High School, where he played football for the Hobart Brickies. He then went to the University of Notre Dame, where he played both the offensive and defensive lines. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 1969 NFL Draft, but he quit shortly after training camp started and played a season with the Chicago Owls in the Continental Football League. He signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in 1970, and became a starter that season as the Dolphins finished 10-4 and made the playoffs for the first time in club history.
Kuechenberg was a mainstay in a line that included Hall of Famers Jim Langer, Larry Little, and Dwight Stephenson. He played in six Pro Bowls in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was named First-team All-Pro twice and Second-team All-Pro once. He was also part of the Dolphins teams that won two Super Bowls, including the historic 1972 season when they went 17-0, the only perfect season in NFL history. He was known for his durability, playing in 196 games and starting in 176 of them. He was also known for his toughness, playing through injuries such as a broken arm, a broken back, and a fractured forearm. He retired after the 1983 season, spending the 1984 season on injured reserve. He was inducted into the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll in 1995, and was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times, but never made the cut.
Bob Kuechenberg’s Cause of Death and CTE Diagnosis
The details about Kuechenberg’s cause of death were not immediately made available, but it was later revealed that he had been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated hits to the head. CTE can cause symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, depression, aggression, impulse control problems, and dementia. According to the Boston University CTE Center, Kuechenberg was one of at least 345 NFL players to be diagnosed with CTE after death, as of February 2021. The center also stated that Kuechenberg had stage 4 CTE, the most severe form of the disease, and that he had signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewy body dementia.
Kuechenberg’s CTE diagnosis was not surprising to some of his former teammates, who recalled that he had been showing signs of cognitive decline in his later years. They also noted that he had been exposed to many concussions and subconcussive hits during his football career, especially in an era when the helmets and the rules were less protective than today. Kuechenberg himself had admitted that he had suffered at least 15 concussions, and that he had played through them without reporting them or seeking medical attention. He had also expressed his concerns about the long-term effects of football on his brain, and had donated his brain to the CTE Center for research.
The Implications of Bob Kuechenberg’s Death for the NFL and Its Players
Bob Kuechenberg’s death and CTE diagnosis highlighted the hidden epidemic of brain injuries among NFL players, and the need for more awareness, prevention, and treatment of this serious condition. The NFL has been facing lawsuits, criticism, and controversy over its handling of the concussion issue, and has been accused of downplaying, denying, or covering up the link between football and CTE. The league has also been implementing changes to its concussion protocol, helmet standards, and rules of play to reduce the risk of head trauma, but some experts and players argue that these measures are not enough, and that the game is inherently dangerous and cannot be made safe.
The NFL players, both current and former, are also facing the dilemma of balancing their passion for the game and their health and well-being. Many players are aware of the potential consequences of playing football, but they choose to do so anyway, either because they love the game, they need the money, or they feel pressured by the culture and the expectations of the sport. Some players are also reluctant to report or treat their concussions, fearing that they will lose their spot, their reputation, or their career. Some players are also skeptical or ignorant about the science and the symptoms of CTE, and do not seek help until it is too late. Some players, however, are taking proactive steps to protect themselves and their future, such as retiring early, wearing better helmets, donating their brains for research, or advocating for more awareness and support for the CTE cause.
Bob Kuechenberg’s death and CTE diagnosis serve as a reminder of the harsh reality and the high price of playing football, and the need for more action and compassion for the NFL players who are suffering from this devastating disease. Kuechenberg was a great player and a great person, who left behind a legacy of excellence and courage on and off the field. He also left behind a message of caution and hope for the NFL and its players, who should honor his memory by taking care of their brains and their lives.