Nobis, who died this week at age 74 from dementia-related illnesses, was an old-school NFL linebacker, rampaging around the field like a mad beast. He deserves a place in the pro football hall of fame alongside Dick Butkus, Sam Huff and Ray Nitschke.
Long before the Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Nobis' rag-tag Falcons played at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on infield dirt and chewed up grass, in early season heat and late season rain and snow.
When I think of Nobis' Falcons, I think of my late AJC colleague Frank Hyland, who covered the Birds, battling with crusty coach Norm Van Brocklin.
My strongest memories of Nobis come from his great college career with Darrell Royal's Texas Longhorns. One of the last two-way stars in college football, Nobis played linebacker and offensive guard for the Longhorns.
Nobis' tackle of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath on the goal line in the 1965 Orange Bowl remains one of the most vivid sports moments from my youth.
Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who called Namath the greatest athlete he ever coached, ran the injured Namath on a quarterback sneak. Namath always insisted that he'd reached the end zone.
Nobis' hit preserved Texas' 21-17 victory over the Crimson Tide, which had already won the national championship. In those days, the national champion was determined before the bowl games.
Sidelined by an injured knee during the first half, Namath came in after intermission to lead the Tide. Namath was named the game's MVP, although Nobis deserved to share the award with his game-saving play.
Foreshadowing today's blanket exposure of college football, that Orange Bowl was the first bowl game played in prime time, and was called by NBC's Curt Gowdy, one of the persistent voices of my childhood. Broadcast in "living color," the game would gain fame for its half-time extravaganzas, which for years starred the homophobic Anita Bryant.
While Nobis was consigned to pro football obscurity with the dismal Falcons, Namath shocked the world by signing a then unbelievable $400,000 contract with the upstart AFL's New York Jets, one of the main events that led to the pro football merger. Plagued by damaged knees, Namath emerged as one of the game's all-time greatest players, leading the Jets to an earth-shaking upset over the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Superbowl.
Unlike the Bear, Jets coach Webb Eubank would never dare to have Namath run the ball.