Imagine leading your team in interceptions in seven of the eight seasons you played in the National Football League despite being blind in one eye.
That’s precisely what the great Bobby Dillon did from 1952 to 1959.
Not only did Dillon become the Packers’ all-time leader in interceptions (52), but he also accomplished the impressive feat of playing in just twelve games per season.
He also earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
Little wonder the legendary Vince Lombardi considered Dillon irreplaceable when he took over as Packers head coach in 1959.
Dillon was so good, that Lombardi had to coax him out of retirement that year.
Bobby Dillon was one of the few bright spots of those early Packers teams that hardly represented Super Bowl contenders.
Nonetheless, he set the bar high for the next generation of Green Bay defensive backs such as Herb Adderley and Charles Woodson.
Bobby Dan Dillon was born to parents Cyde and Ruby in Pendleton, TX on February 23, 1930.
He was born on the Dillons’ family farm. They moved to Temple, TX several years later.
Dillon had three siblings: a brother Jamie and sisters Erleen and Dorothy Lee.
Their father Cyde worked as a police officer.
According to the Green Bay Packers’ official website, Dillon lost his left eye due to two accidents when he was just ten years old.
Dillon told The New York Times (via The Associated Press) that the first incident occurred when he was around five or six years old.
His father Cyde was fixing something at home when a piece of metal went flying and found its way into Bobby’s left eye.
The doctor eventually removed it along with a cataract that grew inside his left eye.
When Dillon was nine years old, another boy his age accidentally hit his face with a board.
The impact smashed Dillon’s glasses and damaged the sclera (the white part of the eyes) in his left eye.
That particular eye began to deteriorate to the point it wouldn’t dilate a year later.
Doctors replaced Dillon’s left eye with a glass eye during the height of World War II in 1940.
“I don’t remember seeing out of that eye,” Dillon told The Austin American during his senior year with the Texas Longhorns in 1951. “So maybe that has something to do with it. If it gives me any trouble, I’m not aware of it, because I’ve never known anything else.”
Despite the harrowing misfortune, Bobby Dillon’s passion for the gridiron never wavered.
In fact, he went on to become one of the greatest safeties in Green Bay Packers history.
Even as a youngster, Bobby Dillon’s football prowess made him popular in his local community.
His daughter Karen Dillon Gooch told APNews.com’s Barry Wilner in the summer of 2021 that kids from his Texas neighborhood regularly knocked on his door and asked his parents if he could come out and play football.
WATCH: Bobby Dillon became the first Temple High School (@templewildcats) graduate elected to the @ProFootballHOF. He is the third Temple native to be enshrined, joining Sammy Baugh and Joe Greene. Dillon had a @Packers franchise record 52 career interceptions. #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/kJMLYcxb7F
— Nick Canizales (@NickCanizales) January 17, 2020
Long before Bobby Dillon played his first down at frigid Lambeau Field, he attended Temple High School in his home state of Texas.
He was a four-sport star who excelled in football, boxing, track, and basketball during his high school days, per Our Town Temple’s Vincent Mundy.
Dillon competed in the 100-yard dash. He earned Third Team All-District honors as a senior in 1947.
He played defensive back and special teams for the Temple Wildcats under head football coaches Les Cranfill and Ted Dawson.
As a senior in 1947, Dillon helped the Wildcats win six of nine games and reach the 10AA district title game.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats lost to the visiting Waco Lions before a sellout crowd of 13,000 at Woodson Field.
College Days With The Texas Longhorns
Bobby Dillon attended the University of Texas on a scholarship from 1948 to 1951. He majored in accounting.
His father Cyde signed a waiver that didn’t hold the school liable in case his left eye got injured, per Wilner.
Dillon was a two-sport star at Texas. He also excelled as a sprinter and helped the Longhorns track and field team secure two Southwest Conference (SWC) titles.
Dillon played defensive back, halfback, and special teams for Longhorns head football coach Blair Cherry.
He made an indelible mark on Longhorns football in his first game in the college ranks.
As a true freshman in 1948, Dillon scored a touchdown on a 55-yard punt return against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
He also played halfback and scored on a 20-yard rushing touchdown for good measure.
Dillon’s best season as a special teamer was his junior campaign in 1950.
He gained 334 yards on 15 punt returns that year.
Dillon even had a game-winning 84-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Baylor Bears in 1950.
Dillon’s average of 22.3 yards per punt return was a Longhorns single-season record.
He finished his four-year college football career with an average of 17.7 yards per punt return.
Dillon finished his stellar four-year tenure at Austin, TX with thirteen interceptions.
His 190 interception return yards stood as a school record for forty-four years.
Congrats to Bobby Dillon, a Longhorn Legend from the early days who helped lay the foundation for the “Pride and Winning Tradition of the Texas Longhorns”👏🏻🤘🏻
— John Bianco (@UT_Bianco) January 15, 2020
As a junior, Dillon served as co-captain of the 1950 Longhorns squad that reached No. 3 ranking in the country.
Texas won nine games that year but lost to the ninth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the 1951 Cotton Bowl, 20-14.
Dillon earned All-American status from The Associated Press, the New York News, NEA, LOOK Magazine, and Football Writers Weekly following his senior season in 1951.
Dillon didn’t let his impaired vision deter him from becoming a first-rate college football player.
Dillon’s Longhorns teammate, quarterback James “T” Jones, aptly summed up the former’s impact on the college gridiron.
“He was a phenomenal athlete and it was unbelievable what he could do under his vision handicap,” Jones told TexasISN.org.
Bobby Dillon would pick up where he left off at Texas when he turned pro in 1952.
Dillon shut down the NFL’s best wide receivers and eventually established himself as one of the best defensive backs in Green Bay Packers franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers selected Bobby Dillon 28th overall in the 1952 NFL Draft.
Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf – the man who acquired legendary quarterback Brett Favre via a trade with the Atlanta Falcons in 1992 – told Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin that Dillon was a 9.7 sprinter during his days with the Texas Longhorns.
With that in mind, Dillon would be a cornerback in today’s NFL.
However, Bobby Dillon made an indelible impression with his incredible abilities at safety.
Dillon played right safety – more commonly known as the free safety position – in his eight-year pro football career.
While Dillon was the Packers’ last line of defense, Packers head coach Gene Ronzani also asked him to cover the NFL’s elite wide receivers one-on-one.
Legendary Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry sang Dillon’s praises.
“Bobby Dillon was one of the most superior athletes you’ll ever find in the NFL,” Berry told Packers.com’s Cliff Christi in the spring of 2019. “He had tremendous speed. Great brains. Great range. Great instinct.”
Aside from Berry, Dillon also covered the Chicago Bears’ Harlon Hill and the Los Angeles Rams’ Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears one-on-one.
Dillon had an incredible nose for the football.
Lisle Blackburn, his head coach with the Packers from 1954 to 1957, observed he was one of the rare defensive backs who can make a play for the ball even when the quarterback threw it perfectly.
Jerry Kramer was a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who played with Bobby Dillon for two seasons in Green Bay.
Kramer thought Dillon’s speed, quickness, and instinct set him apart from other defensive backs during their era.
Kramer thought Dillon had that uncanny ability to bait a quarterback to throw in his direction because of how he played off a receiver.
When the quarterback threw the pigskin Dillon’s way, he’d either intercept it or bat it down for the incompletion.
How great? Ron Wolf thinks Bobby Dillon belongs in the @ProFootballHOF. Vince Lombardi talked him out of retiring.
— Jeff Ash (@jeffash26) August 29, 2019
Bobby Dillon planned to retire from the NFL following the 1958 season.
However, new head coach Vince Lombardi, who took over the reins from Ray McLean in 1959, convinced Dillon to stick around.
Lombardi instructed his business manager Jack Vainsi to talk Dillon out of retirement.
Lombardi considered Dillon irreplaceable after pouring over game film of the four-time Pro Bowl defensive back’s 1958 NFL season.
Dillon gave in to Lombardi’s wishes only if Vainsi paid him a fine of $100 for each day he missed.
Lombardi called him up twenty minutes later and reminded him he was the man in charge.
Dillon remained adamant about retiring from the NFL.
Lombardi gave Dillon an expense check worth $4,500 which he had to sign back to the Packers. That way, it appeared Lombardi fined him.
Dillon changed his mind and agreed to play for Lombardi in 1959.
“Everybody said Lombardi never compromised,” Dillon told Packers.com’s Cliff Christi in November 2018. “But I know one time he did.”
Dillon eventually hung up his cleats after Lombardi led the Packers to a 7-5 record that year.
It was Green Bay’s first winning season since 1946.
Dillon finished his legendary eight-year NFL career with 52 interceptions – the most in Green Bay Packers franchise history.
He led Green Bay in interceptions in seven of his first eight pro seasons. The Packers struggled with a 26-56-2 record with Bobby Dillon during that seven-year span from 1952 to 1958.
Dillon’s four interceptions against the Detroit Lions on November 26, 1953 was a single-game franchise record.
His 976 return yards on interceptions was also a franchise best. Dillon returned five interceptions for touchdowns in his NFL career – a team record that Herb Adderley and Charles Woodson broke in later years.
No less than legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi hailed Dillon as one of the franchise’s best defensive backs.
“He and Willie Wood were the two best safeties we ever had here,” Dillon’s Packers teammate Dave Hanner told the team’s official website. “When Lombardi came here, he talked about Bobby being the best defensive back in the league at the time.”
Hanner also marveled at Dillon’s intelligence, toughness, and resiliency. He remembered the times when Dillon got knocked down during a game. However, he’d come right back every single time.
Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker put Bobby Dillon’s greatness in perspective.
According to Baker, Dillon stood out during an era when most NFL teams employed a running game.
That’s remarkable considering Dillon averaged almost eight interceptions per season.
🏈 Rare interview with Packers legend Bobby Dillon
Despite being blind in one eye, Dillon is the all-time Packers INT leader (52 picks in just 94 games).
Dillon will finally be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer. pic.twitter.com/KZ2BlnbGEY
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) April 9, 2021
NFL teams in the 1950s also played just twelve games a year. It’s a remarkable difference from the seventeen games in today’s game.
Had Bobby Dillon played in today’s NFL, he would’ve easily averaged ten interceptions per year.
In Wolf’s opinion, Dillon accomplished more than fellow safeties and Pro Football Hall of Famers Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary, and Emlen Tunnell.
“He was a rare football player,” Wolf told Gosselin. “The best defensive back of his time.”
Baker also recalled one time when Dillon’s glass eye popped out during a game.
They couldn’t start the game unless they found it.
An official came up to Dillon and cracked a joke: he asked him what he was going to do if he lost his other eye.
Dillon told him he was going to be an NFL referee.
His daughter Karen Dillon Gooch told Wilner in 2021 that her dad never saw considered living with just one eye a handicap.
He just went on with his life and even tried to put other people at ease.
Post-Football Life And Death
Bobby Dillon and his wife Ann have a son Dan and a daughter Karen. They have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Dillon’s two grandsons Weston and Dillon Gooch followed in his footsteps on the high school gridiron.
Dillon Gooch was a four-year letterman at Temple before excelling in golf with the Texas A&M Aggies.
Wildcat fans remember his younger brother Weston’s game-winning 41-yard field goal that beat the Belton Tigers in overtime.
They suited up for the Temple Wildcats football team in the early 2000s, per Mundy.
Dillon completed his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Texas after he retired from the National Football League.
He eventually worked for Wilsonart, a Texas furnishings manufacturer, for thirty-six years until his retirement in 1995.
Dillon became president and chief executive of Wilsonart in his latter years with the company.
He became a member of the Green Bay Packers’ 50th Anniversary Team in 1969.
Dillon joined the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame five years later. He earned a spot on the Green Bay Packers All-Modern Era Team in 1976.
Bobby Dillon also became a member of the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s All-Century Team in 1999.
The Texas High School Football Hall of Fame inducted Dillon in 2001.
Dillon’s daughter Karen told APNews.com that in 2021 the local hospital called her father whenever someone lost an eye.
He came over, talked to them, and lifted their spirits. He even gave away memorabilia such as signed football cards to the patients.
Bobby Dillon, one of the greatest defensive backs in Green Bay Packers history, passed away due to dementia complications on August 22, 2019.
He was eighty-nine years old.
His daughter Karen Dillon Gooch told APNews.com that two years later doctors had traced his dementia to head trauma he endured during his eight-year pro football career.
Although Bobby Dillon never forgot details about his life on the gridiron, his daughter said he often forgot information about his thirty-six-year career at Wilsonart.
Dillon was posthumously elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame almost five months after he passed away. He became part of the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020.
Dillon became the 26th member of the Packers organization to be enshrined in Canton, per the team’s official website.
He is also the only Temple High School alumnus enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, per Our Town Temple.
Prior to his death, Bobby Dillon attended First Baptist Church in his hometown of Temple, TX for many years.