Reggie Roby helped revolutionize the punter position in the National Football League.
The 6’3″, 235-lb. Roby was an incredible physical specimen who also broke the color barrier for punters in the 1980s.
He followed in the footsteps of Greg Coleman, the first black punter in NFL history.
Roby also helped pave the way for future Oakland Raiders punter, Marquette King.
Even as a youngster, the signs were evident Reggie Roby would make a huge impact in the NFL.
He punted over the roof of his house as a six-year-old and once punted the length of a football field in college at Iowa.
Roby’s punting style may have been unusual, but it was effective.
He held the ball at eye level, swung his right leg back, and kicked the ball with the force of a cannon launching the pigskin into outer space.
Roby, a three-time Pro Bowler, also wore a watch on the football field to check his hang time.
Truly, Reggie Roby was a unique punter in more ways than one.
Reginald Henry Roby was the second son, after his brother Mike, born to parents Henry and Minnie on July 30, 1961, in Waterloo, IA.
Roby first started punting when he was just six years old. His childhood ambition was to become a role model and the first black punter in the National Football League.
“I wanted to encourage more black kids to start punting, like it’s been with the quarterbacks,” Roby told UPI days prior to Super Bowl XIX in 1985.
It wasn’t until Roby’s junior year with the Iowa Hawkeyes in 1981 that he heard of Greg Coleman, who became the NFL’s first black punter four years earlier.
He and his family lived in a one-story house. He used the house as a makeshift football field. He positioned himself in the front yard and then punted the ball over the house into the backyard.
Roby then retrieved the ball and repeated the procedure from the backyard. Unfortunately, Roby broke a few windows in the process.
Nonetheless, Roby’s hard work paid off at an early age. When he was in junior high, none of the other students could punt farther than he could.
Reggie Roby attended Waterloo East High School in his hometown.
He was a three-sport star who excelled in football, basketball, and baseball for the Waterloo East Trojans.
Reggie Roby was a legend-in-the-making even while at Waterloo East. He often kicked it out of the stadium, once hitting a transformer, plunging the field into darkness. Life might’ve been easier with the Reds ⚾️, but he opted for college and Iowa football. God bless his memory.
— Charlie Zimmerman (@Charlie_Z) September 23, 2021
Roby, who stood 6’3″ and weighed 235 pounds as an NFL punter, told UPI he had always been a big individual dating back to his high school days.
Roby practiced his punts at a park in Waterloo. Whenever someone tried to catch one of his punts, he couldn’t do it because the pigskin felt like a cannonball.
Roby’s punts were so powerful that Trojans’ head football coach Roger Kittleson made him punt toward Sloan Wallace Stadium’s south end zone away from the school buildings on the other end of the football field.
Otherwise, Roby wound up kicking the balls onto the roofs of said buildings.
“By the end of warmups, we’d be out of footballs,” Kittleson told the Waterloo Courier (via HawkFanatic.com). “We lost a lot of balls when he was kicking.”
Although Reggie Roby had already displayed his remarkable punting skills in high school, Kittleson utilized him mainly as a tight end and linebacker.
Many schools coveted Roby because of his amazing punting skills. However, the Iowa Hawkeyes made an all-out effort to pursue him.
Incoming Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry brought his entire coaching staff to Waterloo East High to convince Reggie to remain in-state for his college football career.
For some reason, the ploy worked.
“I was never so happy to sign a punter,” Fry mentioned in his autobiography (via HawkFanatic.com’s Pat Harty). “He helped give us one of the best kicking games in college for the next four years.”
Roby excelled on the baseball diamond as a pitcher. In fact, Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds drafted him when he was in high school.
However, Roby gave up a baseball career so he could attend college.
Reggie Roby remained in the state and became one of the most popular punters in Iowa Hawkeyes football history.
College Days with the Iowa Hawkeyes
Reggie Roby attended the University of Iowa from 1979 to 1982.
Roby’s freshman season coincided with legendary Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry’s first year on the job.
Fry and the rest of the coaching staff told Roby to put his tight end and linebacker days behind him. He was going to punt the moment he took the field for Iowa.
Reggie Roby had a massive fan base when he donned Iowa Black and Gold. Many Hawkeyes supporters were at Kinnick Stadium much earlier than the opening kickoff just to watch Roby warm up.
Roby revolutionized the two-step approach to punting and even wore a watch so he could check the ball’s hang time, per Harty.
As a throwback to Roby’s high school days at Waterloo East, he punted over buildings, houses, and other structures. It was a testament to his otherworldly leg strength.
According to Hawkeyes assistant football coach Don Patterson, Roby’s thighs—which were bigger than many punters’—were the reason behind his punting prowess.
Roby even once punted a football the entire length of the field during practice at Iowa, per UPI.
The Hawkeyes struggled in Roby’s first two years with the squad. They averaged just five wins per year from 1979 to 1980.
Pundits thought Iowa’s anemic offense was the reason the Hawkeyes plummeted in the Big Ten standings.
Turning It Around
Fortunately, Fry and Co. turned things around in Roby’s junior season in 1981.
Behind a staunch defense and Roby’s punting, Iowa won eight games—the most it had ever won since the 1960 NCAA campaign.
@ProFootballHOF Reginald Henry "Reggie" Roby (July 30, 1961– February 22, 2005)punter in the (NFL) for 16 seasons during the 1980s 1990s. Iowa Hawkeyes. Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston/Tennessee Oilers, and San Francisco 49ers pic.twitter.com/IpjZgkXYdG
— Timothy C. Kulla (@TCKooo) July 30, 2019
Roby showed his mettle as a punter in the Hawkeyes’ 17-7 win over the Wisconsin Badgers on November 14, 1981.
Hawkeyes quarterback Gordy Bohannon couldn’t move the sticks that day. Worse, the entire Iowa offense could hardly gain any momentum against the Badgers.
Every time the Hawkeyes’ offense stalled, Roby threw Wisconsin off with his superior punting.
It was a sluggish game from the opening kickoff, but Iowa somehow held on to win thanks to the punter known as “Thunder Foot.”
Roby earned the moniker because of the booming noise the ball made when it made contact with his foot.
“The ball would just boom off his foot,” Patterson told Harty in the summer of 2019. “It would be a loud noise and there’d be no doubt in your mind that it was Reggie that punted that one.”
With Roby at punter, the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title in his junior season. His 48.9-yard punting average led the nation in 1981.
Iowa made it to the 1981 Rose Bowl—its first appearance in twenty-three years.
Unfortunately, the 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes lost to the 12th-ranked Washington Huskies in lopsided fashion, 28-0.
Iowa duplicated its eight-win season in 1982. This time around, the Hawkeyes won their first bowl game in twenty-four years.
Iowa beat the Tennessee Volunteers in the 1982 Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, 28-22.
Reggie Roby finished his memorable four-year stint on the college gridiron on a high note.
He eventually spent the next sixteen years plying his trade as a punter at football’s highest level: the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Miami Dolphins made Reggie Roby the 167th overall selection of the 1983 NFL Draft.
Roby was a muscular 6’3″ and 235 pounds when he first wore Dolphins Teal that year.
“I’m not planning on changing my weight any,” Roby told UPI in January 1985. “I’m heavier than the average punter and that helps me.”
His punting style was eerily similar to that of former Cleveland Browns punter Horace Gillom.
Both men held the ball at eye level, swung their right legs back, and planted their left feet on the ground.
Roby amazed no less than legendary Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula during their time together in South Florida.
Shula swore Roby had one of the most powerful legs in league history. He even remembered Roby sometimes hitting the top of a domed stadium during team walkthroughs.
“Reggie helped define the position,” Shula told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Flalkov in February 2005. “Even after he retired, every time I saw a long, high punt, it always reminded me of one of his kicks.”
In the Beginning
Roby got his NFL career off to a strong start. He punted a ball so high that it hit a screen 186 feet above the Minnesota Vikings’ Metrodome during a preseason game in 1984.
His 44.7-yard per punt average placed second in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jim Arnold that year.
Roby’s 38.1-yard net punt average was the league’s best in his second year with the Dolphins. The unusually high trajectory of his punts helped him pull it off.
His punts were so powerful that punt return specialists managed to return just 17 of his 51 punts in 1984.
Roby’s 73-yard punt was the longest in the 1986 NFL season. He outdid himself with an incredible 77-yard punt the following year.
As Roby’s time in Miami wound down, his 45.7 yards per punt attempt was the best in the National Football League.
During Roby’s ten-year tenure in South Florida, he saw some time as a placekicker. Whenever regular Dolphins kicker Uwe von Schamann was sidelined, Roby filled in for him.
Roby was so good, he had one of the top five punting averages in six of his ten seasons with the Dolphins from 1983 to 1992.
Roby earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in 1983. He was also a two-time Pro Bowler, a First-Team All-Pro, and a Second-Team All-Pro selection with Miami.
The Dolphins averaged ten wins per year with Reggie Roby as their punter from 1983 to 1992. They made five postseason appearances during that time frame.
The Super Bowl
The farthest they advanced was their 38-16 loss to Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX.
The Dolphins’ high-octane offense couldn’t gain any momentum. At one point during the second quarter, Miami had three consecutive three-and-outs.
Roby’s kicks usually traveled in the air for five seconds. That time around, his three kicks never left his foot for more than 3.5 seconds. Montana and the 49ers scored every time after each of Roby’s three second-quarter punts.
Roby considered Super Bowl XIX the worst game he had ever played.
“I didn’t hit one well,” Roby told Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman after the game. “I was scared—scared to make a mistake. It was the worst game of my life, counting high school, college, counting everything.”
The Dolphins signed him to a three-year deal worth $455,000 annually toward the end of his career in Miami.
Despite the offer—which was lucrative for a punter at that time—Roby was in dire financial straits.
According to Flalkov, Roby lost almost all of his career earnings on his two divorces and various business ventures.
Roby’s agent Randall Kaspar told him to file for bankruptcy—a move that would void his contract extension and allow him to test the waters of free agency.
The Dolphins released Roby and replaced him with Dale Hatcher prior to the 1993 NFL season.
Roby split his final six NFL seasons among four teams: the Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston/Tennessee Oilers, and the San Francisco 49ers.
He enjoyed the most success with the Redskins in the second half of his pro football career. He earned his third Pro Bowl and second First-Team All-Pro selection with Washington in 1994.
The End of the Line
Reggie Roby retired following the 1998 NFL season.
He finished his memorable 16-year pro football career with 42,951 punting yards and an average of 43.3 yards per punt.
Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who was Roby’s teammate from 1983 to 1992, aptly summed up the mighty punter’s gridiron career.
“A normal punter? No,” Marino told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2005. “He was known for his hang time and the big punts.”
Not only did Reggie Roby have a cannon of a punting leg, but he also had a heart of gold.
Broward County, FL lawyer Scott Alan Salomon remembered Roby feeding needy people at a local soup kitchen every Christmas morning when he played for the Dolphins.
Roby never wanted the media to know about his yearly tradition. He never wanted any publicity.
“He was just doing it because it was in his heart,” Salomon told The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero (via The Chicago Tribune) in February 2005. “He was just a good man.”
Post-Football Life and Death
Reggie Roby, his third wife Melissa, and their four children lived in the Franklin, TN area after he retired from the National Football League.
Roby also had two children with his second first wife Carla, a daughter Brittany and a son Bry, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Bry Roby played cornerback for the Cypress Falls (TX) Golden Eagles in high school. The 6’1″, 180-lb. defensive back had a speed of 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a 38-inch vertical leap.
The younger Roby also saw some time as a punter just like his father. Bry earned First-Team All-District honors at that position in his junior year.
Among the programs that recruited Bry Roby were the North Carolina Tar Heels, Indiana Hoosiers, Kansas State Wildcats, and Missouri Tigers.
He told Rivals.com’s Matt Malatesta in the summer of 2005 he and his dad were not that close. After Reggie Roby married his third wife, Bry never got to spend much time with him.
His single mother Carla raised him and his sister, Brittany, by herself.
Try, Try Again
Reggie Roby launched his cookie company Reggie’s Cookies in 2001. Regrettably, it didn’t last long.
🥳 Happy Birthday 3x Pro Bowler & Dolphins great Reggie Roby! During his 16 yr NFL career, Reggie led the NFL in longest punt 2x: 73 yds in '86 & 77 yds in '87. Roby's 45.7 yds/punt average in 1991 was an NFL best as well & retired 7th all-time in punting yds w/42,951! #Dolphins pic.twitter.com/SR959GbFcO
— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) July 30, 2019
Forty-two-year-old Reggie Roby made a comeback attempt with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003. That, too, failed. He eventually moved his family to Tennessee in 2004.
Roby embarked on a career as the marketing development director of the non-profit organization, Backfield in Motion. The company used athletics and academics as platforms to inspire inner-city boys to reach their full potential.
Roby also worked in the mortgage financing sector during his time in Tennessee.
The Waterloo East High School named its weight room after Reggie Roby.
Roby became a member of the American Football Kicking Hall of Fame in 2013.
Sadly, Reggie Roby passed away from an apparent heart attack at his residence in Franklin, TN on February 22, 2005.
Mike Roby told HawkFanatic.com 14 years later that his brother’s eldest son found him in the bathroom as he was about to leave for work in the morning.
Reggie Roby was 43 years old at the time of his death.