I was recently reading the John Grisham book, Playing for Pizza. In this book the lead character is run out of town and right out of professional football after a particularly disastrous performance.
No one will sign him and he has to go all the way to Italy's semi pro league for a chance to play football for money again. All the way through this book, I was sure this book must be talking about T. J. Rubley.
For those of you that do not remember this name, T. J. Rubley was a quarterback from The University of Tulsa who suited up for two NFL teams in 1993 and 1995. He actually started seven games for the Los Angeles Rams in 1993.
After being waived by Green Bay in 1995 he played in both the European Football League and in Canada. He had a fairly nondescript and short professional football career. But he will forever be remembered in Green Bay for the one game he saw action in while with the Packers. The game that got him waived out of the NFL forever.
Unfortunately I was at this game in Minnesota in 1995. I lived in Elgin, Illinois at the time and had a friend from college who lived in Minneapolis. He had tickets and I drove up for the weekend.
We had a good time even though we had to tailgate Minneapolis style—which meant going to a nearby bar before the game started. That made for a different vibe than the outdoor grills at Lambeau but we were still primed and ready for a good game.
In 1995 the Packers were rising to the top of the League. Favre, was already a league MVP and while Reggie White was surely not the player he once was, he was still an intimidating presence on a solid defense.
We were expecting big things from the Pack that year and they did not disappoint winning their division and going all the way to the NFC championship game.
But Minnesota was still a difficult place to play. The dome was loud and the fans were wild for the border war between these two long time combatants.
Up to this point I had never had a problem with Minnesota as an opponent, saving my anger for Green Bay's traditional rival of Chicago. I hated Chicago but was fairly ambivalent about Minnesota. That changed with this game.
The game was close and rough. Brett Favre went down witha badly twisted ankle. (He would famously be "doubtful" for the next week's game against Chicago but of course play anyway and throw five touchdowns) Reggie White then hurt his back.
I was fairly comfortable with our backup QB of Ty Detmer and he kept the team in the game until he went down as well, breaking a finger. Before the game had started as I scanned the players on the sidelines I had asked my friend, "By the way who IS our third string quarterback?" And now I was about to find out.
I am usually a pretty laid back fan. I cheer for my team but not against the other team. I had been in a lot of stadiums and never had a problem with the home fans. The people around us this day in Minnesota though were cheering loudest for when the Green Bay players got hurt.
They cheered lustily when Favre went down. They gleefully suggested Reggie should pray harder when he fell. They crowed when Detmerleft the game. I was growing ever more angry at the classlessness of this group near us, and our exchanges got more and more heated.
It got the point that both groups of us were parading up and down the stands on each big play by their team and jeering the other group. By the fourth quarter, it was as close as I have ever gotten to a physical altercation at a sporting event. I SO wanted the Pack to pull this one out so I could give it to these jerks.
And late in the game it appeared they had their shot. I did not know Detmer had been hurt at first so I was confused when in trotted T. J. Rubley. I believe my words were something like, "what the heck is he doing in there?" Or maybe the words were stronger than that.
But with less than a minute to go the Packers had the ball on the 38 yard line. A 55 yard field goal from here would be a stretch but still a possibility given the pristine indoor conditions. And there was still time to get even closer.
On 3rd and 1 we would later learn that Coach Holmgren had called a QB sneak, but T. J. had other ideas. He changed the play to a pass. I can still recall one of the Packer linemen trying to stand up out of his stance to call a timeout knowing this was a bad idea. But the snap happened anyway and the line was totally unprepared.
The Vikings crashed in on Rubleywho rolled out frantically and tried to escape. He had already blundered by changing the play, and now instead of throwing it away, he threw an interception.
The Vikings returned the pick past midfield and kicked a last second field goal to win. I sat in my seat for several minutes trying to soak it all in as the jerks paraded around us and taunted. Unable to respond, all I could come up with was to mutter, "T.J. Freaking Rubley", and shake my head in disbelief. I still have that reaction to this day.
As I drove the six hour drive back to Elgin I heard on the radio that Rubley admitted to the press that he had changed the play because it was his chance to be a hero and win the game.
The post game reaction by the fans that called in was as strong as I ever remember hearing. In my car I chimed in with my own curses right along with them.
Holmgren cut Rubley that same week even with Detmer out and Favre doubtful and no other QB on the roster. He never played in the NFL again. And I have always had some extra venom for Minnesota ever since.
T. J. Freaking Rubley.
Even today, you can use the phrase to "pull a Rubley" and Packer fans will know exactly what you mean.
In Playing For Pizza, Rick Dockerycomes to terms withhis mislaid NFL career and grows to enjoy his new life in Italy withhis misfit team. I enjoyed the book but as I drew the parallels in my head with Rubley and Dockery I kind of self indulgently hoped that Rubley's future had not gone as smoothly.
I tried to look him up on the Internet before writing this. Other than the mentions of his football career I could not find any concrete information. He was listed in the cast of the movie the Replacements as the quarterback coach.
I can only guess who else they must have gone through before they arrived at T. J. Rubley as their man to bring in to teach Keanu how to look like a professional quarterback. There was also a listing for a T. J. Rubley as a mortgage broker in Denver. But that was all I could find.
The only other listings showed his statistics in the NFL, CFL, and World League in Europe.
In the end I guess I am hoping that T. J. Rubley is happy and healthy and perhaps a mortgage broker in Denver, but there is still a small part of me shaking my head and muttering, "T. J. Freaking Rubley", that wishes he was working as the pie throwing target in the atrium at Lambeau Field.
Or is that hammer throwing target? Some grudges die hard.