Seven Questions With Ex NFL Linebacker Brian Noble

The former athlete on the best player he ever saw, stopping the Fridge and coaching on the prep level

You started 110 of 117 games for the Green Bay Packers from 1985-1993. What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?

Rookie year. First preseason game. At Dallas, [which was] my team growing up. I lined up to rush a point-after attempt. Across from me was Ed “Too Tall” Jones … I looked up and saw the hole in the [old Texas] Stadium, and there’s my hero standing across from me. I went to rush 6-foot-9 “Too Tall,” and he hit me with a hand before I got out of my stance. He went, poof, hit me right in my chest, and I was like, Yes! I called my dad, and said, “You won’t believe this.” He said, “Welcome to the NFL.”

Who was the best player you ever saw?

[Chicago Bears running back] Walter Payton. I could knock the sh- … snot out of him, and he’d hit me on the hand. “C’mon, Nobes, let me up!” That little voice. “C’mon, Nobes!” I’d be hanging onto his feet. Half the time I didn’t know where I was—my helmet was on sideways. Walter always wanted to be the first off the ground. And he would never run out of bounds; you had to knock his ass out of bounds. A great competitor. I played against Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson … none compares to Walter.

When did you feel you belonged in the NFL?

We played Chicago in Green Bay. Rookie season. We were winning, 10-9, late. Walter [Payton] gets the ball. He breaks to the right, I go over the top; it’s Walter and me. I knocked him back three yards; he stayed on his feet and ran it 27 yards into the end zone. None of our veterans had beaten Chicago. They were dog-cussin’ me; they hated me. I was ready to quit. I was crushed. [Packer linebacker] John Anderson pulls me into the bathroom, to a long mirror. He says, “Ask yourself if you did everything you could do to prepare for that moment; if you did, that’s all you can ask. This is the NFL. You’re not going to win every battle.” That changed everything.

At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, how did you stop the 6-2, 340-pound William Perry, a.k.a. “The Refrigerator,” on a goal-line stand?

[Bears coach Mike] Ditka called timeout and out comes the fat guy. [Fellow linebacker] Johnny Holland looks at me. “What do you want to do?” I didn’t care. I lined up over Fridge. And it was just me and him, right in the hole. Low man is gonna win, and I hit my helmet in his chest, maybe the neck. They got a tight shot of him walkin’ off and he’s twitchin’ his neck and shoulder. I was 15 yards from Ditka, and I just gave him both birds. He laughed his ass off. But I felt bad, so I apologized to Ditka afterward. We walk out of their locker room. He has his arm around me and he says, “Brian, you’re one of the best football players over there. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll be all right.” We turn the corner, and there’s our bus, [Packers coach] Forrest [Gregg] and his wife, Barbara, right there!

What happened on that career-ending right knee injury at Lambeau Field against Philadelphia in 1993?

I was chasing [running back] Herschel Walker. He ran outside, to his right. He cut back. I planted my foot; my [anterior cruciate ligament] went out when the bottom part of my leg slipped forward. I turned back to grab him, and [Eagles guard] Mike Schad hit me [laterally]. The leg was already sublexed; when he hit me, I went [down], my foot was right under my elbow. The team doc, Pat McKenzie, threw me a towel and said, “Bite on this, Brian. I have to put your leg back into its socket. If I don’t, you’ll lose the leg.” I remember it being so silent. Then I heard a scream. It was me.

Afterward, in the locker room, they were icing it down. I was pumped full of drugs. I asked Pat, “What are we talkin’? Season over?” He says, “Brian, let’s concentrate on getting you to walk; your career is done. Over.” [Offensive lineman] James Campen threw his helmet through a glass window. I’ve had 26 total surgeries and procedures, and two staph infections, one of which almost killed me.

You’ve lived in Henderson since 2008 and have been a volunteer assistant coach at Coronado High School for five years, Desert Oasis last season and now Liberty. Any trepidation coaching at this level?

Man, it’s brutal. I have a very difficult time watching football. Two years ago, one of my linebackers, a guy I love, comes around the corner, leaves his feet as he grabs the quarterback and his feet fly around and [whip] a lineman’s leg, like a Joe Theismann [hit]. I was bawlin’ for that kid. I see stuff like that, and it takes me back to my knee. I know what that kid will have to go through; it’s not fun. That said, I have no control over it … the same thing can happen on a soccer field.

That said, are you glad you and your wife, Cindy, have four daughters?

Yeah. Having a son play football … that would be difficult. I would support whatever he wanted to do. If he chose football, I would let him do it, but … in the back of my mind, I’d be going, what am I doing? It’s not something … you really want your kid to do. Fame and fortune, they’re great. But [a major injury is] a life-altering moment that stays with you and changes the way you go through the rest of your life. Do I want my kid limpin’ around? Do I want my kid not being able to play golf? There’s that hesitation. The game gave me a lot, but I gave the game a lot, as well.