Catching Up With ... former Colt Bob Vogel
Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "
Pound for pound, he was the smallest offensive tackle of his day, and maybe the smartest. It wasn’t size but savvy that made Bob Vogel one of football’s top lineman and a pillar of the Baltimore Colts’ storied front wall.
Vogel, the team’s top draft choice in 1963, spent the next decade taming sack packs and clearing paths for Colts’ runners despite a 240-pound frame that even then was underwhelming.
"I wasn’t one of those guys who could lift the stadium," said Vogel, from Ohio State. "I was purely a technician. That’s how I survived."
As a rookie, Vogel was so good that Baltimore shifted tackle Jim Parker, a Hall of Famer, to guard to accommodate him. A five-time Pro Bowler, Vogel helped the Colts to two Super Bowls (III and V) and then retired from the game at the age of 30, his dignity intact.
"I just walked away in 1972 and said, ‘It’s over,’ " said Vogel, 68. "I loved every minute of the game, but it was painful to see so many of my teammates stay too long. They either got hurt, mad, benched or traded. For so many guys, their identity is wrapped up in football. It’s who they are, like Brett Favre. To me, that’s sad."
Vogel traded the mayhem for a more selfless life. Witness the 48 foster children that he and his wife, Andrea, have cared for through the years. Or the prisons that Vogel visits, Good Book in hand, in a bid to turn inmates’ lives around. Or the mission trips he makes regularly to places like Honduras and Cuba, to bring health care to the poor.
"Football was a good experience, but this is the Lord’s will for my life," said Vogel, of Sunbury, Ohio.
Retired from a career in marketing and sales, he travels regularly to area prisons to share the word of God. A born-again Christian, Vogel taught himself Spanish so he could converse with Latinos who don’t speak English.
At one youth facility, he said, "the kids are so violent that I’m not allowed to go into their cells. I have to sit outside their room, on a plastic bucket, and talk to them through the slot in the door where they’re fed. It’s a unique way to spread the gospel."
Only in prison does Vogel ever wear his Super Bowl ring from the Colts’ 16-13 victory over Dallas in 1971.
"Masculinity is the trump card in there," he said. "The ring is a symbol of machismo. If the men respect my manhood, they’ll sometimes allow me to share my feelings about Jesus, whether they are believers or not."
Vogel also travels regularly to Third World countries with a philanthropic group that provides free dental care to townsfolk there. His job? Translator and Bible thumper.
"We’ve been to places in Honduras that are 12-hour drives through the jungle," he said. "Dentists spend a week there pulling hundreds of teeth, and sometimes my job is as his assistant. Imagine, with these big, heavy digits of mine."
Married 46 years, Vogel has four children, four grandkids and his health. The man who missed one Colts game in 10 years works out daily and weighs 210 pounds, well below his playing weight.
He doesn’t regret having quit football early. The Colts’ Super Bowl victory played a role, said Vogel.
"How many teams that blow a Super Bowl get a second chance?" he said of Baltimore’s upset loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. "I remember a bunch of us sitting in the locker room during training camp (in 1970) and looking at ourselves. Someone said, ‘We’re an aging team and if we don’t get it done now, it ain’t never gonna happen.’
"That thought drove us all season."
Baltimore Sun file photos