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What I've Learned: Inside the Locker Room
Bubba Tyer was the trainer who kept Redskins like Kilmer, Jurgensen, and Riggins healthy and playing By Leonard Shapiro
Comments () | Published October 1, 2009
Former Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer at home in Ashburn with his 14-month-old granddaughter, Sophie. Photograph by Jay Wescott

When Redskins trainer Lamar “Bubba” Tyer retired after the 2008 season, it marked the end of many eras for the NFL team.

A native of Nederland, Texas—where Bum Phillips once coached the high-school football team—Tyer had the same gridiron aspirations as many boys growing up in Texas. But at age 11, he was injured after being hit by a truck while riding his bicycle and was told he’d never be able to play contact sports.

Tyer decided to stay involved as equipment manager for his high-school football team. As a freshman at the University of Texas, he worked with famed Longhorns trainer Frank Medina. Too much time in the training room and not enough in the library led him to transfer to Lamar Tech (now Lamar University) in Beaumont, where he worked under Bobby Gunn, another widely respected trainer.

When Tyer graduated from college in 1967, he joined the Marine Corps. Gunn, a former Marine, helped Tyer land a job as trainer for the Marine Corps varsity-sports programs based in Quantico. He spent three years there, then joined the Redskins as an assistant trainer in 1971 when Gunn became head trainer in George Allen’s first season.

Gunn left after a year, but Tyer stayed on and in 1976 was named head trainer. He retired briefly after the 2002 season but came back when Joe Gibbs returned for his second tour of duty. Tyer continued as director of sports medicine for the only NFL team he’s ever worked for—38 seasons, 602 regular-season games, five Super Bowl appearances, and three world championships.

In 2003, Tyer was inducted into the Redskins Ring of Fame at FedEx Field. When he retired after the 2008 season, team owner Daniel Snyder said that “no one has given more to the Redskins than Bubba—more time, more help, more support, and more love.”

Tyer, who is 66, and his wife, Cathy, live in Ashburn, a few minutes from Redskins Park, where he occasionally drops in to see old friends. He’s playing a lot more golf these days, babysits his 14-month-old granddaughter, Sophia, twice a week, and plans to do some traveling.

When you arrived in 1971, Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer were the quarterbacks. What kind of shape were they in compared with players in the current era?

Well, they were in terrible shape. Back then, quarterbacks didn’t lift any weights because they thought it might hurt their arms, and Sonny had one of the greatest arms in the history of the game. He’ll also be the first to tell you that the only year he was in great shape was the year Vince Lombardi coached the team—in 1969. There was no paunch that year. When he ruptured that Achilles, let’s just say he really wasn’t a great rehab guy, and then he also hurt his knee. But Sonny could throw that football. Billy was one of the all-time tough guys. He was a fireball on and off the field and extremely loyal. You mention the name of the old New Orleans Saints owner who let him go and his face still turns red with anger.

What’s the greatest Redskins Super Bowl play you saw?

No question it would have to be John Riggins’s touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the ’82 season. It’s close, it’s the fourth quarter, the game is on the line, and he just busts one and clinches the win for us. I’ve still got the picture of him breaking that last tackle hanging in my den.

How about the greatest Redskins team performance in a Super Bowl?

That’s easy. Second quarter against Denver in Super Bowl XXII. We were down 10–0 early, and they kicked off to us—our guys told me we almost fumbled the kickoff down by the goal line. If Denver recovered that fumble and went up 17–0, it might have been a whole different game. Instead, we had five possessions in the second quarter, scored on every one of them, and won easily.

Any great Redskins overachievers?

Brian Mitchell actually surprised me. When he was a rookie, he was running the streets better than he was running the football, and I never thought he’d make it. But give the guy credit. The light went on, and he had a great career.

Who’s the strongest guy you’ve ever had?

That’s hard to say because there were so many. Dexter Manley had great natural strength. Phillip Daniels maybe. But I’ll tell you, the hardest-working guy I’ve ever been around is Andre Carter, our defensive end now. The guy pushes himself to the max like I’ve never seen before. It’s just amazing how hard he pushes his body.

The fastest?

No contest—Darrell Green. The guy might not run for months, then come out and do a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash. I taped his ankles for 20 years. One day late in his career, I told him I’d taped another cornerback who had played the position for 17 years—Pat Fischer. Darrell says, “Yeah, but I played a tougher corner than he did.”

What made the Hogs so special?

There was a real bond there between all those guys, and I really admired that group. They played hard, and they played for each other—always putting their teammates first. And they were a group of really tough guys. Jeff Bostic was undersized. Joe Jacoby had been a free agent and had a lot to prove. Russ Grimm was the leader. It was just a special group of guys who came together, and Joe Bugel was obviously a big part of it. He put his arms around them, and they really responded.

What kind of advice would you give all those weekend warriors on how to prepare for their sports?

A lot of people will just sit around until the season comes around, then they’ll go out there the first day, run around at full speed, and pull a muscle or twist an ankle. You have to prepare yourself. Start stretching, working out, and be prepared when the season starts. It’s just common sense.

How has the role of team trainer changed from when you joined the organization in 1971?

George Allen had ten assistant coaches, and Joe Gibbs had 20 his second time around. When I started as assistant trainer, I also ran the weight room and worked the off-season conditioning program. There were only two of us in the training room. Last year, there were five—and also three strength-and-conditioning coaches. Back then, we had a whirlpool, an ultrasound machine, a heat lamp, and an ice machine. Players would come in, get in the whirlpool, loosen up, and go to practice. Now we have two full-time therapists and two certified athletic trainers. Everything is computerized—every workout and rehabilitation program for every player. The standard of care in the NFL now is ice and immediately an MRI so we know exactly what’s wrong. 

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Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 10/01/2009 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles