What he did: In an amazing 12-year run, Bob Whitfield came off the bench in his first 11 games with the Falcons before starting 167 games, becoming one of the better offensive linemen of his era. Yet today, the never-bashful Stanford economics graduate seems to be getting more attention than ever as the ex-husband of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Sheree Whitfield.
Said Falcons No. 70, the founder of Atlanta’s popular PatchWerk Recording Studio, “I just wish she would invite me over.’’
Whitfield has truly done it all. He grew up in Los Angeles and played at Banning High School. His offensive line his senior year (including former Falcons lineman Mark Tucker) was so big that the standing joke around California high schools those days was the Banning line was the second biggest line in the country, following only the Indianapolis Colts.
Whitfield wanted to go to Notre Dame and thought he had a scholarship offer, but the Fighting Irish coaching staff couldn’t figure out why a kid from sunny L.A. would want to come to the cold of South Bend, Ind., and by the time coach Lou Holtz realized that Whitfield wanted to wear gold and blue, it was too late.
Instead, he went to Stanford, a program that needed a huge bump and received it in new coach Dennis Green, who called Whitfield his first recruit in Palo Alto. Whitfield stayed three years, starting all of them, and Stanford finished 3-8, 5-6 and then 8-4 and an Aloha Bowl appearance. It included a huge upset of Notre Dame his sophomore season.
The 1992 NFL Draft came, and Whitfield decided to skip his senior season and felt strongly that Green Bay would take him with the fifth pick. But the Packers went defense (cornerback Terrell Buckley), and the Falcons grabbed Whitfield three choices later at No. 8.
The Falcons were coming off a 10-6 season and a wild-card win over New Orleans, but the next two years would be a struggle, with consecutive 6-10 records and coach Jerry Glanville was fired. Whitfield, meanwhile, had become a starter in ’93 at right tackle and in ’95 under coach June Jones was moved to the left side and the Falcons bounced back to 9-7 and lost to the Packers in the first round of the playoffs. Then after Jones was fired after going 3-13 the following year, the Falcons brought in Dan Reeves and everything started to come together for Whitfield and the team.
He made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 1998, the same year the Falcons went to the Super Bowl, losing to the Denver Broncos. At that point Whitfield had established himself as one of the top tackles in the league.
But after the Super Bowl season, things fell apart for the team, though Whitfield continued to play at a high level. Finally after the 2003 season, Arthur Blank’s first as the team’s owner, Reeves was let go and so was Whitfield.
He played one season in Jacksonville before going to New York Giants where he lost his emotions on the field and head-butted players in two games, costing key penalties and was given the nickname “Head-butt Bob.’’ He was benched by coach Tom Coughlin and retired after the season.
Staying healthy almost his entire career in Atlanta, Whitfield is third in the Falcons’ record books in consecutive games started with 123 (Todd McClure is tops with 144) and fifth in games played with 178 (Mike Kenn holds record with 251).
All along, though, Whitfield was always interested in getting into music and in 1993 opened up PatchWerk, which recorded multiple hit albums for such artists as 50 Cent, Madonna, Snoop Dog and Whitney Houston. He sold the studio in 2009.
He then went back to Stanford to get his degree and received his diploma on Father’s Day 2013, with his children in attendance.
Over the past few years, Whitfield has been in and out of the news, as his ex-wife Sheree, who he married in 1993, has been a star of the Bravo hit “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.’’ They divorced in 2007 in a highly publicized court battle, but they have since appeared on the show together, and Sheree told Bravo: “There is a lot that Bob and I may never agree on, but what we do agree on is that we love our kids. I am happy to say that Bob and I have a growing friendship, and he plays an active role in all three of my children’s lives.’’
Where he lives: Whitfield, now 45 and living in Duluth, has five children: Tierra, Lanice, Kodi, Kairo and Kaleigh. Kodi played football at Stanford.
What he does now: During the football season, Whitfield referees high school in metro Atlanta and also is a beverage broker.
On the huge offensive line he played on in high school: “Let’s see we had a big black kid, a big Mexican kid and a mean and big Samoan kid. Let’s just say people couldn’t get to our quarterback.’’
On not getting to go to Notre Dame: “I guess they just thought a kid from L.A. didn’t want to play in the snow. When I called and told them I was coming they said they had already given out the last two scholarships.’’
On his biggest moment at Stanford: “Well that is easy … beating Notre Dame. Everyone thought they were going to kill us, even the network which was doing Notre Dame felt that way and instead of making it a national game they split it so only half the country could see it.’’
On skipping his senior year and going into the NFL Draft: “I was a misguided youth. At that time I got what I needed out of Stanford and wanted to make some money.’’
On going back and graduating some years later: “After I hung up the cleats, I pulled the Rodney Dangerfield and went back to school. It was cool because I got to go back to school with my son, Kodi. I really wanted the degree.’’
On not going to the Packers in the draft: “I got shafted. They were the only team I visited. When I got the call from Atlanta, I said where did they come from? I never talked to the Falcons, but I got the chance to play with Deion (Sanders) and the chance to be the first team to play in the Georgia Dome and go to a Super Bowl.’’
On the Super Bowl loss to Denver: “It was bittersweet. We were a very superstitious. We were a creature of habit. We didn’t want to lose the mojo. But we had a (NFL) security guy with the team, and Cornelius Bennett, who had played in Buffalo, noticed it was the same security guy that was with him and the Bills when they lost four Super Bowls. Oops.’’
On safety Eugene Robinson getting arrested the night before: “We all knew we had to survive the night in Miami. We were in Fort Lauderdale the night before the game, and we knew we had to get back to our hotel. There were so many people around. We got back and then I get a call about it. So it is 1 a.m., and I know I am now up and it’s starting to spread. We had one guy (Robinson) up all night and he had to come back and explain it to his wife. It hurt him more than it hurt us, but then he gets his ass burned in the second quarter, and you know why. But we still loved Eugene after that.’’
On his head-butting in New York: “I was always an intense player. It was just the way I played … no excuses.’’
On his love for music: “I was out of L.A., and it was truly a labor of love. I used to play in multiple talent shows and break dance when I was young. We built the Motown of the south.’’
On his ex-wife Sheree: “We have resolved most of our differences. Our relationship is so much more blissful. And now our children are old enough where they put us in our place. The kids tell us when we need to shut up.’’