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Wednesday, September 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks

Tobeck is Seahawks funny man in the middle

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — They share 11 seasons in the NFL, and sometimes Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray get around to wondering. What would happen if they wrote down everything that had happened since they started?

The wins and losses. The camaraderie and sportsmanship. Oh, and let's not forget the locker-room tales, filled with pranks and jokes, the kind of atmosphere that makes locker rooms worlds unto themselves.

NFL locker rooms are no different than any others. There are punches pulled, but rarely thrown, jokes turning faces red like stiff jabs, even humorous routines passed on from one generation to the next. All in good fun, of course.

And in every NFL locker room, there is a guy like Robbie Tobeck. More commonly referred to as that guy. The Ultimate Jokester.

Imagine what that book, something like "Tobeck's Greatest Hits," would say ...

"Like last year, in camp, (quarterback Trent) Dilfer put some FlexAll in my jock strap. So in order to pay him back, I went and bought some coyote urine scent. I emptied a whole bottle all over his room. I don't know if you've ever smelled that stuff, but it's just awful. I went up there later that night, and he's on his hands and knees, scrubbing. He scrubbed the floor with bleach like five times, he's burning incense, he's lighting candles, he's doing everything he can to get the smell out. And it still smells!"

Every team needs a guy like Robbie Tobeck.

A guy who's every bit as good a prankster as he is a player. A guy who can start 126 regular-season NFL games spread over 10 seasons and still manage to liven up a locker room. A guy who commands respect on the field with his talent and leadership presence, and yet commands respect in the locker room with his nobody's-joke-proof mentality.

"It's invaluable," said Dilfer, part-time victim, part-time revenge artist. "Grant Wistrom mentioned how this team is one of the best he's ever been on in terms of getting along with each other. A lot of that is because of guys like Robbie.

"Robbie is a tremendous leader. He's able to relate to all 53 guys on the team. He has the ability to communicate with everybody, motivate them and keep them loose. That's where the jokes fit in."

Just ask J.P. Darche, a long snapper from Montreal. Tobeck was injured when Darche arrived here in 2000, but guys such as offensive lineman Pete Kendall filled the void. Although not quite like Tobeck, who returned to full jokedom the next season.

"Tobeck likes to poke fun at anybody for anything," Darche said. "I'm Canadian, you know. And he's been riding me for as long as I've been here. Five years, and I guess it still amuses him. Canada this and Canadians that."

Imagine what that book would say ...

"We don't do hazing anymore, but I've had years where I hazed the rookies. One year, I had a master key to all their rooms. We got some handcuffs from the cops and busted into all their rooms in the middle of the night and tied them to the bedposts and drew smiley faces on their (bodies)."

Teammates call Tobeck "The Instigator." But before Tobeck was "The Instigator," his Atlanta Falcons teammate, Roman Fortin, was "The Animator."

Fortin could take a story Tobeck just told to a group of teammates, spice it up, regurgitate it and have the whole group laughing in five minutes. So Tobeck, a former Washington State Cougar who began his career in Atlanta, watched guys like Fortin. Tobeck took mental notes, and he still uses some of their routines today.

Much of that he chooses not to disclose - for fear of publicly embarrassing a teammate and wont of keeping jokes "in house." This much teammates know: Tobeck is an equal-opportunity jokester. No one, at any time, should feel safe.

But he who dishes also gets dished, and Tobeck claims thick skin in that regard. His 2004 training camp feud with Wistrom was highly publicized - Tobeck ended up, um, wetting Wistrom's bed - but neither will get into specifics.

Then there's Dilfer's revenge, scrawled in chalk on the practice field last week, an outline of a body with Tobeck's No. 61 scribbled on the chest. The quarterback put it there to remind Tobeck of the blast-off he received from Niko Koutouvides in practice a couple of days before.

"A lot of times, the NFL is pressure," Tobeck said. "You can't take that stuff or yourself too serious. But I can say this: Guys have just as much fun with me as I have with them."

Just imagine ...

"My first year (in Atlanta), I was talking to my wife on the phone. My nickname for her was 'Booger Bear,' and my roommate heard it. Next thing you know, I get to my locker one day, and it's full of teddy bears and balloons, a little banner that said, 'Booger Bear,' and stuff like that. That was really sweet. My entire first year they called me that."

Best friends are his best targets. Which means: Watch out Matt Hasselbeck and Dilfer, be wary fellow offensive linemen. And rookies, oh boy, don't get him started on those rookies. That's part of the NFL joke code.

Tobeck wasn't even the class clown in high school, although he did admit to getting in trouble for talking in class a lot.

How good is he at what he does? As a center, he's among the most steady in the business. As a jokester, there are even fewer who can match him.

Look at it this way: You can tell how well a man pranks in the NFL by how many teammates want to call a truce with him. Tobeck has them lining up with white flags.

"He's always there to cheer someone up, whether you want to be cheered up or not," said linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, a favorite target. "He'll try to cheer you up, or he'll cheer up the people around you."

Kacyvenski still hears about the time he didn't buy insurance??? from Tobeck that he said he would. Road roommate Steve Hutchinson still gets it for his youth. Darche, well, he is Canadian after all.

"Robbie thinks he's the funniest guy in the world," Hutchinson said. "That's him in a nutshell. And the great part about it is, I don't think there's a guy on the team that doesn't love to be around Robbie."

All of which presents a conundrum of sorts for Tobeck. He doesn't want to be known as just a jester. He's a football player, first and foremost, a talented one at that.

But, like Tobeck says, "There's just a lot of material there."

So much that we hear his oldest daughter, McKenzie, 10, has joined the ranks of prank. That's another book unto itself.

"Her hobby is to pick on dad. We have a lot of fun that way. A couple of years ago, when we played the Redskins, I was sick. I had this uncontrollable stomach virus. So I come home from work one day and race up to the bathroom. She had put saran wrap on the toilet, knowing what kind of pain her dad was in. She's a chip off the old block, all right."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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