One year ago today, I got a phone call from a good friend of mine who told me Bobby Rhine had died. I was sitting at my desk at work stunned, unable to comprehend what I'd just heard. It didn't seem real, my mind raced and as I tried to grasp the reality of the situation. I told myself, this simply couldn't be possible, he was too young, in too good of shape, he has a family, an amazing wife and two beautiful young kids. After a while, I just cried.
I remember thinking this wasn't fair. With all the bad and evil in the world, why was a man who did so much good taken away from us. There's never an answer, there's never a reason. It just happens. It's a part of being human that we cannot prepare for and not matter how many times we face it, dealing with it never gets any easier.
I attended the viewing for Bobby a few days later and was amazed by the mass of people who were there to pay their respects to Bobby and his family. As I stood in line to see Bevan (Bobby's wife) I saw many familiar faces from the FC Dallas community and various former and current MLS players. I also saw so many faces of people I did not know, from those who knew the man well all the way to people who'd briefly had their life touched by Bobby. It was amazing and beautiful, despite the truth hanging over the room ... that Bobby was gone.
I've never claimed to be a close friend of Bobby Rhine, but I knew him and his family. When I was a season ticket holder with FC Dallas, my seat was one row in front of the tickets held by Bevan and her family. Instead of being scared to death by my "boisterous" nature, they embraced the insanity and appreciated my passion for the game.
Through them we met Bobby, who was still playing at that point, and we became friends. I made a sign proclaiming Bobby as Missouri's greatest export, one that I traded to him for a jersey. When I spoke with Bevan at the viewing, she told me she'd come across the sign just a few days before and I was touched that he'd kept it. I'll never forget that upon seeing the sign, he jokingly chided me for leaving Bud Light off the list of exports.
After Bobby retired and moved in to the front office, I continued to run in to him as I began covering the sport in a media capacity. He did an entire episode of Winning Ugly, a soccer podcast I was a part of at the time. A real life former professional soccer player, taking time from his life to record a goofy, fake soccer game show with us. The greatest regret we have from Winning Ugly was never getting Bevan on the show to tell us all the stuff that Bobby wouldn't talk about.
Once he moved in to a broadcast role, I'd see him frequently in the press box before or after games. No matter what was going on, no matter how busy, he would always take a moment to say hello and ask me how I was. It wasn't just myself that received that treatment of course, that's just how Bobby was, but for a guy like me who'd never been so close to the other side of the sports world before, he made me feel valued and important.
I'll never forget the first time I went to the press box at FC Dallas Stadium the next season. I kept foolishly hoping I'd see him there in the broadcast room, getting ready to call the match. It felt empty without him there, without his smile and gregarious personality.
I think the term legend gets tossed around way too freely in the world of sports, but in Bobby's case the word fits. He was a legend and he'll always be a legend. He was the unassuming, hard working player that would do whatever it took to help the team. He played as a striker, midfielder and defender at different points in his career. He was unselfish, loved by teammates and fans a like and respected just as much. He was always gracious to fans after games, talking with them, signing autographs, taking pictures, sharing laughs.
He loved the sport of soccer. He loved playing, coaching it, talking about it, sharing his joy for the game with all those who wanted to take the time to talk about it. He was an ambassador for MLS and for FC Dallas, a man that the organization desperately misses because he offered them a tremendous bridge between the team and the community. Others will come along and fill that role as time goes by, but Bobby will always be the best in my eyes.
I miss Bobby Rhine so much. To this day I still can't bring myself to remove his contact information from my cell phone. I'll scroll by it and some days it brings a smile to my face, while others I get a little sad...but I can't delete it. It would somehow make his death final, like I would somehow be removing him from my life. I know this sounds crazy, but it's comforting to still see his name there. I still have that jersey I traded the sign for as well. He signed it months later when we recorded that episode of Winning Ugly and it resides on the wall in my room at home. Every day I wake up and see that jersey and I remember my friend.
My hope is that Bobby Rhine is remembered not just by FC Dallas fans but by all MLS fans. I hope that his memory is carried forward and new fans are told about him. He is symbol for what makes MLS great, the fact that while the superstar players will always get the headlines, it's the players that fly under the radar that help make their teams, and the league, great.
It's been a year since that phone call, I'm looking at the same phone as I write this. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crying, that I didn't have to stop several times during the process of writing this to dry my eyes and take a few deep breaths. Those tears will turn to smiles as I remember Bobby and think about the great memories I have of him, but today I'm reminded that it still hurts.
I can only imagine how it feels for those who were much closer to Bobby and my heart goes out to all of them. Just as his family loved him, I loved him. It was different, but no less special. I wish them all the strength and courage I possibly can on what has to be an unthinkably difficult day, but I hope that they too will remember the good times and all the memories and it brings a smile to their face.
Thanks for everything Bobby. I miss you.