It wasn’t surprising to Tommy Nobis’ family when a study on his brain revealed he had the most severe form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
After Nobis, a former Atlanta linebacker known to fans as “Mr. Falcon,” died in 2017, his brain was studied by a Boston-based group which specifically deals with head trauma with football players.
When the report came back in late 2018, the findings were Nobis had Stage 4 CTE — the most severe form of the disease.
“No surprise to any of us when we got the results back,” his daughter, Devon Jackoniski, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The family said they were “troubled” by Nobis’ behavior as he aged. He displayed the classic — and extreme — signs of head trauma. Erratic moods, paranoia and angry outbursts were something Nobis and his family dealt with.
Jackoniski said when the report came back Nobis’ CTE was among the most damaged brains the group had ever studied, she felt sad since the family didn’t know how to deal with his behavior when he was alive.
“That’s what we realized when we got the results back: His kids didn’t know who he was, we really didn’t know who my dad was,” Jackoniski said. “I lived a life of anger toward my dad. My brothers, too. My mom was angry a lot. When we found out this is what he had, it was just very sad.”
Nobis was a first-round pick for the Falcons in the 1966 draft. He played for Atlanta for 11 seasons and was known for his aggressiveness on the field, despite never reaching a playoff game with the team.
Those hard tackles and hits over the course of time likely caused him to develop CTE, according to the study.
Jackoniski said his issues became more apparent nine years ago, when the family was at the funeral of her maternal grandmother. A small disagreement escalated, with Nobis acting like a “caged animal.”
“He was very forceful with all the boys, including my husband,” Jackoniski said. “My mom got in the middle. It was just awful. At that moment we thought there is something horribly wrong because he’s taken this into the public, to people he admired and those who admired him. It was like a caged animal had been let out. He had this incredible hate in his eyes.”
“That created this two-year fissure in our family,” she said. “My mom didn’t get to see any of her grandchildren. We didn’t have holidays with them. My mom was alienated.”
Other incidents throughout the years included bouts of paranoia, where Nobis thought he was being followed or watched. He also picked and escalated arguments with strangers and had been asked multiple times to leave establishments.
According to Jackoniski, it’s painful to reveal the dark side her father had, but said it’s necessary for people to understand how damaging the disease can be to family and friends, as well as the player.
“It’s hard to release a story about my dad who everybody thought was this charming guy — and he was a charming guy,” she said. “But then to see the extreme opposite, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Getting that out) is what has to happen for people to understand what this (CTE) is about.
“I know there are other players out there who will be facing the same thing.”