If Jim Dombrowski (Col ’85, Grad ’91) had dreams of fame and glory when he was a youngster in New York, they probably involved ice hockey.
“Hockey was actually my first love,” Dombrowski says. “I still think hockey is one of the greatest sports out there. I enjoy watching it; I enjoyed playing it—and was pretty good at it, too.”
Dombrowski also became pretty good at football. He played a central role in UVA’s success in the 1980s, including Virginia’s first bowl game, a 27-24 victory over Purdue in the 1984 Peach Bowl.
For those and other accomplishments, the College Football Hall of Fame has included Dombrowski in its class of 2008. He and stars like quarterback Troy Aikman, linebacker Wilber Marshall and tight end Jay Novacek will be formally inducted at the National Football Foundation’s awards dinner in December. Only six other Cavaliers have earned spots in the Hall of Fame.
For Dombrowski, now a financial planner living outside New Orleans, fame has never been a conscious goal.
“I just always enjoyed athletics, no matter what sport it was. I just wanted to go out there and have fun and do the best I could.”
His best also earned laurels after he left UVA. The New Orleans Saints drafted him sixth in the first round in 1986, and he went on to a distinguished 11-year career.
His football skills benefited from his background in hockey, says former UVA coach Dick Bestwick. “He was a goalie in hockey. That’s a knee-bending position, and playing offensive line is about being able to bend your knees and move your feet. So that probably helped him.”
Dombrowski was one of several players recruited by Bestwick who helped coach George Welsh and his staff turn around the program. With the 6-5, 296-pound lineman clearing the way, UVA recorded three straight winning seasons. Dombrowski twice received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy for being the ACC’s best blocker and was the University’s first unanimous All-American. He became only the fifth Cavalier player to have his number (73) retired.
Just as he hadn’t sought accolades, Dombrowski didn’t really have his sights set on a pro career. In fact, he entered UVA intending to become an orthopedic surgeon.
“I never thought about getting drafted into the NFL until my junior year, when some of the guys I played against were going pretty high in the draft,” Dombrowski recalls. “I said, ‘Maybe I can do this as a career.’”
Now, in addition to being a financial planner, he volunteers as a line coach at Mandeville High School, where one of his sons is an offensive lineman. Daughter Carter is entering her second year at UVA.
Dombrowski says he is humbled by his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“You look at the list of names on that, and it’s like, ‘Geez, those guys are good,’” he says. “Probably the least recognizable is the offensive tackle from Virginia.”
His success is no surprise to Bestwick.
“It was obvious to us he would be outstanding, and how good he would be would depend largely on what his ‘want tos’ were like,” Bestwick says. “If he wanted to badly enough, then the sky was the limit, and that’s what it proved to be for him.”
Dombrowski has many great memories of his years at UVA, and one stands out from the rest—that 1984 Peach Bowl win.
“I still have vivid memories of returning to the team hotel in Atlanta after the game,” he told the Charlottesville Daily Progress, “and there were people on the balconies all the way up inside the hotel.
“It was one big party.”