He has been called everything from HU-bert to HER-bert to HE-bert to A-bert to HE-bear. About the only ones who get it right all the time, Bobby Hebert admits, are his Cajun kin back home in Louisiana.
To be phonetically precise, the name of the Oakland Invaders quarterback is Bobby A-bear. Or, to be even more precise, Bobby A-ttack. He has thrown 34 scoring passes this year and -- take out the telescope, here -- 15 have been for 20 yards or longer.
The Baltimore Stars know how it goes with this guy. "He's got an arm equal to anyone's," says Stars nose tackle Pete Kugler. And Stars defensive coach Vince Tobin adds, "He can throw 60 yards off of his back foot. So many times you see a deep pass to (wide receiver Anthony) Carter and you think you're deep enough (in coverage), but the ball keeps going and you're not deep enough, after all."
The Stars will play in their third consecutive U.S. Football League title game Sunday night in the Meadowlands. Hebert will be playing in his second title game.
The last time was two years ago in Denver. He threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Michigan Panthers to a 24-22 victory over the Stars. Hebert was voted the quarterback of the year in that first USFL season and was MVP in that title game.
This is some pretty heady stuff for a 6-foot-4, 208-pound shy fellow from Northwestern Louisiana State, who admits that he signed with the USFL in 1983 because, "I had my wife, my little girl, and I was broke at the time and they were offering me $150,000, guaranteed."
You can measure Hebert's value for Sunday night's game by the 30 scoring passes he threw during the regular season, third best in the league (behind Jim Kelly's 39 and Cliff Stoudt's 34). With such production, Hebert helped the Invaders, who merged with the Panthers prior to this season, gain the USFL's best record (15-4-1 overall).
On Aug. 1, his contract will run out and he will become a free agent. The football rumor mill says Hebert will go to the NFL Los Angeles Raiders. Hebert says that his agent, Greg Campbell of Madison, Wis., has talked with the Raiders ("I met Al Davis at our training camp in Arizona," says Hebert). But the quarterback also says his agent has talked with the Saints, Falcons, Seahawks and Eagles.
Might he return to the Invaders? "It doesn't look like it, but I don't want to say too much," Hebert said today. Might the Invaders make a new offer? "Something could come up, but that's unlikely," he said.
After his neon rookie season, Hebert skipped the first month of training camp with the then-Panthers. He wanted more money. The Panthers general manager, Vince Lombardi Jr., however, said that the Panthers did not renegoiate contracts as a policy.
After the holdout stretched to a month, though, Lombardi made an offer to Hebert: we won't give you more money, but we will let you cut the length of your contract. Hebert accepted. His initial four-year contract (plus an option year) was cut in half and that's why this title game could be Hebert's USFL bon voyage.
Hebert already is the league's all-time leader in passing yards with 11,317. He has a trio of high-voltage receivers: Carter, the former University of Michigan whiz, has caught 81 passes with 17 touchdowns; Gordon Banks has caught 67 passes with five touchdowns; and Derek Holloway has caught 53 passes with eight touchdowns.
The most explosive combination, of course, is Hebert to Carter. Call it A-Bear to A.C.
"Bobby has a good touch on the passes underneath, too," Banks said. "Two weeks ago in the playoff game against Tampa Bay, we had a third and 13 and I had to make an adjustment on my route. Bobby made a perfect throw, looped it over the defensive back about 18-19 yards. Turned into a 38-yard play."
Hebert is 24 and possesses an on-field exuberance that can be costly. "He does throw into coverage sometimes," Invaders Coach Charlie Sumner admits.
It should be noted that while Hebert's 81 regular-season scoring passes rate second best in the USFL's three-year history (Kelly has thrown 83), his 58 interceptions rate as the most. He was knocked out of several games this season because of either injury or simple inefficiency.
"If he has a weakness," said Sumner, "it's probably a lack of experience. It takes a quarterback four or five years to develop."
Certainly, Hebert developed his modesty long ago. He says he won a trophy and a home computer for winning the MVP honor in the title game two years ago.
He also won a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore for being named the league's best quarterback that year. "Hong Kong is a lot like Louisiana," Hebert said in all his Cajun honesty. "Kind of humid."