Boehm: Eight years out, Bobby Rhine's FC Dallas legacy still burns brightly

Bevan Rhine Liverman and her sons, Jake and Miller, will mark the eighth anniversary of the passing of their husband and father this week.

They keep a few quiet traditions – “the things that people normally do, go to the cemetery and talk about him and go back and look at pictures, that kind of stuff,” says Bevan – though as the years stack up since his sudden, untimely death, the outlook inevitably evolves with the passage of time.

“There’s kind of a two- or three-day period where we’re feeling sad,” Bevan explains in a recent conversation with MLSsoccer.com. “The boys were so little when he died, they were just 2 and 3 years old, and now they’re almost 11 and 12. So I just put him in front of them as much as I can, so that he stays an active part of their memory.

“It’s crazy that it’s been eight years. Some days it feels like yesterday, and others, it feels like a completely different lifetime.”

No one who knew Bobby Rhine could ever forget the FC Dallas icon, who became synonymous with the club via more than a decade of distinguished service on the field, in the community, as a youth coach and in the broadcast booth. And in a league sometimes seen as short on history, he left his mark in ways that continue to reverberate today.

A fierce but genial competitor and loyal teammate who contributed at several different positions over his 10-year MLS career, Rhine possessed a charisma that earned quick respect and deep devotion from those around him. The entire league went into shock when a heart attack, possibly linked to a congenital coronary anomaly called myocardial bridging, on his family’s Labor Day beach trip to Seaside, Fla., cut his vibrant life short at age 35.

“One of the great things about Bobby is that people remember him as a soccer player, but that’s not always the first way that they describe him,” notes his wife, who remarried a few years ago and also has two children with her second husband, Lottie (age 3) and Hill (18 months). “They describe him as happy, a guy who smiled a lot and a guy who made you feel important, a person who was a thoughtful teammate and coach.”

Most of Rhine’s old teammates and opponents are now coaches and executives – like LA Galaxy president Chris Klein, who surprised Jake and Bevan with none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they visited Dignity Health Sports Park earlier this year. And while younger generations of fans have limited knowledge of a career that took place in a much smaller and humbler league than the one they enjoy today, “BR19” still casts a long shadow across FCD and the Dallas/Ft. Worth soccer community.

“We all have our own personal stories with Bobby,” says FCD director of soccer operations Marco Ferruzzi, who has worked on the club’s technical staff since 2004 and remembers well how Rhine helped him lead the team during Ferruzzi’s stint as interim head coach in 2008. “It’s part of our past, but it’s still our present. Me personally, he’s still a big reason that I come to work every day.

“I’m quite sure that if he was here today, I’d be working for him.”

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Jake and Miller Rhine | Courtesy of Bevan Rhine Liverman

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Rhine boys. Miller has shown an affinity for basketball – Bevan notes wryly that Bobby was shooting hoops at a local gym on the day they first met – but Jake loves soccer and carries a strong resemblance to his father on the pitch, right down to his running style.

But that legacy is no simple thing to carry, especially in the hyper-driven modern environment of elite youth soccer that’s a far cry from Bobby’s upbringing in St. Louis. Jake played in one of the youngest age groups of the FCD academy last season, and he and his family found the commitments of that level a grind.

“It weighs on Jake’s shoulders a lot,” says Bevan. “We had a conversation towards the end of last season about whether or not he was enjoying the intensity of the academy program, and what he wanted to do in terms of his future in the sport. I asked him if he was playing soccer because he loved it or if he felt like he needed to for Bobby, and he did admit that he felt like if he wasn’t playing the sport, he would lose that connection to his dad. But ultimately he decided that while he had that concern, he also really loves to play.”

 

Jake Rhine with the Bobby Rhine Invitational trophy | Courtesy of Bevan Rhine Liverman

FCD have memorialized Rhine at their Toyota Stadium home with a place in the venue’s Walk of Fame and a “Forever Our Voice: BR19” banner under the broadcast booth he once inhabited.

He also has a youth soccer tournament and academy scholarship named after him. At this time of year, Bobby's friends and family field a team in his honor in the Dallas Heart Walk to raise funds for the American Heart Association. Perhaps the most striking tribute to Rhine is the one that takes the field for the FCD first team every week, wearing his old number.

National audiences know Paxton Pomykal as one of the top young midfield prospects in U.S. Soccer, one of the Homegrown crown jewels of Dallas’ fruitful academy system. He’s also one of Rhine’s many admirers, having developed a respect for Bobby’s game on his preteen trips to Frisco to watch FCD matches. So after Pomykal signed in 2016, he approached Bevan and the club with an unexpected request: Could Pomykal bring Rhine’s No. 19 jersey out of retirement and take it as his own?

“It was a very humble ask from the player,” says Ferruzzi, “and it was all done out of respect and honoring somebody who was really representative of what we all would like like to be, what we’d like to do, how we’d like to represent ourselves. I don’t know if many kids are thinking that way.”

With Bevan’s blessing, Pomykal donned the No. 19 shirt, a top teenage talent tipping his cap to his club’s history – and striking up a relationship with the Rhine family that continues today. 

 

Paxton Pomkyal poses with the No. 19 shirt and the Rhine family | FC Dallas

“We at FC Dallas, we’re a family and I think we showcase that,” Pomykal tells MLSsoccer.com. “To be a part of something as cool as sharing the legacy of one of the greatest players to ever play for the club like that, that in itself shows what FC Dallas is all about … I’m really happy and anxious to see how this legacy continues, and hope 15, 20 years from now we’re looking on the field to see who the next No. 19 is that embodies that Bobby Rhine spirit.”

Pomykal has struck up a relationship with Jake Rhine, who also wears No. 19. The two exchange encouraging text messages after games, and though the eight-year age gap makes it relatively unlikely, Pomykal says he’s ready to hand over Bobby’s number to Jake should the time come.

“He kind of fell into our laps,” says Bevan, “but I could not have picked a better person to have worn Bobby’s jersey number. He’s really fulfilled every expectation I had for him in that role and been a great mentor to Jake.”

Time marches on for everyone, and it can shift the view on figures like Bobby Rhine from the intimacy of a departed friend to something grander like a club legend. His memory still burns brightly in Frisco – and just as importantly, the club he loved remains a welcoming home for those who carry his name.

“We talk about vision a lot at this club, we talk about loyalty,” says Ferruzzi. “And we talk about legacy, and that’s where Bobby certainly fits in … That’s why it’s important never to forget where we came from and who those people were that helped drive us to this future.”

Series: 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Join MLS to #KickChildhoodCancer by tuning into eMLS 24 Hours of FIFA 20 on September 24 at 6:00 PM ET and donate to Children’s Oncology Group Foundation. Our Goal is a Cure ... Make it your goal too!