Rooting for Rob
Hometown Ties Remain Strong for Super Bowl Champion.
By Lisa Gregory
Keith Rivers couldn’t help himself after the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl. It meant that Rivers’ longtime friend and former Linganore High School football teammate Rob Havenstein, an offensive lineman, was a Super Bowl champion.
“I did a little song and dance around the house. I was screaming and throwing my hands up in the air. I was very happy for him because you know he’s on the mountaintop now,” Rivers says of the “surreal moment.”
Havenstein’s identity as a Super Bowl champion joins his role as a son, brother, teammate, friend and former Mount Airy resident, sparking much celebration by those who had gone on the journey with him. Much like Rivers, they were ecstatic.
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” says Anders Johnson, another former Linganore teammate and friend.
“He’s humble. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from or for-gotten the people that he grew up with or hung out with. Rob has been Rob this entire time. He has stayed true to himself throughout all of this.”
His Linganore High School football coach, Rick Conner, who guided the team to a state championship Havenstein’s senior year, concurs. “It’s easy to root for Rob,” he says.
The athletic gene runs deep in the Havenstein family. On both sides. “My father played basketball in college and then he coached basketball, football, baseball,” says Cheryl Havenstein, Rob’s mother. “My dad was like 6-foot-8-inches. I’ve got a brother who’s 6-foot-10-inches. I’m 6-foot-1.” Rob’s father Gary played basketball as well and is 6-feet-5-inches tall.
All three Havenstein children, which includes Rob’s twin brother Jeff and older sister Holly, sought athletic pursuits, with Jeff and Holly primarily focusing on basketball. Both would go on to receive full athletic scholarships to play college basketball.
Rob was initially drawn to basketball, as well. Then in ninth grade he joined the Linganore High football team under Conner. “He was a natural,” says Conner, who had earlier coached Rob in basketball when he was in middle school and encouraged him to try out for football. “Of course, his size jumps out at you. But he had this quiet passion that you need to be special.”
But for the Havenstein children it was not just about brawn, but brains as well. Their parents made sure of that. In fact, Rob was on the honor roll all four years of high school and a member of the National Honor Society.
The three siblings were encouraged to follow their interests and pursuits and find joy in whatever they were doing, whether it be basketball or learning to play chess. “That was important to us,” says Cheryl, a retired teacher. “We let them try everything.”
For example: “One day when he was in third grade Rob came home with a book and it was about lacrosse,” says Cheryl. “And he goes, ‘I think I’d like to try lacrosse, Mom.’” And he did. His variety of athletic endeavors would prove invaluable later as a football player.
“He just didn’t have size,” Connor says of Rob, who was 6 feet, 3 inches tall when he started high school. “He was light on his feet.”
With his size, smarts and nimble feet, Rob was primed for great things on the football field and people recognized it early on. “I knew Rob was going to play in the NFL, to be honest with you,” says Conner. “I remember we took him to a camp at the end of 10th grade and the line coach of Maryland said, ‘He’s got some work to do, but he’ll probably wind up playing right tackle in the NFL.’ And that’s where he is today.”
There were those who even predicted Super Bowl greatness back then. “He had an assistant coach, and I remember when Rob was in the ninth grade, he came over to us in the parking lot and said, ‘Someday your son’s going to play in the Super Bowl,’” recalls Gary Havenstein. Adds Cheryl, “We didn’t even think about something like that. Rob had just started football, for heaven’s sake.”
Despite joining the team later than many of his teammates who had been playing since elementary school, Rob was determined to catch up in his freshman year. “He hung in there and we moved him up to varsity the end of the year,” says Conner.
More than an exceptional athlete, Rob established himself as a leader. “I remember one time at camp, I got mad at the guys because they were goofing around like high school kids do,” Conner recalls. “Rob looked at everybody and said, ‘You heard coach. No more screwing around.’ And we never had another problem.”
It all paid off in Rob’s senior year, when Linganore went undefeated at 14-0 and won the state 3A title. “That team was probably the best public high school team to ever play in Maryland,” says Conner. “Rob had a lot to do with that. He set the example.”
But it wasn’t all work.
There was the basement crew, as they still call themselves—five teammates and friends who spent countless hours when not practicing, playing or studying, in each other’s basements. “It was literally every weekend,” says Kevin Saylor.
“Just all of us hanging out.”
There, they would indulge in video games such as Call of Duty or watching movie favorites like Year One, a comedy with Jack Black, stopping only to refuel on food. “As soon as we could drive it was, ‘Let’s go to McDonald’s’ constantly,” says Anders Johnson. “We weren’t the healthiest at that point.”
The bond among the five was and is strong and includes not only Rivers and Johnson, but Saylor and his twin brother Gary. When Rob got married a few years back, all four were members of his wedding party. Rob later returned the favor at Saylor’s wedding.
Today Johnson works in law enforcement, Rivers in landscaping and the Saylor brothers are physical education teachers. But even with their lives going in seemingly different directions, they all remain in touch with each other and with Rob.
“I know he’s got my back,” says Rivers. “And I’ve got his.” Adding, “The last time we got together we went out for chicken wings and beer and talked about the stuff we did in high school. All the funny stories.”
For Rob, visits back home also include stopping by to see Conner. He will also text his former coach, offering congratulations after a Linganore win.
Conner has kept the memory of Rob alive and well at Linganore, using the legend of Rob Havenstein to inspire young players. For example, “With the mile, we want under eight minutes for our linemen,” says Conner. “Rob ran 7:40. I tell everybody that if you can’t make time, it’s because you’re not trying. Because I got a 6-foot-8-inch, 340-pound guy that did it.”
As his high school career ended, college recruits from such schools as the University of Maryland and Penn State were eager to court Rob. But the family had come from Michigan to live in the Frederick area and still had family there. So, Rob made a visit to the University of Michigan.
“He was told that he was too big,” says his father with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
Never mind, the nearby Wisconsin Badgers were more than pleased with Rob’s size and asked him to visit. Rob says he felt very much at home there from the very beginning. Size and all. “They brought me and a couple of other guys to see the offensive line work out,” recalls Rob. “As soon as they opened the door, I was looking eye-to-eye with people who were …big kids.”
Badger to Ram
Wisconsin it was.
During his career with the Badgers, Rob played a school-record 54 games, including 42 starts. He was named to the All-Big Ten Conference first team, received the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and played in the Senior Bowl All-Star game.
He also met Meaghan, who would become his wife and the mother of his two young daughters, Bria and Lucy. Yes, the intimidating lineman is a girl dad, complete with all that comes with that, such as playing Barbies and having tea parties. “Absolutely,” he says.
After Wisconsin came the NFL draft. Cheryl and Gary Havenstein remember the day well when their son became a professional football player, joining the Rams in the unexpected second round.
“We have bad cell service here,” says Cheryl. “We had the regular phone. Rob had his cell phone. We had all these backup phones. All our family was here from Michigan, and we were playing cards. We thought we had time because we didn’t expect him to go in the second round of the draft. Then the phone rang and out he went.”
“Into the road, so he could get reception,” adds Gary, chuckling.
Rob moved on and into his NFL life. It was a good fit right from the start. And in fact, he started immediately at right tackle for the Rams. “It did shock me a little bit,” he says. “I thought I would be in a backup role.”
But like all challenges before, he met this one with his trademark work ethic. “I always set short-term goals,” he says. “You just got to survive this drill. You’ve got to survive this period. You got to survive this day and then kind of go on from there.”
As his career in the NFL thrived, he didn’t forget those back home. When the Rams visited Baltimore last season to play the Ravens, Rob made sure Conner had a ticket.
“I hated to cheer against the Ravens,” admits Conner, who donned a Rams shirt with Rob’s number 79. But priorities. And for Conner, Rob is certainly one of them.
In 2019, Rob and the Rams made it to the Super Bowl, but fell short of the title, losing to the New England Patriots 13-3. Three years later they were back. This time, “We knew that we were just going to get it done,” says Rob, now 30 years old. “We didn’t know the how or why or anything like that, but we were going to win this game.”
That fact was obvious to those watching the game and especially those who knew him well as a young football player. “You could see how bad Rob wanted it,” says Johnson. “And he got it done. He did it to the best of his ability and it was incredible to watch.”
The Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 with the Rams scoring a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining and then stopping the Bengals offense as the clock ticked down.
“Winning feels so good,” says Rob.
His basement crew was there for him, albeit watching on television from their homes and participating in a group chat that included Rob himself.
“We were just saying to him, ‘You got this,’” says Rivers. “He didn’t get the messages until after the game, but we wanted him to know we were there for him.”
Of course, Rob reached out to his crew later.
“I was up at 4:30 the next morning to go work out be-fore I went to school,” says Kevin Saylor “He was still up having a good time when he texted me. He was still celebrating.”
“He sounded like he was still jumping up and down,” adds Rivers, who spoke to Rob by phone the next day.
It was quite the moment for them all. And one that still makes Conner emotional when he talks about it.
“I get choked up,” he says, apologizing. “You really don’t get in this business to coach a guy to go play in the NFL. When it happens, it’s so cool. And the cool thing with Rob for me personally is that he thanked me numerous times. He kept saying, ‘Thanks Coach. I’m not here without you.’”
Conner adds, “He’s probably there without me because he was special, but it’s great to have that little part in it.”