SAN DIEGO — Today's sports quiz: Name two attorneys who would just as soon sit behind a microphone and yack about athletes as argue a case before a judge and jury.
If you said Howard Cosell, you're halfway there.
The other fellow is more an aspirant to broadcasting fame than an accomplished announcer.
For the last few days, his name has been kicked about in less than flattering terms over the airwaves--not to mention the unrecorded and possibly unprintable references in assorted Mission Valley taverns.
Bob Thomas, the Chargers placekicker who suffered the unusual and ignoble fate of having two field goals blocked in overtime Sunday against Denver, would be a lot better off if the special teams could defend him as well as he takes care of himself verbally.
Thomas argues civil litigation in the off-season. He has given some thought to following the precedent of Cosell, who abandoned the courtroom for the broadcasting booth. In the meantime, however, he'll go right on trying to make crucial field goals for the Chargers, until or unless his friend Rolf Benirschke recovers from a groin injury and beats him out of the job.
In his 11th year of pro football, most of which he has spent with the Chicago Bears, Thomas consoles himself with the knowledge he's seen just about everything that can happen to a kicker. .
Thomas is troubled by the events of late Sunday afternoon to the extent that he wasn't able to help bring the Chargers a step nearer to their goal of reaching the playoffs. But he knows that what happened was by no means entirely his fault, and he isn't going to waste time cursing himself or changing his style.
A bit harder for Thomas--a religious man--to fathom is just why the Bears dumped him in favor of a rookie after he had his finest year in 1984 as the team reached the NFC championship game.
"I know God has me in San Diego for a reason, even though it's a bit hard to figure out after what happened in Denver," Thomas said Wednesday. "I figure His plan is better than mine, and someday I'll know why I'm where I am."
Thomas was quick to thank his teammates for their expressions of support after Dennis Smith blocked the second of his 40-yard field goal tries and Louis Wright returned it 60 yards to beat the Chargers, 30-24.
"The ironic thing was that I hadn't had a kick blocked since 1980," he said. "The satisfying thing for me, as a newcomer on a team that has had the same kicker (Benirschke) for nine years, was all the guys coming to me and saying not to worry."
He has an great faith in his ability as a kicker.
"The film showed there was no way for that kick to get off, since it was blocked from two yards away," he said, marshaling his evidence just as he would do to defend a client in court.
"I can't worry about what happened. I'm confident it (the protection) will be shored up. There's no way to know where that ball would have traveled if it wasn't blocked, but I have to stress that what got me here as a kicker is what will keep me here.
"I'm not going to try new things in practice, or go out and practice extra hours. When things don't go well, there's a tendency for younger kickers to work on the intricacies of their swing, but that's the worst thing you can do. All you can do is keep your head down, try to be smooth and not kick too much in practice."
Thomas doesn't know how much longer his NFL career will last. He gives the impression he wouldn't mind outlasting Green Bay's Jan Stenerud, who is in his 17th season.
In any case, he has a couple of worthwhile options once he tosses the kicking shoe in the closet.
Since 1981, he's been practicing law in the Chicago suburb of Geneva, Ill. He graduated from law school in four years even while devoting half of each year to football. Thomas then entered practice with a partner, and has been pursuing his legal career during the off-season.
"I'm in the courtroom a lot," he said, "and I find that trial work gets my competitive juices flowing just as much as football. I like the thrill of it."
He also likes the thrill of live radio commentary, and may move in that direction one day. After he was cut by the Bears last summer, he did the pregame and postgame shows on the Bears' radio network for one game. He might have spent the 1985 season in that role had Benirschke not injured his groin. "I hope to get some more radio offers, but I'm sure I won't ever have quite the impact of a Howard Cosell," he said.
Thomas wasn't able to say goodby to Chicago without a gulp or two. As he watches the undefeated Bears move toward a possible berth in the Super Bowl, he still has warm feelings for the Windy City. His analysis of what has transformed the Bears into an unbeatable team is simple--Coach Mike Ditka.