SAN DIEGO — For Chip Banks, happiness always has been just a holdout away. So when Banks says he's reporting to training camp three days early , you had better call your friends in Cleveland and say: "Did you hear the crazy news?"
Four times in five years, Chip Banks had been a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, but was traded to the San Diego Chargers in April because (a) he had one friend in the organization and it wasn't a player, a coach, a general manager or an owner; (b) he spent too much time incommunicado; (c) his middle name was "Renegotiate!;" (d) he would hold out and wind up taking them to the cleaners; and (e) he reminded them of a Los Angeles Raider.
The Browns' officials say they got rid of Banks because they liked a rookie named Mike Junkin. So they gave Banks, a headache to them, to the Chargers for a high draft pick and selected the "heady" Junkin, who played inside linebacker at Duke. The Browns insist Junkin will easily replace Banks as their left outside linebacker, but Junkin says he has never played outside linebacker.
So why trade Banks? Ernie Accorsi, the Browns' general manager, finally admitted the other day: "I don't want to analyze it, but generally, I thought it better that he move on."
Suddenly, the Browns' headache belonged to the Chargers. After Banks initially threatened not to report to San Diego, Charger Coach Al Saunders left messages on Banks' answering machine. Accorsi, who tired of getting the machine instead of the man, sometimes didn't bother to leave messages. Banks actually returned Saunders' calls.
The Chargers later sent their linebacker coach to Banks' home in Atlanta, and Banks let him inside for a week. The Chargers feared Banks wanted to renegotiate his $700,000 contract, but Banks said: "Why should I?"
And Banks--who held out for one hour in 1984, one day in 1985, one month in 1986 and hasn't seen a mini-camp since 1983--said in a phone interview this week that he'll show up Wednesday for training camp, even though camp actually starts Saturday.
Incommunicado means leaving the answering machine on 24 hours a day.
Hi, you've reached Pro Stars Management Inc . . . . Please leave a message at the beep. Thanks.
Now, the machine's on only eight hours a day, though Chip Banks may not greet you so smugly when you finally get him. . . .
Reporter: Hey Chip, how ya doin'?
Banks: I'm OK. I'm a little busy right now. I don't have time to talk. What's up?
Reporter: Listen, Chip, I'll be in Atlanta real soon. Can we talk? Can we have lunch?
Banks: No, not really. Because I'm really pushing the time right now. I've got so many things to do and not enough time to get 'em done. I've got a real estate business. I won't have time to sit around and chat about something.
Reporter: Well, how about talking a few minutes on the phone?
Banks: Uh, I really don't have much to say. About what, particularly?
Reporter: You showing up to camp on time?
Banks: I'll be there, I'm sure. So yeah. It'll be a challenge, I'm sure. Something I'm looking forward to. . . . I couldn't have picked it (the trade) better myself.
Reporter: At first, it seemed like you hated this trade.
Banks: At first, that was true. The suddenness. . . . I mean, having it happen like that, I had no idea I'd be involved in a trade like that. But it took me time to get over the hysteria, the suddenness of it all.
Reporter: Even if I stopped by, you still wouldn't want to chat?
Banks: I probably wouldn't be here. But maybe you can give me a call and see if you can catch me and we can talk a few more minutes. Listen, I gotta go.
Chip Banks is no longer incommunicado because he's suddenly an important cog. In Cleveland, he begged Coach Marty Schottenheimer to use him every down, but--until last season--Schottenheimer benched him on passing situations. He thought linebacker Clay Matthews was better.
So Banks says he lost all respect for Schottenheimer, and their frequent feuds were one reason why Junkin sounded so good to Schottenheimer on draft day.
"I feel I can compete with anyone anywhere," Banks said. "I can compete with Junk or whatever his name is."
In San Diego, where the Charger defense has been usually junk, Banks has a new and improved role. In Cleveland, Schottenheimer used Banks on the left side--which is generally the tight end's side--meaning Banks wasn't free to blitz and create havoc. Saunders says Banks will play the right side in San Diego, and Banks sort of takes his word for it.
See, he says Schottenheimer--who was unavailable for comment this week--also made promises, but didn't live up to them.
"I took his word as a man," Banks said this week. "We had talks before the last two seasons, and we talked about some situations. It (his promises) didn't come about, and it really ticked me off."