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PRO FOOTBALL '87 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : Don Macek: the Man in the Middle

September 11, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Charger center Don Macek has endured 11 years of three-hour fist fights. He has endured 11 years of dislocated shoulders, pinched nerves in his neck, broken bones in his back, groin pulls, hamstring pulls, concussions and the kind of surgery in which the doctor ponders, "Well, what first?"

In those 11 years, the Chargers have played 165 regular-season games. Macek has missed 23.

He has crouched when he couldn't walk, hit when he couldn't wave hello, even played one game with a piece of bone sticking from his shoulder, and if you don't believe that, ask somebody who was there.

"I know it was bone because I saw it," said Ed White, former Charger offensive lineman, now a Charger coach. "Everyone saw the bone, but he just had them shoot him up (with pain-killer) and send him back out there."

As a starting guard for three years and then the starting center for the past eight, Macek has given up a bit of everything in his possession to play for the Chargers.

Don Macek says none of that is hard.

This, he says, is hard: "My kids (ages 3 and 5) will come into our bedroom and jump up and down on the bed and want Daddy to get up and chase them all around the house. And I can't. Sometimes I can barely get up. There's no way I can chase them anywhere."

And for what?

For recognition as one of the longest-playing active Chargers?

No, because one guy has played longer, quarterback Dan Fouts, who has three more years and four more pages in the media guide than Macek, and who also has four or five guys to block for him.

For official recognition as one of the league's best centers?

No, because he has never made the Pro Bowl, never even gotten past the "alternate" stage, which he has made only once.

For recognition as one of those wild, wacky linemen you read about in somebody's football diary?

No, because he has never painted his hair. He has never painted his face. He has never painted an opponent's face. He has never even spit in an opponent's face. And it's much too late for earrings.

"Sure, I could wear an earring," Macek said. "But three guys on our line already wear earrings. I would just be like everyone else again."

For recognition as one of those great Bo Jackson-type athletes?

"The last time I played baseball, I remember throwing the ball into right field," he recalled, "I was playing left field."

For recognition, period?

No. Period.

Other than Sunday afternoons, he hasn't done a paid public appearance in about five years. At least he figures it's about five years. He can't remember the last one.

"I have heard lately of guys going to shopping centers and signing autographs," he said. "But I'm not sure how that works."

He has done one television commercial, for a car dealership that was later bought out. He was paid with a pickup truck. To use for four months.

Nothing on radio. Nothing on a dais. Don Macek, 33, is one of the best little-known San Diego athletes. Wouldn't it be nice if, this season, somebody would decide to take a look?

"I'd like to ask the fans to once, just once, take a peek down at him during a game," White said. "For once not look at the guy throwing or catching the ball, but at what's happening at the center of the field."

They will see a 6-foot 2-inch, 270-pound man as quick as a yellow light. They will see fights with a nose guard that, if they didn't end in a Macek victory, will likely end in a draw, which by now Don Macek has learned is good enough. They won't see fist pumps or moon walks. If it is possible to see quiet, honest strength, that's what they will see.

That's what the Chargers see. Since 1977, the Chargers have drafted just one center to challenge Macek, and UCLA's Joe Goebel, taken in the 11th round this season, didn't even show up to try.

"I see Donnie as someone who will look back and say his reward was in consistently being one of the best, and getting the most out of himself, and doing something millions of other people have never done," said a friend and former Charger tackle, Billy Shields, the other guy in the Shields and Macek Inc. construction firm. "His rewards will have nothing to do with posters or commercials."

"I know when I play well," said Macek, and on that subject, that's all he says.

As politely quiet as he is large and shaggy, the bearded Macek speaks in short, direct sentences, leaving adjectives and adverbs for those who think they have more to say.

"I notice that after games, the reporters don't come to me," he said. "That's because they go to the people who have something controversial to say. I don't. Even if something like that is on my mind, if I feel it will hurt the team, I won't say it. Some things don't need to be in public.

"Some people in this game need gimmicks. I would get more attention if I had gimmicks. But I've never been that way."

Yet there have been highlights.

As a guard in 1976, a second-round draft pick from Boston College, he made the NFL's All-Rookie team. Today, from that honorary team's offense, only Seattle receiver Steve Largent is still playing.

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