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The Last Word : Banks, the Talk of His New Teammates, Is Quietly Preparing for the Browns

October 29, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It is a Tuesday, 8 p.m., San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The alley cats are lolling on the concourse. Pretty soon the parking lot lights will be turned off.

Two floors down, the only sound in the Charger locker room is the slow drip of a shower. There's also one player there, but it's linebacker Chip Banks, and he doesn't count.

"Quietest man I have ever played with," said nose tackle Mike Charles. "Maybe, quietest man ever."

Banks dresses slowly. It has been a day of meetings, weights, practice, more meetings. From the final gun of Sunday's Kansas City victory until now, it has been a time of reflection.

Sunday at 1 p.m., the Chargers will play the Cleveland Browns here. Banks spent the last five years with those Cleveland Browns.

He loved them and represented them in four Pro Bowls. Then finally, he hated them for not loving him back. He reported late for training camp with contract disputes for three of those years, and turned down a trade another year, and then suddenly last spring became a Charger.

After the trade, he complained, he fretted, he threatened not to show up, and then three days before the start of training camp, he showed up. Since then, Banks, 28, has been everything the Chargers thought he would be.

On the field: relentless, daring, inspiring, so intense that sometimes teammates just look at him.

Off the field: an apparition. He's neither a locker-room joker nor a lawyer. He doesn't pander to the media or engage in small talk.

"We've had conversations," said linebacker Woodrow Lowe. "Maybe a word or two."

And now this. A game Sunday with the only other pro team for which Banks has played. Just when he's figuring out the answers around here, here come all the questions from the media, questions even his teammates will not feel comfortable enough to ask.

Do you want to kill Cleveland, Chip? Do you want to prove them wrong, Chip? Any hard feelings, Chip?

As he leaves the locker room Tuesday night, his voice is almost at a whisper.

"Sunday will be like seeing an old girlfriend," he said. "I had some really hard feelings, way back when, but I've finally realized I've lost her. I'm looking at it like, now I've just found somebody else."

He pauses. "I'll admit, this is a big week. Yeah, the thought of the Browns has crossed my mind. Sure, it crosses your mind."

Banks leaves the locker room, takes an elevator to the concourse and disappears through the darkness. The cats scatter.

Nobody on this team professes to know much about Chip Banks, but maybe nobody works late enough to find out.

Mike Charles is talking about practice film.

"That's how you see Chip Banks best, on the film," he said. "During practice the coaches us want us to strip the ball from the runners. But Chip, being an All-Pro and all, he doesn't need to do that. He can tag the runner and that's it.

"But watch him on film. He's running down the guy and stripping away the ball from behind. Now, nobody does that."

Defensive end Terry Unrein is talking about the huddle.

"I line up across from Chip in the huddle, and you can just see it in his eyes," he said. "They look right through you, like they're saying, 'I will bust my butt for you, if you bust your butt for me.' "

Joe Phillips, defensive end, is talking about the field.

"I cannot believe how fast Banks is," he said. "He is faster than any other linebacker I have seen. I'll come off the ball and look around and-- he's flying. "

Chip Banks is talking about intensity.

"I like to think I have controlled aggression," he said. "I go after the guy with the ball as hard as I can. That's all. I like to think it rubs off on other guys.

"I hope I can bring a team together and let them know, in a tough situation, they can stand up in there. I'd like to think I'm teaching people to lay it on the line."

So far, he is. The Chargers, who haven't had a Pro Bowl player from their defense since Gary Johnson in 1981, rank fourth in the AFC in pass defense and sixth in overall defense. They lead the AFC with 27 sacks.

In his three games, Banks has not missed a down. The other outside linebacker, Billy Ray Smith, has not missed a down. There are few better combinations in football.

"With Billy Ray and I in there, somebody just can't key on one guy," Banks said. "They have to have a concentrated effort to get around both sides. I'm having a good time."

Even after he missed a month of training camp with Achilles' tendinitis, Banks is fourth among regulars on the team with 19 tackles, including 2 sacks. Counting replacements, he ranks eighth.

But on a defense in which none of the other 10 starters has as much experience, the biggest thing about Banks is his 6-foot 4-inch, 233-pound presence.

"Just him being there, every snap, every game, adds a great deal," said Mike Haluchak, linebacker coach. "He's a big-play player. You can see it in the huddle. He's reckless. He's all over the place.

"We've never had a player like that around here before."

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