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TOM MACK : Once a Force in Rams' Offensive Line, Now He's a Lobbyist Who Reasons

December 07, 1987|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rest easy, America. The man who once made a living thumping his helmet against unsuspecting sternums, who looked after a West Virginia hick named Dennis Harrah, who pulled patches of chest hair from screaming Ram teammates and calmly asked, "Odd or even?" is safely quartered here in Suite 703 of a nondescript downtown office building on Eye Street.

There on the floor, stuffed this way and that in several boxes, is evidence of Tom Mack's second career. A plaque here. An inspirational phrase there. Company letterhead. Memos. You know, management stuff.

This is now the Mack legacy. That earlier life, the one Mack rarely acknowledges, is just a fond memory. Scratch that. The illegal-motion penalty called a half-yard away from the goal line in the 1974 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, Mack can do without.

Some former National Football League players work in broadcasting, such as Mack look-alike Dan What's-his-name on "Monday Night Football" or pal Merlin Olsen on NBC. Some open bars. Or burger stands. Or sell life insurance. Some even become doctors, lawyers.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 8, 1987 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 8 Column 6 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
A quote was mistakenly attributed to Dennis Harrah in a story on Tom Mack in Monday's editions of The Times. Actually, it was Mack who said: "When I came to the Rams, it was a very cold, unwelcome environment. . . ."

Meanwhile, Mack, the guy who would grind his knuckles into the deep bruises of his fellow players and say, "That hurt?" is a budding corporate hotshot for one of the country's leading engineering firms, Bechtel Group Inc.

No one is quite sure how any of this happened, except Mack, 44, the University of Michigan-educated engineer who knew all along that life existed after football. Rather than spend his days buffing his 11 all-pro awards, Mack decided to put his degree to work.

"I've been very lucky with this company," he said. "It's always been, in effect, a step up."

So here he is, climbing the corporate ladder two, three steps at a time. First were those nine off-seasons as a junior engineer, when Mack slowly learned the business. Then came a 3 1/2-year stint as a regional customer service representative, a year here as a deputy office manager, a four-year assignment in Arizona to help oversee the start-up and completion of the Palo Verde nuclear facility.

Now this. Mr. Mack goes to Washington--again. This time his title is Thomas L. Mack, Vice President, Washington Operations , which is another way of saying lobbyist.

Frankly, there are those who are stunned.

Take Harrah, nicknamed Hoopee by Mack and the other Ram veteran offensive linemen upon his arrival in 1975. Best as Harrah can remember, he never once saw Mack with a Bunsen burner and beaker, exploring the mysteries of flue-gases. Back then, Mack worried more about trap blocks and holding penalties.

"It's amazing to me that a man can be out here beating his head against the turf one day, then managing a nuclear power plant," Harrah said. "Now he's in Washington, lobbying for nuclear power.

"I can kid about anything, and I feel as secure about Tom Mack being there as anyone, but I just wonder if he's plucking the hair out of the chests of his employees, or grinding his fingers on a scab on their elbows or digging his finger into a big bruise you might have on your back.

"I knew he was working with Bechtel and that they were dealing with nuclear power. But I don't think anybody knew that Tom was going to excel that highly with the company."

Harrah stopped talking long enough to laugh, then said: "I don't think any of us thought he was smart enough to do that--except Tom."

Overachievement is a Mack trademark. Always has been. With that in mind, a history lesson may be in order.

After high school in Cleveland, Mack received one scholarship offer from a big-time school--Michigan. Even then, Mack's high school swim and football coaches had to work the phones to convince Michigan athletic department higher-ups that he was worth the investment.

"You'll love this kid by his junior year," they would say, which was a nice way of describing a project waiting to happen.

Freshmen weren't allowed to play then, which was just as well, since Mack wasn't much of a split end or defensive end, his two positions. He didn't letter as a sophomore, instead languishing at the bottom of assorted depth charts. That would have been the year Mack was fitted for contact lenses. Even then, he couldn't see very well, to say nothing of flagging down a spiral.

"Blind as a bat," he said.

Then, shortly before the beginning of his junior season, Michigan coaches switched him to offensive tackle. Two-platoon was coming into vogue and, well, he couldn't play split end or defensive end worth a darn.

Michigan won the Big Ten championship. Then the Rose Bowl. Then Mack became a BMOC, followed soon thereafter by BMID--big man in draft. By the end of his senior season, the established National Football League and the upstart American Football League both wanted Mack.

Now this was interesting. Mack had always considered himself an engineer first, a football player second. But what with the two leagues fighting over him, slide rules and material-handling evaluations would just have to wait.

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