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QUARTERBACK BID : For Babe Laufenberg, Charger Camp May Just Be Right Place at Right Time

July 20, 1988|DENNIS BROWN

SAN DIEGO — Pity the postman looking for Babe Laufenberg.

Leading what he calls "an uncertain life and an uncertain lifestyle," Laufenberg has drifted from Washington to San Diego to Washington (again) to New Orleans to Kansas City to Washington (Round 3).

He hasn't led this nomadic existence by design. He would have stayed if someone had offered. But at each NFL stop, Laufenberg has been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now it seems he may have found a permanent mailing address. After five years of frustration, Laufenberg is making a strong bid to stick with the Chargers as at least a backup quarterback--maybe even as the starter.

"I don't go by other people's opinions," says Jerry Rhome, the Chargers' first-year offensive coordinator. "I've worked with the guy and trained him, and I think he can play."

Rhome came to San Diego from Washington, where he first tutored Laufenberg. He says it isn't a lack of talent that has hindered Laufenberg's career.

"He's a smart kid and knows the offense very well," Rhome said. "He's an excellent scrambler and has a very strong arm. And he's a competitor. So all those things together make him a pretty good quarterback."

So why has he never established himself?

"I'd say two or three reasons," Rhome said. "One, he was sitting there behind Joe Theismann (in Washington) and then in came Jay Schroeder and then in came Doug Williams. That didn't help his cause any. The guy who makes the decisions, the head coach, wanted to go with whoever. A lot of times it comes down to two guys. He was the odd man out a couple times."

In the Chargers' spring minicamp and the first week of preseason drills, Laufenberg, who is 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighs 205 pounds, has "made things happen," Rhome said.

"This is an excellent situation," Rhome continued. "It's an open battle. There's no established player here. That means he has a chance to show what he can do. It looks like he's gaining confidence in himself every day, and I know the players have confidence in him."

Laufenberg is competing with Mark Malone, Steve Fuller and Mark Vlasic. Malone and Fuller are veterans who were in Pittsburgh and Chicago, respectively, last year; Vlasic was a Charger rookie. Each is seeking to replace retired Dan Fouts and his backup, Mark Herrmann, who was dealt to Indianapolis.

If ever there were an ideal situation for Laufenberg, this would appear to be it.

"No doubt," he said. "I've been in some situations in the past on veteran teams with veteran quarterbacks, and you can't really crack it. Of course, there are veteran quarterbacks here, but the No. 1 guy last year is gone, and the No. 2 that was here is gone. It's pretty rare that you find a team with two jobs open like that."

All of which creates a little light at the end of the tunnel.

"It feels good," said Laufenberg, 28. "You certainly can see more of a purpose in what you're doing, rather than in the back of your mind knowing, no matter what you do, you're going to have a real tough time unless someone gets hurt."

That's the way it has been in the past, even in college.

Laufenberg--Brandon on his birth certificate but dubbed Babe by a brother because he was the youngest in his family--grew up in Encino and attended Crespi High School.

He earned a scholarship to Stanford but found himself competing with one John Elway. No fool, Laufenberg transferred to Indiana, where he set school records for passing yards in a season (2,468) and passes completed in a game (34), season (217) and career (361).

Selected in the sixth round of the 1983 draft by Washington, Laufenberg spent that season behind Theismann and Bob Holly.

In 1984, Schroeder joined the Redskins, and Laufenberg was released. He spent a couple of weeks with the Chargers in '85, then signed as a backup to Schroeder later that year after Theismann broke his leg.

He was back with the Redskins early in 1986 but was released after Williams signed a free-agent contract in the wake of the U.S. Football League disbanding.

Laufenberg moved on to New Orleans, where he got into his only two regular-season NFL games, but only to run out the clock.

Last year, he was cut by Kansas City. Then he signed on for a couple of games in reserve (of course) with the Redskins again.

A rather lengthy resume, to be sure, but nothing to shout about. In fact, the last pass Laufenberg threw in a game that counted was in college. He has yet to attempt a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

"It's frustrating," Laufenberg said. "You'd like to play. You just plug along waiting for a break. I guess if you hang around long enough, it will come."

That's the way it looks here. Rhome and Coach Al Saunders have yet to establish a depth chart at quarterback, but by all indications, Malone is the front-runner, with Laufenberg a close second.

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