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Keeping a Handle on Things for the Chargers : Since the 1979 Season, Don Macek Has Been There to Get the Offense Started

September 02, 1988|CHRIS ELLO

SAN DIEGO — Babe Laufenberg has never thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL game, but when he steps into the huddle Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, he will be standing across from a man who has handled the football more than almost anybody in Charger history.

Through 12 NFL seasons, center Don Macek has handled a lot. And not just the chore of getting the ball to the quarterback.

You think trying to block the Mike Singletarys and Rubin Carters of the world is tough?

How about trying to block them with a piece of bone sticking from your dislocated shoulder? Or having to put an end to piggyback rides with your young children because your body is aching?

That's tough. But Macek, 34, has handled it, through losing, winning and more losing.

He has handled it in the draining heat of an overtime playoff game in the Orange Bowl against Miami and the next week in the freezing cold of an AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati, handled it for longer than almost anybody who has worn a Charger uniform.

"I'll tell you, it's reassuring to look across the huddle and see a guy like that," Laufenberg said. "You know that Don is going to give it everything he's got, and he's going to fight until the end for you."

Like a Pete Rose or Steve Garvey, Don Macek is going to be in the lineup every day. He has played in 153 games, seventh-best in team history.

"He is certainly the solid rock of our football team," Coach Al Saunders said.

Even though Macek has been a Charger for what seems like forever, few seem to know he's here. How else could anybody explain Macek's failure to play in a Pro Bowl? (He was an alternate in 1982.)

If there were an All-Star game for longevity and consistency, maybe then Macek would make it.

"In a way, I really idolize him," said Mike Charles, Charger nose tackle. "In this game, playing for as long as he has as a lineman is really beating the odds. Not only are there the chances of injury, but there are young whippersnappers coming after your job all the time."

In Macek's case, nobody has succeeded. Since 1979, when Macek took over as the starter, the Chargers have only drafted two centers. Neither has pushed Macek.

"The amazing thing to me is that he's still going," Saunders said. "And he's going at such a high level. You have to realize that he's in the middle of a pile of bodies on every play."

Macek has had a chance to work with and against some tremendous football players, and he has seen himself grow in a sport that often doesn't offer athletes enough years to do that.

"I remember during an interview four or five years ago, I told somebody that I wanted to play long enough for my kids to know what I did for a living," Macek said. "Now, my son (Scott, 6 1/2) and daughter (Lindsay, 4 1/2) know what I do. And now they can understand why I have to cut short the piggyback rides once in a while."

Macek, son of a doctor, was born in Manchester, N.H., and grew to be 6-feet 2-inches and 235 pounds by the time he entered high school. For most of his four years, he says, he was the biggest player in a state.

Boston College took notice, and Macek went to play college ball near his home. He began as a guard but was switched to center during his sophomore season.

The Chargers drafted him in the second round in 1976, and soon after, Macek found himself at guard again. After two seasons, he was asked to return to center. He spent about half the 1979 season as a backup, then took over as a starter for good.

"He's been around long enough to learn how to really play the game," said Charles, who has bumped heads with Macek enough times during practice to know. "He studies other players, and what he'll do is take away the thing they do best and force them to do something they don't want to do."

There isn't much that can keep Macek from doing his job. Even that game in 1985, when that bone stuck out from his shoulder.

Ed White, who played next to Macek at guard, saw it and couldn't believe it. Macek remembers that the injury kept him out--until halftime.

"It's getting tougher, though, I must admit," Macek said. "Last year, for the first time, there were times I played in games, and I would still be sore from the game the week before."

Nevertheless, he keeps going.

"I really love to compete," he said. "I like the challenge of going against that guy on the other side of you and winning the battle. I guess, once I lose that desire to compete, it would be time to retire."

Right now, that's not on Macek's mind. He has two years left on his contract, although he does say he's to the point where he has to evaluate how he feels at the end of each season.

In a year or two, he says, it will be time to pay full-time attention to the building development company he owns with former Charger Billy Shields. He and Shields are busy looking for a site to build a personal care facility for the elderly.

For now, the Chargers are glad Macek is back for another season. There's plenty for this team to worry about, but the center position again isn't one of them.

And that means Laufenberg, who will have plenty to worry about Sunday, won't have to be concerned about the guy who will give him the ball for that first pass.

In fact, just to make sure, Macek stayed late after a three-hour practice Wednesday.

He wanted to take a few extra snaps.

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