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His Spirit, Passes Soar Equally High : Laufenberg Showed Long Ago He's No Babe in the Woods

September 23, 1988|BRIAN HEWITT | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — To appreciate Babe Laufenberg's spirit, you will want to understand about the time he told his high school football coach to stick his playbook where the moon don't shine.

Laufenberg is the much-traveled, multi-chronicled, mettlesome quarterback of the Chargers who makes no excuses for the fact that he has the lowest quarterback rating among NFL starters right now. He could whine about an inexperienced offensive line. He could whisper "off the record" remarks and hope they found their way into print about how his young receivers haven't learned to discipline their pass routes yet.

But he won't.

Anyway, to appreciate this story about Laufenberg and his high school coach you must understand the absolute power high school football coaches wield over the futures of athletes hoping to reach college. This was a case where absolute power corrupted. Absolutely.

It was the late '70s, and the good fathers of the Carmelite Order at Encino's Crespi High School had hired the Marinovich brothers--Gary and Marv--to take over the football program. Gary would be the head coach. Marv, a former USC guard and assistant for the Oakland Raiders, would be his aide de camp. To say the Marinoviches were driven is to say Patton and Montgomery were soldiers.

Crespi was 2-0 when it showed up on a Thursday night for a grudge match at Bishop Amat. Gary Marinovich had been coach when that school's high-powered passing attack featured future Ram Pat Haden and J.K. McKay, the son of former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach John McKay.

This would be the game in which the Marinoviches showed the west San Fernando Valley what high school football was all about. Laufenberg was a senior and the Crespi quarterback.

"I think they wanted us to go 11-0 and the whole nine yards," Laufenberg says. "And there was nothing wrong with that. Except we weren't that good."

Crespi had Laufenberg and Willie Curran and Tom Sullivan. Curran was later good enough as a UCLA running back to get a look from the Atlanta Falcons, and he caught on as a wide receiver. Sullivan played wide receiver for the Denver Gold of the USFL. But Crespi had little else.

Near the end of the game, they trailed by eight points. And the Marinoviches were disgusted. So they stopped sending in plays. Instead they sent in a substitute who delivered this message to Laufenberg: "Call 'em yourself."

Laufenberg did, and Crespi didn't make a first down. Moments later, time expired. Crespi had lost.

Things went from bad to worse. According to Laufenberg, the Marinoviches stood at the front of the team bus and unloaded on the players.

"We were being called everything," Laufenberg said. "They called us things you couldn't print in the newspaper."

Laufenberg, the team leader, decided he had heard enough. "I felt like they had deserted us ," he said. "So I stood up and had a few choice words. I said, 'You guys were the ones that gave up, not us. We didn't give up. We were out there.' "

The Marinoviches got off the bus. The next day, they gathered the team for its normal post-game, informal, walk-through practice. Many of the players were wearing street shoes. It was September in the Valley. It was hot and smoggy. The Marinoviches ordered the team to run up the hill behind the school to a water tower. At the base of the tower, they began conducting 100-yard sprints.

"I remember this vividly," Laufenberg says. "Some guys were in bare feet. We must have run 6 miles. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever come across in my whole life."

Laufenberg was outraged. He ran like a maniac--"about 4 million miles an hour. I just killed my body." The Marinoviches promised bad things would happen to anybody who stopped.

"So like an idiot, I just kept running harder and harder," Laufenberg says now. "It was like, 'You're not gonna bring me down.' "

And Laufenberg was one of the players the Marinoviches liked . "Babe was a very gifted athlete," Marv Marinovich said recently. "We didn't have a problem with Babe. But that team lacked discipline and hard work and effort."

By the time Laufenberg got home that night he was, in his words, "strung out."

"My parents looked at me and it was like, 'Oooohh, our kid's on drugs.' "

Laufenberg went to bed at 8 p.m. mostly because he was exhausted and partly because he had to take the SAT test the following morning. He did not do well and eventually had to take them again before gaining admission to Stanford.

By the time Monday rolled around, the Crespi powers-that-be had decided the Marinoviches would no longer coach their football team.

"It was one of those resignation things," Laufenberg said.

Actually it was more than that. "We have a rule here at Crespi that you don't punish kids if you're going to run a good program," says Paul Muff, the school's varsity basketball coach. "We don't go for any type of punishment that's outside your normal preparation

for a game."

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