About two decades have passed since Dick Bass scored his last professional touchdown, but the former Los Angeles Rams star fullback still talks of teamwork and running.
Bass, 52, has been suiting up weekday mornings to run the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce as its new executive director.
"All the lessons you learn are basically the same," Bass said. "You have a game plan. You have rehearsal, practice. You implement that game plan. If you have an opponent, you work against that opponent's weaknesses and the ultimate is to score more than your opponent."
Bass' game plan is to promote chamber businesses and the overall economic climate in Norwalk, a city of about 90,000. He foresees a balancing act. To be economically healthy, the city needs to attract new businesses, such as the Sheraton hotel that is under construction. But Norwalk also needs to care for the mom-and-pop stores that have been around since the city grew out of the orchards.
"Hopefully we'll get to the point where you can say, 'Everything I want is in that town,' " said Bass, an Irvine resident who is planning to move into the Norwalk area.
Bass said he is still updating chamber records, but he estimates that there are about 300 members. He said his goal is to increase that membership figure to 1,000. Earlier this week, for example, Bass played golf with several businessmen, trying to lure them into Norwalk.
"I'm good with people, and it's a people job," Bass said.
Bass, a father of two, looks to be a gentle sort with his bushy eyebrows, pencil-thin mustache and 5-foot-9 frame. He is close to his playing weight at 190 pounds but most of the muscle has left him. Bass said he tries to walk 22 minutes every morning--"That was my jersey number, 22"--but does little else in the way of exercise.
In his prime, Bass would start out the season weighing 205 pounds and end it at about 190.
"By the end of the season they wore me down," Bass said.
Bass was small for his position, but he could cover some yards.
"Scooter" as he was called then, was the Rams leading rusher when he retired in 1970 after nearly 10 years with the club. Bass, who had two 1,000-yard seasons, is still the Rams' third all-time rusher behind Eric Dickerson and Lawrence McCutcheon.
Bass also was known during his playing days for his outrageous clothes and flamboyant personality.
He remembers wearing tailored bib overalls with a hat and hanky. There were canes and diamond stick pins. Then there was the time he arrived at a Rams Christmas party aboard a rented elephant.
Bass, the eldest son of a minister, said it was his way of letting off steam.
"I was an extrovert as far as the public was concerned, but I thought of myself as an introvert," Bass said. "When it was time to play, I played. No shenanigans there."
Bass said he has abandoned his flashy clothes and behavior.
"I'm past that phase now and I don't want to go back," he said.
Bass has held various jobs since he retired from football in 1970. He said he taught speech and drama--his major at the University of the Pacific--for two years at Barstow College. He made television commercials and played bit parts in television series such as "Ironside" and "Sanford and Son."
He owned a Northridge restaurant for several years and worked as a customer sales representative for a freight company.
Bass was a radio analyst for 12 years, covering Rams games for KMPC-AM. He left the station at the end of last season.
"He was very easy to work with," said KMPC Rams broadcaster Bob Starr. "He was a fun guy to be around. He was quick, very witty."
Bass said his celebrity status has opened doors for him in the business world, but there have been some pitfalls as well. Sometimes businessmen's enthusiasm goes beyond just talking about sports.
"It's terrible because a guy will want to play football for an hour and a half and . . . you never get to the point of why you're there," Bass said.
But Bass said he understands the public's fascination with pro ball and plans to use it to benefit Norwalk. Bass helped bring the National Football League Retired Players Assn. to the city earlier this year. The association will be headquartered in the Sheraton hotel once it is completed next year. He hopes the association, which is dedicated mostly to charitable causes, will one day provide the city with some promotional clout.
Bass said that aside from boosting membership, he has no concrete plans for the chamber. After three weeks in his new job, Bass said he is still feeling his way around. He said he plans to survey the membership before taking any bold steps.
"What are we about? Do we want change?" Bass said. "I don't want to alarm anybody and say I'm coming in here to turn the town upside down. I don't work that way. I work as a team player."