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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: HANK BAUER : True Grit : Cal Lutheran Record Setter Attacks Broadcasting Career With Same Zeal He Displayed on the Football Field

July 21, 1990|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His spirit remains relentlessly bright, like the summer San Diego sun. As Hank Bauer often shouted when he walked onto the football field: It's a great day to be alive.

Bauer rises at 4 a.m., and within an hour is taping his morning sports broadcast for KKYY radio in San Diego. Next, he dashes over to KFMB-TV and is on the air at 6:40 as sports anchor. Then he cuts back to the radio station for an 8:20 broadcast. The rest of the day is spent collecting news for his afternoon TV broadcast.

Bullish and buoyant, Bauer keeps moving but never leaves the spotlight. Rivers of adrenaline still rush through his veins. Bauer, 36, personifies the overachieving underdog; once again he has built a career from the ground floor through determination and ingenuity.

"There are direct parallels between playing football and broadcasting," he says. "When the whistle blows, I'm in control. I know when I stink and I know when I'm great. There is the instant gratification and the public scrutiny that most players miss when they retire.

"The news business is ever-changing, just like a football game. No two plays were ever the same and no two broadcasts are ever the same."

Variety has always spiced the life of Bauer, Cal Lutheran's only 1,000-yard rusher and a three-time NFL special-teams player of the year with the San Diego Chargers. Throughout his six-year NFL career, he delighted everyone from teammates and coaches to fans and the media by being unpredictable yet reliable, unheeding yet prepared, reckless yet attentive.

"Anybody can play on special teams, but to be good, I think you have to be kind of sick, where you really don't care about your body," Bauer used to say during his playing career. "Actually, getting your bell rung doesn't feel too bad. It feels kind of good."

At 5-foot-10 1/2, 205 pounds, Bauer was a bowling ball gone berserk. In addition to single-handedly making special-teams play fashionable in the NFL, he was a short-yardage rushing specialist. In only 22 carries in 1979, he rushed for nine touchdowns and eight first downs. A crucial play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game at San Diego that year illustrated his popularity--and effectiveness.

The Chargers led, 21-7, and faced fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line late in the game. Coach Don Coryell called timeout to confer with quarterback Dan Fouts. Bauer stood nearby, hoping to enter the game, when a teammate tapped his shoulder and said, "Hank, do you hear that?"

The crowd of more than 50,000 was on its feet, chanting, " Bau -er, Bau -er, Bau -er." Coryell turned to Bauer and said, "I'm no dummy. Get on the field."

Recalls Bauer: "I ran out and (Steeler linebacker) Jack Lambert stared at me with his hands on his hips, spitting out blood. He said, 'You aren't gonna get in this time.' I blurted back some expletive."

Fouts handed off to Bauer, who barreled into the end zone. The chants continued through the ensuing kickoff, on which Bauer made the tackle. "I enjoyed a special-teams tackle as much as scoring a touchdown," he says.

Nicknamed "Howitzer" for his gung-ho style, Bauer was the most special of special-teams players. "He's the best I've ever seen," Coryell said.

Quite a compliment for a fellow who signed with the Chargers as a free agent in 1977 after teaching high school for a year. Bauer set nearly every school rushing record during four years (1972-75) at Cal Lutheran, but he weighed only 190 pounds and was not drafted.

Bauer, who helped the Kingsmen get to the NAIA final his senior year, holds Cal Lutheran records for career carries (502); touchdowns in a game (four), a season (17) and a career (38); and yards in a season (1,024) and a career (2,700).

The Dallas Cowboys offered him a free-agent tryout in 1976 but he was cut after three weeks.

"I knew I was good enough to play in the NFL," says Bauer, still irked at being snubbed by the team that trained at Cal Lutheran during his playing days there.

Bauer spent the next year teaching and working out. Although he added 15 pounds of muscle, there was little interest from NFL teams. At times, his efforts seemed fruitless, like banging his head against a wall. But then, Bauer never had an aversion to that sort of behavior at Cal Lutheran.

"I hated the first hit of a game, so I'd always take a few head butts against a concrete wall during warm-ups," he says.

Bauer also played outfield on the Kingsmen baseball team. While chasing a fly ball one day with his typical fervor, he slammed face-first into the chain-link outfield fence.

"His face looked like a waffle in the pattern of the chain-link," recalls Al Schoenberger, a Cal Lutheran assistant coach at the time.

With the ball at his feet, Bauer stepped back from the fence, grunted, and pounded his forehead on the adjoining fence post. Then he picked up the ball and threw it to the infield.

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