Sacking the quarterback, said Cedrick Hardman, who, at 6 feet 4 and a muscular 250 pounds, looked as if he could still sack one, "was my main reason for living the first 13 years of my adult life."
Twenty years ago, Hardman was a rookie sensation with the San Francisco 49ers, starting a career as one of the best defensive ends in NFL history. Now, 42 and a volunteer coach at Cal State Long Beach, sacking still obsesses him.
Hardman's huge gnarled hands attest to 13 violent seasons. "I don't even know how many of them (thumbs and fingers) were broken," he said after a practice last week. "I never really acknowledged them. They don't hurt but this one here is difficult to pick up change and stuff with."
Before coming to Long Beach this season, Hardman had been out of football since 1986 when, as head coach at Laguna Beach High School, he was arrested for possession of cocaine. Hardman said he is ashamed of that incident, which he is reluctant to discuss.
"What's that saying?" he said, thinking of Shakespeare's line in "Julius Caesar." "The bad that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones?" Hardman, who has had roles on television and in the movies, said the line with an actor's elocution.
Cal State Long Beach Coach George Allen, who remembers painfully how Hardman threw one of Allen's Washington Redskins for an eight-yard loss on a reverse called by President Richard M. Nixon during a 1971 playoff game, selected Hardman from some 200 applicants.
"I wanted to help him get over the hump because I know he's a good man," Allen said. "I think it's helped him. Once a guy gets a stigma, nobody wants him."
The Long Beach defensive linemen want Hardman. "He's taught us a lot," said junior Ira Morris. "I look forward to coming to practice because of his presence. He's real enjoyable, he just brings a different atmosphere around practice. Some days you're tired and listless, and he'll just talk to you and bring you up."
Hardman enjoys teaching young players the techniques that made him an all-pro.
"Rushing the quarterback to me is a religion," he said, his voice rising like a preacher's during a Sunday sermon. "It's a sacred art that you almost have to have performed to completely understand. Everybody isn't qualified to teach it."
Although Hardman was often compared with former Ram Deacon Jones, he does not consider himself to be the best defensive lineman ever. "That couldn't be because too many people have played who are so much better than I was," he said. He mentioned Jones, former Pittsburgh star Joe Greene and current Raider Howie Long.
"All I did was take an idea that was spawned by Deacon Jones and took it as far as I could take it, and I had a good time with it," Hardman said. "Deacon more or less gave birth to the thrill of sacking the quarterback. He was the best at it."
Hardman has adopted Long Beach junior Ed Lair as a protege. "It's not accidental that he leads the team in sacks, seein' how he's the right end, and that's what I played," Hardman said. "I'm right in his head, and he and I can communicate almost through eye contact. His practice habits, his stance, his approach to the game--it's almost all me.
"I like thiking I can take a guy that has some talent and will, and show him how to do it. I've watched pass rushing become antiquated in that people don't know how to choreograph the movements of four people going to get the quarterback. That's why I wanted to get back in it. And I love the game."
The Houston-born Hardman's years in San Francisco were filled with flair. His wardrobe included a black and white leather outfit he designed that had fringe hanging from the elbows and a peace symbol on the front. The letters N-A-S-T-Y were on the license plate of his red Lincoln Continental, which he bought after signing his first contract. "I got the name in college (North Texas State) from a friend (who) said I had a bad walk," he explained at the time.
In tight pants that emphasize his thick sculpted thighs, Hardman still has an intimidating swagger, but his overall flamboyance has faded.
"That was youth ," he said, laughing. "You go through life and all you need to do is make one big mistake, and if you've got any sense at all you'll sure as hell retire the flamboyancy. These days I try to be as anonymous as I can."
Of the last four years, Hardman, who lives in Laguna Beach, said, "I do some personal (physical) training." He added, "I ain't in no trouble. I'm a pretty likable guy. I ain't bitter about nothing that's happened in my life. One of the things I like about me is I react to everything right when it happens, so I don't stew over nothing. If I get mad you'll know it, I handle it right then and there."