Ex-Charger Adjusts to Different Field With Enthusiasm : Football: Free-spirited Hank Bauer has not mellowed with age. He's wrapped up with his career in broadcasting.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His spirit remains relentlessly bright, like San Diego's summer 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 as sports anchor at 6:40. Then he returns to the radio station for an 8:20 broadcast. The rest of the morning is spent collecting news for his afternoon TV broadcast.

Bullish and buoyant, Bauer keeps moving but never leaves the spotlight. At 36, he personifies the overachieving underdog; once again, building a career from the ground floor through determination and ingenuity.

"There are direct parallels between playing football and broadcasting," Bauer said. "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 professional career, he was 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 said during his playing career. "Actually, getting your bell rung doesn't feel too bad. It feels kind of good."

At 5-feet-10 1/2 and 205 pounds, Bauer was a bowling ball gone berserk. In addition to helping make 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 a 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 said.

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, who graduated from Magnolia High School in Anaheim, set nearly every school rushing record during four years (1972-75) at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, but he weighed only 190 pounds and was not drafted.

Bauer, who helped the Kingsmen reach 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," said 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 said.

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

"His face looked like a waffle in the pattern of the chain-link," recalled 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.

Such intensity is more appropriate on the football field. "If ever there was a guy who played offense with a defensive mentality, it was Hank," said Keith Richard, a former Cal Lutheran football teammate of Bauer's. "It seemed like every day at practice, a fight would break out. Hank and I rolled around on the grass a couple of times.

"Then it was over and, boom , we were best of friends. There were never hard feelings."

Bauer, in fact, was a leader. The night before a game in 1975, he and teammate Dan Morrow loosened the support in the fence behind Mount Clef Stadium at Cal Lutheran. The next day during introductions, rather than lead the team through the gate, Bauer and Morrow dashed straight through the weakened fence, and were followed by 35 inspired teammates.

"I saw guys get fired up who never had before," Morrow recalled. "That started a trend that the players used for years afterward. They'd run through that fence."

Certainly, there had to be a place in the NFL for a maniacal motivator like Bauer.

When the Chargers made a lukewarm offer to let this small back from a small school get a second chance, Bauer packed a few clothes in a duffel bag and drove his beat-up Volkswagen to San Diego.

"Every week, Hank would call and say, 'I stuck, I stuck,' " recalled Jim Bauer, Hank's older brother and a Cal Lutheran standout from 1968-71.

The Chargers played the Rams in The Times' Charity Game that summer and several of Bauer's former Cal Lutheran teammates attended. On the opening kickoff, the new Charger flew down the field intent on making the tackle.

"The Rams ran a reverse and Tom Mack blind-sided Hank, caught him right in the ear hole," Jim Bauer recalled. "Hank's head hit the ground first and I got a real sick feeling in my stomach."

In a daze, Bauer pulled himself up and ran to the Rams' sideline, where an opposing player pushed him back on the field. He wandered aimlessly through the end zone until a Charger official grabbed his arm and led him to the proper sideline.

After spending his first year solely on special teams, Bauer shared time at running back in 1978 and '79, scoring 17 touchdowns. However, the Chargers acquired Chuck Muncie in 1980 and made running back James Brooks their first draft choice in 1981.

"I knew my backfield days were numbered," Bauer said.

Rather than demand a trade or grouse to the media, Bauer carved out a new role. "I decided to out-study everybody and make special teams my life," he said.

In his career, Bauer played every position on the kickoff return and punt return teams. He played everywhere on the punt team except punter and snapper. He was honored as special-teams player of the year in 1980, '81 and '82 and paved the way for a special-teams player to be named each year to the Pro Bowl.

"At the time, nobody did the job I was doing," he said. "I relished it. It was a blue-collar job. If I left a legacy at all, it was to legitimize special teams."

Despite his kamikaze style, Bauer never missed a game at Magnolia High, Cal Lutheran or with the Chargers. He injured his neck in practice midway through the 1982 season, however, and although he finished the year, he retired before the 1983 season rather than risk permanent damage.

Bauer was only 29, but Coryell immediately hired him as an assistant coach. He had dabbled in broadcasting as a player, and when the team's ownership and coaching staff changed after the 1986 season, Bauer went behind the microphone full time.

"This isn't the story of a huge star getting his first broadcasting job handed to him based on his reputation as a player," Bauer said. "I started at the bottom and I've earned what I've gotten.

"It's just like when I was trying to make it in the NFL. I knew in my heart I could be a sportscaster and I've put in a lot of hard work. I've paid the price and am still paying the price."

And just as in his playing days, it's a price he's pleased to pay.

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