Wall Comes Tumbling Down : Chargers: There’s a person behind the facade guard Broderick Thompson has sometimes hidden behind--some would say a pretty caring one.
First impression after meeting Broderick Thompson: “Am I glad I’m not Broderick Thompson.”
Arrogant and aloof “and don’t forget condescending,” agrees Thompson, who was initially accepted in the locker room about as readily as an outbreak of athlete’s foot.
When some of the Chargers organized a “Bad Boys Club,” complete with T-shirts, jackets and baseball caps a few years ago, they made it known membership would be confined exclusively to the offensive line but with the exclusion of starting guard Broderick Thompson.
The media understood. Better to leave the locker room with an empty notebook than approach that so and so.
Broderick Thompson has started 36 games in a row for the Chargers and is only one of 13 players to be with the team for four or more years. And his press clipping file is empty.
“I’d see the reporters interviewing (James) FitzPatrick and other guys who weren’t as good as me, and I’d ask myself, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said. “Maybe it’s the wall I’ve built up. People can’t see over it, I guess, and don’t know what’s there.”
As the world has come to understand, no wall stands forever.
“I adore the guy,” Charger receptionist Stella Viets said. “He will stop by for no reason but to say hi. Sometimes he will bring flowers just because.”
Guard David Richards said, “He’s a pretty sensitive guy.”
Maybe the Venus de Milo really does have arms.
“There’s depth there,” Richards insisted. “Take a look--there’s more there than most people see.”
A challenge for the Hubble telescope. “You’d say, ‘Hi,’ to him and get a grunt in return,” defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said. “Some of those who coached him in the USFL had said he was half a jerk or acted like he was a little better than everyone.
“I don’t really think he’s that kind of guy, though. But you have to get beyond the exterior to really understand and appreciate Broderick Thompson.”
You may even have to talk with Broderick Thompson.
“I never got the opportunity to express myself,” he said. “I’m not that complicated.”
But behind Thompson’s glowering veneer is this $90,000, five-bedroom home in Compton, a simple house that complicates the Thompson image.
Purchased more than two years ago by Thompson and J.D. Hawkins, a Compton friend and former Olympic wrestler, it has become haven to seven youngsters who had nowhere else to go.
“It began with doing something nice for some troubled youngsters,” Thompson said. “The local police gave us names. These are not real bad kids but kids who got caught up with problem kids, and just needed a way out.
“We formed this group and bought a house right down the block from where I grew up. The kids live there with a volunteer house mother. The kids get paid $2.50 an hour for doing chores around the house after school, and if they keep their grades up, their reward on Sunday is coming to the Charger game.”
The youngsters are paid from a pool of money provided by Thompson and Hawkins. In the past, Thompson has spent as much as $800 a Sunday to send the youngsters and friends to a Charger game.
But unlike last year, when the kids sat behind the home team bench in Charger regalia and touted themselves as the “BT Express,” all is quiet this season.
“A lot of people didn’t know what it meant,” Thompson said. “Some thought I was just blowing my own horn; they didn’t know the inside story. So no more banners, no more loud shirts. Now the kids just come to the games and have a good time.”
The wrong impression--again. If there was something to be gained via the “BT Express,” it would not have taken him more than two years to discuss it.
“I just like kids,” he said. “I know how easy it is to be distracted and go the wrong way. Especially with no rearing. I know how close I was to getting in trouble, and I had two parents.”
Thompson was raised in Compton, but before seventh grade he moved to Cerritos, another Los Angeles suburb.
“The opportunities came almost daily to get in trouble,” he said. “And with my parents, if the street lights were flickering, I was in a full sprint to the front door.
“Most of the other guys would talk about me having to go in before the street lights came on. But that’s when they would start getting into mischief, while I was in the house.”
Thompson played basketball for the Gahr High Gladiators but stayed away from football after a discouraging freshman season. He was on his way to joining the Navy when Cerritos College football Coach Frank Mazzotta took notice of the hulking, 6-foot-5 basketball player.
“I had nothing else to do,” Thompson said. “It was easy: ‘Go around this guy and go get the other guy with the football in his hands.’ ”
Thompson came on quickly as a junior college defensive lineman. Some major colleges took notice. But at the same time, Thompson also earned some parental freedom and, by his account, began to run wild.
“I got hooked up with some guys that were pretty crazy; we got into a lot of mischief. Nothing serious, but we’d sneak out late at night and go to Hollywood just to watch the freaks, and the hookers and the derelicts and the nice cars. We were from the suburbs; we never saw anything like that. We’d stay out all night--every night--and come back about six in the morning.
“None of us had any gas money, so we would chop off a piece of hose and siphon some gas out of these trucks at this Ryder rental place. We had this system down where we knew the circuit the guards took, so it was pretty easy.”
While drawn to the excitement of Hollywood, Thompson said he fretted about where it was taking him.
“I just needed to slow down,” Thompson said. “I went to Kansas. Nothing happens in Kansas. In Kansas, you pick up a rock and create a game from it. It was the perfect spot to slow down.”
Thompson earned all-Big Eight honors and was an honorable mention All-American as a defensive tackle for the University of Kansas. But a stress fracture in his ankle forced him to miss much of his senior season. As a result, he went undrafted.
“I signed as a free agent with Dallas. You could probably make a movie called, ‘Nightmare on Texas Street,’ from what happened. I didn’t like it one bit.
“It’s those memories that keep me going right now. I don’t want to go back to those nights where I was unable to sleep. I’d be jogging at three in the morning, and saying to myself, ‘I’m going to get the call, I’m going to get the call, I’m going to get cut.’ ”
The call came--at 6 a.m.--on his 23rd birthday.
In the seven years since, Thompson has gone about the business of piecing together his shattered self-esteem. It is what he is all about today.
It does not matter that he has his own communications firm in San Diego that has him presently installing cellular phones into 51 cars at the group rate of $400 each. And it does not matter that he has become a respected starting right tackle for the Chargers.
It’s always Dallas. “It haunts,” he said.
Having failed to make it with the Cowboys as a defensive lineman, Thompson went to the USFL and distinguished himself with New Orleans and Portland as a right offensive guard. It was a fairy tale come true, but it still wasn’t Dallas.
“Being told you are not good enough to play football is one of the worst things that can happen to you,” Richards said.
When the USFL went out of business, Thompson returned to Dallas. “I took it personal what happened the first time,” he said. “There was something to prove to them and to myself.”
He played in five games for the Cowboys in 1986. In 1987, he went through the preseason as the starting guard, then was cut again.
“Dallas still bothers me in so many ways I can’t even count them,” Thompson said. “I was at a time in my career where my confidence was way up, and then like that, your self-esteem is gone. It’s like being stripped of everything.”
When he joined the Chargers in 1987 as a free agent, he was greeted like a man afflicted with a contagious disease. He dressed flashy, liked good food and cars and had that attitude.
“I was fighting with people everyday when I got here,” he said. “It was insecurity. I was just trying to make it. I was the outsider. The guys would go out, and I wouldn’t be invited. I didn’t do the same things they did and they probably mistook that for being arrogant.
He was ostracized by his teammates, pushed by his coaches and shunned by the media. Hurt and determined, he masked his feelings with the arrogance he exudes so well.
“Ron Lynn told me last year I’m the type of guy who hates coaches and don’t want them saying anything to me,” he said. “But I’m not like that. I had a bad experience with the coaches in Dallas. They didn’t want to be on a personal level, so I thought that was the law of the land.
“I come here, and the players don’t want me around. They figure I’m a goner. Jim Lachey was here when I first got here and he was getting all the press, and Dennis McKnight was another favorite, and Don Macek. They had it all, and that’s how they were treated. So I had something to prove. I wanted to crack into this lineup, and then they would have to accept me.”
Although one writer suggested the Chargers would be better off with Broderick Crawford in the lineup than Broderick Thompson, the football player held his ground. And as he became entrenched in the Chargers’ plans, the old gang along the offensive line began to break up.
“I’ve been told I don’t smile and I’m too dry,” he said. “But when things started to change around here, I began to communicate more with the linemen. I was meeting people outside, too.
“I had some pretty intense times with McKnight, but we started talking when he hurt his knee. A lot of emotion came out of that, and it brought us all together.
“It’s like David Richards. It’s incredible what I’ve learned about him. David to me used to be just a little boy, but there’s a reason for the things he does, and I’m finding out so much about a guy I really like.”
Richards plays right guard, Thompson right tackle. When the Chargers want to run the ball now, most of the time, they go right.
“We come from completely different backgrounds,” Richards said. “I grew up in a wealthy part of the neighborhood in Dallas where almost every one of my friends’ fathers was just a flaming bigot.
“I came from that background and so it took awhile to get to know Broderick, but now we’ve been rooming together for the past two years. I think the world of the guy, not to mention that he’s a great athlete, and one of the best lineman in the league.”
Dallas disappears in the distance.
“I guarantee you he’s come a long, long, long way,” linebacker Gary Plummer said. “You can see he’s become the leader of that offensive line, and that’s caused him to come out of his shell a little bit.”
Defensive end Lee Williams said, “It’s nice to see he’s got a group that he feels a part of now. I always thought he was the best lineman we had since the day he first came here, I usually competed against him, and I just couldn’t find a tougher match.”
But first impressions do not die easily. It has taken almost four years for him to be interviewed. There are still others to be convinced.
“People are going to make wrong judgments,” he said. “I dress differently, have the gold chain, the Rolex, different interests. But I have on a $26 watch six days a week. I love this watch . . . People don’t know.”
Richards knows. “Do you know why he wears that $26 watch? Dennis McKnight gave that to him on his birthday in front of the entire offensive line in training camp last year.
“To me, it was the symbol of Dennis bringing him into the group. And you know what, I think it’s a treasure to him.”