For Chargers’ May, Might Makes It Right
Under the circumstances, his nickname might be mistaken for the Chargers’ battle cry.
May Day. May Day. May Day.
No mistake there. The Chargers need Mark May all right, but they don’t know it yet. With the exception of General Manager Bobby Beathard and all his Washington Redskin transplants here, they don’t know it yet.
May is blood-and-guts football. May is a grubby, take-no-guff miserable wretch who can only be made happy by victory. To view May’s scowl up close and personal is to know intimidation.
First impressions do not favor May, but he is not running for PTA president. He wears size 17 cleats, and if he can plant them in the small of your back it’s been a fine day.
Two weeks ago he was asked to come cold off the bench after three quarters of play and stop 49ers’ blitzing linebacker Charles Haley. Haley knew the Chargers were going to have to pass on every play to catch up, and so began the assault.
“He blew by Mark on like three straight plays and made Mark look bad, and then you could see it happening,” said Billy Devaney, the Chargers’ director of player personnel. “Mark was at a disadvantage, so he starts cut-blocking him. He just submarines him, goes for Haley’s wheels. He doesn’t care, he’s going to stop him.
“If Mark May can beat you by playing clean football he will do it. If he can’t, he’ll resort to anything. He doesn’t care, he’ll leg-whip you, he’ll kick you, he’ll cheap-shot you. He’s ruthless on the football field.”
May is an offensive lineman, who stands before a quarterback like a man protecting his property and family against intruders. Go ahead, make his day.
A few years back, Bubba Baker was a renowned quarterback mugger, who broke by offensive linemen by slapping them in the helmet.
“I told him on the first play of the game that if he head slapped me, I was going to (censored),” May said. “He thought about it, thought about it, and about the second quarter here it comes. Bop. Well, that was it for Bubba.
“By the end of the third quarter he was crying to come out. He was screaming at the guard, ‘What the hell is matter with that guy? He’s crazy. Tell him to cut this stuff out.’ I was kicking him, stomping on his hands, (censored) and using the heel of my cleats to nail him in the elbow when he was on the bottom of the pile. Talk about pain; a kick to the elbow will last for a good 10 minutes.
“When it comes to keeping them from the quarterback, anything goes. When I’m out on the field the defensive guy is trying to take something away from me. I haven’t had the opportunity to get in my game mode since I’ve been here, but my job is to pound on my opponent and beat him physically and mentally into submission.”
When May was playing as a charter member of the “Hogs” along the offensive line in Washington, a sports survey came out and indicted him as one of the five dirtiest players in the game. He took it as a compliment.
Raiders’ defensive end Howie Long said a few years ago, “If holding was an art, Mark May is Picasso.” May took it as a compliment.
A reporter approached Mark May this past week and told him that friends had described Mark May as an “ornery so-and-so.”
“They probably said I was a (censored),” May said.
He was right.
“Let me tell you, I can talk some stuff on the field, I mean real nasty stuff,” May said. “Whatever it takes. I’m moody, too, and proud of it. Do you think it’s easy being moody like this? I’ve worked years to achieve this.”
It’s a facade, of course, but the fellows on the opposite side don’t know that. They are left to wonder which penal institution furloughed him for the weekend.
“I’m not going to provide the laughter in their highlight film,” May said. “It’s not going to happen. I’ll take somebody out before they make me the high point of their highlight film.”
It’s an attitude. But it was a way of life if you were employed for the Redskins during Mark May’s tenure in Washington. The first morning the guy reported for practice, he got in a fight. That afternoon in his second practice, he got into a fight.
“That attitude carried on throughout our football team in Washington,” said Charger trainer Keoki Kamau said. “It just raised the level of play of other people. He was the dirtiest sucker on the field.”
In his first game in the National Football League, Mark May got into a fight.
“I’m playing against the Cowboys and there’s all this rivalry stuff, but I don’t know who Randy White is,” May said. “In the first half I held Harvey Martin out, but this guy White is giving me all kinds of guff.
“So in the third quarter I said some things about his wife, you know like (censored), and so we get into a fight. That was the start of it. We went on to fight five or six times over the years. He spit on me, I spit on him good. He’s laying on the bottom of the pile looking up and I (censored) . . .”
In that same game, recalled Kamau, “I went out on the field for timeouts and May Day’s yelling at Harvey Martin. He’s saying, ‘You’re an old man, I’m going to dominate you the rest of your career.’ Then the game’s over, and remember this is a rookie, May Day runs Harvey Martin down, points at him, spits at him and walks off the field.
“From that day on when we played the Cowboys this guy (Martin) was nonexistent. It was, ‘I’m going for your knees and from this day on I’m going to let you know who’s going to dominate you, and it’s going to be Mark May.’
“This is a tough guy. We get to the stadium to play the Cowboys in the NFC championship game and he gets into it with Randy White in the elevator.”
They never shared a civil word. Never. They had their opportunities to shake hands and talk about the good old days during the off-season, but memories apparently die hard.
“A couple of years ago a group of players was invited to Minnesota for a meeting, and we’re in this room and the only chair open is next to me, and who comes barreling in the room last, but Randy White,” said May. “He looks at me, looks at the chair and goes to the back of the room to lean on the wall. I still despise the (censored). But you can tell that little SOB I’m still in the league, and his butt is history.”
Mark May is still here, but not here playing, and so his value as a dirt-stained leader goes untapped. He didn’t play a down against Atlanta, and yet there is a feeling within this organization that there’s too much fight left in Mark May to let him only watch from the sideline.
“We think he’s got something left,” Beathard said. “His attitude isn’t necessarily the only kind of attitude you have to have to be a winner, but I’ve been around him and it sure helped us in Washington. That’s one of the things that’s hurting this team right now. It’s like we’re not sure what kind of attitude you have to have to be a winner.
“May Day knows. He’s a fighter, a tough guy and you have to kill him to beat him. That became contagious in Washington; he wouldn’t accept losing and all of a sudden there was peer pressure. The whole group wouldn’t accept anything but a win.”
Mark May had an Outland Trophy and a record-book career when he left the University of Pittsburgh to join the Redskins in 1981. But Mark May’s Redskins opened his rookie season 0-5. So Mark May knows losing and all that comes with it. In Washington, 0-5 qualifies as grounds for public execution.
“You don’t know how bad it is in Washington,” May said. “You come out of practice and you find notes on your car: ‘You stink.’ ‘You let us down.’ ‘I lost on you guys.’ They know how to get to you.
“At the same time I lost my job to a free agent and was benched. You would have thought I had stolen someone’s firstborn. I got threatening letters, and everyday I got this raving maniac in Joe Bugel screaming at me: ‘How the hell did I ever draft you? I ought to have my eyes torn out for drafting you.’ ”
There was nothing wrong with Bugel’s eyesight. Bugel, who has gone on to become head coach of the Phoenix Cardinals, stayed with May and assembled an offensive line in Washington that would become nationally known as the “Hogs.”
“When I was a kid the Redskins were everything,” Charger offensive guard David Richards said. “I was an offensive lineman from the day I was born; too big to be anything else. So I thought the Hogs were the best. I wanted to be a Hog.”
Mark May was a fine Hog. He played lef tackle, he played right guard and he played in the Pro Bowl in 1989 after missing only four plays and allowing one sack during the 1988 campaign.
“When I first met Mark we had a bag drill and we had six dummies on the ground and when Mark tried the drill he stepped on every one of them,” Bugel said. “On the last one he fell on his face. He was no Mikhal Barishnykov.”
Bugel’s comments were relayed to May. “Buge’s said that, huh? That SOB, I hope he gets shut out again this week.”
Mark May barks loud, but those who have had the persistence and privilege to share his company come away impressed.
“May was a helluva football player. You could always count on him, as both a football player and a friend,” Bugel said. “But he’d have his fun, too. We’d play Dallas and he’d be lined up on John Dutton and Russ Grimm would be on Randy White. May would call White every name in the book and he’d take it out on Grimm. White would be walking back to the huddle, and May would shove him from behind and on the next play White would go after Grimm.”
When you play the game rough and tough, it can bite back. Mark May started 115 games for the Redskins, but he went down with a serious knee injury in 1989. He didn’t play a down in 1990, and became available to the Chargers via Plan B free agency this year. But had he not played another down of football, he was prepared.
“Maybe more than anybody he realized your football career can be over in a second,” Bugel said. “This is a super-intelligent guy who made sure from the outset that he wasn’t going to end up on skid row.”
Mark May in a suit? Mark May not only wears a suit, but he has a suit for every day of the week.
“I went to Korea on a USO Tour and this guy was charging $135 a suit,” May said. “I told him I’d take 10 for $100 each. He said, '$125.’ I said, '$100.’ He said, '$115,’ and I said, '$100.’ He said, '$110,’ and I said, ‘sold.’ I bought dress shirts, ties and shoes, but if I go back there, I’m going to get that guy. The shoes are terrible.”
Beathard understands. “I’ll bet Mark knows where every penny is that he ever earned.”
The pennies are very important to May. When the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1987 most of the players declined to make public appearances, but May was on the road wherever they wanted him.
“He realizes how briefly this passes,” said Ralph Cindrich, May’s agent. “He realizes how superficial football players are as personalities; he knows he’s just passing through.”
He put in more than three years of off-season work earning qualifying honors from the Ford Dealership School. He took classes, attended seminars and sold cars.
“Some of the Redskins came down to my dealership,” said Rick Hunt, who owns several Ford dealerships in the Washington, D.C. ,area, “and May Day was washing cars. And Russ Grimm told May Day he was back where he belonged. May Day looked at Grimm, and said, ‘Yeah, but you know what? Two or three years from now I won’t be doing this, and you will.’ ”
May also has educated himself on the harness racing business. He presently owns 11 horses, including Charlie Tenhitch, one of the top performers in 1990.
“I told him to sell that nag, that it’s going to be dog meat in another year and he still won’t do it,” Cindrich said. “He was worth $1.6 million and he wouldn’t sell it. I’ve told him to get out of that business.”
May scowled: “If it wasn’t for me, Ralph wouldn’t be driving that Jag today. He’d still be in the back woods of Pennsylvania chopping wood.”
May laughed. The scowl wasn’t working. Good friends such as Cindrich and Kamau and Devaney know better. They have watched him donate his time and his money for the benefit of others. When he left the University of Pittsburgh, he quietly wrote out a $10,000 thank you check to the school.
“His heart is unbelievably big,” Cindrich said. “And he has those abilities that major corporations are looking for.”
He also has the verve and grit to make the Chargers a better football team, but he’s on the bench. He’s going to be 32 in November, and assistant coach Alex Gibbs is rebuilding an offensive line.
“Once you’re one of his boys, Alex will fight tooth and nail for you,” May said. “It’s difficult to become one of his boys. At first, I don’t think I was his choice to be here; he wanted younger guys. But I think I’ve gained his respect; he saw I was a team player, and he saw that I wasn’t going to sit around and gripe if I wasn’t a starter.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t practice like a man fighting for his next meal. That doesn’t mean Mark May will no longer be the competitive Mark May.
“The coaches here didn’t know how Mark May was on the sidelines,” Kamau said. “I can remember one of them saying in training camp, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with May Day? All we’re getting ready to do is scrimmage the Rams.’ I started to laugh, because that is Mark May going to his office.”
May continues to practice, and he remains insurance along the right side of the offensive line. “I think the sand is running out of the hourglass, but I can still help a team,” he said.
“I’ve always hated those guys who weren’t doing anything, but who got up and gave speeches. I can’t put my heart into saying something, if I’m not doing it. If I’m in there playing and fighting in the trenches, I’ll stand up and do what I have to do.”
The Chargers (0-3) play Sunday in Mile High Stadium against the Broncos. The last time Mark May played against Denver was in Super Bowl XXII.
“I think I’ll wear my Super Bowl ring on the trip,” said May, adding his phony scowl. “Alex Gibbs was the line coach for Denver when we beat them in the Super Bowl. The ring will really (censored).”
Shoot, imagine what he might say or do to the Broncos if he ever got into the game.