As He Did on the Field, Scribner Answers Call : After Careers With UCLA and Rams, He Finds His Life's Work as a Pastor in Santa Monica

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Almost anyone in his place would have been thrilled, but not Rob Scribner. Not when he couldn't shake the emptiness inside. Not when his everyday existence seemed meaningless, with crucial pieces missing.

A multifaceted and exceptionally gifted athlete, Scribner was a key member of the Rams when playing for the team wasn't considered football purgatory. He was in the limelight. He was happily married and owned a home in a quiet neighborhood in Mar Vista, a community that borders Culver City, Santa Monica and Venice. Life looked good.

But not to Scribner.

"There was no real satisfaction in my life," said Scribner, a former standout at Van Nuys High and UCLA. "I wasn't very happy about things I was doing and who I was."

Searching for answers, Scribner went to the Scriptures. And he found a church, one he says wasn't so much fire and brimstone but was committed to the Christian principles he revered. His outlook began to change.

Little did he know where it would lead him.

It's a pleasant summer morning in Santa Monica. The marine layer hasn't lifted, keeping the sun from striking with full force and making the gentle ocean breeze more soothing. In a small, unpretentious office at the Lighthouse Foursquare Church a few blocks from the beach, Rob Scribner is at work.

Now the senior pastor of the church he once rushed to for guidance, Scribner sits behind an ample desk, talking about his favorite subject--Jesus Christ. Dressed in a white T-shirt with the church emblem and "Pastor Rob" on the left breast, blue shorts and sneakers, Scribner still appears fit enough at 42 to play a few downs.

He prefers to spend the time and effort differently.

"Our vision is to disciple people and to plant churches throughout the world to spread the gospel," Scribner said. "We have about 11 people we've sent out to pioneer churches in other places."

As those missionaries go about their task, Scribner tends to the flock at home. The church, a two-story white wooden building with navy blue trim, is home to about 350 worshipers during Sunday morning services. There also are Sunday evening and Wednesday night services, but those generally attract lesser numbers. Scribner conducts the services and teaches history and Bible study at the church's kindergarten-through-12th grade school attended by about 150 students.

His office on the second floor is modestly decorated with pictures of Scribner, his wife Jennifer and their six children. Soon, however, he'll have to make room on the walls for snapshots of their seventh child, due in February. There are bookcases filled with Christian books, and a photo nearby of the staunchly conservative Scribner with former President Ronald Reagan.

The photos, the books and the environment are proofs of what Scribner is all about. They detail his passion for the two things he considers fundamentally essential in life--love for family and for God.

"We came to this church because we wanted a hands-on experience in Christianity," Scribner said. "We wanted to be in a place where God healed people, where we could pray for that and see the results, and where He cared about our lives. There's a huge difference between just reading the Bible and seeing those miracles."

As a youngster growing up in Van Nuys, Scribner attended a Baptist church regularly. His father, a doctor who moved the family from Dallas when Scribner was three months old, and his mother saw to it. Those years, in fact, were the foundation for his current work.

They were also the beginning of his outstanding career in sports.

"(Van Nuys) was a great place to grow up," Scribner said. "All the kids on my block used to play football on the street, but I was the first guy from the neighborhood who played high school ball."

By his senior year at Van Nuys High in 1968, Scribner had developed into a promising baseball and football player. A self-described Gary Beban-type quarterback, one equally adept at passing or simply turning upfield after rolling out, Scribner threw for 720 yards and ran for 462 yards and 11 touchdowns in leading the Wolves to a second-place finish behind Poly in the East Valley League.

He was the league's co-most valuable player with Poly quarterback Bruce Heinbechner and an All-City second-team selection.

The accomplishments didn't go unnoticed. Tommy Prothro recruited him to UCLA and Scribner spent his first season there playing with the Bruin freshman team. The following season, however, Prothro opted to go with Dennis Dummit at quarterback and Scribner, who also played cornerback, safety and middle linebacker in high school, found himself on the defensive unit.

"Prothro was going to redshirt me," said Scribner, who married Jennifer that year. "Then the same day he tells me about it, one of our linebackers quit. I ended up playing weakside linebacker."

That wasn't his last position switch. In 1971, Prothro left to coach the Rams, and Pepper Rodgers took over at UCLA. The new coach penciled Scribner for a spot in the defensive alignment that didn't appeal to the junior.

"He moved me to cornerback," Scribner said. "They (coaches) knew I had played quarterback, but they didn't let me try out for it."

His wish for an opportunity to quarterback the Bruin wishbone attack became reality the following season, when Scribner and Mark Harmon battled on even terms for the job during spring drills. But Scribner, who was a world-class center on the UCLA rugby team, pulled a hamstring playing the game in New Zealand and didn't recover in time to challenge Harmon.

Still, Scribner contributed substantially in a backup role. In a 37-7 victory over Oregon State at Corvallis, he rushed for a career-high 156 yards in eight carries after relieving Harmon in the second half. The following week at Berkeley, Scribner carried 13 times for 101 yards in a 49-13 victory over Cal. He finished the season with 498 yards rushing, third-best on the team behind Kermit Johnson and James McAlister, and was fourth in total offense with 577 yards.

"Rob was a fierce competitor," said John Sciarra, the former Bruin quarterback and now manager of the Dun & Bradstreet Pension Services divisions in Los Angeles and Newport Beach. "He didn't have great speed. If Rob would have been a 4.5 guy, he would have been a phenom. . . . If you are in a foxhole with somebody, he's the kind of guy you want in there with you."

But apparently not the kind of guy Rodgers wanted in the game against USC that year. Watching helplessly on the sidelines at the Coliseum as the Trojans beat UCLA, 24-7, wounded Scribner so deeply he still refuses to talk much about Rodgers.

"Before the game, Rodgers told me I would play half the game," Scribner said. "It was my senior season, against our big rivals, and I didn't play one snap. It was a real disappointing time for me in football. It's right up there."

If his last college game was a downer, making the Rams was a high. And a shocker.

Although not drafted by an NFL team, Scribner was approached as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys and the Rams, who were still firmly entrenched in the Coliseum. He peeked at both rosters and figured his chances were better in Los Angeles.

"The Cowboys called me and said they would give me a $500 signing bonus," Scribner said. "Then (Ram general manager Don) Klosterman calls me and says he'll give me $500. The Cowboys were loaded so I decided to try out for the Rams, to see if I could make it at running back or the taxi squad."

At 6 feet and 200 pounds, and despite running no better than 4.9 in the 40 yards in training camp, Scribner nevertheless landed a spot with the Rams. It surprised him and his wife.

"I didn't think I could play pro ball, to be honest," Scribner said. "When I told my wife I made the taxi squad, she said she didn't think I was good enough."

He wasn't All-Pro, but he wasn't All-Bad, either. Scribner played on five NFC West championship teams with the Rams, mostly on special teams and with limited action at running back. His best game was against Green Bay in 1975, when he gained 82 yards in 12 carries and scored a touchdown in a 22-5 victory.

"Rob Scribner was one of my all-time great guys," said Ram Coach Chuck Knox, who was in his first go-around with the club in the early '70s. "He was a tremendous achiever who brought everything he had to the field."

An ankle injury that required surgery in early 1977 slowed him, and the Rams released him after the season. Scribner then had a brief and unsuccessful tryout in 1978 with the Philadelphia Eagles before becoming the color commentator on the replay telecasts of UCLA football games for five years.

He also continued to work onmanaging pension plans for clients in a business partnership that included Sciarra.

Soon after, however, his life was headed in a somewhat unexpected direction.

In 1977, as his pro athletic career was winding down, Scribner faced not only the adjustment of life away from sports for the first time in many years, but also a serious personal struggle.

His wife developed a swollen optic nerve in her right eye that Scribner says somehow baffled doctors. She consulted numerous ophthalmologists who couldn't find the problem. At one point, he says, they even contemplated removing the eye.

"We already belonged to this church and we began to pray for her," Scribner said. "Through some miraculous circumstances, her eye was healed. We realized then there was a supernatural element to Christianity that I had not been aware of growing up."

Another turning point for Scribner came in 1981, when the couple attended a Bible conference in Prescott, Ariz.

"There was an enthusiastic relationship with God there as opposed to just religion," Scribner said. "They elevated the calling of a pastor to a level that was very appealing. I was really moved."

Two years later, Scribner, by then an elder at the church, decided to become a pastor and in 1984 was sent to pioneer a church in Pacific Palisades. He also jumped into the political arena, challenging incumbent Mel Levine (D-South Bay) for the 27th congressional district in 1984 and 1986. Scribner lost both elections.

After three years in Pacific Palisades, where the family still lives, Scribner returned to the Lighthouse Church when the pastor there resigned.

"The congregation asked me to pastor," Scribner said. "It was a very rocky time. It was a very difficult time holding things together. I just became more and more involved over the years. In '91, I made the decision to stay here for good. I've found something I'm willing to give my life to."

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