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SUPER BOWL XXIX : Bauer Does Whole Nine Yards : Super Bowl: Former Charger-turned-sportscaster now taking a timeout to follow his team as a fan.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He’s a hometown hero, a popular former San Diego Chargers player and coach who smoothly segued into a job as a sportscaster for both radio and TV here. Hank Bauer has reported live from the Super Bowl site all week long, and at game time he gets the seat of his choice.

He’ll be on his couch, feet up, remote control in hand. Bauer is flying back to San Diego this morning to watch the game at home.

“I will be alone, I will unplug the phone and be able to digest exactly what’s going on,” he said. “The best seat in the house is in front of a TV. No question.”

All week, the man once known as The Hammer for his short-yardage scoring ability and devastating hits on special teams worked 15-hour days pounding out copy for his nightly broadcast on CBS affiliate KFMB-TV and two-hour talk show on KFMB radio.

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The game will offer a brief respite.

“There’s a lot to be said for instant replay and getting various camera angles,” he said. “I was on the sidelines for the AFC title game at Pittsburgh and there are things you miss.”

Bauer will return to the studio for his broadcasts tonight and no doubt will spend the next few days rehashing the action on the air.

Which is not to say he is unbiased. One reason he wants to watch the game alone might be that he can openly root for the Lightning Bolts.

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And he might be one of the few sports journalists in America who believe the Chargers have a legitimate chance of knocking off the 49ers, a 19-point favorite.

“Absolutely, this team has a chance of beating the 49ers,” he said. “People in Las Vegas don’t play the game. I watch closely.

“You have to win two of three areas of the game. The Chargers definitely have the best kicking game. The 49ers have the better offense. I don’t know who has the better defense.”

With their rugged approach and blue-collar image, the Chargers mirror the playing style of Bauer, who after gaining NAIA All-American honors at Cal Lutheran made the Chargers as a free agent in 1977. He quickly won over San Diego fans with his kamikaze tackles on kick coverage teams and an ability to score from short yardage.

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“I like this team because these guys are classic overachievers,” he said.

Bauer was the same way. Only 5 feet 10, 205 pounds, he scored 17 touchdowns in 1978 and ’79 and three times was named the league’s special-teams player of the year. In 1981, he made 52 special-teams tackles, more than double any other player in the league.

“He once scored three touchdowns in a game and only gained one-and-a-half yards,” said Chuck Muncie, Bauer’s teammate. “We’d get in close and The Hammer could smell the goal line.”

Now, Bauer scores the tough interviews. An assistant coach for four years after retiring as a player in 1982, Bauer enjoys unsurpassed access to the team. Running back Ronnie Harmon had not spoken to the media for several years before giving Bauer a two-hour interview earlier this season.

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Although he is close with several coaches and players, defensive lineman Leslie O’Neal in particular, Bauer is loath to capitalize on those friendships.

“It helps that I know these guys on a personal level but to me the worst part of the job is asking guys for interviews,” he said. “I don’t want to compromise our friendships and use them to get ahead.”

His longstanding loyalty to the Chargers makes their first Super Bowl appearance that much sweeter.

The teams he played on fielded one of the greatest offensive units in NFL history, but twice they were thwarted in the AFC championship game. Some former Chargers have admitted to feeling a bit jealous at the current team’s success but not Bauer.

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“I think there is a twinge of jealousy in every NFL player who never made it to the Super Bowl, but for me, this year, not at all,” he said. “I’m just so happy for all these guys.

“And I’m especially happy for the city of San Diego. It’s one of the greatest things to ever happen to this city.”


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