(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Hank Bauer interview, click on the following attachment: Ep 47: Former Charger Hank Bauer Joins the Show | Spreaker)
The Los Angeles Chargers will break from tradition Friday night when they have former special-teams star Hank Bauer announce their second round draft pick. OK, big deal, right? Well, as a matter of fact, yes. Because the Chargers didn’t draft Hank Bauer.
In fact, nobody did.
“This is a great honor,” said Bauer, an undrafted free agent in 1976. “This is pretty cool. I’ve never been to the NFL draft.”
But he has been to Cleveland. In fact, it was there he scored the last touchdown of his pro career. It’s a story he won’t tell on stage at the NFL draft, but it’s one he shared with us on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
Rewind the videotape to the first game of the 1981 season when Bauer was called on to replace Kellen Winslow after the Hall-of-Fame tight end bowed out with an injury. Desperate for a replacement, then-Chargers’ coach Don Coryell and offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese called on Bauer – the Bolts’ special-teams captain who produced an NFL-record 52 special-teams tackles that season – to take Winslow’s place and run a clearing route.
“They go, ‘Yeah, you’re going to go in, and you’re going to in motion,’ “ Bauer said. “So they put me on the field. (Fans are) screaming loud, it’s the ‘Dawg Pound,’ and (quarterback Dan) Fouts is going, ‘Green 26! Green 26!’ “
That was the signal for Bauer to move ... but he didn’t budge. He couldn’t hear Fouts over the roar of Cleveland’ “Dawg Pound.” So the frustrated quarterback turned to him and yelled, ‘Hank! Hank!” But that didn’t work, either.
“I thought he was saying, ‘Hut! Hut!’ “ Bauer said, “and we jumped.”
Result: A penalty and a hot quarterback. Fouts wasn’t happy, and that’s an understatement. Bauer wasn’t happy, either, telling him he couldn’t hear.
“And now Ernie’s over there trying to settle us down,” Bauer said of Zampese, “and I going, ‘Ernie, I know what to do. I just couldn’t hear him.’ So they put us in. We run the same play. I run a clearing route. I’m in the back of the end zone, right in front of the Dawg Pound. Oh, my God, I got lost in the coverage, I look up and I see Fouts’ piercing blue eyes staring me down. And I’m thinking to myself in slow motion: ‘Noooooooooooooo! Don’t throw it to me.’ “
“He zings one about five feet over my head,” said Bauer, “I jump up, somehow miraculously made the catch (and) scored the touchdown. Dan and I were laughing at it running off the field, and that was my last touchdown.”
Ironically, his first happened vs. the Browns, too, during his rookie season of 1977. That wasn’t in Cleveland. It was at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. And it was memorable, a 15-yard score that occurred two days after Bauer buried his father.
“Got my first game ball,” said Bauer. “Got my first touchdown. Gave the ball to my Mom for Mother’s Day, not knowing if I’d ever get another one.”
“So my first touchdown and my last touchdown both had meaningful stories,” said Bauer. “And both were against the Cleveland Browns.”