What made Bolts' Hank Bauer a 'cyclonic' special-teams star
There are plenty of special-teams standouts that you've heard of but who aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Guys like Billy "White Shoes" Johnson … and Steve Tasker … and Bill Bates … and Brian Mitchell … and Mel Gray.
But there's someone who isn't as well known … but should be … and who was so highly respected by his peers that he was the special-teams captain and MVP for the San Diego … not Los Angeles … Chargers, and, Hank Bauer, will you step forward?
Bauer was an undrafted free agent out of Cal Lutheran who went on to set the NFL's single-season record for special-teams tackles (52), including 38 unassisted and seven in one ballgame, and, yes, that's outstanding. But it's more than that.
So we wanted to know his secret, and Bauer, now a national radio analyst for Sports USA, was only too willing to dish on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
"I've had a lot of time to look back because it happened a long time ago," he said, "and I think there was a perfect storm of a 'cyclonic' special-teams player that was in the making that I had no clue of. I played nose tackle/fullback in high school in Orange County and was an all-CIF (California Interscholastic Federation), all-Orange County nose tackle.
"So I learned all the defensive moves (like) how to get off blocks, the swim move, the rip-and-under. I learned all of those defensive moves when I was in high school. Then I went to college, and I played running back.
"But I also played rugby. And I even played rugby in the offseason my first couple of years. Just loved the sport. And, if you know anything about rugby, there are 15 to a side, it's a bigger field, one official. There are ball patterns, it's movements, but it's really open-field tackling. And you can't take wasted steps in the open field, or you're going to get beat.
"You add all those things up: I had the components of a defensive player and maybe the mentality of that; I had the skills of a ballcarrier and all the other skills of pass protection that you have to use as a running back. You've got to do that in punt protection. So I had all the elements covered."
Bauer was such an accomplished special-teams performer that in 2009 he was named one of the 50 Greatest Chargers. Then, last week he as named to the first team of Rick Gosselin's all-time NFL special-teams unit, and there's a good reason: Bauer was fearless -- so fearless, in fact, that he played nearly half a season with what later was diagnosed as a broken neck.
"Had to retire because of it," he said. "I played seven games that year with that. They took an X-ray but it didn't show the fracture. I went from bench-pressing 430 to where I couldn't lift the bar. I couldn't lift a pan up off the stove with my left arm. (So) I knew something was seriously wrong. My whole left side started to shrink, and the pain was unbelievable. But we medicated back then.
"When I finally saw a specialist and they did a spinal tap and a contrast scan, I had surgery immediately. I wouldn't have done it, had I known. But I played seven games with it and very thankful I'm alive, I'm walking, I'm talking and able to play golf and work out. Not pain-free, mind you, but living a pretty good lifestyle here."