Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2006 | Five burning questions for Hank Bauer, who played special teams and fullback for the Chargers from 1977-82 (he was named to the Chargers’ 40th-anniversary All-Time Team), coached as an assistant on Don Coryell’s staff from 1983-86 and is now the team’s radio color analyst on Rock 105.3 AM.

1) You played for the Chargers when they were upset at home in the first round (1979), lost at home in the AFC championship (1980) and lost on the road in the AFC championship (1981, Cincinnati). What do the 2006 Chargers, who have the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, need to be cautious of or have in their favor?

“The first thing is, you better be playing good football going in. What I really like is they had to play meaningful games for home-field advantage. It keeps you in rhythm. The Colts learned that costly lesson last year. The caution is it’s a one-time shot. It’s not a best-of-seven World Series or four rounds of golf in the Masters. What loses playoff games, when teams are closely matched, are turnovers. If you look back at how we lost every one of the four playoff games (including 1982 as a Wild-Card entry), it was turnovers. You can survive turnovers in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Even though we were the superior team, in 1979 we threw five interceptions and had a field goal blocked (in a 17-14 loss to the Houston Oilers). You’ve also got to be a little lucky. Look at the 1994 (Super Bowl) Chargers. (Miami’s Pete) Stayonovich missed a (last-minute) field goal. People forget about that.”

2) Before Chuck Muncie arrived in a 1980 trade, you were the Chargers’ short-yardage fullback (in 1979, Bauer had 22 carries for 28 yards that were good for eight touchdowns and 13 first downs). What does Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson see at the goal-line that allowed him to break the NFL record for touchdowns in a season?

“When he came into the league, that was one area I thought he could improve, and he certainly has. The biggest thing you need is vision. You’ve got to be able to make decisions quickly and on the move. There is no hesitation. You’ve got to be able to BYOB — BYOB means bring your own blocker or move the pile — go over the top or be a burrowing animal. LT has always had it at the line of scrimmage, and he’s developed it at the goal line. At the goal line, everything happens quicker. It’s a confined space, and you can’t let things develop like you can at the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to hit it and get it. LT is the best at it I’ve seen since Marcus Allen.”

3) Who does Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman remind you of from your era of the NFL?

“I’ll tell you who he reminds me a little of: Lawrence Taylor. The reason is his explosion, incredible power and athleticism. He has a burning desire to completely obliterate you. He dictates game plans. You see very few defensive guys like that. You’ve got to account for him on every one of your protections.”

4) You can be hard on players on your game-day radio broadcasts, which is rare for former players, especially when they’re closely associated with the team. How do you get away with it?

“The players respect me, because they know I do my homework. They know I’ve coached in this league. If you haven’t coached in this league, you don’t really know the game. Players know certain parts of the game, but they don’t know other parts. When I coached with (former Chargers offensive coordinator) Ernie Zampese, I broke down films. I knew offensive philosophy and special teams, but I had to learn defensive philosophy. Sometimes when I’m critical, I’m wrong, and I’ve apologized to players.

When we had a linebacker make what I thought was a bad read and they had a big touchdown run against us, I said he had containment and had to turn the play back in. My call got on the NFL Network, and the player came to me and pointed out he had a stunt and didn’t have inside. I had the luxury of coaching separating my playing and broadcasting days. These guys weren’t my teammates. I get paid to do my job. I criticize them, and I also stick up for guys. I stuck up for (cornerback Quentin) Jammer for years, because I knew he was playing good football. He would get beat because he didn’t get the help he was supposed to have.

Now, look at how Jammer is playing. I watch a lot of tape and think I have a good handle on the team. I think the players respect that. What they don’t respect is someone criticizing them without experience. You look at (quarterback) Philip Rivers. People say he has been struggling, but the casual eye doesn’t see a lot of things. The thing he has done that most young quarterbacks don’t do is manage the game, not turn over the ball and make big plays when he has to. He can get better, yeah, but he’s also not getting a clean pocket, and that includes from the backs, tight ends and offensive linemen. By clean pocket, I mean space around him. We also haven’t had Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker, guys who are good route runners, healthy. It’s important to have guys like McCardell and Parker who are good route runners. Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood and Malcom Floyd are big guys, but you sacrifice route running for size.”

5) Carlsbad High football coach Bob McAllister, your teammate at Cal Lutheran, was named the 2006 State Coach of the Year by CalHiSports.com after leading the Lancers to a second straight CIF San Diego Section Division I title with an unbeaten streak of 20 games in a row. What don’t fans appreciate about players from small college football?

“I’ll give you another guy — our offensive right tackle was Rod Marinelli, the head coach of the Detroit Lions. Cal Lutheran doesn’t sound as sexy as USC or Texas, and the athletes aren’t as big or quick, but some great football players come out of small schools. The thing about our teams is we were smart players who loved the game, and Bobby certainly personified that. He was an undersized guy, who didn’t run well. But he was tough as nails, and he figured out there are other ways to win. I guess that’s what makes small-college players good coaches.”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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