What made Bolts' Hank Bauer a 'cyclonic' special-teams star

The Chargers' Hank Bauer explains what made him one of the greatest special teams' coverage players of all time.

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.

It's astounding.

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."

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