- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Baumhower doesn't go out on the town much these days, but when he does he carries a reputation from days past, when he and Linebacker A.J. Duhe were the Cruise Brothers of Broward County, royalty in any beach bar they chose. But Duhe got married in 1980, and the brotherhood cooled a bit. "We did it all for a while, but I don't know, man, I got tired of it, you know what I mean?" Duhe recently told a Miami writer.
Baumhower wearied of it, too. "A.J. and I came in together as rookies in 1977—he was drafted in the first round and I was drafted in the second—and everything was so new to us," he says. "We lived in a three-bedroom suite at the Town & Country Motel in Fort Lauderdale, had maid service, partied a lot, the whole nine yards."
Though still a bachelor at 28, and surrounded by married teammates, Baumhower is in no hurry to settle down completely. He's still got a restless heart, and he'd prefer keeping things light as long as possible. A girl friend, dance instructor Colleen Suchonic, 19, got the drift right away. "The first time I went to his house," she says, "he said to me, 'I want you to meet my friend Ralph.' I was expecting a man, but here comes this little green bird walking down the hallway."
The phone conversation completed, Baumhower moves gingerly into the living room, where a framed reproduction of Winslow Homer's The Gulf Stream hangs on the wall. The print was given to him by Eddie Gerber, a Florida oil man who in the past few years had become Baumhower's fishing buddy, confidant and close friend. (Tragically, Gerber was to die of a heart attack a few days later, on Dec. 2, at age 50.) Gerber was half owner with Baumhower of the Nauti Dolphin, the boat that is tied up behind Baumhower's house. And what a boat it is—a 65-foot, 47-ton, mahogany-hulled, teak-decked beauty with fighting chairs in the stern and staterooms below. The two men bought it in January 1982 for $85,000 when it was rotting and ready to sink and fixed it up themselves. It now has a replacement value of $1.5 million. Gerber's brother-in-law, Jon Scofield, serves as first mate, living aboard and keeping the boat ready for trips across the Gulf Stream to Bimini and other islands in the Bahamas.
Baumhower continues to study the print. In the center of it a ragged black man, a Bahamian fisherman, lies helplessly on the rolling deck of a battered boat in rough seas. In the distance are a tall ship and a waterspout, but it's unclear whether either of them is approaching or leaving. Gape-mouthed sharks are a menacing presence in the foreground. Death or rescue is imminent for the fisherman.
"See that," Baumhower says, pointing to the lower left corner of the print. "Most people don't see that. There's blood in the water." Indeed there is. The fisherman may live, but others have surely died. You become sensitive to such details when you play nose tackle. If you aren't careful, if you don't take care of yourself—even if you're the best—the sharks will get you.
What a position nose tackle is. If somebody burned your house, stole your wife and shot your dog, you might want to put him there. A center beats on the nose tackle on every play, with help from one guard and often both. Tackles trap you. Fullbacks, followed closely by halfbacks, bore into you. Your own linebackers and ends step on top of you. Waves of bodies plow you under, submarine, chop and leg-whip you into human flotsam in an attempt to clear out the middle. And all the while you're only trying to remain approximately where you started, so your pals can make easy tackles. Bad news. Nose tackle nicely fits Milton's vision of hell, a noisy, awesome place he called "Chaos," where "peace and rest can never dwell."
"Nose tackle's a lot like being center stage," Buffett suggested after his concert. "On stage you're always dodging things from the dark. Awhile ago a four-inch steel bolt just missed my head. I got a letter after that, and in it this guy wrote, 'I threw the bolt, but I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to hit you, I was trying to hit your guitar.' Things like that."
When Baumhower came to Miami in 1977 after earning All-SEC honors at Alabama as a defensive tackle, one of the first people who offered him advice was Manny Fernandez, the Dolphin nose tackle who was about to retire. Fernandez had sat out the previous season with knee and shoulder injuries. "Playing nose was my downfall," he told Baumhower. "It could be yours, too."
Baumhower said nothing. There was nothing he could say: Don Shula had coached Baumhower in the Senior Bowl and had drafted him specifically as a nose tackle for the Dolphins' 3-4 defense. And before Baumhower even arrived in camp, the Dolphins' incumbent nose tackle, Randy Crowder, was busted along with Don Reese for selling cocaine. Nose was Baumhower's position, for better or worse.