"At first I hated it," says Baumhower. "But a lot of that was because the center and two guards I was practicing against were Jim Langer, Bob Kuechenberg and Larry Little, three All-Pros, maybe the best trio ever. They bounced me around like a pinball. But I learned a lot, and that made playing other teams easier."
But there were some things nobody could prepare him for. Against St. Louis in 1978, Cardinal Center Tom Banks would back up and, as Baumhower charged forward, guards Terry Stieve and Bob Young would hit him high and low from the sides, spinning him like a baton. Then in a 1979 playoff game against Pittsburgh, Baumhower met Steeler Center Mike Webster for the first time. "He ran up to the line and said, 'Hi, Bob, have a good game today,' and then he knocked me five yards downfield," says Baumhower. "I was just starting to feel confident and he took me to school."
Nobody takes Baumhower to school these days. "We know he'll do his job," says Duhe, "and that gives us the confidence to play our own game and not worry about anything else."
"He holds the whole middle together," says Defensive End Doug Betters. "I get 'garbage' sacks because of him, because he chases people into my arms."
Baumhower has played in three of the last four Pro Bowls, and he has established a number of Dolphin team records, for tackles by linemen and the like. But his stats aren't important. What's meaningful is that Miami's team defense is always on top. Players come and go, Killer Bees fall by the wayside, and the D is still tough. Assistant Head Coach-Defense Bill Arnsparger, who after the season will leave to become the head coach at LSU, deserves a lot of the credit, but so does Baumhower.
Shula admits as much. "I've always likened football to baseball, in that you have to be strong down the middle," he says. "Bob is just solid in the middle, and he's always there."
Indeed he is. He has had surgery on his left knee and both elbows, but he hasn't missed a game since coming to the Dolphins. Last summer Miami owner Joe Robbie signed Baumhower to a four-year contract with a face value of approximately $515,000 per annum. Counting various perks and sweeteners, the contract is actually worth a good deal more than that. "When it was signed, without a doubt it made Bob the highest-paid lineman in the NFL," says his agent, Howard Slusher.
Robbie, who isn't a profligate man, made the deal for a couple of reasons. First, he didn't want to lose stars to the USFL the way he had lost Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to the WFL in 1975, and Baumhower was being wooed by the USFL Jacksonville Bulls. Second, Robbie wanted to re-sign Shula. And insiders said Shula wouldn't sign unless several key players, Baumhower among them, were safely in the Dolphins' fold. With his team intact, Shula recently signed a three-year contract for $2.6 million.
The big money hasn't changed Baumhower, a man who dislikes fancy clothes and who'll drive a good distance to get the cheapest gas for his 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL. All it has done is give him more freedom to do what he wants off the field.
"I talked with Manny Fernandez recently and he said, 'Remember what I told you six years ago,' " says Baumhower. "And I do think about getting hurt now. I don't worry about it, but I know it'll happen. I'm trying to make the most of the time I have left in football. But what I work for is that." He gestures at his TV screen, which is playing a videotape he made of some recent trips on the Nauti Dolphin. The blues of the sea and sky are enticingly serene. Miami Linebacker Kim Bokamper holds up a kingfish and moves it toward the camera until its mouth envelops the screen. Some of the skipper's guests stand in knee-deep translucent water off deserted beaches, talking quietly. The calm is so far from what Baumhower does for a living that it seems unreal.