But nothing is really safe, of course. While snorkeling in the Bahamas not long ago, Baumhower was approached by a curious shark. He tried to push the fish away with his spear, but the spear dropped from his hand and fell 20 feet to the bottom. "The shark wasn't a big one, and it swam away after a while," says Baumhower. "But I was helpless and just scared to death."
The thought seems to evoke perspective. "I don't want to sound like I'm crying about playing nose tackle," he says. "I'm so thankful for the way my career has gone. But there are some things that make the job hard. All the offensive linemen tailoring their jerseys real tight so you can't grab them, for instance. And hanging plates from the backs of their shoulder pads, so you can't get a grip on them, either. And tight ends coming in motion to get you. And the chop block, which is still legal on running plays.
"But my adrenaline gets pumping so hard in games that I barely feel blows that normally would cause pain. I look at the center, but I don't even see him. It's a sacrificial position, and I know that. But we play a real team defense here, and we don't let our egos get in the way. I take pride in that."
Physically, Baumhower is both ideal and unusual for a nose tackle. He's mobile, strong and exceedingly fit—his resting pulse is 47 and his body fat-level of 7.9% is the lowest of any Dolphin lineman. But at 6'5" he is one of the tallest nose tackles in the NFL. Squatness generally is considered an advantage at the position, for the simple reason that it's harder to move a boulder than an upright log. But Baumhower gets around this because he has the legs of a sumo wrestler. "He's the only guy on the team whose knee socks can't stretch past his calves," says Linebacker Bob Brudzinski. "His low center of gravity helps him keep low and keep people from cutting him," says Shula. "If he had normal legs and a big upper body, he'd never play nose."
Emotionally, Baumhower seems out of sync with his job. A nose tackle should be a twitching psychopath with the glare and warmth of Mr. T. Baumhower, though, is calm, courteous, friendly with strangers and always ready to laugh out loud. "Sometimes in a game it's hard to keep your temper," he says. But it's hard to imagine Baumhower losing his.
"He's a very intelligent, aware player," says Shula. He also seems too even-keeled to get into a fight. And he's so softhearted that he sometimes refers to Ralph, his parrot, and Captain, his dog, as "my kids."
Baumhower is known for never bad-mouthing an opponent and for reacting with decorum after getting a sack, forms of dignity that manifest the "calm confidence" he says he needs to play well. He doesn't understand players like the Jets' Mark Gastineau, whose ludicrous sack dance is the epitome of egocentricity in football today. "I think Mark just wants people to like him," says Baumhower.
The oldest of Bob and Patricia Baumhower's five children, young Bob grew up in good spirits in Michigan and Florida. "He was a great kid—easygoing, friendly and sensitive," says Patricia. "And his teachers always liked him." The family moved around a lot—Baumhower's dad, who's now a regional sales director for a hydro-filter company in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was always getting transferred—and because of that, young Bob seldom played organized sports., "I didn't have any heroes when I was growing up, except maybe Elvis," he says. "I wasn't into sports at all. Like that autograph session the other night—I never would have been one of the kids there."
He didn't play football until his junior year at Palm Beach Gardens High in Palm Beach, Fla., and he went out for the team only because "somebody told me it would be a good way to make friends." That same year his dad decided he could use some toughening up and talked him into wrestling a 450-pound bear at a local boat show. Baumhower tried to take the bear down low, and the animal knocked him across the ring. He then went high, and for a triumphant moment held the bear in a hammerlock. An instant later the bear was sitting on top of Baumhower, licking him with its long, stinking tongue. It was a show of force that Baumhower cannot forget.
At Alabama, Baumhower made the starting defensive unit during spring practice of his freshman year. But he came back the next fall in terrible shape, and Bear Bryant, a man who also was familiar with wrestling bears, demoted him to fifth string. Baumhower quit in a rage. Bryant called him into his office and ripped into him as nobody ever had. He told Baumhower that he was lazy and wasting his talents.