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The problem, as Oakland Raider Wide Receiver Bob Chandler sees it, was that "I never wanted notoriety for anything other than my playing ability. That's why I had no notoriety." That was before he appeared pretty much in the altogether in the pages of the January 1982 issue of Playgirl magazine. "Strange, isn't it," says Chandler, "that after 11 years of busting my ass on the football field, I get the most attention for spending eight hours exposing my ass?"
As far as she was concerned, Chandler's wife, Marilyn, didn't care that he'd posed for the picture—what the heck, $10,000 is $10,000—but she asked him in genuine amazement, "Why do they want you?" His teammates were laughing so hard it was difficult to practice. They soon began referring to Chandler as The Slut. As for opponents, well, they were beside themselves. When Chandler lined up against Seattle, one of the Seahawks hollered at him, "Hey, Bobby, cute little stance." And for Chandler's mother, Barbara, the problem was "explaining it to my church group."
Anyway, Chandler now has notoriety. Which, ironically, may have the salutary effect of focusing attention not so much on his body—"If they were going to photograph this body, they had to do it fast. It's going downhill rapidly," he says—as on his extraordinary playing ability. As he prepares for his 12th NFL season Chandler is just 30 catches shy of his 400th career reception. From 1975 through 1978, he caught 220 passes for the Buffalo Bills, more than any other receiver in the NFL during that period. After missing almost the entire 1979 season with a separated shoulder, he came back in 1980 to lead the Super Bowl-champion Raiders in receptions with 49, including 10 for TDs, which tied him for second in NFL scoring catches behind then-Charger John Jefferson, who had 13. Last year at age 32 and despite missing most of the first half of the season with a ruptured spleen, he grabbed 26 more passes and had the highest yards-per-catch average, 17.6, of his career.
What's happening is that it's finally occurring to people that Chandler—CELEBRITY NUDE on the cover blurb—is one of the top wide receivers in the game. Around the Raiders, Chandler is favorably compared with the legendary Fred Biletnikoff. Says Biletnikoff, "None of the league's other receivers even belong in the class of Bob Chandler. They just play the position; he understands it."
Chandler, a thinking man's pro football player who runs impeccable routes, was sitting in his home in Whittier, Calif. the other day, watching movies of Biletnikoff at work. "Amazing," said Chandler of Biletnikoff's techniques. Chandler has film—seven reels of it—of almost all of the 589 receptions Biletnikoff made from 1965 through 1978, and he marvels at the way Biletnikoff backs up defensive backs, at his steps, at the positioning of his hands.
Fact is, it's a travesty that Chandler has never been selected for the Pro Bowl. He agrees. "It's embarrassing," he says. "But you can't carry your highlight film around with you." His biggest liability is that he spent the first nine of his 11 NFL seasons in Buffalo, 30 miles north of Gowanda and 35 miles northwest of Varysburg. Plus, he not only played in a run-oriented offense dominated by O.J. Simpson but also on a perennially poor team, which led to the suspicion that Chandler was making a lot of meaningless catches late in games in which the Bills were hopelessly behind.
A couple of weeks ago, sitting poolside at Julie's restaurant near the USC campus, his old stomping ground, Chandler considered his plight. "In the total scope of life, I've accomplished nothing," he says. "Except that I have gotten to bide my time and be a kid for a long while. And it's fun being paid a lot of money to be a kid." In his case, around $225,000 a year, which should help explain his three Mercedes, his Ferrari and why he is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a pair of ostrich-skin cowboy boots. Marilyn, on the other hand, still buys her dresses on sale in basements. "She's cheap to have around," says Bob.
Perhaps Chandler's lack of celebrity stemmed from the fact that little in his appearance or résumé suggests a gridiron hero. At 6'1", 180 pounds, he doesn't even come close to looking like a football player. He's California through and through—he's learning to play the saxophone at $10 a lesson because "it's mellow." Last August, after eight years of off-season perseverance, he earned his law degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. "Not long after I started pro fooball," says Chandler, "I realized this could all end real fast and I'd better be prepared to do something else. I felt a law degree would give me credibility after football. Besides, I noticed that after each season I'd come home and find I'd forgotten how to spell, write and read. Law school reminded me how."
Moreover, he's a five-handicap golfer, he had a radio show the last two seasons on a San Francisco station and he's enrolled in an acting class in Burbank. "In football," he says, "I've learned to mask my emotions. I try to look the same whether I catch a touchdown pass or drop one. Acting, on the other hand, is being totally uninhibited. What I'm learning is to let my emotions dictate my behavior rather than my mind getting in the way. So next season, when you see me cry after a touchdown, you'll know why." The point is, he's preparing for life after football. "Mostly," he says, "I'm anxious to get into something, like being a sportscaster, where the body can rest."
His body will appreciate that. Not only has he often been hurt, but also Chandler seems to invite injuries. He doesn't wear knee pads or hip pads and only Pop Warner-style shoulder pads. "I resent people dictating what I should wear," he says. "Besides, I do this because I think it enhances my performance. I could be protected like an armadillo, but then I might play like one." No wonder he got sore when a Buffalo coach gigged him at practice because his chin strap was unbuckled; no wonder he loves the Raiders where no two guys march to the same drummer.