As someone who worked for the Washington Redskins for 37 years, Bubba Tyer is full of stories about the “Over The Hill Gang,” ”The Hogs,” and franchise legends such as George Allen and Joe Gibbs. The longtime trainer can tell you who misbehaved, who played the best pranks, and which guys hung around in the bars at training camp.
When it comes to a Chris Hanburger, the stories take a totally different tone.
“He didn’t go in for a lot of frills,” Tyer said. “He didn’t go in for a lot of camaraderie. He certainly had friends, but to say he’d come over and hang out and shoot the bull with you, he didn’t do that. He went home.”
With that in mind, how is the linebacker from the great Redskins teams of the 1970s going to handle the fuss and fame Saturday, when he’s inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
“He would rather just have somebody say, ‘Hey you’re in the Hall of Fame’ and that’d be the end of it,” Tyer said. “He probably will give the shortest acceptance speech on record.”
Yep. It’s a safe bet.
“He’s got that right,” Hanburger said from his home in Darlington, S.C. “They’ve limited us in time, which I think is great. They’ve had players in the past speak for so long. No matter how many people you try to remember or thank, I don’t care if you stay up there for two hours, you’re still going to leave people out. I think it’s the way to go. Shorten it, keep it general - and get it over with.”
Hanburger had the same no-nonsense approach as the on-field leader of the Redskins defense. An 18th-round draft pick in 1965, he was a mainstay in Washington through 1978 and was voted to nine Pro Bowls. He had the potentially daunting responsibility of calling the plays for Allen — a demanding, perfectionist coach who valued defense first and foremost. This was long before the days of intricate signals and headsets, which now allow coaches to dictate nearly every move and formation from the sideline.
Of course, it helped that Allen had overloaded the team with veterans, thus the “Over The Hill Gang.”
“I wouldn’t call it daunting — if you knew the system, which we did,” Hanburger said. “What made it work for us, we had mature players who understood what everybody did in every defense, I would say 99.9 percent of the time. It was a lot of fun to control the game right there on the field.
“We could audiblize at any time, and we could audiblize to any defense we had, whether we had practiced it or not. When you have mature players, it takes a lot of pressure off the coach.”
Although his accolades were many and the Redskins became an NFC power with Hanburger patrolling the field - he started the team’s first Super Bowl at the end of the 1972 season, a loss to the undefeated Miami Dolphins - he had to wait more than three decades after his retirement to enter the Hall as a senior nominee. He figured he was never going to make it.
“I never even gave it any thought, to be honest with you,” Hanburger said.
“Other than the fact that if it ever happened, it would be wonderful and I’m not going to let it worry me at all. That’s just the way I am about things. I had a job to do, and I tried to do it to the best of my ability.”
Hanburger’s life, including his football demeanor, was shaped by a military background. Born in Fort Bragg, N.C., he had a father, uncle and grandfather who were career military. He headed to the Army for two years before going to the University of North Carolina.
“I knew coming out of high school that I was not mature enough,” he said. “I certainly hadn’t applied myself in high school. And I needed to grow up a little bit.”
An accident broke the bone underneath his eye socket and sent him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His vision eventually recovered, but his right eye and right ear remain slightly higher than his left eye and ear. He said the Army made him “very regimented and pretty much a creature of habit.”
That made him perfect for a coach like Allen.
After he retired, Hanburger stayed in the Washington area and often would go goose and duck hunting. He also played in his former teammates’ various celebrity golf tournaments. Finally, he got tired of the traffic, the taxes and the rat race and moved to South Carolina, where he has no plans whatsoever to host his own golf tournament.
“The fewer people who know where I am,” he said, “the happier I am.”
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