The Outlook Interview: Babe Laufenberg Talks to Julie Rovner; Brandon Hugh (Babe) Laufenberg, 26, is the Washington Redskins' second-string quarterback. Cut from the team in September after losing a highly-publicized competition to fellow back-up Jay Schroeder, Laufenberg rejoined the roster last month after Joe Theismann broke his leg. His main assignment as back-up is impersonating the quarterback of the Redskins' next opponent during practice. Now in his third year in the National Football League, and earning at least $70,000 for the season, Laufenberg is not new to the back-up position.At Stanford, Laufenberg was on the bench behind Steve Dils, now the Los Angeles Rams' third-string quarterback. Then John Elway, now quarterback of the Denver Broncos, arrived and Laufenberg quit, leaving his native California for Missouri, where he again found himself in the shadow of a more heralded thrower, this time Phil Bradley, currently an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. He finally found a starting slot at Indiana, where he went on to set several school passing records in 1981 and 1982 and caught the eye of the Redskins, who made him a sixth-round draft pick in 1983. Laufenberg backed up Joe Theismann and Bob Holly in 1983, then spent the 1984 season on the injured reserve list with a bad shoulder. He was thrust into the limelight last August with a gutsy game-winning performance before a sold-out Kennedy Stadium crowd in a preseason game against the New England Patriots.But the Redskins said they could not afford to keep three quarterbacks. He returned to California, where he was picked up by the San Diego Chargers, then cut again two weeks later when starter Dan Fouts returned to the line-up. When Theismann went down and the Redskins called, Laufenberg was in Mexico on a fishing trip. Laufenberg, who is single, lives in Falls Church in the house he bought before he got cut in September. He says he's saving all his packing crates. Julie Rovner is a Washington writer.
Q: How do you feel when you come back in the locker room after a tough, muddy game with a clean uniform?
A: I try to slip on the way out before the game starts so at least if people are looking down I got some (mud on me), and they say, "Well, he must have gone in. We didn't see it, but he must have been in on something. Special teams or something."
That's the worst part about playing quarterback, I mean, that's all you can do. You don't play special teams. You play quarterback and if you're not playing quarterback, youre not doing anything. It's funny because after every game you don't play, you feel real frustrated. When we lose, I feel like I lost. When we win, I feel like they won. Either way, I don't feel so good after the games.
Q: How do you motivate yourself to stay in shape and to study the game plans when you know the chances of your getting in are pretty small?
A: All it takes is one play. It happened to Jay. One play and you're in. It could be the first play of the game. It could be the last play of the game. Half of my motivation is fear that you can get in there and not know what you're doing.
Q: Have you seen Theismann since you've been back?
A: No, I haven't. I've got to call him though, just to thank him for giving me a job.
Q: You're the one person on the whole roster that the coach prays he'll never have to use. What does that do to your ego?
A: If you're not the starting quarterback out of 45 guys, you're the 45th most important player and then if the guy ahead of you goes down, you go to number one, there's no in- between. Everybody has gone through an apprenticeship here. Theismann waited for Kilmer and Jurgensen. (I don't have) a hangup in terms of pecking order. I want to play just to play.
Q: Do you ever fantasize about what it would be like to be the first- string quarterback?
A: Well, when I was trying to imitate Joe Montana, I asked if his wife would come out for a week just to really get the feel of the whole thing.
Q: What would be the best thing about being a first string?
A: I'd be where I want to be from a professional standpoint and I'd be where I think I can be and where I should be.
Q: What about off the field?
A: I don't think I'd like it. It's hard to say because when you're recognized, it's easy to say I wish I wasn't because everyone that isn't wishes they were. But I think it'd be more of a negative than a positive thing if everybody recognized you and you couldn't go out. It does get to your head. Being brought up in a big family is helpful because you're not spoiled. You can't spoil six kids on an engineer's salary.
Everybody's only out to do things now because you are a Redskin. They're not out to do things for Babe Laufenberg, and when I cease being a Redskin, they'll cease to want to do things for me. You've gotta be aware of that.
Q: What kind of women does the second string quarterback get? Better than the offensive line?
A: Hey, come on down here, girls! Oh, women, I don't get any women, none.
Q: Is that you, or the second string quarterback?
A: That's me.
Q: Joe Montana, before he got married, had women hanging all over him.
A: Did he? I don't know. Women, I don't know.
Q: Do you ever get treated like youre not quite part of the team by the other team members?
A: No. I don't know, maybe theyre talking behind my back. I think I get along pretty much with everybody on the team. I think they respect me as a person and my ability and I don't think anyone on the team would have any doubts about me going into a game and thinking that I could get the job done. See, I consider myself a football player who happens to be a quarterback. A lot of quarterbacks are -- there's a difference.
Q: Like what?
A: In just being tough and being one of the guys. Quarterbacks are quiche-eaters as a rule. And I don't think of myself as a "quarterback." Like Terry Bradshaw wasn't a quarterback. He was tough, he was the kind of guy who liked getting dirty, liked mixing it up. He liked a rough game. That's the way I like to look at myself.
Q: Were you aware that there were signs in the stadium all season saying "Bring Back the Babe?"
A: That's what I heard, the people's choice, not the coaches' choice but the people's choice.
Q: Who were your role models when you were growing up? Your idols, heroes.
A: The doughnut man who used to come around once a day, the ice cream man. Actually, Joe Namath, I took his number -- 12 -- but then (Redskin punter) Steve Cox came in and took it from me. Role models, I mean, football players as role models? My dad, my parents were my role models. If Joe Namath wore a full-length fur coat when I was 10 years old, I didn't ask for a full- length mink coat.
Q: Did you become a football player because you loved the game or because you had an aptitude for it?
A: I had a knack, I could always throw things, baseballs or footballs. I grew to love it. I love playing quarterback and can't think of another position I would want to play. It's the most challenging and maybe the most rewarding. It's the most cerebral, undoubtedly. It's fun, you match up things and you gotta make split-second decisions, and all of a sudden the defense moves, snaps the ball, and you got 11 bodies running around and you gotta find the one guy who's gonna be open and you gotta do it while you got some 300-pounder bearing down on you wanting to take your head off. It's really fun.
Q: What will you do when you can't play football?
A: You mean in, like, 30 years? Actually, I'll probably go to law school. I certainly don't feel limited, like gosh, if I don' play football, I'll starve to death. Football prepares you. You get recruited by a lot of liars in college football and you've gotta be able to decipher who's lying and who's not.
Barring people who lose their parents when they're young or something like that, you're not faced with a lot of tough decisions at 17 generally. I was middle-class America, grew up in a house and all that. It's the first major decision, outside of what to wear to school or how long you can keep your hair, that you make. The worst part about college athletics is there's that 45-or-50- year-old man whose livelihood depends on how I throw a football. Automatically there's this pyramid effect of pressure.
It goes from the head coach and he gives it to the assistants (who) go out and put the pressure on coaches in high schools and the kids -- it's pretty messed up, I think.
Q: Pro football players are not generally thought of as being intellectual powerhouses. You're a bright guy, I imagine brighter than a lot of your teammates?
A: Uh-oh. It's funny the reaction you get from people. It's like, hey, this guy actually strung a complete sentence together. We're just a sample group from the population of the whole country, and I bet if you were to somehow test football players -- don't ask me how -- we would actually be smarter as a whole than if you just picked 45 guys out of a random sample.
Everybody's been to college, or they've seen what a college looks like. When the Redskins called me, they didn't ask what my (grade point average) was.
Q: How much fun is football for you? Do you ever go out in the yard and toss the ball around?
A: Some of the most fun I have is getting ready for training camp. That and when you're playing games. Games are kind of a test. You see guys who look great throwing the ball and you know they've got a strong arm and then they get in a game and all of a sudden they fold. It's like a final exam and I want to take some more exams. First time I've ever said that.
Practice isn't fun. When Bill Walsh recruited me at Stanford he said, "Let's face it, practice isn't fun, football's not fun. Basketball's fun to practice because you're doing the same thing as you are in the game, basically. Football, you'd never last four games if everybody was tackling during practice. It's too physical to do but once a week." All the time I thought I must be really missing something here because in high school coaches would say, "Hey Babe, let's go out and have some fun, and hey, you should love this."
And I'm thinking boy, I really don't. It's 100 degrees out and I'm sitting here in about 15 pounds of pads and I got these idiots yelling at me. But I must be missing something because I'm supposed to be having fun here.
Q: Why were you so eager to come back?
A: Was I eager? Well, that's just part of the job. You don't sit around. In a lot of jobs you have somebody say, "We want you to work for us." And you say, "Give me a couple of weeks and I'll think about it." Football is not like that. I came out without any clothes! I had them sent.
Q: Do you ever feel guilty about taking money and not playing?
A: Oh no. Not at all because the day is going to come when they're not paying me enough so this will just make up for it. It's a high paying profession. All you can do is take the money and run, so to speak. I don't feel guilty for a day, for a minute.
Q: Would you be satisfied spending an entire career doing what you're doing now?
A: No. I don't think this is the climax of my career, the zenith or whatever you want to call it. There's more to come. If you were to say, "Would you be satisfied making money like this for the rest of your life?" I'd say, "Sure," but satisfaction in terms of what you set out to accomplish, no, I couldn't say that I would be satisfied if this were the extent of it.
: Might there come a point where you realize you're not going to start here, that Jay (Schroeder) has really got the job?
A: I don't know when that time might come. It may come sooner than anyone thinks. My first year I had no feelings of, "I've got to get in there and play." I knew I was going to sit. Last year it was kind of the same and now I'm getting a little antsy.
Q: If somebody told you 10 years ago that on your 26th birthday you'd be the backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins, would you have considered that a great achievement or not quite reaching your goal?
A: Ten years ago? Oh, I would have considered it a great achievement. If somebody (had) said I was good enough to have a tryout with them, I would have said, gosh, that's great. There's a million, probably 10 million guys out there who would love to have my job, so I don't know if you want to use the word unfulfilled, as empty as I feel sometimes after games wishing that I was playing. I'm pretty lucky to be in the position that I am. But if I as a player would sit there and say I'm happy, I'm making good money, and I have six months off and you get your face on TV and this is really all I want, then you're in trouble.
Q: Ever worry about getting hurt?
A: I've never been hurt so I never worried about getting hurt. Once you get hurt, you probably worry about it.
Q: It didn't flash through your mind when you saw Theismann go down?
A: I grabbed my leg. No, not really. He's been as durable as anybody in the league. I knew it could happen to anyone and I'm sure he knew but I think the longer you go, the more invincible you feel. It seems like the quarterbacks who get hurt are the (ones) who are always looking around out of bounds. Bradshaw rarely got hurt and he hung in there as much as anyone. I think if you play hard, you don't get hurt. If you deliver a few blows, you're not as susceptible to injury.
Q: Is your family worried about you getting hurt? Does your mother watch you play?
A: Yeah, my mother watches me play. She thinks it's great, too, up until the time you get tackled and then she says, "Oh, why didn't he play baseball?" Shoot, I'm not worried about it, they shouldn't. Of course it's pretty tough to get hurt right now. I'd like the opportunity to be able to get hurt.