When playing stickball in Guttenberg, N.J., eating pies competively in Buffalo or lining up at defensive guard for Maryland, Ted Klaube finds a way to do two surprising things Win and laugh.
That this jokester of transparent athletic talent has become the leading single-season tackler in Maryland history is no longer a surprise to those players who have been within earshot when Klaube bellylaughs at someone he's flattened.
"He's just got a big heart," explained Bruce Palmer, who plays next to Klaube. "He can do about anything."
Splicing the personality of the Fronz with the emotionalism of Gen. George Patton, Klaube moved up this season from whos-he? status to become Maryland's most consistent player and its only All-Conference selection.
To do it, he used roughly the same tactics that made him sixth-grade stickball champion in Guttenberg and 1977 pie-eating champion of Hollywood Hughes' Diner in Buffalo.
"I beat everyone by half a pie," said Klaube, "so I started eating other guys' pies."
Characteristically, Klaube never feels he's had enough. When he finishes destroying his blocker, he'll move on to someone else's, which helps explain why Klaube led this and all Maryland teams in tackles with 136 for a season. This despite the fact that he plays at defensive guard and Maryland's wide-tackle-six defense if designed more for linebackers to do the actual slaying.
Klaube is quick to point out that linebacker Brad Carr headed the tackle column most of the season, and, had he stayed healthy for all 11 games as did Klaube, "he would have made it close."
But Klaube had a mission. During the summer he told offensive lineman Mike Yeates, "I'm going to be the best in the country," feeling he was cheated last season when he broke a thumb and played with a pin in it. Klaube has questionable size (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and speed (5.1 in the 40), so depends almost entirely on his will.
"He prepares mentally all weeks," said Yeates. "He tries harder than anyone I know. He'll die before he comes off the field. Everything he has, he uses to the maximum. After the game he's exhausted."
Klaube's cheerleading and emotional outbursts are well-known, but because of his playground personality few would suspect that prior to games he reads from the Bible to Palmer and Yeates.
"Do you read the Bible? You should," said Klaube. "In psalms, I think it's verse 18, line 37, there's my favorite line about pursuing enemies and overtaking them. We get together and have a little mass."
Friends describe Klaube as understanding, unique, crazy, a great guy, reliable, and not playing with a full deck.
Because his enthusiasm knows no bounds, Klaube occasionally has cruised the campus in his infamous beat-up Plymouth (the Blue Bullet) without confining his routes to the streets.The various stories have reached legend proportions.
To coach Jerry Claiborne, who would ideally like to coach nothing but altar boys and Rhodes Scholars, Klaube's antics were not always so funny.
"A couple of times, he didn't think I was going to make it through," said Klaube. "He never actually said it. But he did tell me, "You'll get no respect by being crazy.'
"I'm not trying to be crazy. I respect coach Claiborne and I don't want to put a damper on his football program. So I've calmed down a little bit. I'd never calm down altogether. I've just refined it a little bit."
It's taken Claiborne some time to adjust. But when his team takes the field Thursday night against Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Bowl at Birmingham, Ala., he'll even wish there were more like No. 61.
"If everyone could have an attitude like Ted Klaube," said Claiborne, "we would never lose."
The newly refined Klaube is a member of the Loyal Order 453 of Moose, an organization generally populated by middle-aged men.
"It's very patriotic," said Klaube. "In the interview they ask you if you love America and are dedicated to the flag and stuff like that. I shoot the breeze with the old guys, listen to their war stories. This is a great club."
Palmer and Yeates are more familiar with the Klaube who struts onto a dance floor like his hero, Jackie Gleason, and then does his incomparable version of the Camel Walk. They know the Klaube who went to Yankee games at Baltimore with hand-painted signs saying unkind things about Reggie Jackson, and then used the leftover spray paint to write "the Blue Bullet" across the back end of his car.
"Back home, my friends fool around and do stuff like that, name their cars," said Klaube, who thrives on his Jersey accent and tough-guy style.
"I grew up in a city atmosphere. Guttenberg is five minutes from New York. it wasn't the slums, but there was some pretty rough football. It ain't elaborate football, you know what I mean? Just hard-hitting. Obviously, that's the way I like it."
Although he was a good wrestler and something of a discus thrower, Klaube's undisputed love was always football.
"It's definitely my favorite," said Klaube. "It's a good way to hit somebody without getting in trouble. You can express yourself on the field, what kind of person you'd like to be."