The face and voice were familiar, if not the digits.
“Excuse me,” the tanned senior citizen said, “is this where you register for the 35-39 age-group?”
Bobby Beathard was back, cracking jokes and crunching numbers. Beathard, the former Chargers general manager, was at the same place he is every August: the World Bodysurfing Championships near the Oceanside Pier.
“We don’t plan anything for this time of the year,” Beathard said. “This is fun.”
So is Beathard, 76, serving as a reminder of electric memories, like those great Chargers teams he built.
Ah, 1994, back when the Chargers meant the Super Bowl and not a super rebuilding project.
But one also remembers the clunkers Beathard assembled, and did he really draft Ryan Leaf?
Beathard’s fingerprints were on the good, bad and Bolt ugly, and his Cheshire grin is just as wide when discussing them all.
In this era when NFL general managers seldom smile and play every card snug to the vest, Beathard is a refreshing dose from a different time.
The irrepressible Beathard was hell bent on constructing solid Chargers rosters, always, of course, in his own zany manner. Status quo be damned, Beathard would swap first-round picks, take fliers on players far from the college football factories and try to find a needle while others searched for the haystack.
But he also had balance, embracing the coastal North County lifestyle like an undrafted gem, jumping in the ocean from Swami’s to Stone Steps with alarming regularity.
“He used to call me every day, tell me how many waves he rode and how long he was out,” said Teddy, an old friend from Santa Monica. “I couldn’t believe it when he moved.”
The surf rat did the dosy doe to Tennessee years ago, a waltz few would have predicted. But the lure of catching his grandsons play prep football trumped catching tasty tubes near his old Leucadia digs.
Those kids have now grown: C.J. Beathard could be Iowa’s starting quarterback; Bobo Beathard is a running back at Appalachian State.
But Beathard stayed forever young, just like his August trips to Oceanside never revealed an expiration date. Beathard, who finished sixth Sunday in the 65-and-older division, led everyone in backslaps and being the center of tales of shifting tides gone by.
“I’ve been doing it for so many years, that at my age, it’s about the seeing all these guys that have been doing it for so long,” Beathard said. “They still have the passion to get in the ocean and it’s fun. Especially when you get good waves.”
On this day, Neptune sent the good stuff elsewhere.
“I came all the way from Tennessee to see these big waves,” Beathard joked, hoping he could rib Mother Nature into supplying something with size.
Beathard dipped his toe in and was given a reminder of the chilly Pacific Ocean. After vacationing on the East Coast and splashing in its warm waters, Beathard reached for some support.
“I did bring a wet suit,” he said, sheepishly. “I’m going to be a wimp and wear it.”
Just then someone interrupted, wanting to say ‘hello.’ Then there was the son of someone else, excited to meet someone whose imprint on the NFL shows seven Super Bowl appearances with Kansas City, Miami, Washington and, of course, San Diego.
“Hey aren’t you too old to enter this?” Beathard told the strapping teenager, with his hair askew — much like Beathard’s.
The years have been kind to Beathard, his youthful exuberance evident. He was always a mixture of Huck Finn and the absent-minded professor, and we’re happy to report that hasn’t changed.
What’s different, and something Beathard couldn’t ignore, was visiting Oceanside minus a surf session with Junior Seau. The two shared their love for the water, laughs and all things Chargers.
Seau is gone, but he’ll always be Beathard’s first pick when he was on the Chargers’ watch.
“It still seems so hard to believe,” Beathard said. “Even when I come out here I accidentally think I’m going to see Junior when I get here, because I always did. I drove by Oceanside High School the other day and thought again how unbelievable it is.”
Seau was one of a kind. Ditto Beathard. May they’ll surf again and wouldn’t it be just like the unconventional Beathard to pull it off.
Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on 1090 AM each Monday and Friday morning. He can be reached at [email protected]