Dan Bunz was spotted in Europe a few years ago, recognized as “that Super Bowl guy.”
Yep. That was him. Rangy No. 57 on your television, all those years ago, zeroing in on Charles Alexander. It came on third down at the Cincinnati Bengals’ 1-yard line in the third quarter on Jan. 24, 1982. A textbook solo tackle, a missile to a submarine. The missile won, and so did the 49ers, 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI.
Bunz delights in sharing stories on any continent. His eyes widen, as if he’s about to devour a ballcarrier, and then he offers up all the lusty details. What down it was. How his chin strap split. Why the play still resonates.
The Oakmont High School product and lifelong Placer County resident was in his verbal element Wednesday afternoon, introduced as a member of the 2017 Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame class.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Bunz will be inducted Friday night at Thunder Valley Casino with former NFL quarterback Ken O’Brien, former major-league baseball star Derrek Lee, former major leaguer and current broadcaster Buck Martinez, ex-Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila and Special Olympics athlete Patrick Underly.
“The tackle, ‘The Stop,’ it’s the highlight of my career, and I don’t mind talking about it,” Bunz said with a laugh. “People tell me exactly where they were, what they were doing, when I made the tackle, even in Europe. Europe! I’ve had people go berserk!”
People have called Bunz a bit berserk, or worse, and he rolls with it. He said one has to be a bit of a loon to play middle linebacker. And this is a man comfortable in his own skin, or jersey. Bunz and his wife, Liz, a retired Rocklin dentist, own the 13.5-acre Bywater Hollow Lavender Farm in Lincoln. Bunz, 61, is also in his 22nd year teaching physical education at Sutter Middle School, which he says, “I absolutely love.”
Bunz may still have linebacker-tough hands, looking as if they could rip a full beer can in half, but he has a delicate touch. He sews his share of lavender-scented eye pillows. Bunz and lavender. Let that sink in a moment. Bunz explains that he has built up a lot of estrogen with a wife he adores and two daughters he equally cherishes.
“You don’t think tough guys can’t enjoy lavender?” Bunz said smiling. “It’s my feminine side, all this estrogen. I know, I know. What’s up with Dan Bunz growing lavender?”
As a child growing up in Roseville, Bunz took his lumps from older siblings Ben and Dennis, who took great glee in pulping baby-brother Bunz.
“My brothers were really tough on me,” he said Wednesday during a media session at Thunder Valley. “They roughed me up ... I was the smallest. I had a doll. I had little bears, and they made fun of it. They challenged me. I got shot with a BB gun (points to forehead). Got shot with a hunting arrow once. Got tangled up in a barbed-wire fence after they pushed me into it. Got rolled down a hill in a garbage can and got knocked out. They actually made me a lot tougher. I figured if I could handle my two older brothers ... (the NFL) was no big deal.”
At about the same time Bunz was dodging BB guns and collecting his marbles after barrel roles, his first football experience was humbling. “I was cut by the Roseville Bobcats,” Bunz said. “I rode my bike home crying.”
Bunz made the team the next season, partly by stuffing his pockets with enough mass to make the required weight. Bunz logged eight NFL seasons, a run that included starting in two Super Bowl victories with the 49ers. He’s forever known for a tackle that NFL Films ranked the greatest in history. Football sticks with him beyond his Super Bowl fame.
Years after making his historic tackle, Bunz says his knees, hips, shoulders, neck and back ache. He also fears short-term memory loss. He has seen what has happened to other former players and told his family that if he suddenly starts “to lose it,” it would stem from years of repeated football collisions.
Bunz was part of a lawsuit levied by retired players against the NFL to cover potential medical costs.
“I’ve been tested (for memory loss),” Bunz said. “I do worry about that. I’ve seen guys fall down the rabbit hole. You’re the last one to know that you’re starting to lose it. I’m not worried about the money. I want to make sure I get listed, and if I do lose it, my wife doesn’t have to pay for it.”
As for football in general, Bunz has no regrets. “I had a great career,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”