Hearing is no big loss for Hack

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 PM ET

HAMILTON -- Dave Hack stands in the huddle of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and listens to quarterback Danny McManus call out a play.

To the unassuming eye it is nothing important, unless you're aware the big offensive lineman is cocking his left ear inward to hear what is being said because he is mostly deaf in his right ear.

Hack can hear muffled sounds, but can't decipher what is being said to him unless he turns to the left. But he hasn't let it affect his career as one of the best offensive tackles in the Canadian Football League. He has been a full-time fixture with the Tiger-Cats since 1998 and has been an East Division all-star five times since 1999.

Sitting outside the Tiger-Cats locker room earlier this week, the 33-year-old New York native talked publicly for the first time about his condition, a subject that is not commonly known. In fact, Tiger-Cats' second-year head coach Greg Marshall had no idea Hack had a hearing problem.

"The guys that I hang out with and talk to know," Hack said. "I will always try and sit to their right-hand side so that I can hear them with my left ear. I consciously try and make it so that I'm positioned to where I can hear people.

"I've never thought of it as a disability. As a kid it was never presented to me that way and I never really thought of it that way. It's just something that I have. It's a bit of a physical issue that a lot of people have and I've dealt with it and here I am. It's not a thing that I think necessarily has held me back. It's just something that I have to concentrate more when people are talking.

"I've never considered it to be something that's hindered me."

Hack's hearing problems began as a child. He had ear aches, but never to the point where it became a serious concern. And similar to most elementary school children, he underwent hearing tests, but it never became an issue. He had no family history of hearing problems.

He played college ball at the University of Maryland, but it didn't affect him. The few occasions he played left tackle he could hear well enough because the crowds didn't make enough noise. That changed when he went to Hamilton, where crowd noise at Ivor Wynne Stadium is not unlike smoke billowing from the steelmill stacks.

---

Hack began his CFL career with the Tiger-Cats in 1996, filling in for injured right tackle Dwayne Morgan for a couple games. The Tiger-Cats released him a month later and he didn't resurface with the team again until re-signed in 1998. He and two other tackles flip-flopped in training camp on the right and left side and he had to deal with his hearing problem. He didn't burst off the line of the scrimmage from the left side as well as the right because of his difficulty hearing the snap count and it impacted on his play.

"I never really said anything," he recalled. "Obviously I wasn't hearing the cadence the same way I did from the right side."

He was shifted to the right side because he played better than on the left. Had he been forced to man the left side, he might have had a hard time making the team.

McManus, who has been a teammate of Hack's for the last seven years, recalled the first time the 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle with the beefy upper arms disclosed he had a hearing problem. It stemmed from the time Hack had been asked to audition at left tackle and he told McManus he couldn't do it. McManus wondered what was that big moving from the right side to the left, at which point Hack said he wouldn't be able to hear him.

"That's when you kind of put one and one together and realized he has a hearing loss in his right ear," McManus said.

McManus said he's never noticed a situation in a game in which Hack's hearing loss affected his play.

"He's been pretty good at it," McManus said. "You don't really see it as being a problem. He's used to it, he has been able to adapt to it. If he doesn't hear in the huddle, he'll wait for me to break the huddle and then he'll ask me again."

McManus had a teammate in Edmonton, defensive lineman Jed Roberts, who had a pronounced hearing problem and wore an aid. Hack does not wear a hearing device.

"Those guys they adapt, and we have to adapt to them, too," McManus said. "Sometimes talking to Dave on a plane he'll be one row away from me, but it's his right ear that's to me and I realize he's not hearing me. He's not just ignoring me. He's just not hearing me. That's the only thing, but on the field you don't notice anything."

Receiver Mike Morreale echoed that thought.

"I don't think it really limits him because he does such a good job in that spot," Morreale said. "Just in conversation, when he's leaning towards you with the one good ear, I'm like, 'Hey, what are you doing?' And he'll say, 'Talk to the good ear not the bad ear.' So he's handling it great. It has never been a situation on the football field."

But it has been in the locker room -- in a humourous way.

"The guys always kind of get on me because I'm not a big music guy," Hack said. "I like music, but I don't like it real loud because then I really can't hear (what's being said). If there's loud music in the locker room, I really have to turn to whoever it is that's talking to me to hear him. That's one reason everyone thinks I'm a music-hater, but I'm really not. It's because I can't hear really well."

Hack said there have been times, for example, when someone said something to him and he didn't hear it and asked to have it repeated.

"Sometimes it makes me a little edgy," he said. "If I didn't necessarily hear what you said, I can take it the wrong way. I need to be cognizant of the fact I don't hear well and get the person to repeat what they said."

Conversely, he has managed to use his hearing loss to his advantage. He'll literally turn a deaf ear to someone if he's not keen on listening to what they're saying and will nod as if he's hearing when, in fact, he had no idea what was uttered.

Unless it happens to be a member of the rabid Tiger-Cats' fans, to whom he's always willing to listen. The fans have had a lot to talk about this year with the team last in the league with a 1-8 record. The Tiger-Cats broke their eight-game win streak in their last game to give the fans plenty of reason to cheer.

"Any time you have 28,000 fans for an 0-8 team, it proves the theory that we have the greatest fans in the league, so I want to hear what they have to say, whether it's good or bad," he said.

---

Hack routinely sits furthest to the right in the Tiger-Cats' sideline dugout to hear everything being said from the coaches and teammates. That shields him from the fans, so he can't hear what they're saying.

"When I watch the game I get real excited, I want to win," he said. "I want to do well and for me it's best to worry about what I need to do to be a better football player and help our offence."

There was one time last year when a fan leaned over and said something to the players in the dugout. Hack doesn't know what the fan said -- because the comments were made in the direction of his bad ear and he happened to be talking to someone -- only that it wasn't something kind.

Tomorrow the noise level will be ratcheted up a few notches for the annual Labour Day game at Ivor Wynne Stadium against the hated Toronto Argonauts. Chances are Hack will be too preoccupied to hear what is being said. But afterward he'll be all ears.

Well, at least with his left ear.


Videos

Photos