Not all fun and games

October 14, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

All the world is a playground to Shar Pourdanesh, it seems.

On any given day, the Baltimore CFLs' left tackle can be seen waving his right forearm like a baseball bat -- at a football, of all things.

Or throwing a reasonably tight spiral in an intense, two-man game of football for linemen only. (It's a league of their own, played after practice.)

Or squeezing into a chair at one of two domino tables in the team locker room, his competitive juices overflowing.

"He's a great big kid," offensive coordinator Steve Buratto says of the 6-foot-6, 295-pound Pourdanesh. "He's always doing something, never sitting still."

On the outside, Pourdanesh, 24, is frolicking and carefree. On the inside, he's quite different, as Buratto and his closest friends have come to learn. There is a serious side of the Pourdanesh personality that is grounded in the reality of personal sacrifice.

It comes from seeing the destruction of his homeland in Tehran, Iran, at an early age. It comes from seeing his family separated through his formative years. It comes from being an outcast as a teen-ager growing up in Irvine, Calif., during the Iran hostage crisis.

Life for Pourdanesh has been anything but a playground since he discovered death in Tehran at age 8.

"I loved it there," he said yesterday. "It was comfortable. There was a new rising class of middle-class people. There were great educational programs. It was on its way to becoming a modern country.

"Then there was the revolution. I was 8 when it started. I saw death. I remember martial law. I remember every major street corner had sandbags and machine-gun posts.

"Part of my personality is because of that. Everything is a big joke to me. I try not to show my emotions if things bother me. I don't want people to know what's really going on [inside]. I had to make a big joke about it to be able to go through that."

What Pourdanesh went through was the virtual breakup of his family. His father, a high-ranking hospital administrator, saw the impending disaster and got Shar's two sisters out of Iran. They landed in private school in Ohio.

By the time his father returned to Tehran, it no longer was possible to get a visa to take his son to the United States. So Shar went with his parents to Switzerland in search of a visa. Rejected there, they went to Hamburg, Germany, where

Pourdanesh spent the next 3 1/2 years.

"My parents wanted to get their kids out of hell," Pourdanesh said.

By late 1982, the U.S. government allowed Pourdanesh's mother into the country, he said. He and his father finally arrived in Irvine in June 1983.

When his father returned to Iran in 1984 to consolidate his finances, he was jailed because of his position with the previous Iranian government. He was released, however, when it was unable to prove him guilty of anything, Pourdanesh said.

Because of the sensitivity of his father's political past -- he lives with his wife in Iran today -- Pourdanesh asked that his name not be used in this story.

Not surprisingly, the young Pourdanesh struggled with his transitional lifestyle. Most unsettling was life in Irvine during the hostage crisis.

"I got in a fight every day," he said. "It was horrible. I wanted to go back to Germany. I was saying, 'Why am I here?' I had to lie and say I was half-Persian, half-German."

He ultimately found relief in football. A water polo player and swimmer in Irvine, he was invited onto the football team as a sophomore.

"That was acceptance -- the team attitude," he said. "I wasn't an outcast anymore. I was one of their teammates. Before, I was their enemy."

He was good enough to be recruited to Nevada-Reno as a defensive lineman. A year later, his coaches asked him to convert to offense. "I told them I hated offensive linemen, that they were unathletic, slobby and fat," Pourdanesh said.

But when his father expressed disappointment at his failure to comply, Pourdanesh had a change of heart. "I picked up the phone and said 'I'll play offensive line,' " he said.

As a tackle, he was All-Big West three years. He once went 34 games without allowing a sack. Nevertheless, he went undrafted by the NFL. He got a tryout with the Cleveland Browns last season, but was cut. He wound up in Baltimore largely because Buratto, once a coach at Boise State, remembered his team playing against Nevada-Reno and Pourdanesh.

In his rookie season, Pourdanesh is one of the Canadian Football League's top tackles. At 24, he's already seen more than most people see in a lifetime.

"I've gotten to see a lot of different cultures," he said. "I got to see communism, and so many political systems. Whether it gave me more wisdom, I don't know. But it makes me appreciate this country.

"My experience made me more of a patriot than most Americans."

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