Family Of Fortune -- Athletic Prowess, Leadership All Part Of Mcgwire Legacy

KIRKLAND - In a league where hundreds of players have climbed out of ghettos, Dan McGwire climbed out of a hot tub.

He knows he was lucky.

"Things have gone well for our family, but we don't plan it," the Seattle Seahawks' second-year quarterback said yesterday. "Things just happen that way."

McGwire grew up with two supportive parents in a large house with a swimming pool in Claremont, a suburb of Los Angeles. He has never had a broken bone, or even a cavity. And his disposition has reflected his good fortune.

"Dan has always been a real happy and upbeat type," said his mother, Ginger, who went to high school at Seattle's Holy Names Academy. "He's not real moody. Even as a baby and growing up, everything was easy for him."

Success seems to run in the family.

McGwire's parents - John, a dentist who grew up in Spokane, and Ginger - have raised five sons. Two have become major-league athletes, and everyone in the family agrees they did it without being pushed at home.

"We never forced them into doing anything they didn't want to do," said the elder McGwire, a University of Washington graduate. "Our attitude was, `It's there if you want it, fine.' "

Dan's brother Mark, the Oakland A's first baseman who leads major-league baseball in home runs, said, "If we had wanted to take singing lessons, which none of us did, our parents would have said, `Sure, that's great!' "

The boys had freedom to choose their sports and the two future pros went different directions. Dan was a strong but wild right-handed pitcher who quit baseball after Little League because it bored him. Mark never played football.

They also got to choose their high schools. Mark went to parochial Damien High School. Dan led public Claremont High to a 36-3-1 record in his three years as quarterback.

The other brothers have chosen a variety of pursuits. Mike, 30, is a psychologist. Bob, 27, is an assistant golf pro (all the McGwires play golf), and J.J., 22, is a body builder.

"Give him two years and he'll be up there in the WWL, or whatever you call it," Dan says.

J.J. lost sight in one eye in a BB gun accident when he was 16. Along with the polio that limited his father athletically as a child and still is the cause of a limp, it is evident that not everything has gone painlessly for the McGwires, although it might have appeared that way to some in Claremont.

"There have been people who have said things like that," Dan said, recalling the aftermath of J.J.'s accident. "I guess a few years after that, it got through the grapevine that some other families in the community said, `It's about time something bad happened to the McGwire family.'

"They say that the damn McGwire family has got so much talent. It's not our fault. We're the ones who pressed on to work harder to be the best we can be.

"My dad has always worked hard," he said. "We've been fortunate to live in California, where you have sports year-round. You're outside 12 months out of the year. You're playing soccer, basketball, baseball. . . Things work out how they work out."

The child of the suburbs grew up neat and well scrubbed, and has stayed that way.

"People have made fun of him and said the `m' in his name should stand for meticulous,' " said Dave Ohton, the San Diego State strength coach who was best man at Dan's wedding in March.

Dan usually takes at least three showers a day and his clothes are always spotless.

"The five boys all had their bedrooms upstairs," his father said. "None of them could come downstairs in the morning without making their beds. They always picked up their dirty clothes and brought them downstairs. Maybe he followed our example. Being a dentist, you're clean and neat. Our house was that way and the office was that way."

In addition to being clean, Dan McGwire is punctual and organized.

"I was one of those guys who always turned in everything early in school," he said. "I just got it done."

He was successful, though not a star, in the classroom - a B student in both high school and college who surged onto the honor roll his final year before graduating with a public-administration degree.

Quarterbacks must be leaders and McGwire's nearly lifelong friend, Louis Baiz, said the Seahawk QB "was always a leader."

McGwire said his height helped because "people were looking up at me. I was always coordinated. I never went through an awkward stage.

"I guess I was a born leader," said the tallest quarterback in NFL history at 6 feet 8. "But I was never a big talker. I always let my actions take care of my words. People have just followed along."

McGwire has no problem with self-image. Dan McGwire enjoys being Dan McGwire.

Asked if there was something he would like to improve about himself, he replied:

"That's a good question. You stumped me there. My wife says I should change my meticulousness, but it comes natural for me. I can't change that. I wouldn't want to."

But if McGwire seems happy with who he is, he sometimes is far from happy with his performance.

"I'm a perfectionist," he said. "I'm my own worst critic. Even when I complete a pass, there's always a better way of completing it. Being more accurate. Hitting the receiver on the up-field shoulder or doing something of that nature.

"The best has yet to come for myself. The sky's the limit. I just have to keep working hard at it."

McGwire learned a few years back how precarious athletic success can be. While at the University of Iowa in 1987, he finished spring practice thinking he was the starter, only to return for preseason drills and hear Coach Hayden Fry announce the job was wide open. Before the season was half over, Chuck Hartlieb was entrenched as the starter.

So McGwire left after that season for San Diego State, where he blossomed from a thrower into a quarterback his senior year, after a summer of non-stop work.

Ohton, the Aztecs' coach, gave him hours of one-on-one instruction and encouragement.

"He put me through hell, but that's what I needed to get where I am now," said McGwire, who is in the second year of a three-year contract paying him $3.3 million.

He drives a Lexus and lives with Dana, his wife, in a new home in the English Hill section of Redmond, near the Bear Creek Country Club. Her father, Dan Orlich, was a Green Bay Packer from 1949-51.

McGwire has yet to throw his first NFL touchdown pass, but it could come Saturday when he starts against the Indianapolis Colts, who happen to be the only team he started or played against in last year's regular season. He was lifted at halftime by Coach Chuck Knox despite a 17-3 Seahawk lead.

Having served an apprenticeship last year as an obedient rookie, McGwire is now battling Kelly Stouffer for the starting quarterback job. Stouffer, a four-year veteran, is leading, but McGwire can make up a lot of ground with a good performance Saturday.

Some people see him as the quarterback of the future and believe he needs a few more years to mature.

"That's not true. I'm mature right now," McGwire said. "This is my second go-around. I think I may be able to take that starting spot right now and I'm ready to go. I'm not going to mature sitting the sidelines holding a clipboard. The only way I'm going to get better is play."

Sunday morning, brother Mark and the other McGwires will pick up a newspaper and look at Dan's statistics. Though Mark is not the brother with whom he keeps the closest contact, Dan says Mark's attention to his job "really instilled in me the importance of working hard."

Mark said, "I don't want him to fall into any traps of being comfortable. . . . Nothing is given to you in this world."

Except a good start, if you grew up in the McGwire family.