Detroit. Detroit.

October 6, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

The Box would like to offer a big, "Welcome home," to the San Diego Chargers team who won last year's AFC West Division with a record of 12 and 4 and showed up Sunday to mercilessly humiliate the New England Patriots. Fellas, we've missed you.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say San Diego was the best team in the NFL during Week 4. No other team played as well. The Bolts picked the right Sunday to get good, playing the reigning world champion on the reigning world champion's home field and winning by 24 points.

Pats head coach Bill Belichick said it best, "No doubt about it, San Diego is the better team.... They did a good job in every area. Better than we did. Pick out anything you want. They did a better job at everything."

The second half was murderous. The Chargers ripped 36 offensive plays for 243 yards; Pats managed 19 offensive plays for 61 yards. Chargers had the ball 21 minutes against 9 minutes for the Pats. Chargers scored 24 points in the second half; New England was shut out and had to walk home.

This brings the Chargers up to 2--2. Sunday's game will, as an unintended, but nevertheless unhappy consequence, inflate their point spread for the next month. This is sad. Still, it marked a welcome transformation from that blob we saw stumble around the playing field in Week 1 and Week 2. Saying that, it would be wise to keep in mind that Green Bay is 0--4, Washington is 3--0, Tampa Bay is 4--0, and -- you better sit down for this one -- the Cincinnati Bengals are 4--0.

It's clear the NFL has entered a new developmental phase. Good teams turn bad. Bad teams turn good. One wonders how to make sense of this. Well, wonder no longer, I have the answer. Want to know what's up with the Chargers? Get out your songbook, come over here and sing out:

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

Charge!

We're coming your way,

We're gonna dazzle you with our super play.

The time has come,

You know we're shooting for number one.

With thunderbolts and lightning

We'll light up the sky,

We'll give it all we've got, and more

With the Super Charger try!

Lately, an odd, unnatural feeling has invaded the fleshy temple I call "Me." Since Sunday, my chakra has been churning up a new vision -- one of hope, optimism, badminton games in the backyard, Sunday dinner with mom, children jumping in the neighborhood swimming pool, and gasoline at 75 cents a gallon. What I'm trying to say is, I keep seeing the Chargers in Super Bowl XL.

Only last month, my chakra felt like a pair of pants three sizes too small, although that's not quite right, I'm neglecting the added dimension of self-loathing and futility. Spend a lost weekend in Needles with an old girlfriend and you'll know what I mean. Or, to put it another way: NFL Week 1, Dallas 28, San Diego 24.

We've got a plan,

We're gonna do it for our super fans.

All we seek,

Is the goal line to victory.

We'll ignite you, excite you

With high voltage play.

We won't let up a minute,

We're going all the way -- all the way!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

San Diego Super Chargers,

San Diego Chargers!

Charge!

There's our chart, matey. Hold the compass straight and true and, in due time, we will come ashore in Detroit. Detroit in February. That's a good thing.

* * *

NFL Week 4 stupid quotes:

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals head coach, was asked to describe his team's performance after beating Houston 16 to 10. Lewis said, "We knew it was going to be a tough, physical football game."

Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy. "Special-teams-wise, we did what we need to do to."

Miami head coach Nick Saban. "You are always really looking for the players to get the kind of intensity that you want back, in terms of what we need to do."

Arizona head coach and human disappointment Dennis Green. "I think we just feel better about playing a better game. That's really the key. We are glad we are playing better..."

San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan, after losing 31--14 to the pathetic Arizona Cardinals. "Our target has not changed. As far as it may sound fetched, when you look at it from a statistical measure, we are only one game out of first [place in the NFC West]."

Was That Martyball?

September 15, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

San Francisco (underdog by 7) leads the NFC West after they prevailed over St. Louis on Sunday. New Orleans (underdog by 7) won at Super Bowl--bound Carolina. Dallas (underdog by 5) beat Super Bowl--bound San Diego at Qualcomm. Detroit beat Green Bay by two touchdowns. Kansas City stomped Super Bowl--bound New York Jets by 20 points. Miami (underdog by 5) crushed Denver by 24 points.

Scores appear to be out of joint. Favorites are dropping like flies, which is more than a hack phrase in San Francisco, whose offensive guard, Thomas Herrion, collapsed and died after a preseason game in Denver.

As to the Chargers, maybe they were caught up in the swarm or breathed the strange, noxious fumes that wafted their way into several NFL stadiums and caused good teams to play bad. The Chargers have 22 starters back from last year's 12 and 4 team. There's no way San Diego should have lost that game, even with Antonio Gates on the sidelines.

Hang on, I'd better modify that statement. This is sports, so random luck applies; therefore, the preceding paragraph will be changed to say the Chargers should beat Dallas seven out of ten times. Sunday was one of those seven times.

One game is nothing to get upset about unless your money is lost. Saying that, Sunday's contest brought back the familiar feelings of despair and hopelessness that reside in the bones of every veteran Chargers fan. I'm talking about the reappearance of Martyball.

We now know Martyball has not passed away, but lurks in the rancid underground corridors of Qualcomm Stadium. Remember last January when the Chargers hosted the New York Jets on the first day of Wildcard Weekend? The game went into overtime, San Diego drives to the Jet's 22-yard line. It's first and ten. The Chargers deal three running plays -- the same plays that had not worked all afternoon -- for no gain. Then, head coach Marty Schottenheimer sends in a rookie kicker who misses a 39-yard field goal. End of season.

Martyball, the fear-ridden obsession of running the ball up the gut every time an important game is on the line, showed its rodent face on Sunday. Or maybe not. Here's the situation: the Chargers are on the Cowboys' seven-yard line and have 47 seconds, four plays, and one timeout left to them. They need to score a touchdown to win the ballgame. LaDainian Tomlinson is ignored, Brees throws four passes...the first three were incomplete, the last was intercepted.

It sure seemed like Martyball; the stupid, repetitive selection of plays that do not work. But (and here's the rub) this series of stupid, repetitive plays were all passes, and purists will object if we call this Martyball.

But, even purists must admit the foregoing was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole over and over and over and over again until failure is achieved. Isn't that what Martyball is all about?

The Box will sponsor an election on this question and promises an honest count. Here are the competing propositions.

1. Martyball is the stupid, repetitive selection of the same running plays that have not worked all afternoon.

2. Martyball is the stupid, repetitive selection of same plays that have not worked all afternoon.

Cast your vote at: sportbox@ix.netcom.com Results will appear in next week's column.

Ominously, Sunday's game saw a role reversal at the quarterback position. Until last year, Drew Brees was known as an okay backup quarterback. Quarterback ratings run from zero (the quarterback refuses to leave the huddle) to the highest possible score of 158 1/3. Brees's quarterback rating for 2002 was 76.9, in 2003 it was 67.5, and then aliens visited his bedroom and his 2004 quarterback rating came in at 104.8. That's the kind of statistical pump-up one rarely sees apart from Barry Bonds's. But, Brees played Sunday's game the way he used to play all his games; his quarterback rating for that afternoon's work was 65.1.

Conversely, regard Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe. His 2002 quarterback rating was 86.0, in 2003 it was 73.0, and in 2004 he turned in a 76.6. Steady Eddy. On Sunday, Bledsoe finished with a 143.4 quarterback rating. Birds fell from the sky.

Finally, I'll close with a sample of Week 1 Stupid NFL Quotes. The idea is for the coach or athlete to speak in sentences that convey no meaning.

Drew Bledsoe, "They call the plays, and I try to just find the guy who's open."

Bill Parcells, "We'll see where we go from here. We have a lot of work to do."

Marty Schottenheimer, "On the positive side, we're in a division [AFC West] where we're only a game out to one team."

Let me see if I get this. All NFL teams have played one game, no team is more than one game behind any other, but since all of the AFC West lost save Kansas City...

The Raiders Lift Us Up

September 8, 2005 — Barbarella Fokos

'If you know that the good guys aren't so good, you're a Raiders fan. If you know you've been jacked and are waiting for revenge, you're a Raiders fan. If you know your boss isn't any better than you are, you're a Raiders fan," write Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew in their new book, Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire. On Friday, September 9, Miller and Mayhew will be discussing their book at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla. Miller, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Los Angeles, has always been a fan of the Raiders football team that began in Oakland, traveled to L.A., and returned to its home city. "During the [2003] season we immersed ourselves even more than we had been before," says Miller's wife and coauthor, Mayhew. "We had season tickets and we sat in the 'Black Hole,' the most notorious section in the Oakland Coliseum."

Mayhew, who was pregnant at the time of her research, remembers the close-knit group that shared the Black Hole. "The people who sat behind us would pat my growing belly. It was like a big family, which is kind of counter to the image of the Raiders fan."

In their book the duo writes, "Real or imagined, the Raider Nation is an affirmation of blue-collar toughness, rebellion, and solidarity during a time that valorizes the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In an era that craves order and safety, Raider Nation offers chaos and fun. In the face of the new Puritanism, 'Just say no,' and 'Watch what you say,' the Raider Nation says, 'Fuck you.'

The book continues, "As homeless Oakland resident Ben Ducksworth put it while collecting empty beer cans on East 12th Street, 'The Raiders lift us all up...I may be homeless and broke, but I'm a winner. That's because my blood runs silver and black.'"

"The Chargers are more a sort of suburban team in a lot of ways," says Miller. "I think when people think about the Raiders coming in, people feel like, 'Oh, it's a gang invasion of San Diego.'

"The most notorious example of violence was at a game in San Diego where a Raiders fan stabbed a Chargers fan. [The Raiders fan] is still in jail." Unable to reach the convicted man for comment, Miller and Mayhew interviewed one of his neighbors. "He was just this regular guy that lost it. It was a pathetic tale, really; there was no gang association with it. The fear of Raiders fans is the fear of the urban, fear of working class, fear of black and brown," says Miller, who is Caucasian.

What about the die-hard, war-painted individuals? "They are not representative fans," answers Miller. "The cameras love them because they're colorful, but we interviewed a number of people [with painted faces] who don't even have tickets; they just go to get their pictures taken in the parking lot. There's a minor industry made out of celebrity fans."

Aggressive fans, stresses Mayhew, are not limited to one team. "Whenever you wear an opposing team's colors on another turf, you are kind of holding yourself up to getting hazed," she says. "At a Chargers game last year a group of Chargers fans got arrested for beating up an opposing team's fan. It wasn't a Raiders game."

Mayhew writes one chapter about women as sports fans. "Women are a growing market and they make up a large percentage of football viewers." Mayhew attributes this growing trend to the fact that "more and more women have the same kinds of work and life pressures as men have traditionally had," and that watching sports offers the proper outlet.

"You get in the stands and you cheer your team on, you curse them out when they flub a play, you high-five the people in the stands next to you. There were a significant number of women in the Black Hole." The chapter Mayhew wrote is titled "Real Women Wear Black."

Miller and Mayhew took their newborn son to the last game of the year at the Oakland Coliseum. "It was pouring down rain in buckets and we were wearing ponchos because you can't bring an umbrella in," remembers Mayhew. "One of the guys who sits in front of us [swapped seats] so that we could sit under the overhang to protect our kid. We only see this guy at games, but he stood in the rain [for us]." -- Barbarella

Better to Reign in Hell: Inside the Raiders Fan Empire
Discussion and book signing
Friday, September 9
7 p.m.
D.G. Wills Books
7461 Girard Avenue
La Jolla
Cost: Free
Info: 858-456-1800 or www.dgwillsbooks.com


Sacked Chargers

June 2, 2005 — Jay Allen Sanford

Sacked Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie surprised some last month by turning up on the New England Patriots' team roster for a one-year "backup" gig. The audience at the Medford, Massachusetts, Music for Middlesex III concert got a surprise on May 14 when the sometime-drummer turned out to be the advertised "surprise guest" on a bill that included Jon Butcher, Ian "Bay City Rollers" Mitchell, Duke and the Drivers, and James Montgomery. Rumors swirled that Steven Tyler was to be the surprise guest after the Aerosmith singer was spotted (with Flutie) in the concert venue the afternoon of the show. Near midnight, Flutie took the stage with Montgomery's band and played drums (barefoot) on two songs, including Bo Diddley's "Road Runner."

Flutie, who lives in Natick, Massachusetts, and won a Heisman trophy while at Boston College, "took the place by storm," according to attendee Brian Gibson. "Everyone was slapping him on the back and saying, 'Welcome home'.... He's a real hero around here. We're glad the Chargers fired him."

If the Chargers Hadn't Released 42-Year-Old Quarterback Doug Flutie

March 24, 2005 — Jay Allen Sanford

If the Chargers hadn't released 42-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie on March 11, they would have had to pay him a $300,000 bonus on March 15. Flutie was in Stowe, Vermont, for a family ski trip when he received the news. "He was disappointed, but it didn't come as a complete surprise," said Flutie's agent, Kristen Kuliga. Flutie had a gig over the weekend at a local club with his group the Flutie Brothers Band. He's the drummer, and his brother Darren plays guitar. The band has played Super Bowl parties, often bringing in guests like Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke.

Alex the Greek

February 24, 2005 — Matt Potter

Chargers owner Alex G. Spanos, the megamillionaire who reportedly wants San Diego taxpayers to give him 60 acres of prime Mission Valley property as part of his latest stadium scheme, has turned Hollywood mogul. The Stockton developer has set up A.G.S. Communications, LLC, to bankroll a new IMAX movie that "celebrates the illustrious history of Greece and its role as the birthplace of modern civilization." Spanos, who will serve as executive producer of the film, to be titled Greece: Secrets of the Past, is putting $6 million into the deal. Oscar documentary nominee Greg MacGillivray (The Living Sea [1998]; Dolphins [2000]) is co-producing and directing. Meanwhile, city insiders speculate that the reason Spanos may be dropping his bid to have the city council put the stadium deal on the ballot in favor of mounting his own initiative drive may have something to do with the fact that a council-sponsored measure would require an environmental impact report up front, whereas an initiative would not. Critics say that an honest environmental appraisal of the Spanos plan to build hundreds of condos along with a new stadium would never pass muster.

Chargers Wrap-up

January 13, 2005 — Patrick Daugherty

There's a reason why Marty is 5-12 in playoff games. Defense, an excellent quarterback, and a good front line can get you into the postseason, but once in, you need to take risks; be assured, the other team will.

So, when the Chargers had the ball on the Jets' 22-yard line, 1st down, game tied, in overtime, I absolutely knew Marty was going to call three running plays in a row. So did the Jets, the fans at Qualcomm, and the great world of men in undershorts watching the game on TV.

This time of year all the teams are good -- or at least capable of being good. Normally, every coach is trying to win. Match him with a coach who's trying not to lose, and more often than not, the coach who's trying to win, wins. Marty has never figured that out.

Then again, perhaps I'm being too harsh on the coach of the year. When I want to tune up my assumptions, I invariably look to accordions; in this instance, Ferino's Music Repair & Tuning on Robinson Avenue. An older man with a thick Italian accent answers the phone. I ask, "Did you watch Saturday's game?"

"We watched in Las Vegas. We just come last night back. My son, my son, he goes over there. He watches all the time. My son is very, very...he likes the Chargers."

"When did you realize the Chargers might lose the game?"

"I don't believe they losing."

I will take that as definitive. "How long have you been in the company of accordions?" The question is meant to move our conversation gracefully to its end.

"My father make accordion. I work in that and repair and tune piano. Every day."

Now, I'm interested. "Are there a lot of people who play accordion in San Diego?"

"Yes, we have accordion club here in San Diego. Maybe two, three hundred peoples."

I have got to attend an accordion-club meeting. "That's a lot of people."

"Yeah, a lot. It's nice. We have, every year, a convention in Las Vegas also. Next June, July we have other conventions. People come from Italy, from Canada, from anyplace. Maybe five, six hundred people."

I can't stop myself. "What instruments do you play?"

"I play accordion, but I play piano, saxophone, clarinet -- all the instruments I repairing. Also inventor. You know, inventor?"

No turning back. "What did you invent?"

"I invent the hybrid car. Electric and gas. I make, myself, car by hand. I have patents with that. Thirty-two years ago I started making hybrids. Japanese just making now."

I'll need to know where he was born, his early years, how he got to San Diego, recreational activities, family, dreams, and hopes, but first..."You've got the patent; can't you make money out of that?"

"No. You have 17 years' control with your patent. Now, no more. Everybody can make. I just watch."

* * *

"I saw it, and it was completely disappointing," says Jeremy of California Police Equipment on El Cajon Boulevard.

"At what point did you begin to think the Chargers were going to lose?"

"Halftime. They weren't playing their A game. It was very obvious. We didn't play them like we were playing for a serious win."

* * *

"Did anybody in your shop watch the game?"

Marilyn, of On Comic Ground, "Mainstream, Alternative & Underground Comics," doing business on University Avenue, replies; actually, she's talking to someone in the store. I figure he's an employee. I hear Marilyn ask, "Hey, Patrick, did you watch the game?"

Can't make out his reply. Marilyn, continuing her conversation with Patrick, says, "Okay, I heard we lost too, but I didn't watch it."

I break in, "Does anybody have an opinion about the Chargers?"

"Gee, I don't know." Marilyn moves away from the phone, asks Patrick, "Do you have an opinion about the Chargers?"

Silence. Silence. And more silence. Then a soft, scraping noise. Marilyn says, "He thinks they're doing pretty good this year."

"And you, do you think they're doing good?"

"Yeah, I would say the same thing. I mean, sure, they lost in overtime because of a kick, but you can't take away the rest of the season. I mean, how many other teams did they beat to get to where they were?"

"That's true."

"But, I'm afraid for next year. Usually when you do good one year you don't do good the next."

Time for that graceful exit. "How long have you been at On Comic Ground?"

"Ten years."

"What's your best-seller?"

"Oh, gosh, probably Astonishing X-Men right now."

"Do best-sellers come and go?"

"Yeah, it depends on the writers. If they get a better opportunity, they'll move on to something else. They usually sign for a year. So, most of them will do at least 12 issues. Sometimes, especially if the writer is really good, he can double the amount of readers you get."

Sounds like coaching in the NFL.

Stadium Drum Beat

January 6, 2005 — Matt Potter

When the Union-Tribune gets that old special-interest bit in its mouth, it seldom lets go. Witness the recent spate of stories the paper has run about how decrepit the once-mighty Qualcomm Stadium has purportedly become. The campaign began on Sunday, December 12, with a 1200-word story under the bylines of Caitlin Rother and Jeff McDonald with the headline "Chargers fans just seething in the rain; Complaints trickle in over slow-draining Q." The piece described a wheelchair-bound dowager getting wet in her luxury seat and quoted city stadium manager Bill Wilson as saying the venue, which taxpayers spent more than $60 million to expand and remodel in 1997, was already out of date: "It leaks all over. This place is a sieve. We have tried everything...from rubberized joints to the high-tech stuff they use on the LAX runway...and the place still leaks." Last Thursday the paper's Holiday Bowl story again flogged the leaky-stadium angle. The campaign hasn't been limited to the U-T. On December 13, the day after the first U-T story, listeners of KPBS radio heard from Chargers lobbyist Mark Fabiani, who argued that a new stadium was needed. The station is run by San Diego State, which plays its football games at Qualcomm and gets hefty financial backing from new stadium boosters. On New Year's Day, a U-T editorial followed up, calling the existing stadium "leaky, creaky, and crumbling."

Midseason

November 18, 2004 — Patrick Daugherty

'You are bidding on an early-1980s San Diego Chargers Huddles pin. Features the throwback Chargers mascot in a rare pin. Pin measures approximately 1.5 inches tall and condition is very good, no scratches or marks."

This is eBay item 5136824103, and with a starting bid of $4.99 it's a purchase. Next is item 5139103657, "San Diego Chargers Sign. Neon Bar Light Sign...a great decor item for home, bar, restaurant, commercial bar, game room, store or shop etc." I'll require that as well. And I might as well bid on "San Diego Chargers Official Metal License Plate."

Okay. Now dash over to fansedge.com and reserve a San Diego Chargers Trailer Hitch Cover ($39.99), San Diego Chargers Car Magnets ($26.99). "Two 12-inch magnets for your car or truck, desks, refrigerator, lockers or anywhere you can think of!" For my tailgate needs there is a handsome San Diego Chargers cooler ($48), pair of San Diego Chargers folding chairs ($39.99), San Diego Chargers flag ($29.99), San Diego Chargers Deluxe Barbeque Set ($27.99), and for a special treat, four San Diego Chargers Individual Pillowcases ($79.96) to assure a good night's rest after game-day festivities.

That's all for today, but I'll be back tomorrow. Right now I must rush over to a website whose name I will not reveal, for obvious reasons, and place a bid on the centerpiece of my new lifestyle, "...the largest circus bandwagon ever built, and it was in every Barnum & Bailey street parade from 1902 to 1918."

Indeed, I shall possess my own San Diego Chargers bandwagon. I am prepared to spend whatever it takes.

Regulars may recall the unfortunate Sporting Box column, written on the eve of NFL Week 3, entitled, "The Annual Chargers Suck Column," where, employing understatement as a literary technique, I wrote the following sentences.

"Let them [the Chargers] become a ward of Los Angeles. San Diego is regarded, across the board, as the worst franchise in the NFL and in a league with Arizona, Detroit, Cincinnati, and New Orleans as dues-paying members. That's a position you have to work for.

"The Chargers suck. I don't see the end to it until the last stupid Spanos moves into that big hog pen in the sky.

"With Spanos, you could give him a new stadium, you could give him nuclear weapons, and he would still field a team that has no clue, because he has no clue. The Spanos brain trust, since 1997, has hired the following men as head coach; Kevin Gilbride, June Jones, Mike Riley, and Marty Schottenheimer. Two games into the eighth season, the Chargers record is 36 wins and 78 losses.

"How does 38 and 90 sound?"

So, inevitably, it was then -- or rather, two weeks later -- that our mighty Bolts, under the inspired leadership of industry titan and owner Alex Spanos, plus his sharp-as-a-whip son, Dean (president and CEO), aided by the other sharp-as-a-whip spawn Michael (executive vice president), not forgetting NFL Coach-of-the-Year-to-Be Marty Schottenheimer and his staff of veteran subcommanders hoisted the heretofore disrespected Chargers team on their collective shoulders and carried it down the gridiron onto victory after victory after victory. In fact, they've nearly run the table. As a result, going into their bye week, the San Diego Chargers are tied for first place in the AFC West with a record of six wins against three losses.

With a soft schedule from here to the end of the regular season, due to, ahem, last year's already forgotten 4-12 record, things are looking quite doable in Chargersland. Playoffs, anyone? You bet. Other than New England, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, San Diego is as good or better than any team in the NFL.

Suddenly it's a Brees. Or, at least, the husk of a Brees; his mind and body may well be occupied by an alien force. Nonetheless, Brees is the name on everybody's lips. He was drafted by the Chargers in 2001 and played one game that season. In 2002, he threw 17 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. In 2003, it was 11 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

That was our lad, another thrown-away San Diego draft pick, another rookie quarterback who didn't live up to expectations, a man whose sole achievement since he's been in San Diego was keeping Doug Flutie employed. Now, Brees is a legitimate league MVP contender. His passing ratings are the NFL's third best: he has (impossible to believe) thrown 18 touchdowns against three interceptions.

Suddenly it's Schottenheimer -- who I swear looks as if he's trying to win rather than struggling to get a three-point lead and then suffocating the life out of the game by calling one running play after another. This year, I have personally seen the Chargers throw the football in the air and downfield while they had a lead.

Alien abduction or not, they're a damn good team. And they're getting better.

Chargers Ready Taxpayer Fleece-Fest

July 10, 2003 — Don Bauder

The city and the Chargers are in secret kiss-and-tell negotiations. True to historical precedent, the city is kissing the Chargers' rear hip pads and not telling anybody. The Chargers, meanwhile, are openly telling people their version of the supposedly secret tête-à-tail.

It's typical San Diego government: professional sports teams get kissed, taxpayers get kicked, and truth gets camouflaged.

The Chargers claim they can put together a deal without tapping public funds. But San Diego has heard that twice before. There was the remake of what is now Qualcomm, with the purportedly wondrous 60,000-seat guarantee, and then the ballpark, which was to be financed by taxes thrown off by commercial structures, particularly hotels, that are nowhere in sight.

The new Chargers proposal will definitely drain city funds; the question is how it will be covered up. Watch for several things: the team will try to wiggle out of $150 million in rent owed for the next 16 years; the team will get the land virtually free from the city; promises will be neither memorialized nor enforced; there will be a promise of a luscious public park; and the city and team will claim the deal doesn't impact the general fund, which will be deceitfully defined.

Another distinct possibility: the Chargers will want to lose a 2006 vote, so they can leave town claiming they were shoved.

With a hide-the-pea government and a perfume-the-polecat mainstream media, discovering the deceptions will be difficult, as in the past.

Examples abound: in May of 1995, then-city manager Jack McGrory assured the city council in a memo that under the agreement with the Chargers, the seats would fill up. The San Diego International Sports Council, one of those charmed institutions that takes government funds so it can turn around and lobby government, promised it would work to "increase home game general admission attendance to a minimum [italics mine] of 60,000 per game."

"They tried," McGrory sighs today. The 60,000-seat guarantee failed "because the team worsened." Yeah, but anybody who tried to say back then that the Chargers wouldn't always be winners was branded an obstructionist.

The astounding part of McGrory's memo dealt with the Padres. According to the Chargers' contract with the city, the Chargers beginning in 1999 would get all the Padres' in-park advertising revenue, even at Padre games, and the Chargers would also determine schedule dates. To anyone who had read the contract, it was clear that it was a pre-plotted ploy: the Padres could say the city had forced them out, and they needed a new facility. But McGrory's May 1995 memo projected that the Padres would continue generating big bucks for the city at what was then Jack Murphy Stadium. Indeed, by 2010, the Padres playing at the Murph would shovel $7.7 million to the city. Ulp!

"Anybody who operated in 1995 on the assumption that the Padres intended to continue playing at Jack Murphy Stadium after 1999 simply had not read the agreement," says former councilmember Bruce Henderson.

In 1997, John Witt, who was city attorney when the Chargers' contract was drawn, said that Mayor Susan Golding was the city's chief negotiator, and the city attorney's office played a limited role. Shortly, Witt did a mea maxima culpa. "I screwed up," he claimed. Golding was not the chief negotiator. Witt suddenly recalled being briefed almost daily on the negotiations. It is amazing how heads clear when a guillotine hangs over them.

Recently, there has been the question of the so-called trigger -- a financial threshold that would permit the Chargers to compel the city to negotiate a new deal. When the Chargers said they could trigger earlier this year, the city relied on the word of a sports consultant who is paid to help pro teams maximize the amount they suck out of city governments. Councilmember Donna Frye hired a nationally known economist who said the Chargers could not trigger. The city ignored the economist and began negotiating with the team without saying whether the Chargers could trigger. "They adopted a policy of negotiating a new contract in secret without determining if they were required to negotiate a contract," says attorney Mike Aguirre.

"From the beginning, I opposed entering into negotiations unless the Chargers proved they could trigger," says Frye. "My position has not changed." She is annoyed by the government-imposed omertá. "The Chargers are allowed to speak about their proposal. Why can't I?" In dealing with the city on sports issues, Frye says, "It is difficult to get straight answers" from bureaucrats.

In the 1995 agreement, the Chargers pledged to use their "best efforts" to fill the stadium. But after several years of lousy attendance and a big drain on city coffers from the seat guarantee, the Chargers raised ticket prices, and city attorney Casey Gwinn didn't exercise the best-efforts clause. He should have done so long ago to force the Chargers to lower prices, says Henderson.

The Padres provide a more nauseating example of government obsequiousness and disingenuousness. Gwinn claimed in the ballot argument that the project would be "revenue neutral" because of the bounteous tax revenue flowing from hotels, office, and retail buildings. When it was obvious the tax receipts would fall far short, a new mayor, Dick Murphy, made wholesale alterations to the deal. The memorandum of understanding, the document authorizing the project, had declared that if there were "material changes," it would have to go back to the voters. Gwinn kicked the matter to the council, which said there were no material changes.

The memorandum of understanding gave the Padres the right to "fine-tune" the mix of real estate in the ballpark district. Former law professor and judge Robert Simmons pointed out in a lawsuit that, for just one example, the requirement for office buildings had been lessened by 66 percent. That was hardly fine-tuning. But the city insisted it was.

" 'Fine-tuning' was a code word for 'We can do whatever we want,' " says Stanley Zubel, Simmons's attorney.

Now the Padres and the city -- and the mainstream press that has an economic interest in pro-sports subsidies -- are crowing that there is a condominium boom in and around the ballpark district. This is laughable. The taxes generated by residential real estate barely pay for the infrastructure and services the homes require. "There are no sales and transient occupancy [hotel] taxes from residences," says Zubel.

"Housing is a drain," says Frye, citing many studies. Transient-occupancy taxes provide the city with juicy revenue, notes Henderson, but there has been little hotel construction in the ballpark district.

Recently, of course, there was the question of the 3.5-acre "park at the park" that, Aguirre points out, the Padres touted in a mass mailing to the citizenry before the 1998 vote. But when the Padres wanted to shrink the park substantially, the city attorney's office said that the memorandum of understanding had deliberately not spelled out the specifics for the park, lest economic conditions change. Indeed, the Padres had shrunk the size back in 1999 by quietly showing another rendering. Also, the ballpark itself is no longer positioned to give the fans great views, as originally advertised. And this is the city attorney's office that is supposed to be prosecuting bait-and-switch schemes.

Overall, "If you look at the contract, there was no penalty clause" for Padres nonperformance, says Henderson. The contract should have read, "If for some reason the promised buildings are not on the tax rolls, you pay the city the shortfall. All the city attorney did was memorialize what the city was going to do, and in vague terms memorialized what the Padres might do if they were so inclined." Great contract.

The city attorney's office wouldn't answer questions about all these matters.

Now, presumably, there will be a new Chargers contract. It will be filled with loopholes that are sure to drain your pocketbook, but your problem will be finding out how.

Chargers Vets

November 15, 2001 — Patrick Daugherty

On my desk is a book that contains the name of every man who ever played for the San Diego Chargers. Hundreds of names. Under each name are three lines of text, the historical remains of one player’s career. I see the position he played, the years he played for the Chargers, and years played with other teams. I see where and when he was born, what high school and college he attended, how much he weighed and how tall he was. I’ve come to believe, although I hope this is not true, that those few years in the NFL were the most important years of his life, a life now etched in eight-point font, buried inside a three-inch-thick reference volume few people will read.

Here’s Volney Peters. He was a defensive tackle on the 1960 Chargers team. Peters was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 1, 1928. He’d be 73 years old now. Is he alive? Is he strapped to an oxygen tank, confined in the indigent ward of a South Florida retirement home? Or is he living large in San Francisco, happily two-timing his 32-year-old girlfriend? Here’s Danny Colbert. He was a defensive back on the 1975 Chargers team. Did he marry and have kids? Maybe his oldest son went to prison, or, maybe, he became a psychoanalyst. What did Danny do after football and was it fun? Here’s Todd Spencer. He was a running back, played three games with the 1987 Chargers. How did it end for him, was he released or injured? Almost no one, no one at all, ever leaves the NFL on his own terms.

Sit in front of this list long enough and you notice little things, like how frequently, in this fractured age, people return to their hometowns after they’re done with football, and especially, how brutally short a typical NFL career is. Going in I thought the average career was four, four and a half years. Now, I see two, two and a half years is about average. Going in, I thought regarding a professional football team as a reflection of a city, as anything other than a business, was delusional. Turns out, teams are less connected to the town they play in than I imagined. Nobody stays with a team for long, not players, coaches, or general managers. Very few people on this list stayed with the Chargers for more than two seasons. For every Dan Fouts you have 30 Danny Colberts.

After a while you understand there are no San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, or New York Giants. There is only the Republic of Football; its citizens go from one franchise to the next to the next and repeat. Loyalties are to the republic, not some slammed-together football team in a strange town where you live in a furnished apartment for six months out of the year, for a year or two, on the way to another apartment in another strange town.

Going in I thought a lot of players would, 10, 20, 30 years after retirement, have a limp or a stiff shoulder or a bad knee. I didn’t know that most of the men I’d contact would still suffer from serious football-related injuries. I thought an nfl Players Association pension would be enormous. I remember reading about O. J. Simpson’s $25,000-a-month pension check. Turns out, O. J.’s pension is approximately $25,000 a year, and he, like all retired players, receives a check but no medical insurance.

What else? Every nfl alumnus I talked to was smart. I’d put them up against a random selection of doctors. Every player said he would do it again and meant it. And, every player knew, very early on, he would play in the nfl one day.

Finally, you may notice I did not contact anyone who played for the Chargers during the last ten years. I wanted to talk to men who had been out of the game long enough to become whatever it is you become after the lights go off and the big money ends.


1980s

Chris Bahr

“I’m doing a story about former Chargers players: what they’re doing now, where they’re living, and whatever else I can get.”

Bahr laughs. “Well, I’m here.”

“Let’s see, you did four years with Cincinnati, nine years with the Raiders, and finished with the Chargers in ’89. Did you think, at the time, San Diego was going to be your last stop?”

“It was coming towards the end. We had a fairly decent team in San Diego, but we let a number of games slip. I’m still pretty good friends with Jim McMahon and Dave Archer [quarterbacks on the 1989 Chargers team]. We were 6 and 10. Of the 10 losses, we led or were tied in 8 of those games with under four minutes to play. Then they brought in Bobby Beathard as GM, and he decided to rebuild. He went youth everywhere.

“I thought I might be able to catch on somewhere, but it didn’t happen. Towards the end, you get the feeling you don’t have too many games left in you; you’re just not sure when it’s going to happen.”

I wonder how that works for a kicker. “How does that work for a kicker? Does accuracy go first or legs or what?”

“Used to be, a coach would think a guy was at the end if he was losing some leg strength. He’d say, ‘Okay, it’s time to go with somebody younger.’ I think coaches are starting to learn you keep a kicker as long as he’s productive. Look around the league today, there are guys kicking who are in their early 40s.

“You don’t know how a young guy is going to react to things. I think a lot of coaches like older guys, because they know what they’re going to get. If they miss, it’s not out of fear, they just happen to miss. So kickers are sticking around a little bit longer.”

“Is there a magic number of misses that would cause a kicker to say to himself, ‘I’m gone’?”

“I don’t know if it’s that. Right now, they’re not kicking as many long field goals, so the percentages for kickers have gone way, way up. It’s easy for a team that doesn’t play well to say, ‘Well, we missed that 49-yard field goal in the first quarter. Had we made it, we would have won.’

“They look for little things to blame. It’s pretty obvious kickers take a lot of heat. With better teams, coaches look at what you do in bigger situations and ask themselves, ‘What kind of an effect does this have on the outcome of the season?’ and not so much on what your percentage is. You can kid yourself with percentages. I’ll give you a prime example. We had one game we kicked a 45-yard field goal at the end to beat Philadelphia. It was the same day a kicker in Minnesota kicked seven field goals to win 21–18. Basically, those games are identical.”

I…don’t…get…it. “Being a kicker seems like a good football job. You can be a normal-sized person, and usually, the no-necks aren’t jumping on you…”

Bahr laughs again. “That’s the good part.”

“How about the practice part? I assume you weren’t out there doing two-a-days?”

“A little bit of that. By the same token, there were a lot of guys who liked that part of it but didn’t like kicking on Sunday. All of a sudden it counted.

“Kicking has a lot of ups and downs. You’re very physical every time you do it. You’re out there by yourself. There’s no question whether you succeeded or failed. It’s an interesting job, like a relief pitcher.”

Bahr played 210 nfl games. “You must have a Super Bowl ring since you were kicking for the Raiders during most of the ’80s.”

“Right, two of them. I never wear them. My brother has a couple rings too, and he’s the same way. If we’re going to speak somewhere or we’re doing a golf tournament or an outing, people tend to ask, so you wear them or bring them along, but otherwise, no.”

“What have you been doing since football?”

“Well, I worked as an attorney for a short time, got out of that. I’ve been in financial services for the past eight years. I have an investment firm with two other guys. We handle professional athletes, try to get them out of the game with a little bit of money in the bank.”

Bahr enrolled into Salmon P. Chase College of Law (Highland Heights, Kentucky). He was playing for Cincinnati at the time. He earned his law degree 5H years later from Southwestern University School of Law (Los Angeles), while kicking for the Raiders. “Do you miss football?”

“Initially. I’ll tell you what you miss — and you’ll probably get the same response from everybody — you miss the camaraderie of the locker room, of being that close to 45, 50 guys.”

Ladies, this is a guy thing. “What is it that you see or feel while you’re playing that the rest of us don’t see or feel?”

“One thing people don’t understand, even though they think they understand, is how violent the game is. You don’t have any appreciation of how violent it is unless you’re close. I’ve sat in the stands, watched games, and you don’t get the same feel.

“I remember the day I noticed it the most. My brother was a rookie with the Steelers. I remember sitting in the stands during the [1979] afc Championship game, Pittsburgh against Houston [in Pittsburgh]. There were some hits during the game. I knew how vicious they were, but you don’t feel it in the stands. Without the sounds, you don’t understand.”

“Is it annoying to see the kind of money players are making today?”

“No. I’m all for it. The money is there. The one thing I’ve said for 25 years is, ‘No one ever held a gun to an owner’s head and said, “You have to pay me this amount of money.” ’ Owners can say no, but they choose not to.

“There was a hierarchy when I played. If you were a starting offensive lineman for five years, you generally made more than the guy who started for three years. Now you get a kid coming out of college who is making more than somebody who has played for seven or eight years. You have a disparity between the high-priced guys and the low-priced guys. You’ve got a two-tier system now. Take Ryan Leaf. He didn’t deserve a nickel. He’s done nothing to earn a penny, and he’s probably set for life.”

“I think San Diego fans will tell you they hope Ryan Leaf handles his money as well as he handles the football.”

“Guys like that, they gave him so much money and he never amounted to anything. I don’t know if he ever will. I don’t mind giving signing bonuses to kids, but those big salaries, for people who have never proved themselves, are ridiculous.”


Ralf Mojsiejenko

“What are you doing nowadays?”

“I live in the town I grew up in. After football I got into sales with a guy who started a trucking company. I went to college with him at Michigan State. We’re an expediting company and go all over the country.”

“Big change from football.”

“Very much. I got a degree in teaching but never used it.”

A wise move. Every public school teacher I’ve ever known hates his job and drinks too much. “Are you still a bit of a celebrity, or is it ‘That was then. This is now’?”

“Some people remember me in this town, a little bit, maybe. Not like a Rolf Benirschke [Chargers kicker 1977–1986] or somebody like that.” I hear a cough. “I enjoyed my time in San Diego. The favorite part of my career, actually. I lived in Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, all over.”

“You were playing after free agency kicked in [February 1989]. Salaries must have been good.”

“I wish my career would start now and go seven years. But for a single guy, I made decent money. I enjoyed the game until it became a business for me, until it was more than just fun. That was happening over my last couple of years.”

Ralf went to Michigan State. His first field goal attempt was a 61-yarder against Illinois. He drilled it. “Could you see the end?”

“I could see it coming. I had some bone spurs in my heel, which caused a lot of pain. I couldn’t practice as much as I did earlier in my career. And I lost the desire a little bit. I was sick of traveling, sick of having my family travel to wherever I was going to be playing next year.”

“Did you call it a day after ’91, or did you try to make a team in ’92?” Nobody quits the nfl.

“I went to the Dolphins’ mini-camp and did really well. They had a starting kicker at the time. They said if he got hurt, I would be the guy they’d call.”

“Was it on to the trucking business after that?”

“I looked into teaching.” Another good man puts his soul in peril. “I’ve got a secondary teaching degree. I was going to teach and coach and live the happy life. But my friend started his own business. When I signed on we had 7 trucks, now we have 120. I own a little bit of the business, not much, but a little bit is better than nothing.”

“Do players talk about the party coming to the end amongst themselves?”

“I remember people talking about what they wanted to do. When you start talking about how much money you need to retire, then your mind’s not in the game. I found myself thinking, ‘Well, let’s see, if I have this much money, I don’t need a good job.’ But, bottom line, you don’t want to sit around all your life — you’ve got to find something you like to do.”

“Is there a moment in San Diego that comes to mind?”

“I made the Pro Bowl after my third year there. That’s something that sticks in my mind. But I remember college more than pros. I remember beating Michigan at Michigan in front of 105,000 people, and they were 19-point favorites.”


Tyrone Keys

“You mean what I’m doing now?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve been running a collegiate mentoring program for first-generation college-bound students and students who have extracurricular talent they would like to pursue beyond high school.”

I take a deep breath. I always have this reaction when it takes more than 3 syllables for someone to describe his job. I’m comfortable with teach-er, plumb-er, writ-er, car-pen-ter, me-chan-ic, bank-er, bar-tend-er, pros-ti-tute, and so on. Keys’s job is 43 syllables long. “How did you find that…thing that you do?”

“I was injured in the last preseason game of 1989. I was looking for something to do, thought my career was probably over, and started working in a halfway house in San Diego. I began as a part-time coach in the evenings. From then on, I was hooked.”

“I’ve asked ex-players who have been injured, ‘Was it worth it?’ and they always say, ‘You bet it was.’ Was it?”

“You like to look at your life as if it’s nothing but a journey. Had I not been injured that year… I look at the number of youth who have been helped by our organization, and I can trace my time out there in San Diego as something that got me started.”

“Tell me about a game you played in San Diego.”

“My last game was the 13th game of the year. It was in San Diego against the 49ers. I think the Niners went on to win the Super Bowl that year [Super Bowl XXIII — San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16]. We were all fired up for that game. On the second play I sacked Joe Montana. I missed him on the third play, was blindsided and got a herniated disk in my back. That was 1988 and that was the injury I couldn’t come back from. But for the first three plays of the game, I either hit Montana or sacked him. I felt like it was going to be a rare day for me, and I ended up getting disabled. That was the end of my career right there, sacking Joe Montana.”

Six years later, Montana’s career ended by way of a sack. “How did the Chargers treat you?”

Keys laughs again. “When you’re injured…it’s not like the Chicago Bears. I played on the Bears’ Super Bowl team [Super Bowl XX — Chicago 46, New England 10]. Those guys get together. We had three outings this past year. With the Chargers, guys were coming and going, there was no cohesiveness.”

“After you got hurt, was it one of those ‘Where’s What’s-His-Name?’ ”

“Oh, yeah, definitely.” This is said with authority.

“What happens when you get a career-ending injury? I assume it’s no bullshit, somebody pays your salary and takes care of your medical bill.”

“No, that doesn’t happen, man.”

“You have to pay your own medical bills?”

“Basically, you have to fight and claw for whatever you get. But, yes, when you’re injured you’re supposed to get the rest of the year’s salary. But, a lot of times, different things come into play. Football contracts are not guaranteed.”

“Is it like my hmo, you have to argue over every single bill?”

“Yes.”


Craig Bingham

“What do you remember about the Chargers?”

Bingham makes a pleasing chuckle. “The format after practices was a lot different than what we had in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was more physical. We used to beat up on each other. In San Diego, they weren’t as intense in practice.

“Pittsburgh was a very physical team, defensively and offensively. That’s not to say the offensive linemen in San Diego did not have that linemen mentality, because they did. I can recall looking at a couple of the guys in San Diego and they looked like biker guys. They’re going to come at you.” Bingham takes a moment to think. “Let me sum it up this way: I was yelled at by Coach Coryell for going too hard in practice and hitting people. In Pittsburgh, that wasn’t a thought.”

“What do you mean, ‘Going too hard in practice’?”

“The battles with Kellen Winslow were interesting. The attitude in Pittsburgh, where I came from, was, it doesn’t matter who you are, you go hard in practice. I went hard against Kellen the first few times, and he didn’t care for it. He expected to get off the line of scrimmage and go out and do his pass routes. My thinking was, ‘Well, that’s nice, you have your job to do and I have my job to do, and my job is to prevent you from getting off the line freely. If there’s a problem, well, there’s a problem, we’re both doing our jobs.’ He didn’t care for that so we got into a little bit of a tiff.”

“And the coaches stood back and waited to see who won?”

I can hear Bingham’s mind work. “They watched to see how everything was going to flow.”

“Can you remember a game from your time in San Diego?”

“Yes, the game I got my ankle rolled on. It was a special teams play. I was tackling someone at the two-yard line and someone rolled on my ankle. That was the end of it.”

Pardon my wince. “How long did it take to heal?”

“Took quite a while. I tried to tape it. Didn’t work.”

“I’ve talked to retired players who have had horrendous injuries, injuries that have lasted their entire lives. I’ve asked them if they had it to do again, would they play pro football.”

“And you’re asking me the same question?”

“Right.”

“Yes.”

“What is it about football? Is the game that thrilling?”

“It’s hard to describe. There’s something exhilarating about doing it, maybe because we’re modern-day gladiators.”

And the rest of us are modern-day Romans. “You were with the Chargers in ’85. How was the money?”

Bingham laughs. “The money train had not yet gotten on the tracks.”

“How did your career end?”

“My decision to get out of the game was pretty much that, it was my decision. When I ended up in San Diego, my family was back here [Pittsburgh]. I had a young kid then. My heart was back here.”

“You decided to quit after the ’87 season?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s an unusual way to go out, isn’t it?”

“That’s what my agent said. He called me one day. I told him, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’ He said, ‘What, are you crazy?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s time to move on.’ ”

“What made you decide to move on?” The standard answer is “Injury” or “I was released.” Usually players are released because of an injury.

“Additional injuries. Not so much getting an injury, but that they were lingering.”

“Get out of the game before you got hurt and stayed hurt?”

“Yeah. When you go out and play with one injury, you tend to compensate to satisfy that injury, and in doing so you make yourself open to other injuries. That’s what started to occur.”

“Do guys talk about this? ‘I’m always playing injured. I’m going to pay for it later on.’ ”

“No. It wasn’t a thought. I recall Mike Green, who was an inside linebacker in San Diego. For most of the week Mike could not practice, because of severe back pains. And, as the week went on, he would feel good enough to go through the walk-throughs at the very end of the week, and then he would be able to play on Sunday, and then the whole process would start again. The following year the Chargers released him because he did not pass the physical, which is…a bit of irony. Here is someone who went to bat for them every Sunday, playing with an injury that should have kept him out of the game.”

Mike Green lasted three years in the nfl, all of them with the Chargers. “I see you missed the 1986 season. Were you injured?”

“Yes. I was regrouping, trying to get well from an injury that occurred in Chargers’ mini-camp that spring. I blew out a hamstring.”

“What happens? Does the club say adios, or are you on the payroll until you’re healed?”

Bingham laughs the same laugh I heard from Tyrone Keys. “No, you’re gone. What happened in my case, my home was in Pittsburgh and I returned there after I was hurt. I came back to San Diego for the next training camp. Obviously, I wasn’t 100 percent, because it takes a while to get a hamstring healed properly. To be able to play at the level you need to play at, you have to take care of a hamstring on a regular basis. Living in Pittsburgh, I didn’t have the luxury of going to the training room every single day as I would had I been living in San Diego. So when I went back out for training camp in the summer of ’86, it still wasn’t 100 percent. We went through drills and I knew it was coming. You can always tell. I accepted it.”

“What do you mean, ‘I knew it was coming’?”

“I wasn’t participating at the level I would have liked. I can recall to this day, Phil Tyne [Chargers’ conditioning coach] had a bunch of us running sprints. I was running with linebackers and defensive backs. I tried to kick it into another gear and felt it go.”

The phone line is silent. “When you break it down, it’s a business. We are a commodity which can either appreciate in value or depreciate in value. If you have a product on your shelf that’s not producing, well, if it’s not producing in the plus range, then it’s time to move on and get another body in there.”

Sounds like football to me. “I’ve talked to other Chargers who played in the mid-’80s and they said San Diego was, to put it harshly, a dumping ground. Players would show up for a year or two at the end of their careers.”

“I don’t know if it was a dumping ground; it did seem like a revolving door. There were all these players coming in and players leaving.”

I ask about his family. Bingham mentions he has a 16-year-old son. “Does he play football?”

“My son is gravitating towards football, although I tried to keep him away from it for a while. He had his first full year last year.”

“What would you say if he decided he wanted to play in the nfl?”

“You have a lot of steps to take before the nfl. You need to get by those before you start to think about anything else.”


Mark Herrmann

“What have you been doing?” Herrmann tells me he’s a broadcaster, working for the Indianapolis Colts Radio Network. “Is it frustrating, sitting in a booth, calling a game, and not being able to play?”

“No, I enjoy watching and commenting on it.”

“Was broadcasting hard to learn?”

“I had on-the-job training. I was confident I knew what I was looking at. The job is conveying that to the listeners and sounding halfway intelligent.”

“Tell me about a game you played in San Diego.”

“There were a couple of them. The Kansas City game. I started at home when Dan Fouts was hurt. We ended up winning and we won pretty convincingly. I had a pretty good game, over 300 yards. That was probably one of the highlight games. We also played a Thursday-night game against the Raiders. I came in during the second half, brought us back to put the game into overtime. We eventually lost, but it was pretty darn exciting.”

“How did you deal with being a backup to Dan Fouts? Did you figure, ‘I’m lucky to be in the nfl,’ or were you thinking, ‘When is this guy going to move on?’ ”

Herrmann lowers his voice. “I felt very fortunate. He was a Hall of Fame quarterback, a guy I admired a great deal. I tried to learn everything I could from him. When I first came into the league, I was in Denver and we had to face the Chargers twice a year. In the early ’80s they were, definitely, running on all cylinders. So I felt fortunate to be part of that offense and throw to the caliber of talent we had. Those were by far my three most enjoyable years in the nfl.”

“How did it end?” Was it the knee or ankle?

“The way it ended was a big shock, because I was with the Colts. I started the opening game in 1992. We played Cleveland and won. It was the first home-opening victory the Colts had since they moved to Indianapolis. Life was good, and then, the next day,” Herrmann laughs, “I was released. It doesn’t get any worse than that.”

“Why?”

“One of the guys, Jack Trudeau [Colts quarterback], was coming off the injured list. I went into Jim Irsay’s office thinking we were going to talk about next week’s game, and all of a sudden he says, ‘Thanks for yesterday, but we’re going to have to release you.’ They decided to go with younger players.”

“Did you try to get picked up somewhere else?” Everybody tries to get picked up somewhere else.

“I talked with Seattle and the Cardinals but didn’t feel comfortable in either situation. I was dismayed at that point. But if you have to quit after a game, that wasn’t a bad one to quit on.”

“So there you were, out on the street. What did you do?”

“Fortunately, I grew up in Indianapolis. I knew I would eventually settle down here. I took a little time off, didn’t jump into anything for six months. Eventually, I let bygones be bygones and joined the Colts Radio Network. I’ve been pretty happy ever since.”

“Married, kids?”

“I am married; we celebrated our 20th anniversary. I have three children, a boy and two girls.”


Trumaine Johnson

“I see you played for the Chargers in ’85 and ’86.”

“Yeah.”

“How was it?”

“It was pretty good. It could have been better, could have been worse. But I didn’t get a chance to play like I wanted to. In regards to San Diego’s offense, I was in the right place with the right system, right quarterbacks, right players, but they had too many weapons. They had too much talent at one time. I got caught up in the numbers.”

Johnson held the Grambling State career reception record for 18 years. “What was your best game?”

“I had some good games against the Kansas City Chiefs. My former roommate, Abby Lewis, played with the Chiefs and it was exciting to play against him. I had a couple good games against Miami and made some good plays against the Raiders. I was a nickel receiver at the time.

“But you had Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler. I was looking for those guys to move on, but they weren’t moving fast enough for me. I wasn’t getting any passes thrown my way, and I was coming out of the usfl [United States Football League], leading the league for three years in receptions and touchdowns. Then I’m in San Diego and not getting much playing time.”

Johnson is annoyed about events 15 years removed. I understand perfectly. Starting with Game 3 in 1986 and continuing through the ’87 season, I lost every bet I made on the Chargers. Didn’t matter if I bet for them or against them. Didn’t matter if I bet over or under. The wounds still bleed as I write this. “Not much you can do about playing time.”

“No. Charlie Joiner, he’s a Hall of Famer. Wes Chandler, he’s, maybe, a future Hall of Famer. They were both Pro Bowl players. Then you had Gary Anderson, you had Lionel James, you had Tim Spencer, you had all these potential Pro Bowl players. Then you had myself. I was a Pro Bowl player. And you had Kellen Winslow. They didn’t have enough balls.”

“You must have walked into camp that first day and thought, ‘What are all these receivers doing here?’ ”

“I was looking forward to the challenge. The opportunity to play, opportunity to compete. I was denied that opportunity. But what can you do about it? I’m in the offense, I’m running clear-out routes and never get the ball thrown my way. That was something I couldn’t control.”

“Can you be more specific?” After a while friends would call asking which way I was going on the San Diego game so they could load up opposite my bet.

“It’s the system. You study your opponent all week and try to predict what he’s going to do. We ran a timing passing offense. The quarterback does his cadence and reads the coverage. We led the league five years in a row in total offense.”

And I would tell those lice-ridden warthogs my bet, because I didn’t believe it was possible to lose on San Diego one more time. “Where did you play before San Diego?”

“I started with the usfl in the spring of ’83. I played there through the fall of ’84. San Diego drafted me while I was under contract with the usfl in the event I decided to switch leagues. Went to San Diego in ’85 and ’86, went on to Buffalo in ’87 and ’88, and then Canada in ’89 and ’90.”

“Long career.” And I would lose and the nightmare would repeat the following week in exactly the same way except for my despair and rage, which grew dramatically as one Sunday turned into the next.

“Yeah, I kept moving around. The usfl folded; then I got to San Diego, things didn’t work out there, and I went to Buffalo. Had an opportunity for the Super Bowl there and won the Grey Cup in Canada.”

“What happened in Buffalo? Were they loaded with receivers too?” Pretty soon, friends of friends, people I’d never heard of, called.

“They had Reed and Burkett. I think I was right there with those guys. I guess it was just a political thing. I don’t want to say it was favoritism. Let’s say I learned how the other receivers felt when I was catching 125 passes a season. I got some of the same when the ball was going the other way although I’m wide open down the field.” Johnson laughs. “There’s still only one football.”

“That must be frustrating since more catches mean you’ll be a starter, which means you’ll get lots of press, which means more money, which means…”

“It’s something you work so hard at — to perfect yourself, to be skilled at your position — and all you need is the football to excel, and that’s something you can’t control.”

And I’d tell them my San Diego bets, knowing my streak had to end, and when it did, they would lose and come to know a microscopic morsel of what I was living. “So when you showed up on day one in San Diego or Buffalo and looked at the playbook, you could tell right away you were going to be cut out of the offense?”

“I won’t use the words ‘cut out.’ I would say I was there when they needed me. I think I could have achieved a lot more if I’d had more balls thrown my way. I could have helped my team more.”

“When was your last year of pro ball?”

“Ninety. I had a couple of injuries, back-to-back injuries. I had torn cartilage in my left knee. I rehabilitated that and then I ripped a hamstring. After that, my wife was about to have my first child, so I made a decision it was time to move on and do something else.”

“Did you have a plan?” But I never won, not one time. Every football buddy I knew, plus his friends, was making money betting against my San Diego picks.

“I had an idea. I owned a ranch in Mississippi. I was racing horses and raised beef cattle. I was excited about that. It’s a 310-acre ranch with 100, 150 head of cattle and 10 racehorses. I’m doing that part-time and I have a private investigating company — we do insurance fraud, workman’s comp cases, that’s my day job.”

Cattleman/private detective. Now that, I like. “How come a PI?”

“Just looking for something to do after football outside of the farm. I took a couple civil service exams, and, you know, word of mouth. I have my own company, MisLou Investigation — that’s short for Mississippi-Louisiana. I’m right on the border.”

One football buddy bought a car. Another spent three months in Italy. I’d go to the library and read the sports pages of every newspaper I could find. I listened to the radio, watched all the games, and bet with cold facts. Then I’d bet opposite what the cold facts had to say. “Not many people have played in the usfl, nfl, and the Canadian league. How would you compare the three?”

“The usfl was new. I played with George Allen on the Chicago Blitz. They drafted me first round. Then we became the Arizona Wranglers, played out of Arizona the second year. After that, the Oklahoma Outlaws bought out the Arizona Wranglers franchise. So it was a new ownership, new coaches, every year. That was a distraction.”

“Was it fun?”

“Yeah, it was fun. Everybody was new. The league was new, I was learning. I was young. I got some professional experience before I moved to the nfl, but I was ready to play in the nfl when I left college.”

“How was the money?” I tried, literally, throwing a dart at a piece of cardboard. I’d drawn circles on the cardboard and hung it over the kitchen door. Each circle indicated a type of bet. There was the game-spread circle, game over/under circle, first-quarter over/under circle, halftime-spread circle, and so on.

“Pay was competitive for first- and second-round draft choices. The usfl had a lot of free agents from the nfl; in fact, the majority of the league was made up of nfl players. And the usfl was getting all the high-round draft choices.”

“Did you think, at the time, that the usfl was going to make it?”

“Well, they were signing all the players. They appeared to be pretty strong, but we were playing in the spring. When they tried to go to the fall and compete with the nfl, that didn’t come out too good. I think that’s why the league folded.”

I tried aiming the dart and not aiming the dart. I tried throwing the dart with my eyes closed. “Do you remember the moment when they told you it was over?”

“We heard rumors. The fans weren’t coming out, the league was starting to fade, guys were looking elsewhere to get picked up.”

Nothing worked. I never beat it. After being flogged for two years, I stopped betting San Diego games. This is a practice I’ve continued to this day. As far as I know the evil lives on, in fact, is lurking outside this building, patiently waiting for me or, possibly, for you. “If you could do it again, what would you change?”

“I would probably go straight to the nfl. I would hate to move around as much as I did. I’d prefer to stay with one team throughout my career. To sum up, I think I was denied the opportunity to perform and compete in the nfl. That’s the only thing I regret.”


Ty Allert

“How was your time in San Diego?”

“It was good. Pretty interesting team. We had a lot of older guys and a lot of younger guys and a lot of in-between. There were a bunch of guys who had a bunch of years in the league: Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, Ed White, Donnie Macek, and Wes Chandler. Then there was a lot of us who were one-, two-, and three-year players.”

“Tell me about Chargers’ training camp.”

“It’s an experience. Training camp is not any fun…at all. It’s a lot longer than college.”

“Were you confident you’d make the team?”

“You knew you had to go out there and prove yourself. If you’re not one of the first- or second-round guys, you had to show you could play.”

Allert made the 1987 All-Madden Team. Among his teammates were Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor. “You were with Denver in 1990, which was your last year. You must have been injured.”

“Yeah, I blew my knee out in ’89 with the Eagles. I signed with Denver and played seven games. I was constantly having to get my knee drained every week. It really bothered me, got to where I couldn’t get around on it anymore.”

“How is it now?”

“Oh, you know, it doesn’t bother me as far as everyday stuff. If I go out and work in the yard and overdo, it gets sore, but as far as everyday walking around, it doesn’t bother me. I mean, it’s part of the game. I broke my jaw in high school. Had my shoulder operated on in college, had my right knee operated on three times. It’s part of it.”

My right knee begins to ache. “Was the money getting pretty good, say, from 1986 to ’90?”

“It was starting to get good. That was the very beginning of Plan B free agency. The money has gone up considerably since then. I looked at this year’s draft and saw what the guys were signing for. There was a fella who signed with San Francisco the other day, never heard of him. He said he got the minimum contract for a five-year player. It was $477,000.” Albert laughs. “Yeah, it’s changed.”

According to the nfl Players Association, the average nfl salary in the year 2000 was $1,169,470. “What was your best money year?”

“About $275,000.”

“Players usually don’t have a plan for what they’re going to do after the nfl. Their careers end either by being released or by injury. How was it for you?”

“Same way. Because you don’t ever know. The nfl career is so much shorter than other professional sports.”

“What did you do after football?”

“I coached for a year at UT [University of Texas]. Then the head coach got fired. I had a chance to go to another school, out of state, but I was tired of moving and I’d just gotten married. So I didn’t do anything for six or eight months. I ended up meeting a guy; we became friends. He owned a business. I invested some money in it. We customize trucks and Suburbans for new-car dealers and retail customers. Been doing that for ten years.”

“Do you see any of the nfl players you played with?”

“I talk to some. There are a handful of guys I still talk to, occasionally, but as far as getting together, I don’t. A friend of mine played with Philadelphia. I hadn’t seen him in five years, and then he and his wife moved to town about seven miles from us. I thought, ‘Ahh, I’ll see him all the time.’ ” Allert laughs. “We see each other about once a month, maybe. I’m busy — I get home from work, play with the kids, and put them to bed. I’m tired, go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again.”

“You played long enough to get vested in the players union?”

“Yeah.”

“Are benefits fairly generous?”

“No, they’re horrible. As far as retirement, for every year you play you get $10,000 as a one-time payment. So if you play one year you get $10,000, play two years you get 20, play three years you get 30, and play four years you get $70,000. That’s why it’s a big deal to get four years.” (Miki Yaraf-Davis of the nfl Players Association benefits department explains that retired players receive benefits according to the contract then in force while they were playing. On occasion, active players have voted to increase benefits for retired players.)

“Because at four years you get…what?”

“You get $40,000. You’re getting 10, 10, 10, and at four years you get 40.”

“I see, you get $40,000 for four years’ service plus another $30,000 as bonus, which makes $70,000 altogether.”

“Right. After the four years it goes back to 10 a year until however long you play.”

“Do they cut you a check and say, ‘Here’s the $70 grand, see ya’?”

“Yeah, you got that right. You have to sign a paper that says you’re retired and mail it in. They pay you within a year. You get that, and then you get $150 a month for every year you played once you turn 65.”

“Do you get medical?”

“No.”

“No medical?”

“No. Now, I went back and filed a workers’ comp claim on my knee. Filed it in Philadelphia, where I originally got the knee injury. Had to go down there and go to court and won. Basically, that will cover anything I have to have done to this knee forever.”

Hard way to acquire medical insurance. “Everybody who ever played in the nfl has some kind of an injury; many have injuries that will be with them the rest of their lives. Are they screwed unless they go to court like you did?”

“Pretty much, yeah. They’re not out there trying to go out of their way to help you.”

“I thought if you busted your knee playing for Philadelphia, the club was responsible until some doctor said, ‘This guy is fine now.’ ”

“Let’s say you hurt your knee in the fifth game of the year. They’ve got to pay you the remainder of your contract for that year. I think the next year — it could have all changed by now — but back then if you were still hurt the following year, they had to pay you half your salary, then after that they didn’t have to pay you anything. Like I said, if it’s a career-ending injury, you can go for a regular workmen’s comp award, go before the board, and argue your case just like anybody can do.”

Want a doctor? Get a lawyer. “I know things have changed, but I wonder how much. I talked to a man who played for the Chargers in the ’60s. He was reminiscing about training camp, specifically about lunch. He said they had a cafeteria setup and you got your little tray and you’re going down the lunch line and there are the fruits and there are the breads and the salads and there is a big bowl of painkillers.”

“It wasn’t like that when I was there. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I know with my knee I’d take anti-inflammatories the whole season. When I was with Denver, they released me the week before the last game because San Diego had released somebody and Denver wanted to pick him up. So I got my stuff together and drove home. Well, by the time I got there, Seattle called. They were fixing to go into the playoffs and they needed help on special teams. They flew me up there and I signed with them.

“You got to take a physical anytime you go somewhere new. Seattle couldn’t believe, as bad as my knee was, that Denver released me. Seattle made me sign a waiver,” Allert laughs, “saying if I hurt my knee during the time I played with them, they would not be responsible, because my knee was already done in.”

I…don’t…get…it. “You said they were shocked Denver released you. Wouldn’t every team want to release an injured player?”

“The rules say they’re not allowed to release you if you’re injured. Now they can sign off by getting their doctor to say, ‘He’s fine.’ When I went to Seattle, their doctor looked at my knee and went, ‘Oh, God.’ The minute I got there I told him, ‘Really, if you’ll just go ahead and drain it now, it will feel a lot better. I’ll be fine.’ ”

“Do players talk about injuries, something like, ‘I’m going to be fucked up in another 10 or 20 years’?”

“No. You’re young.”

And dumb. “Do you remember a game you played with the Chargers?”

“Not really. We were an average team.”


1970s

Ralph Perretta

“You’re very unusual. You were drafted by San Diego and played your entire career with them save five games. I don’t know if that happens anymore. What did you do after football?”

“I’ve sold medical supplies for the last 20 years.”

“Did you plan for that?”

“I wasn’t trained to do it. I was trained to teach and coach. But your outlook changes from the time you’re in college to the time you’re done with football and have to go to work. I thought I’d like to give business a try. I had a neighbor who was a recruiter. He thought ex-ballplayers would be a natural in sales because of their ability to work and cooperate as a team.”

“Were you making good money when you left the nfl?”

“My seventh year in the league I was gonna make $57,000 and I walked from that, because it wasn’t worth it anymore.”

According to Economic History Services of Miami University, $57,000 in 1981 has the same purchasing power as $111,442 in 2001, which is less than 10 percent of today’s average nfl salary. “Very few players leave the nfl because they decide it’s time to go.”

“I sensed the jig was up for me. I had six years in, and I didn’t have a good feeling going into my seventh year.”

“Had you lost a step?”

“I definitely felt like I did. I wasn’t, physically, at my best. I was 29 years old. In football years, you’re starting to get on the downside of the slope. I played offensive center and a little guard. I was the kind of a player who had to fight every year to make the team. It seemed they were trying to replace me every training camp. That kind of wears on you. You only have so much fight in you.”


1960s

John Klotz

“I see you were with the Chargers in 1962.”

“Yes sir, that was the year. Prior to that I’d been in New York with the Titans — that’s before they became the Jets. [The American Football League awarded Harry Wismer the New York franchise in August of 1959. The Titans’ first game was played the following September. Two years later Wismer failed to meet his payroll and the league assumed the team’s bills. The following March a five-man syndicate purchased the football club and changed its name from Titans to Jets.]

“The Titans were in turmoil. Checks were bouncing. I remember playing an exhibition game against San Diego in San Diego. We stayed at the Stardust Motel. We had a practice at the University of San Diego. After practice the bus driver wouldn’t drive us back to the Stardust because he hadn’t been paid. So we walked back. We were cutting through people’s back yards, carrying our shoulder pads and helmets.”

“You had to carry your gear?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

“How did you come to play with the Chargers? That must have been a happy day.”

“As I remember, Harry Wismer put almost everybody on waivers. I was claimed by San Diego. I knew Sid Gillman.”

Wismer was a radio and television sports commentator during the 1940s and ’50s. “Let’s back up. When was your first year in the nfl?”

“I was with the Rams in 1956. I played a couple exhibition games with them and then I got my draft notice. I asked the draft board — it was the middle of August — if they could please take me in December, but they wouldn’t do it. So I joined the Marines and spent three years at mcrd [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] in San Diego.”

“So you got out of the Marines in 1960, played for the Titans that year, the following year, and part of the ’62 season. Then you were traded to San Diego?”

“Right, I came out at the end of October, maybe November [1962]. It took me a while to learn the system. I lived with Hank Schmidt over in Mission Beach.”

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated wrote, “Henry Schmidt was the greatest wedge buster I’ve ever seen.” Who, dear reader, is your favorite wedge buster? “Can you remember a game from the ’62 season?”

“Vaguely remember a game with Denver [Denver won 23–20]. I’m trying to remember the defensive tackle’s name. I remember having an altercation with him. I was the left offensive tackle. I knew Ernie Ladd and I knew Ron Nery from having played against them, so I wasn’t a total stranger to the Chargers. I remember — what was the kid’s name? — they had to cut somebody to make room for me. They made us go one-on-one. All the guys were rooting for him to bust me and it didn’t happen.”

“The next season you were back in New York. Did you go into San Diego with an understanding you would be going back to the Titans?”

“No, I had to go to Sid [Gillman] and say, ‘I’m an East Coast guy. I want to go back to New York.’ He let me go. I went to the Jets’ camp without a contract and made the team, but I got the bad end of the stick. I hurt my knee the next to the last game of the season. I came back to the Jets’ camp in ’64 and was the listed starting left tackle. We were playing New England in the second or third preseason game and I got hurt. I was 32, 33 years old, and it was taking a while to heal.

“Tackles were coming in and out of camp all the time. Chuck Knox was line coach then. Weeb [Weeb Ewbank, Jets’ head coach 1963–’73], Weeb called me into the office one day and gave me a piece of paper to sign. It said, in essence, that I released the Jets organization of all responsibility for my injury.”

“Sweet guy.”

“I said, ‘Coach, I can’t sign that. I can’t even walk.’ And he screamed and cussed — little old lovable Weeb. He said, ‘You’ll never get your pension.’ And I was pushing for that year, because you needed five years to get vested. Emotionally, it really hurt me because I loved that team. I made the coach’s All-Pro Second Team the year before. But I was traded to Houston halfway through the season.”

“Did you sign the paper?”

“No, sir, but it came back to haunt me. After I was traded to Houston I had to go through the same thing there as I did in San Diego. Houston had to release somebody when I came on board, and he’d been there from the beginning playing at guard. They all loved him and he was the guy they were releasing. We got into it one day at practice. Anyway, I gimped through a year in Houston.

“Now, what I’m going to tell you, I didn’t find out until two years ago. See, each year the Jets have a three-day homecoming and I’d go to it — it’s great to see the guys. So I was there and John Schmitt [Jets center] told me, ‘Winston Hill [Jets offensive tackle] and I met with Weeb after Chuck [Knox] went to coach the Lions, and we asked him to bring you back as line coach. He wouldn’t do it.’ ”

One heartbeat passes. “I could have gotten a Super Bowl ring. So I don’t know, had I signed that release, if it would have made a difference or not.”

The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16–7 in Super Bowl III. “Your last season was 1964.”

“I ripped my adductor muscle. I think that’s what it’s called. I tore my leg away from my body. A couple years later I’d be in bed still yelling from the pain. I had adhesions and a lot of bleeding in there.”

“How was the afl when it came to medical care?”

“I remember when Howie Glenn died [Howard Glenn was 26 years old when he died]. He was an offensive guard for the Titans. I was on the team at the time. We played the Oilers in Houston. I think he got hurt when the third quarter began and he sat out on the bench. After the game we ran into the locker room and showered. He came out of the shower. I remember him sitting on an old metal chair. He started shaking and went off and hit the ground. John McMullan [offensive guard] screamed, ‘Somebody get a doctor!’ We had no doctor. Houston’s doctor came in and started giving him needles. Sam Baugh [Jets head coach 1960–1961] told us, while we were getting on the bus to go to the airport, they were going to leave Howie in Houston overnight for observation. We were at the airport waiting and waiting to leave. Baugh got on the plane and said, ‘Howie’s dead.’ Man, did that take it out of us. I don’t know what our record was at the time, but I don’t think we won another game that year.”

“Every man for himself?”

“Yeah, especially in New York in the beginning. You’d be in training camp and they’d bring in 20 guys in the morning and 20 guys in the afternoon just to look at ’em. Run them in and out. I remember hurting my back and the trainer saying, ‘The doc can give you something that’ll straighten you right out.’ And, I swear, the needle he stuck in my back looked like it was three feet long. I think he told me it was Novocain and cortisone. It felt like I had not injured my back. I did that one other time. That practice is pretty widespread.”

“Do you remember what the Chargers paid you?”

“Probably $6000 or $7000. My first contract was with the Rams. They offered me $5000 and I held out for $5500. When I made Second Team All-Pro I made $11,000.”

Economic History Services says $11,000 in 1963 dollars has the same purchasing power as $63,873 in 2001. “Was that considered good money?”

“Naw, Don Maynard [played flanker, wingback, offensive end, and halfback for the Jets; Hall of Fame inductee] was making $18,000 or $19,000. Larry Grantham [Jets linebacker] was making $18,000 or $19,000.”

“What did you do when you got out? There you are, and suddenly it’s over.”

“That’s exactly how it is. Well, let’s see, I scouted for New England for a while. The nfl, in the late ’60s, had farm teams. They had a team in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the Firebirds. I was their offensive line coach. And I was a substitute teacher. Then I got a sales job in sporting goods. Then I started a company with a friend of mine and lost everything. I had some tough years, my life was completely turned around.”

“What do you do now?”

“I work at a Christian-based homeless shelter in my hometown.”

“How are your knees?”

“Well, I had arthroscopic surgery in January. I have no cartilage there and I have a lot of pain. I got the usual things, I guess. The little finger and ring finger on my right hand are numb from bone spurs in my elbow pressing on a nerve. I’ve got a stiff neck. I have trouble turning, got a lot of pain in my neck, but I feel great.”

Everybody feels great. “Looking back, would you do it again?”

Klotz laughs. “In a minute. And I’d do it better and I’d do a lot of things differently. I mean, to get paid to play a game, come on, holy mackerel.”


Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp is speaking. “Well, I’m not able to do it right now. We’re going to a birthday party and then we’re going back to Vail tomorrow, so I’ll call you from Vail next week.”

“Okay, I’ll give you my number.”

“Yeah.”

I say the phone number.

“Hold on.”

I say the phone number again.

“What’s your name?”

I give him my name, and, as good measure, give him my phone number again.

“I’ll call you Monday.”

Kemp returns my call, from Vail, on Monday. Famous people never return your call on Monday. Famous people don’t return your call on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday either.

This may explain why, when I pick up my phone Monday morning and hear “Hi, Pat” followed by “Is this a good time?”, I have no idea who is talking. But, eventually, I find my first question. “Do you remember much from the 1960 season, when the Chargers were playing in L.A.?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll never forget it. Barron Hilton and Sid Gillman and the late Don Klosterman, my dear friend, ran an nfl franchise in the afl. The Chargers were first-class. I don’t think they scrimped on one thing. Barron was farsighted enough to know that ultimately the Chargers would have to compete with the nfl, even though they were in L.A. and the L.A. Times were fans of the Rams. Sid was an nfl coach, Barron was an nfl owner, albeit not yet, but the whole thing was world-class.

“Sid did everything as if we were going to play the Rams in two weeks. That gave off a sense of professionalism that was unmatched by any of the other football experiments, the usfl, or whatever. We didn’t quite have a world-class team, but we had a good team.

“We had a lot of guys who came out of the nfl, myself included. There were Howie Ferguson and Ron Waller. We signed Ron Mix, which was a huge coup over the nfl. Ronnie Mix was All-American tackle and one of my best friends, still is. Paul Lowe could have made it on any nfl team. So I don’t think anybody had any feeling that we weren’t going to be a first-class operation.”

“The Chargers moved to San Diego in 1961. Were you surprised?”

“Not a surprise to me, because I was close to management. It was pretty obvious something had to be done. Barron got a tremendous offer from San Diego. I remember Jack Murphy of the San Diego Union and Herb Klein, he was a friend. So I knew something was up, because I was working for the Chargers in the off-season. They treated me as part of the family.”

“What were you doing?”

“The first year I went around and talked about the new league and the Chargers as a PR agent for the league. I must have given 150 speeches about this new league and what the possibilities were. My wife and I had one child and one on the way when we moved to San Diego. For us, it was a blessing, because we got to move to Point Loma. I worked for the Union-Tribune in the off-season. I felt very much at home in San Diego. And, of course, it was one of the great sports franchise moves in modern history.”

“Has it always been like that, speaking for the club? Was it like that in high school?”

“In what way?”

“Not too many players, particularly in those days, would speak for a football club and a league during the off-season.”

“I was captain of my high school team in Fairfax and my college team at Occidental. I was captain of the Chargers…”

“So that role wasn’t new for you?”

“…and I was captain of the Buffalo Bills. So I guess, as a quarterback and a captain — and, as you may or may not know, I was president of the football association for five years.”

“A couple of the players I’ve talked to mentioned you started the players union. Is that right?”

“Yeah. Me and Tommy Addison of the Patriots and Tom Flores of the Raiders and Lance Alworth from the Chargers. We realized that afl players had to be represented, not in a militant fashion, but in a responsible, corporate way. I was president for, I think, six years, until we merged with the nfl.”

Lance Alworth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978. “Was it difficult to set up the players union?”

“Not really. The commissioner of the nfl was Pete Rozelle. The commissioner of the afl was Joe Foss. There had been a lot of trouble back in the ’50s. There were no strikes, but the players weren’t well organized, they didn’t get much respect. I think Pete Rozelle, who was not only the greatest commissioner of the 20th Century but a progressive in knowing players not only had a responsibility but the moral authority to be represented in collective negotiation and marketing. But you had to separate the individual contract of a player from collective bargaining of the players. He was wise enough, and so was Joe Foss, to recognize players and player reps were not out to be militant. It got militant later, when the nfl players union turned its fortunes over to a lawyer out of Wisconsin, Ed Garvey.

“I don’t think the nfl players would say the same thing about Pete Rozelle as I have, but I thought he knew what was best and he certainly represented the nfl. He probably wanted to wipe out the afl, but eventually, thanks to,” Kemp’s gravel voice chuckles, “ironically, Al Davis, and, in large part, the new contract we got from nbc, we were taken very seriously.”

In 1949 the nfl merged with the All-America Football Conference, adding the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco 49ers football clubs to its membership. Twenty-one years later, the nfl merged with the American Football League. “I talked earlier today to Wayne Frazier. He was on the San Diego and Buffalo teams with you.”

“Oh, yeah, real nice guy.”

“He had bad knees and went to arbitration about his medical bills. This is back in the ’60s. He said he had to go to the league to see if they were going to cover his bills. The issue was voted on by three owners and three players who sat on some kind of a committee. I asked him, ‘Are you sure an owner would take the time to vote on one player’s injury?’ ”

“The afl contract was the exact parallel of the nfl contract, and any player injured in a season was automatically guaranteed his salary.”

“Yeah, for that year, but after that it had to be football related…”

“Oh, I see, later on, after you retire.”

“Say you busted up your leg in October, you’d be paid for the rest of that year, but after that, if you weren’t healed, then the owners would say it was not a football-related injury.”

“Okay. In those days, I think they had a committee and it was made up of players and owners.” Kemp is quiet. “I’m pretty close to Gene Upshaw [nfl Players Association executive director], and they have an organization within the union that takes care of a lot of players who are injured. For instance, there is a fullback from the Buffalo Bills who called me one day. I still get calls from guys who want me to help. So I called Gene. They called the fullback and he’s going to get a heart transplant.”

What happens if you don’t have Jack Kemp as a buddy? “Would you do it again?”

“You might do things differently. In those days you’d say, ‘I’ll play hurt.’ I remember when I broke my finger playing for the Chargers, which eventually led me to being sold to the Buffalo Bills. I had Hadl [John Hadl, Chargers’ quarterback 1962–1972] behind me and I didn’t want to come out of the game, because I didn’t want anybody to think I was going to give up my position that easily. So I played the whole game with a dislocated finger that kept dislocating with almost every snap of the ball, thinking I was a tough guy. We won the game, and the next day my finger was swollen to the size of a baseball. I couldn’t play great games, was put on injured reserve, and ended up in Buffalo.”

“That doesn’t seem to have changed. Joe Montana and Steve Young played hurt because they didn’t want their backups on the field.”

“Yeah. Earlier you asked me about the old L.A. Chargers and San Diego Chargers. We only got an average of 25,000 people in the L.A. Coliseum and a little more in Balboa Stadium, but it was wide-open football — we’d throw 50 times a game. People loved it.”

Time to go. “What’s going on nowadays?”

“I’m no longer active in politics. I joke I’m a recovering politician. Bill Bennett, the drug czar and education secretary, and I and Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick founded Empower America. That’s our think tank in Washington. I’m on the board of 18 companies, including Oracle. Do a lot of venture capital work. We have a home in Vail, a home in Washington, and we’re building a home in Montana. Life’s good. I’m 66, have 4 children, 14 grandchildren, all healthy, all good athletes. What more can an old man…”

“Your life sounds fairy tale, it’s so perfect.”

“I’ve been mightily blessed. I had a good football career, a nice political career, and now I’m a venture capitalist. My grandson calls me an ‘entrepre-manure.’ ”



Richard Hudson

“What do you want to know?” Hudson’s voice sounds steady, calm, matter-of-fact.

“Well, how are you and what have you been doing?”

“Well, I was a school administrator for 30 years. High school. I’m retired from them and I’m retired from the National Football League. Right now, I run a rural water district in Paris, Tennessee.”

“Did you know what you were going to do after football while you were still in the game?”

“I’d gone to school in the off-season. I had my master’s degree in school administration when I retired from football. I taught one year and went into coaching and administration. I stayed in coaching for three years and stayed in administration until I retired. This is my third year since I’ve been out of that.”

“You’re retired-retired?”

“Well, I’m retired-retired, but I have another job.”

“Let me count the ways. You’re going to be depositing Social Security, nfl, school district, and water district retirement checks?”

“Right.” Hudson makes a happy chuckle.

The man is a quadruple threat. “Do you remember any games from the ’62 season?”

“When we played Buffalo in San Diego. I think that was the first or second game I started. I started at left guard. I remember playing against Tom Sestak.”

“What was it about that particular game that makes it stand out? Was Sestak that good?”

“I remember how good he was. I had a good ballgame, but he was some kind of tough.”

Tom Sestak was a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills from 1962 through 1968. He died in 1987. “Where did you live while you were in San Diego?”

“You know, I can remember the address. It was 3969 Bob Street, an apartment complex.” Hudson laughs. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

Yes, there is a Bob Street in San Diego. I checked. “Was it a big deal to be in the afl back in 1962?”

“Sure. I was a country boy.”

“Did you know in high school that you were very, very good at football?”

“I was big, that helped. I did pretty well in college. I thought by the end of my junior year I would play pro football.”

“Buffalo was your last team, and your last year was 1967. Did you know the end was at hand?”

“I had two bad knee injuries. That was the reason ’67 was my last year. In ’68, I was on the roster, but I didn’t play. I hurt my knees the first time in ’63 against Oakland. And then again in ’67. It was one of those deals when you plant a foot…you lose it.”

“What is it…about football?”

“I don’t know. One of my friends here, one of the local doctors who played at Ole Miss the same time I played at Memphis State, asked me that same question the other day. Both of us were gimping around. I’m looking at two total knee replacements now.”

“Is playing in the nfl worth it?” He’s going to say “Yes.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Could you play today?”

“Well, the game is so different. I was bigger than most people — I played at 270 as offensive linemen. I have a son, he was the long snapper for Baltimore this past year. He’s been up there 11 years, played with Philadelphia, the Jets, and then last year he was picked up by Baltimore. He was 280 and wasn’t big enough to play.”

“He weighs 280 and is a long snapper?”

“He’s been a backup lineman and long snapper ever since he’s been up there. People are so much bigger now. Maybe I could have gotten that big, I don’t know. You’ve got to understand, I never lifted a weight until my third year of pro football. It’s a different game now, people are so much bigger.”

“How about the money, does it drive you nuts to see how much they’re making now?”

“No, not really. My son, this past year in the playoffs, made more money than I made in an entire career.”

“Just during the playoffs?”

“Just during the playoffs.”

John Hudson began his rookie year in 1991. “How did your son find his way into the nfl?”

“He was a good offensive lineman, played at Auburn, started for three years. He was on two Sugar Bowl teams. He was an 11th-round draft choice, went to Philadelphia and backed up the guard and center there and did the long snapping. Law of averages is what kept him in the game so long. Last year he thought he was through, but in October Baltimore’s snapper got hurt and they called him. He played the last half of the season through the Super Bowl.”

Oh, this is excellent. “Does he have a Super Bowl ring?”

“Yup. That rascal is big and ugly.”


Claude “Hoot” Gibson

“What happened after football?”

“I went up to Boston and I was in Buffalo for Jack Kemp’s last year, 1969. That was O. J.’s first year. Then I got the head coaching job at University of Tulsa in 1970. I was probably too young, but we beat Arkansas when they were ranked seventh in the country. upi voted me national Coach of the Week. I had Drew Pearson, he played for me, and so did Steve Largent, and so did Ray Rhodes.”

Pearson was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys from 1973 through 1983. He is part owner of Drew Pearson Marketing and was vice president/general manager of the xfl’s New York–New Jersey Hitmen. Largent was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 while serving as a United States congressman from Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. Ray Rhodes is the ultimate nfl lifer. Played seven years as defensive back for the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, ending his career at San Francisco in 1980. Stayed there as assistant secondary coach and defensive backs coach through 1991. Then, two years with Green Bay as defensive coordinator. Back to San Francisco in the same position. Lasted one year. Made head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. Stayed three years. Moved back to Green Bay as head coach in 1999. Lasted one year. Moved to Washington as defensive coordinator. Lasted one year. Two thousand one finds him at Denver as defensive coordinator. Sooner or later he’ll find work in San Diego. “What happened after Tulsa?”

“When I left Tulsa, I came back to within 20 miles of my hometown to an naia [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] school, a Baptist school. They’re an ncaa Division II school now, Mars Hill College. I loved it. I was there ten years and was the athletic director too. We were 5 and 6 our first year, but they’d never had a winning season. I think in ’78 we broke even. We got in the national playoffs in 1980.”

Gibson is married and “had a daughter born in San Diego, a daughter born in Oakland, and a son born in Boston. My oldest daughter, who was born in San Diego, passed away a year ago. She was a beautiful child.

“I’ll tell you an interesting thing. My wife went into the hospital in San Diego to have the baby. The team was getting ready to fly to Houston. Jack Kemp asked Sid Gillman if I could stay in San Diego, see if my wife was going to have a baby that night, and fly to Houston the next day. Gillman said, ‘Hell, no.’ ” Gibson chuckles.

“Tell me about Kemp.”

“He’s really been a dear friend. When I was head coach at Tulsa, he was a freshman congressman. He came out and spoke at my banquet. I happened to be in New York when Kemp was getting ready to run for president and he had a $1000-a-plate dinner. He had three days of fund-raising; the big one was Saturday night. Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, and Bob Lilly were there. O. J. walked in with Nicole. That was six months before the murder.”

“How was the happy couple?”

“O. J. would light a room up. I was shocked he wasn’t with somebody prettier. Nicole didn’t look good that night. I talked to her for 15 or 20 minutes. What people don’t realize, she was going with him on all those trips right up until the end. In April she was in Mexico with him. She seemed a little bit nervous talking to me. I said, ‘I’m just his old coach, relax.’ She seemed a little anxious.”

“Did O. J. ever show a dark side?”

“No, I never saw him lose his temper in a football game. Of course, I absolutely don’t believe he did it. I used to tape the trial and play it back. I can defend the verdict. I’m convinced if he was involved he wasn’t by himself. I’m convinced they planted evidence too. When you take somebody’s blood and you keep it for 24 hours, 23 hours, before you take it to the lab…they left themselves open.”


George Belotti

“The first team I went with was the L.A. Chargers in 1960. Before the season started I got traded to Houston. Played there in ’60, part of ’61, and then I came back to San Diego.”

“How did that go down?”

“Got me.”

Great answer. “Did somebody tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Pack your gear’?”

“That’s what they do. ‘You’ve been traded.’ ”

“Jack Kemp says the Chargers were a first-class outfit.”

“Oh, yeah.” Silence. “You know, Jack Kemp and all of us went to boot camp up in Fort Ord. Eisenhower came out with that six-month program [National Guard]. You could do your military between football seasons, so you wouldn’t get screwed up. I met Jack and Del Shofner, Jon Arnett, a whole group of players.”

Del Shofner played for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants from 1957 through 1967. He was the three-time Pro Bowler. Jon Arnett’s ten-year nfl career ended in 1966. Arnett was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on April 20, 2001. “Did the National Guard put all the football players together?”

“Naw, everybody joined the 40th Armory.” (The 40th Armored Division of the National Guard was located on South Hope Street in Los Angeles.)

“What was Kemp like in boot camp?” Silence. “What was his mos [military occupational specialties, i.e., job classification]?”

Belotti laughs. “Our mos was ‘Don’t Do Anything.’ ”

Same one I had. “When you first got word you were traded to Houston, it must have been disappointing. There you were, with the L.A. Chargers, all settled in, know everybody, and boom.”

“Oh, yeah. But then you think, ‘Maybe I can make some more money.’ ”

“Maybe you were lucky. Houston played the L.A. Chargers for the championship, and Houston won 24 to 16.”

“Yeah. In Houston.”

“Did they have a ring for you guys?”

“Yeah, we got a ring. We got it 20 years later.”

“Was it a good ring?”

“Yeah, a nice ring.”

“Diamonds?”

“No. The colors of Houston Oilers. I forget what the stone is. It’s a pretty stone.”

The Houston Oilers were afl champions in 1960 and ’61. The franchise has never been to a Super Bowl. “Was it as much of a big deal to be a pro football player in 1960 as it is now?”

“It was for us in Houston, because that was the first professional team that city ever had. They [the Houston Oilers] won the championship in their first year. The first year was outstanding. The afl was exciting football, people liked it.”

“Do you remember how much money you made that first year?”

“It wasn’t much.”

“Did it seem like a lot at the time? Or was it ‘I’m having fun and the hell with it’?”

“At the time it was pretty good money. My ambition, when I got out of college, was to make $1000 a month. That was good money. Make that and you were doing really well.”

“You played two games in 1961 and that was it. I assume you retired because of an injury?”

“No, it was cancer.”

“In 1961?”

“Yeah.”

One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. “Well, congratulations.”

Belotti laughs. “Right, thanks.”

“Did it take a long time to get over the cancer?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“So you never reached a point, two or three years later, of saying, ‘Well, I can go back in if I want to’?”

“No, I could never go back. I went from 270 down to 160 pounds. And as a center, that doesn’t work too well.”

“Are people still impressed once they find out you played pro football?”

“It’s amazing. People still send me my picture and ask for an autograph. From all over the country. I was on the first afl Championship team.”


Jimmy Sears

“Do you remember your first football game?”

“High school. Then I went on to college. I thought I’d never make it. I guess you grow that year, or grow the next year, and you do what you have to do to make the team.”

“You played against some great football players.”

“Well, James Brown and Y. A. Tittle…”

“Frank Gifford?”

“Frank was a teammate of mine. In fact, I named my youngest son Gifford.”

Frank Gifford was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. “What kind of guy is he?”

“Frank was a terrific guy. He ran around in our little crowd. I was in awe of him, but we were still buddies. Frank, Al Carmichael and myself and Johnny Williams all went around together. Good times in college.”

“You played with the L.A. Chargers in 1960. What do you remember from the season?”

Sears laughs. “I remember we played for the championship and lost by a few points.”

“I have your stats here. Before coming to the Chargers, you played for the Chicago Cardinals from 1954 through 1958. [Abbreviated franchise history: Chicago Cardinals 1920–1959. St. Louis Cardinals 1960–1987. Arizona Cardinals 1988 to present.] Where were you when you learned you’d been traded to the Chargers?”

“I was an assistant coach at usc.”

“You left Chicago in 1958 and coached at usc in ’59?”

“Right.”

“Why go back to pro football?”

“Well, Frank Leahy was after me, and then Sid Gillman became the Chargers’ coach. He talked me into it. I made twice as much money as I could at SC. It was all a money deal.”

Frank Leahy had a long college coaching career finishing in 1953 as Notre Dame head coach. While at Notre Dame, his teams had six undefeated seasons and earned five national championships. “So you’re in a new league, on a new team. Did you feel like playing for the Chargers was a step down from the nfl?”

“The Chargers were a very good team. I’ll tell you what, coming from the Cardinals, which was a second-rate nfl team at that time, to the Chargers… I’ll put it this way, the Chargers had brand-new uniforms; they were a first-class outfit. In fact, after the first few preseason games, I thought everybody felt we were capable of holding our own. I never thought it was a step down. I always thought it was a good step up.”

“Do you remember how much you were paid?”

“I sure do.”

“I know this is going to hurt.”

“How about $16,000?”

It hurts. “Was that considered pretty good bucks?”

“It wasn’t that good.”

“Then you played for Denver in 1961.”

“That turned into a fiasco. That really hurt. I was the captain of the Chargers team that year. I played defensive safety and was the signal caller. But I threw my shoulder out after the 1960 season and wasn’t able to hit as well. I got traded to the Denver Broncos. I realized when they traded me I was on my last legs. They knew too.

“I played four or five games up there. At that time there were a couple teams in the league like the Denver Broncos. They were similar to the Cardinals in the nfl. They were fighting a payroll. Denver had three or four young guys who were on the defensive corners. So they took a long look at it. ‘Here’s Jim, he’s 30 years old, 31 years old, and we can get a guy who’s 25 or 24 years old.’ They were looking at their pennies. They were not like the Chargers. They were not first-class.”

“So they said, ‘See you around’?”

“Right.”

“Did you try to get back with San Diego?” He’s going to say “Yes.”

“Yeah, I did. But no deal. So I figured, ‘I’m 31 years old and I know a few people in the car business.’ I went into the car business with Fletcher Jones. Turned out very good as far as money. I retired in 1995.”

“Have you had any contact with the Chargers since 1960?” He’s going to say “No.”

“It’s funny. The Denver Broncos, every year, send out a letter to the people who played for them. Al Carmichael was a buddy of mine, he played for the Denver Broncos the very last years he played pro football. As a result, he gets a letter in the mail and I get a letter in the mail, and it said, ‘Well, the 1960 team wants to be reunited on the field.’ I would have liked to have gone back; they were gonna pay for everything and have me go on the field. Same thing with Al.

“I was talking it over with him, and he said, ‘You played for the Chargers in 1960. I played for Denver in ’60.’ So that was the end of that. But you know, I never heard anything from the Chargers. Never heard one word.”

Sears is silent. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I just got home from the hospital two days ago. I had surgery for some urethra problems, and as a result I got off on a whirl and had real low blood pressure. They thought I was going to pass away. So I’m really glad to talk to you.”

Thanks for the Memories

December 4, 1997 — R.E. Graswich

Bob Hope needs a lift, and Alex G. Spanos is there. Not in person -- Spanos is long gone, boiling mad and flying home aboard his private Gulfstream jet -- but there in spirit and conveyance.

Hope needs a limo, and Spanos has one waiting at the curb. Hope needs a fast plane to Palm Springs, and Spanos has one fueled at Lindbergh Field. It is a white, ten-passenger Lockheed with a golden thunderbolt on the tail, a backup jet in the Spanos fleet.

Hope wants a slice of apple crumb cake. No problem. Spanos delivers.

That's what friends are for, Spanos will tell you. And Hope is a friend, a pal for more than three decades, a golfing buddy, a vaudeville dance partner, a fellow traveler on the road to Republican victories, self-made, rich and proud.

It's Sunday night and Hope and his wife, Dolores, have spent the evening watching the Raiders thump the San Diego Chargers 38-13 at the football stadium in San Diego, seated in the sumptuous suite overseen by Spanos.

Hope, the legendary comedian, is 94. He can't see very well and is hard of hearing. The snow-white hair that hangs from beneath his baseball cap could use a trim.

But he still enjoys going to football games, wading through crowds, smiling and nodding, gingerly propelled along in bright white running shoes, tan slacks, blue sweater, and white golf jacket, clinging to the arm of his valet, Jay, following the blocks set by Dolores, who's pushing 90 herself and charges forward without fear or favor.

The relationship between Spanos and Hope shows how Spanos operates, how his friends are part of his extended family, accepted without question, regardless of need. It also shows why Spanos enjoys owning a sports team.

The multimillionaire apartment builder and philanthropist from Stockton owns the Chargers and is interested in buying the Sacramento Kings. He publicly expressed his nba ambitions several weeks ago. He has come to understand that his words were received by Kings owner Jim Thomas like the first shot in a hostile takeover.

So Spanos has decided to lie low for a while, not commenting on the Kings until things cool down. He is concentrating on the Chargers, on making his family and friends feel at home in his San Diego football suite, on playing the role of host.

The suite is the perfect place for such things. Fronted by glass windows overlooking midfield, it runs about 60 feet long and features a full kitchen, seven tables inside, two tables out on the deck, theater seats from which to watch the game, a marble-topped beer tap and liquor bar, and marble bathrooms that include polished stainless steel sinks that glisten when wet.

Spanos and his wife, Faye, greet everyone at the paneled entry hall. He smiles and shakes hands, sweeps an arm across the room toward the kitchen, where iced shrimp and sushi and Greek lamb chops and roast beef and salmon and pineapple and watermelon and miniature cheeseburgers await.

"Glad to see you, son," Spanos tells a visitor. "Now the only thing I ask is that you bring us luck tonight. Help yourself to anything. Relax. Make yourself at home."

Other tables are occupied by Spanos's sons Dino and Mike and Mike's wife, Helen, and their four boys and other Spanos grandchildren and friends. Bill Fox, one of the original owners of the Chargers, shows up about the same time the Hopes arrive -- Dolores with gigantic sunglasses covering her eyes and a vivid blue scarf draped over her gray hair, Bob wearing a Chargers cap and clutching Jay's arm.

Luxury suites at sports stadiums are temples for business activity -- schmoozing clients, wooing recruits, making money. It would be a lie to suggest those things never take place inside the Spanos suite. For the game against the Raiders, a dozen seats are reserved for bankers.

But it would also be a lie to suggest that the first order of business inside the Spanos suite is business. With Spanos's grandkids spilling popcorn, with Spanos's lawyers and accountants munching sushi and drinking beer, with the Hopes sitting quietly along the window, the rules of the house are clear -- if you must conduct business, do it quietly, do it discreetly, do it fast.

The one exception is Alex Spanos. Once the game starts, he becomes consumed by the business of football, the technical details, the coaching decisions.

Retreating to a glass-enclosed mini-suite, his inner sanctum within the big suite, Spanos leans forward and studies the action down on the field. His face tightens as the Raiders hammer his Chargers.

No one goes into the little suite except Spanos, Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, and Dino and Mike. As one Spanos employee says, "When Mr. Spanos is in there watching the game, he likes to stay focused."

It's a bad sign when the focus is broken early in the third quarter, when the Chargers are so uncompetitive that Spanos wants to gather his family and leave his friends, fleeing home to Stockton.

"Boy, I can't remember him ever leaving a game this early before," one Spanos employee says.

"I remember one," another Spanos executive says. "It was a game in New York. It was embarrassing, and he got out of there right after halftime. Just like tonight."

"He really takes a lot of pride in his football team," an employee says. "He knows he's going to hear about it from his friends. I don't want to be the first one into his office tomorrow morning."

With the Spanos family gone, the suite empties fast. Dolores and Bob Hope gather their coats and head for the airport. The bankers bolt. Behind the marble-topped kitchen counter, the chef puts plastic wrap over the lamb chops.

Spanos might still be angry the next morning. But somebody will enjoy great leftovers.

Head Problems

November 13, 1997 — Phyllis Orrick

In the days after Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries received his latest concussion, the team reassured the public that Humphries was consulting neurologists and that a CT-scan and an MRI showed no problems. Humphries' agent chimed in, too, pledging that the team cared about his client and that Humphries would not return to the playing field until he was "100 percent." But experts in the treatment of concussion victims say that this comforting scenario is misleading and incomplete.

Neither a CT-scan nor an MRI can pick up the damage Humphries' brain most likely sustained. This was Humphries' fourth concussion in his pro career, his second in fewer than three weeks. Recovery from second concussions -- much less fourth ones -- is rarely 100 percent. Most neurologists have neither the training nor the inclination to determine whether Humphries has a truly clean bill of health. Such an examination can take hours and be spread out over days. For that, Humphries would have to consult specialists who operate beyond the strictly medical confines of most neurologists' practices.

The knockout blow Humphries received in the November 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals is well documented from the outside. But what happened inside his brain and the long-term consequence of that trauma are much harder to pinpoint.

"An angular acceleration of the head, whipping backwards or to the side" is how biomechanicist Peter Francis describes what probably occurred when Humphries was thrown to the ground landing on the back of his head on the AstroTurf. That, in turn, "can cause diffuse axonal injury," says Francis, a professor at San Diego State's department of Nutrition and Exercise Science. "It creates lots of tiny, tiny, tiny lesions. The only way to determine they exist," Francis says, "is by a postmortem."

"Axonal injury" refers to damage to the axons, the long fibers that reside inside neurons, which are cells in the brain. When the brain suffers a violent movement beyond what it was designed to sustain, the axons can be stretched, bent, or, in the most extreme cases, torn and broken.

A human brain is a mass with the consistency of Jell-O or thick pudding, surrounded by a bath of shock-absorbing fluid. The fluid is meant to protect the brain from the sharp ridges that line parts of the skull. But when the skull snaps out of control and comes to a sudden halt, as Humphries' did, the bath can't stop the brain from hitting the skull and moving with more violence than the brain can stand. The brain performs a dangerous dance called the coup, contre coup, literally the "hit, counter hit," slogging first one way and rebounding the other.

To replicate what happens in a concussion, Francis says, "Researchers have filled a cavity with fairly dense Jell-O" and subjected it to similarly rapid changes in speed and direction. "You produce shear forces in the brain. The adjacent layers are moving at different speeds, causing [the axons that run through them] to shear off. Something as multidimensional as a football game can cause linear and angular acceleration," which produce those shearing forces.

The full extent of the damage can take days or weeks to make itself known. Axons can't regenerate or heal, so any brain injury is permanent. The brain must devise alternatives to compensate for the lost axons. Recovery can take years.

"You've only got so much in the bank, and every accident is a withdrawal," explains Dr. Barbara Schrock, a neuropsychologist who works with patients with mild traumatic brain injuries at Sharp Memorial Rehabilitation Center.

There are gradations of brain injury, she explains, from impairment to disability to, at worst, handicap. "Your brain is like an entire symphony orchestra," she says. "The back half of the brain is like the instruments, the front part [the frontal lobe] is the conductor of the orchestra. He has the plan and makes sure what the orchestra does is according to the plan, and if it isn't, he makes adjustments."

Schrock calls the collective abilities of the frontal lobe "the executive skills. Those very delicate executive skills are the most fragile in terms of injury."

They are also hard to measure. "People will notice changes in a person's ability to remember what he was doing; people will describe that as short-term memory loss, but that's not short-term memory loss. The frontal lobe's job is to set a goal and to comply with that. When you get dinged, you can't keep that stable intention in your mind.

"For a football player, that may not be that big a deal," Schrock says, because players lead such specialized lives while their careers are active. They have agents and accountants and helpers to handle everyday chores. "But what about afterward?" Schrock asks. "A lot of people don't notice changes in their cognitive abilities until they're under demand to use them. Whether a person can say the date doesn't mean they can figure out how to pay their bills, how to go grocery shopping, or remember what they had for lunch.

"A person whose executive skills have been impaired," she says, will show "what look like personality changes. People don't get the big picture. They don't get what their loved one is trying to tell them; they tend to be irritable and have flash tempers. Family members will describe them as being more childish; that's because children don't have frontal lobes. Frontal lobes don't start getting hooked up until you're 7 and don't finish until you're 18."

Schrock hasn't studied Humphries clinically, but "it's probably no coincidence that his concussions have been more frequent. The brain controls everything, including things like reaction time. Not reacting quick enough, not picking up the signals fast enough" make him more susceptible to being hit.

Medically, he's more likely to be injured if he is hit. "In terms of head injury in general, the odds of having another head injury once you've had one are 4 to 1; once you've had two, they're 8 to 1." Humphries is looking at number five.

Schrock says Humphries is likely to have already suffered brain damage, " 'Concussion' is an old neurology term," she says. "In my field we don't use that term. Instead we say, 'mild head injury' or 'mild brain damage.' In this whole discussion [of Humphries and other professional athletes] nobody says 'brain damage.' It has this bad connotation.

"Neuropsychology starts where neurology stops," Schrock says of her field. "It is the study of the relationship between mind and brain or brain and behavior in the broadest sense. Clinical neuropsychology is an applied science that looks at the behavioral expression of brain dysfunction. It's right smack in the middle between neurology and psychology."

When a person suffers a head injury, a neurologist can give a "mental status test. If they fail that, they're in pretty bad shape. But just because they pass, it doesn't mean they're okay," Schrock says.

The effects of brain damage, even so-called mild brain damage, can be pervasive, she says. A complete battery of tests is needed to measure "concentration, reasoning, problem-solving, emotion," and other manifestations of brain activity.

"Your brain is the organ of self-awareness, so when it doesn't function so well, your self-awareness isn't so good either." That makes it dangerous to expect Humphries -- or any injured athlete -- to know when to stop playing. "A lot of what we deal with is not denial in the psychological sense, which is when you block something out because it's too painful to bear. With brain injury, it's lack of self-awareness because of the brain injury."

Brain-injured patients are likely to suffer an array of symptoms. Most important for an athlete are slower reaction time, lack of judgment, and a tendency to tire rapidly.

"It's more of a loss of efficiency, as opposed to a total loss of function," Schrock says. "The old computer is not working as fast it used to, like being a 33N rpm record in a 78 world. Information-processing speed is probably the number-one problem with a mild injury." Patients also experience "more day-to-day variability than those who haven't suffered brain damage.

"Like no other injury man has experienced, it changes the essence of who you are. You've lived with yourself for 30 years, and that changes in an instant. It takes a few years to get used to that." People persist in "using old strategies to use old strengths and weaknesses, so people have a rough couple of years."

Even if Humphries saw a neuropsychologist, "I'm sure they're not going to say", Schrock continues. "When I was a graduate student in Houston, the Houston Astros' star pitcher, J.R. Richard, right before the All-Star Game [in 1980], had a little stroke. A blood clot formed in his arm and traveled to his brain.

"'He'll be back in six months,' all the papers were saying, and all the graduate students said, 'That's it for him, he'll never be back.' The newspapers always play up how he'll be back, but you can't take an edge off someone who's the best of the best and have him still be competitive. The PR aspect of it is never going to let the public know. Look at [Reagan press secretary] James Brady; they all said he was going to get better." Richard recovered physically, but the stroke effectively ended his baseball career.

In a curious way, Stan Humphries is among the luckier victims of concussion, Schrock says. The hit he took was so hard that it knocked him out, leaving no question that he had been injured.

People who have suffered concussions under less dramatic circumstances have a harder time, Schrock says. "They are told, 'Go home and you'll be fine,' and when they aren't, they think they're going crazy."

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