Keep On Rolling, My Old Buddy

CarI’m sure you’re not surprised to know that this is the car I drive.  Yes, I have 3 other 1994 AFC Champion bumper stickers which I have in the event that we never get any farther than that in the postseason.  I posted a link to this ESPN piece on Twitter yesterday and referred to it as yet another reason that this team needs to win a Super Bowl.  I’m trying to diminish the tragic nature of Junior Seau’s death in any way by saying this, but it’s an unfortunate fact that the most successful team in Charger history will now be remembered more for the deaths of eight players under 45 years old.  Junior was by far the biggest star on that team, so his suicide has cemented the idea of the ’94 team being cursed.  The fact that so many of his friends and teammates were shocked will only intensify that perception.  It’s not as if we’re talking about Ryan Leaf here.  By the time you read this, the Chargers will have held their memorial for Junior.  It will be interesting to hear LT address the crowd.  Believe me, I know that his departure means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  I just said that it would be interesting.  The same goes for Rodney Harrison.  Like Junior, he never chose to be a former Charger.  Technically, neither did LT.  However, I think he greased the skids for his departure far more than did the other two guys.  By the way, you can see if you click on the full-sized photo of my car that I still have the 2008, not 2009, AFC West Champs on the JIC bumper sticker.  Since the ’09 group went one and done in the playoffs they don’t warrant recognition on the back of my shitty car.

I’m only 41, but I think about “the grand scheme of things” more than most.  However, I can really only look at Junior’s life through the paradigm of pro football.  That’s the only way I knew him.  He was the best player we had on the team for a long time.  We shipped him to Miami and then he came home to retire.  Then he quickly went to New England and kept Michael Turner out of the end zone in the AFC title game.  When Junior became a Dolphin, I gave away all my stuff with his likeness on it.  That’s how I roll.  Ironically, the only thing I own with his face on it is my Justice Is Coming “Tombstone” shirt with Stan Humphries, Bobby Ross and Bobby Beathard on it.  Anyway, and I don’t want to sound any more callous than I already do, a team that we often joke about being a tragic comedy now has actual tragedy attached to it.  Speaking of Stan, I saw in this story that Humphries wonders after each teammate passes on, “What’s in store for me?”  Unbelievable.

All the football-related comments I’ve gotten lately express enthusiasm and optimism after the wave of free agent activity and the draft.  However, they also confess that the fact that Norv is still the coach tempers their positive outlook.  I’m right there with you, FAITHFUL READER.  I tweeted that Adam Schein interviewed Norval on the Sirius XM Blitz on May 1.  If you look at the other videos on his page, you’ll see that he’s been understandably critical of his coaching.  You can hear snippets of the interview here, but I couldn’t find the entire thing.  Schein, who also works for FOX and SNY (the Mets network here in NY), was seemingly impressed by Norv’s candor and the fact that he’s apparently aware of what’s said about him on satellite radio.  I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but I don’t think much about Norv is good.  Should he falter yet again, Kevin Acee thinks this is it for Norv.  He also gave Whitehurst a nod as a Jesus doppelganger:

I don’t care if Rivers gets hurt and Charlie Whitehurst can’t heal him (Have you seen Whitehurst lately?) and the Chargers miss the playoffs by the 12th tiebreaker of a coin flip, Turner is done.

Jay Paris, who often presents himself as the anti-Acee echoed my fears that Norv and AJ could survice any failure under Dean Spanos.  Of course, it appeared he was being critical of Smith’s draft after the Ingram pick but then seemed to be praising AJ.

Smith can’t afford another bankrupt draft. Not with Chargers president Dean Spanos basically issuing a playoffs-or-else ultimatum for Smith and coach Norv Turner to keep their jobs.

Then again, I was surprised Smith and Turner kept their jobs after missing the postseason in the watered-down AFC West for two straight years, so I wouldn’t be stunned if they extended their streak to three and still returned.

You know, one of the best perks of having this site going since 1995 is that I get trandom of emails pertaining to the Chargers even only remotely.  I got one promoting Antoine Cason’s football camp.  I can only imagine what skills are being reinforced there.

I mentioned a while back that my “story” as a long-time Charger fan was going to apper in the book “Pro Football’s Most Passionate Fans,” which can be purchased copy here, at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.  Even if you go through the “Bargain Books” link on B&N, it’s a little pricey.  It does, however, go to a good cause.  All proceeds to to Curing Kids Cancer.  Anyway, I’ve posted my contribution below.  I know I planned to talk about the draft in earnest, but I’ll do that next week.  I thought this would be a good diversion with the Junior memorial about to begin shortly.  I guess Rodney Harrison actually won’t be speaking after all.

How do I even begin to describe the nature, history and effects of my relationship with the San Diego Chargers?  I think the best way is to do what I did when I was welcomed into the Hall of Fame by the other “superfans” at a bar in Canton in 2002.  After hearing everyone else’s “story,” I grabbed my Rolling Rock, kissed my then-fiancé and stood up to tell my tale.  As my eyes scanned the crowd and saw John “Big Dawg” Thompson and the late Tim “Barrel Man” McKernan, I knew needed to just reach back and let it fly. 

Like many others, I was first drawn to the Bolts during the “Air Coryell” period of the late 70s and early 80s.  Their passing attack was even more impressive to a kid just getting into football.  Plus, they had really cool uniforms.  My parents never let me play organized football due to Darryl Stingley’s 1976 paralysis at the hands of Jack Tatum.  So I guess I was already destined to hate the Raiders even before I discovered the Chargers.  I do remember being sad when I heard that they had lost to the Oilers in the 1979 playoffs, but if I knew then that Houston had allegedly stolen Dan Fouts’ headset signals en route to 5 interceptions I would have said “that’s the kind of the thing that only happens to the Bolts.”

My first memory of watching the Chargers play was October 19, 1980, against the “hometown” Giants.  Did I forget to mention that I have lived my entire life within the state of New York?  The Chargers won that game 44-7, primarily through acrobatic catches and innovative passing plays.  I actually remember two Giants defenders running into each other as they closed in on an escaping Charger receiver, who subsequently escaped into the end zone for a touchdown.  I believe it was John Jefferson, for those who care about those sorts of details.

The day after that game, I sat at the bus stop (at the tender age of nine) pledged to myself to always be a Chargers fan.  There have been many times that I wished I hadn’t made that promise or even futilely tried to break it.  To say that the Bolts haven’t tested my faith would be a massive understatement.  In 1984, I saw wide receiver Bobby Duckworth fumble on Monday Night Football with no defenders within 20-yards of him.  He was getting ready to spike the ball for an “easy” touchdown at the time.  A year later, the Chargers had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown in overtime to lose a game in Denver.  After being bailed out when the play was nullified by a penalty, they did it again.  In 1987, the Bolts jumped out to an 8-1 record (including going undefeated with their “replacement” players during that season’s strike) and appeared poised to return to the playoffs.  I even wrote a full-page article in my high school newspaper about it.  They lost their last 6 games to miss the postseason.  Yes, I believed that I had something to do with it.

Sadly, I am actually affected by the outcome of a game over which I have absolutely no affect on—sometimes embarrassingly so.  I’m self aware to know how absurd this is, but sometimes I just can’t help it.  Beyond that, my fanaticism doesn’t follow the “usual” patterns.  I have never worn face paint, except at the lone Super Bowl the team has reached.  Nonetheless, my mood (at least according to my wife) is often dictated by the travails of a team that throughout its history has either been untalented or underachieved.

What’s it been like to be a dedicated fan that has lived his entire life 3,000 miles away from his team?  I actually think it has further fueled my obsession.  I have felt even more part of a select group because of that fact.  I began writing to the team in 1981, asking them to send me Dan Fouts’ autograph.  They actually did it, which not only delighted me but made me feel even more like this was MY team.  For my bar mitzvah, my parents had made a papier-mâché centerpiece of Dan Fouts which I actually took to Canton when I was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 2002.  I didn’t get to see the team play in person until 1986, when they once again played the Giants.  Unfortunately, they were beaten badly by a team that would eventually go on to win their first Super Bowl that season. 

I wouldn’t get a chance to see the team play in person again until I went to college.  I attended the University of Rochester from 1989 to 1993, thus coinciding with the Buffalo Bills’ four consecutive AFC Championships.  No matter, I clung to my football team more than ever.  I flew back home to watch them play the Jets in 1990 and 1991.  In 1992, as the Chargers were marching towards the playoffs for the first time since my childhood, I drove through a mammoth (are there any other kinds up there?) snowstorm to make a 1PM kickoff in Cleveland.  After watching Stan Humphries lead the Bolts to a 1-point comeback win against the Browns, I decided to send him a $5 money order as a token of my appreciation.  We finally had a worthy successor to Dan Fouts at quarterback.  I wrote in my letter that should we face the only team to beat us after an 0-4 start, the Chiefs, Stan should slide the five into the palm of opposing quarterback Dave Kreig.  This would happen after we beat them in the playoffs, of course, and would be accompanied by a “go home and get your shine box,” barb a la Goodfellas.

After college, it was on to New York City.  Although I had been using my fake ID to go to the only bar around school that showed ALL (otherwise the Bolts would never be on) the games, I now had countless places to watch the games legally.  It wasn’t always so easy, however, like the time my friends drove all night from Atlantic City after my 100th Grateful Dead concert to get me home for kickoff.  Yes, I know there’s another story there.  1994 was the year that the film Tombstone was released.  The movie’s tagline was “Justice Is Coming.”  I immediately adopted it as my mantra for the Chargers.  We were the good guys and were after what was rightfully ours, I believed.  That belief carried me all the way to the stands of Three Rivers Stadium, where I was able to personally witness the goal-line stand that sent the Chargers to the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately I was also forced to watch with my own eyes a crushing defeat Niner team created all sorts of shady contracts that allowed them to circumvent the then-new salary cap and stock their roster for one season.

The post-Super Bowl seasons with 1-15 and 4-12 records weren’t even that hard to stomach.  The team just flat out sucked.  But 2004 to 2009, seasons in which the Chargers won 12, 13 and 14 of their 16 regular-season games, they promptly imploded in their own stadium with a rash of missed field goals, fumbles, interceptions and mind-boggling personal fouls.  But if you’re a football fan, you already know all this.  What has kept me sane (relatively) during all this time is my website, www.justiceiscoming.com.  When the Chargers were scheduled to play the Giants in 1995, the now-infamous “snowball game,” I approached the only publication on the team at that time about covering it.  When Chargers Football Weekly (which I had subscribed since elementary school) refused, I told them that I would create my own forum and push them out of business.  I also took the opportunity to share all my criticisms about their publication, which I had held back until then.  Years later, the Editor called me and actually told me I was 100% right on all counts.  When does that ever happen?

First distributed as a newsletter on the “Bolt Backers” e-mail group, Justice Is Coming has grown not only into a website but an extended family of Charger fans from Ireland to Mexico and all parts in between.  When you are a Bolthead in New York (now Long Island), it’s easy to feel like no one cares about the team but you.  I still feel that way sometimes, but it’s the “Justice League” that reminds me that I’m not alone.  I get countless e-mails from The Legion Of The Lightning Bolt saying “I was thinking the same thing” or “thanks for keeping the site going all these years.” 

Fortunately, I have found a woman who has tolerated all my insanity.  While my days of travelling to Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc. to watch the Chargers appear to be wisely left for my younger self, the Bolts have certainly been a presence in our everyday life.  I once tried to equate it to my love of music and film.  My wife wisely responded “Yeah, but if you see a shitty movie, my week isn’t ruined.”  Don’t worry, she was smiling when she said it.  I also now have two amazing children.  My daughter Sarah, now four and half, is beginning to notice all the things that have to do with Daddy and his football team.  At the very least, she notices that there are even more Charger helmets around the house than pictures of Jerry Garcia or Don Corleone.  “The Chargers always make you mad,” she says.  Hopefully not always, Sweetie.  Hopefully not always.

Ross Warner

South Setauket, NY

August 15, 2011

You’re now down with a discount,

PS RIP, #55

About Ross Warner

ROSS WARNER is a forty-five year old freelancer whose credits include Sports Illustrated OnLine and Blitz as well as numerous articles on his favorite band, the Grateful Dead. Blah, Blah, Blah. Yeah, I was on WNEW FM the morning after the Chargers made the Super Bowl. Having returned from Pittsburgh only hours before, there I was at half-court at Madison Square Garden in my #12 jersey and wiping my sweat with a "Terrible Towel." When asked about the future for the newly-crowned AFC Champs, I simply uttered "justice is coming." Like so many others, I first took notice of the Chargers during the "Air Coryell" period of the late 1970s. But as Dan Fouts gave way to Ed Luther, Mark Hermann, Babe Laufenberg, Jim McMahon, David Archer, Mark Vlasic, Billy Joe Tolliver and John Freisz my fanaticism turned to obsession. When Stan Humphries resurrected the franchise in 1992, I began calling the Chargers organization to share my plan to get the team into the Super Bowl. This began the stormy rapport with the Chargers' Public Relations staff which reached a boiling point at a 1996 "team spirit" luncheon when I demanded that guard Eric Moten explain his propensity for holding penalties. It was then I realized I needed my own forum. Founded in 1995, Justice Is Coming is precisely that. To decide whether this site is for you, ask yourself these questions: Do you think of Johnny Unitas as an ex-Charger? Are your three children named JJ, Kellen and Wes, with one of them being a girl? Do you think that Rolf Benirschke got a raw deal on the daytime "Wheel of Fortune?" Can you remember where you were on December 3, 1984 when Bobby Duckworth fumbled the ball attempting to spike it on "Monday Night Football?" Does Al Davis, a dark alley and a lead pipe mean anything to you? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, then you, too, believe that Justice Is Coming. This is a weekly look at the San Diego Chargers through the eyes of someone who spends most of his time thinking about the Bolts so you don't have to. But being a Chargers fan is not an obligation, although it sometimes feels like it. So I offer you this "alternative perspective." All the football, film and music collides in the centrifuge that is my brain and this newsletter is the result.