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Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 | Marty Schottenheimer is determined to get his team to play mediocre football perfectly.
Yes, this is a complaint, but it is not the complaint of an ordinary sports fan. Sports fans are people who want to enjoy success without doing any work, and when they complain, it is with little or no license.
This complaint, which I am about to put into the record, is issued in behalf of a group of men who remember how it felt as a kid, whose goal was to play without making a mistake. We were tentative. We held back. We took our stance at the scrimmage line hoping the camera couldn’t see us. We stepped up to the plate scared to death of striking out. We prayed in the outfield that the ball wouldn’t be hit to us. We didn’t want our parents ever to come to the games. When we did get into the game, we may not have made a mistake, but with other boys, other athletes, flying around with reckless abandon, we stood out in our motionlessness, our mediocrity. In the game films, we never created a blur.
It may have been esteem, or confidence, or fear. It was deep, whatever it was, and it was a barrier between us, and what our performance might have been. How would it have felt, just to go out and play? Men like us wonder about that now, with a real regret. We might have won a letter, but we weren’t really on the team. We were a team of one.
Marty Schottenheimer coaches like he was one of us. We wonder: was he a kid like us? Did Marty Schottenheimer fumble at the goal line in the ninth grade and swear, never again? His mantra in 2006 is, “Control the football.” Do not drop the football. He grades his quarterbacks by how well they can not drop the football. His first offensive value is not scoring touchdowns, but controlling the ball.
To us old controllers, it is uncomfortable to watch. It is not fun for anyone to watch. You could stuff a few pillows, with the hair left on San Diego living room floors in the second half of the game at Baltimore.
If it’s hard on us, what must it be like for LaDainian Tomlinson? How does one ask LaDainian Tomlinson to play mediocre football perfectly? How does LaDainian feel, lining up in an offense dedicated to not dropping the football? The Union-Tribune had a contest to come up with a name for the Chargers defense, but it fizzled. The U-T was just focused on the wrong side of the ball. They should have asked for a name for the Chargers offense, and inside of 30 minutes someone would have emailed in, “The Mediocre Corps.” And of course, following naturally after that, the defense would have become “The Other Guys.”
Most of us old controllers weren’t very good athletes, so today we don’t imagine playing with the skill, speed and grace of an Antonio Gates. We watch players like him just as ordinary fans watch him, vicariously. He plays football the way we can’t, the same way Tony Bennett sings the way we can’t, Sean Penn acts the way we can’t, Andre Watts plays the way we can’t, Pat Conroy writes the way we can’t. What the controllers want to see, specifically, is Antonio Gates doing what we might have done, which is to make a play, any play, with reckless abandon. But when Gates goes downfield, he might as well be wearing a mink coat and high heels. Imagine Marty Schottenheimer coaching Andre Watts. No Mozart, no way. Nothing riskier than Sondheim, I don’t care what the tickets cost.
Dan Fouts was wonderfully ferocious. I would pay to have seen his reaction if a coach asked him to play Martyball. Philip Rivers is a young quarterback and has a way to go before being compared to Dan Fouts. But he is tall, appears to have a fierce streak, throws a tight spiral and is learning to throw to spots. Waiting at those spots would be Gates, McCardell, Parker, and out of the backfield Tomlinson and Turner. It would be interesting, and most entertaining, to see if Rivers turned out to be a quarterback that could light things up, and what would that do for the running game? It makes my teeth ache, watching him run plays drawn up by Charlie Brown.
This team is lightning in a Martybottle. All us old Charlie Browns, the men in my group, know it would be more fun to watch them lose recklessly, than win carefully. Of course, with this offense, you’re not going to lose many recklessly, with a defense like The Other Guys.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com. Or, send a letter to the editor.