Consider the San Diego Charger Super Bowl Era over. It ended in
the same place where it began: at Mile High Stadium, on the
Broncos' final drive of the fourth quarter. Jason Elam's 32-yard
field goal with six seconds remaining lifted Denver to a 30-27
victory on Sunday and dropped the defending AFC champs into the
AFC West basement. In all of his surfing adventures, has Charger
general manager Bobby Beathard ever ridden a wave that crashed
this hard, this fast? "We've been in a monthlong slump,"
Beathard said. "There haven't even been any waves lately. That's
the way you could describe us."
Said Charger offensive tackle Harry Swayne, "Last year we made
the big plays when we needed to. Today the offense went
three-and-out on our last drive, and the defense couldn't stop
them at the end. It's indicative of how our season's gone."
And at 4-7, their season's gone. But do you remember the opening
game of San Diego's enchanted 1994 season? After trailing 17-0
in the first quarter, the Chargers rebounded to take a 37-34
lead late in the game. Enter Bronco quarterback John Elway in
search of game-winning drive number 24 of his storied career.
Deep in San Diego territory Elway uncharacteristically flubbed a
pass--it was ruled a fumble--right into the hands of Charger
linebacker Junior Seau. The Chargers stole a win, the first of
"That was a long time ago," said Charger defensive end Leslie
O'Neal. "A lot has happened since then."
The Chargers have found '95 to be as cursed as '94 was charmed.
Their troubles began on June 19, when outside linebacker David
Griggs died in an auto accident in Florida. Or perhaps they
began even earlier, as soon as the schedules were announced in
April and San Diego was saddled with the league's toughest.
Injuries? Natrone Means was the conference's leading rusher when
he pulled a groin muscle on the first series of a Nov. 5 loss to
Miami. He has not played since. San Diego has not won since.
"I took the blame last week [after a 22-7 home loss to the
Chiefs], but I'm not going to this week," said a peeved coach
Bobby Ross. "I talked to a couple of our coaches in the pregame
warmup, and they said we were flatter than hell. It's about time
some veterans stepped up and took a little initiative and a
As they did here last year--and have in 24 consecutive games--the
Chargers fell behind on Sunday, this time by a first-quarter
score of 21-0. What the Chargers were not prepared for was a
performance like the one turned in by Denver rookie Terrell
Davis. Before Oct. 22, when Seattle's Chris Warren ran for 112
yards, the Charger defense had gone 34 games without allowing a
100-yard rusher. Davis, a San Diego native, had 176 yards on 30
carries (no other Bronco ran the ball), prompting Seau to state
plain and simple, "Terrell Davis is a great running back."
Denver's offensive brain trust concurs. With 3:43 remaining in
the game and the score tied at 27, the Broncos took over at
their own 33. The south end zone scoreboard flashed the
following graphic: JOHN ELWAY--28 GAME-WINNING DRIVES IN 4TH
QUARTER, MOST IN [NFL] HISTORY.
It is a plot as formulaic and, in the Rockies, as beloved as
those of a James Bond script. Elway, following a desultory third
quarter, shifts the offense from neutral into drive. Acting
pretty much on his own, via passes or breathtaking escapes from
the pocket, Golden Arm saves the day. Is it mere coincidence
that give or take a few zeroes, Elway and Bond share the same
On this drive, however, Elway never lifted his right arm above
his waist. Six consecutive times he handed off to Davis, who
responded with 53 yards. "I don't ever remember not throwing a
pass on a final drive," said Elway afterward, "but Terrell had a
big gain [19 yards] on the first play, and we just stuck with
what was working."
Which poses the question: Was this John Elway's 29th
game-winning drive or Terrell Davis's first? "Doesn't matter,"
said Davis. "I'm living in a dream right now. When the coaches
have that much confidence in you, you just have to prove them
"I love the kid--he's the real deal," veteran offensive guard
Brian Habib said of Davis, a sixth-round selection. "He works
hard, shows up on time for meetings. As far as I'm concerned, we
got the steal of the draft."
At least someone from San Diego is having a good year.
Last month Davis spent the team's bye week at his alma mater,
Georgia. On the return flight he stowed some--speaking
"My college shoulder pads," said Davis last Thursday, pointing
to the red shoulder pads he had donned for three seasons with
the Bulldogs. "I wanted to wear them again. The ones [the
Broncos] gave me just don't fit right."
A set of shoulder pads is the only thing about Denver and the
NFL that doesn't seem tailor-made for Davis. The 196th player
and the 21st running back selected in April's draft, a draft he
did not even watch because he felt sure nobody would choose him,
Davis leads all rookies with 883 yards rushing. An excellent
receiver with 41 catches, he has amassed an AFC-best 1,208 total
yards from scrimmage.
"I haven't said this before," Elway said, "but Terrell's
probably the best running back I've played with here." The
Bronco quarterback made that statement on Nov. 5, eight days
after Davis's 23rd birthday and moments after the rookie had
rushed for 135 yards against the Cardinals. And that was before
his career-high 176-yard day.
Davis is the nicest surprise--and at $131,667 with bonuses, the
best bargain--among this year's strong AFC West rookie crop.
Here's a peek at the best of the class of '95, in the order they
were chosen, along with their first-year salaries:
Joey Galloway, Seahawks (eighth pick overall, $1.15 million):
Galloway's trademark is his blazing speed. He owns the NFL's
longest punt return (an 89-yarder against the Giants) and the
longest run from scrimmage (an 86-yard reverse in which he
reversed field against Jacksonville) this season, not surprising
for an athlete who was clocked at 4.19 while working out for NFL
scouts early in '95.
Galloway has steadily progressed as he has become more
acclimated to coach Dennis Erickson's offense. Witness his five
touchdowns in the Seahawks' last three games. In 11 games he has
43 receptions for 740 yards.
"Terrell Davis is probably utilized the most among this
division's rookies," says Raider senior assistant Bruce Allen,
"but Joey Galloway is the most feared."
Napoleon Kaufman, Raiders (18th pick, $660,000): A smaller,
stronger, speedier version of Davis, the 5'9" former California
high school 100-meter champion plays behind Harvey Williams.
Nevertheless, Kaufman's 5.0-yard rushing average is tops in the
AFC. Against the Colts he returned a kickoff 84 yards for a
"You put that little water bug in there," says Raider assistant
head coach/offense Joe Bugel, "and nobody's going to catch him.
There isn't a linebacker in football who can cover him."
Tamarick Vanover, Chiefs (81st pick, $220,000): Technically,
Vanover, who last season played with the now defunct Las Vegas
Posse of the Canadian Football League, is not a rookie. And he's
not playing like one. Vanover is the only player in the league
to have scored on a pass reception, kickoff return and punt
return this season. He ranks fourth and fifth, respectively, in
the AFC in kickoff and punt returns. In his first NFL regular
season game, he ran back a kickoff 99 yards for a score against
"Coverage people are not accustomed to tackling guys of
Tamarick's size [215 pounds]," says Chief coach Marty
Schottenheimer. "So not only does Tamarick have speed, but he's
able to break tackles."
Exhibit A came in overtime of an Oct. 9 win over San Diego.
Vanover's 86-yard, game-winning punt return tore the heart out
of the Chargers' season. Vanover broke a couple of tackles and
eluded the grasp of the last man in his path ...
... Darren Bennett, Chargers (free agent, $119,000): Having
played six seasons of Aussie Rules football, the league's
leading punter in terms of gross average (45.6 yards) is not a
rookie by NFL standards, either. Special teams coach Chuck
Priefer begs to differ. "Darren never punted a football before
1993," says Priefer. "I don't care if he is 30, the mate's a
In one sense Bennett's boomers have been a bane for the
Chargers: Through Sunday, San Diego was 29th in the league in
punt-return coverage. "Darren is kicking the ball so far," says
Priefer, "he's outkicking the coverage."
That's not good news when you play in the same division as
Galloway and Vanover.
REST OF THE WEST
Want a couple of reasons to explain why the Chiefs have the
NFL's best record? Kansas City is tied with Buffalo for the AFC
lead in sack differential, at plus 17. And only two of its 10
victories have come against teams with winning records (Oakland
and Denver).... Bronco wideout Mike Pritchard was fined a total
of $12,500 for bumping an official and jostling with Raider
James Trapp on Oct. 16, yet after he lost control of his Porsche
on Oct. 29 and it struck two women, both of whom were
hospitalized, he was fined only $1,005.... Since 1992, Chris
Warren has as many 100-yard games (19) as the Seahawks have
victories.... In 13 seasons John Elway has never played a
regular- or postseason contest in Florida.... Bronco defensive
end Simon Fletcher (11 years, 95 1/2 career sacks, three in '95)
says he is retiring at season's end; Charger defensive end
Leslie O'Neal (10 years, 101 1/2 sacks, 8 1/2 in '95) is not, but
his contract is up and the Chargers seem uninterested in
re-signing him. Hello, Denver?.... How even are the defenses of
the Chiefs and Raiders? The Chiefs have 33 sacks; the Raiders,
34. They are within six yards of each other in yards per game
allowed (301.6 for K.C., 307.5 for Oakland) and are within about
one point of each other in completion percentage allowed (K.C.
54.3, Oakland 55.5). But the division-leading Chiefs enjoy a
noticeable edge in points allowed per game, 14.6 to 17.0. ...
The NFL's top three punters play in the AFC West, though none
resides in thin-air Denver (Bennett, San Diego; Rick Tuten,
Seattle; and Louie Aguiar, Kansas City).... On Sunday, Glyn
Milburn came within 13 yards of ending 23-plus years of futility
for the Broncos. Milburn returned the opening kickoff 86 yards
against the Chargers before being knocked out of bounds by Mark
Montreuil. Randy Montgomery was the last Bronco to accomplish
the feat, on Sept. 24, 1972 against--who else?--the Chargers.
COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO Davis finished with 176 yards rushing and all but finished off the Chargers' playoff hopes. [Terrell Davis]COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Kaufman leads the AFC with a 5.0-yard rushing average. [Napoleon Kaufman]