He sees himself as a role player, nothing more, but he has a goal that transcends his modest dimensions.
Lionel (Little Train) James would like to be recognized for his talents as a runner, pass receiver and kick returner, without any qualifying description related to his size.
It’s true he’s the smallest player in pro football at 5-feet 6-inches, 170 pounds, but that’s no big deal to James. He has been little for his age ever since he was a youngster, and it has long since ceased to matter to him.
If only the world could see him as a good football player, period, without the to-do about his minuscule proportions.
It’s safe to assume the Cincinnati Bengals will assign him high priority in today’s game, which affords the Chargers an opportunity to fatten their record against a winless club.
After what James did last week against Seattle, he’s likely to get careful attention from every opponent on the San Diego schedule.
Last week, James accounted for 290 net yards, of which 153 came as a kick returner, 96 as a pass receiver and 41 as a runner. It was the second-best total in Charger history behind Keith Lincoln’s 329 combined yards Jan. 5, 1964.
“I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m at my best when I’m doing a lot,” James said. “I rely a lot on finesse, and I don’t have one specific position at which I can be great.
“I’ve been playing running back and returning kicks since I was in junior high, and now they’ve got me catching passes, too. It seems to come natural.”
James said he has studied the habits of receivers Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler in practice and says that every day he finds some little nuance he hadn’t noticed previously.
He’s long on patience, if not in actual height.
“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself,” James said. “I don’t say to myself, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Football is fun to me, and it’s fun to ask a lot of questions. I’m happy when I’m learning.”
James is aware his role may be somewhat diminished when and if the Chargers acquire running back-wide receiver Gary Anderson from the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits. But it isn’t a subject that worries him. Not much does. James just assumes they’ll find something he can do.
In Cincinnati, the Chargers are hoping for a carry-over from last Sunday’s spectacular offensive showing against the Seahawks. Quarterback Dan Fouts passed for 306 yards in the first half and 440 overall, while Chandler made 13 catches for 243 yards.
It was among the best offensive performances for the Chargers since their last meeting with the Bengals, back in 1982. In that game, a 50-34 victory, the Chargers set a club record with 661 total yards, including 260 yards by Chandler.
The Chargers are making their first appearance here since the AFC Championship game Jan. 10, 1982, which was played in Arctic conditions with a wind-chill factor of 59 degrees below zero. The Bengals won, 27-7.
Pleasant weather is expected today, but the hometown fans could make life unpleasant for the Bengals, who earlier this week received a 25-minute lecture from Coach Sam Wyche.
“I didn’t sugarcoat anything,” Wyche said. “I laid things out as they stood and said to get the problems fixed. We’re goin’ to be shakin’ and bakin’ and awake this week.”
The Bengals, who got off to an 0-5 start a year ago, have no morale problems at the moment, Wyche said.
“Our team will not lay down. The effort will be made to completely flip-flop from last week (a 41-27 loss to St. Louis).”
The Bengals used three quarterbacks last week, including Ken Anderson, Turk Schonert and Boomer Esiason, in an effort to ignite the offense.
The top receivers are Eddie Brown and Cris Collinsworth, each of whom would surely like to add to the problems Seattle’s Daryl Turner heaped on San Diego cornerback Wayne Davis a week ago. Davis was victimized for four touchdown passes, but he has vowed it will make him a greater player. The Bengals and Chargers both will aim to find see if he’s right.