Sporting Pair : Jeff and Michelle Dale Have a Marriage Built on Competition

Times Staff Writer

As Michelle King Dale watched her husband Jeff intercept a John Elway pass two yards deep in the end zone last Sunday, she started yelling at Dale and the television set.

"I was at home hollering, high knees, pick your legs up, keep your knees high," Michelle said.

After a 50-yard return, Dale was knocked out of bounds by Elway, keeping the Charger strong safety from what could have been a 102-yard return for a touchdown.

Dale was ribbed unmercifully by his teammates, but it was Michelle who really kidded him when he returned home Sunday night.

"I'll have to teach you how to sprint," Michelle said.

Coming from a woman who has run 100 meters in 11.3 seconds, there wasn't much Jeff could say.

"He told me he was tired because he had been in for seven straight plays," Michelle said. "I said, 'Sure.' "

Jeff Dale knows he won't get much sympathy at home.

Michelle King Dale, 22, was an All-American sprinter in 100 meters at Louisiana State University in 1984. In her three years on the LSU track team, she competed in the 200 meters and was a member of LSU's national champion 4 X 100 relay team.

After marrying Jeff in July, Michelle transferred to San Diego State for her senior year.

"She says she'll beat me in the 100," Dale said, "but I have to keep my ego going so I tell her I'll win. We challenge each other a lot, but don't race together too much."

They have a friendly wager on a race that has yet to be run. And may never be run.

"Let's just say she's a pretty good sprinter," Jeff said with a smile.

Michelle and Jeff train with each other during each other's off-season. They run together, or as Michelle points out, "We do a lot of jogging." And they lift weights in their home in El Cajon.

"We're very compatible as far as sports and as far as people," Dale said. "It's been great . . . "

"Weightlifting has become one of her assets and sprinting is good for me. Even though it's track, it's running. I have to be in shape. In a lot of ways the two things correspond. We get a lot of ideas from one another."

And Michelle gets a few chuckles.

"He runs so funny," she said about her husband, who was an All-American halfback for four years at Winnfield High School in Winnfield, La. "When he runs he looks like he's knock-kneed and pigeon-toed."

This couple is not shy when it comes to criticizing each another.

Jeff attends many of Michelle's meets and Michelle goes to Charger home games and watches all the road games on TV.

"She's not a team criticizer," Dale said. "She criticizes me, but not anyone else."

Said Michelle: "I tell him you do this wrong and you do that wrong. A lot of times I say you could have had him if you went this way or that way. He can accept criticism pretty good."

And he can dish it out.

"I criticize her too," Dale said. "We're each other's coach."

The relationship began when Jeff was a sophomore and Michelle a freshman at LSU.

"I couldn't date a football player," Michelle said. "They are all alike--no head.

" . . . It happened that his teammate happened to be dating my roommate. Other than that, he never would have said anything to me. And I wouldn't have said anything to him because you know, he's a football player.

"Then we met. And now, football players aren't that bad after all."

Both agree that being married to an athlete has been a plus.

"I like it a lot," Michelle said. "He can understand what I go through and vice versa. He understands my commitment. Some husbands might think, 'You're always out running.' "

Jeff: "It's great in a lot of ways. Some women don't understand the ups and downs involved in sports. And all the travel. And the aches and pains. She understands where I'm coming from. She knows what demands I have."

From his first start in his first game as a freshman halfback at Winnfield High, Dale, 24, has always been given an inordinate amount of on-field responsibility for someone his age.

He started in high school and college for four years and made defensive calls at LSU and as a rookie with the Chargers last season.

"My first couple of years I didn't like that (added responsibility) too much," Dale said. "But ever since the ninth grade, it's been that way. When it happened in the pros, I wasn't surprised. Because I had been through it twice before, it was a little easier as a rookie last year. But I did feel like I was on a mountain by myself."

When asked about Dale, LSU Coach Bill Arnsbarger and Charger defensive coordinator Ron Lynn talk first about his intelligence and maturity.

"There is no question he has maturity beyond his years," Lynn said. "He doesn't get flustered. He's a mature guy and he's got his head screwed on right. He is calm in the huddle and calm on the field. . . .

"Sometimes they (Gill Byrd and Dale) have to sacrifice their own playing, in terms of concentration, to help the young guys. I mean, Jeff's a young guy too, but he's got that maturity."

Dale is soft spoken and chooses his words carefully, but makes his feelings known.

"He didn't play by talking," Arnsbarger said. "He is very polite. He played by his actions."

Dale: "I have just as much intelligence as the next person. What some people call intelligence is being in the right place at the right time. I'm not out of place too much. That enables me to get interceptions."

Dale got his first two interceptions of the season Sunday against Denver and was been named Sports Illustrated defensive player of the week for his performance.

For one of the few times in his career, Dale had as many interceptions in a game as tackles.

At 6-feet 4-inches, 215 pounds, Dale resembles a linebacker as much as a defensive back.

Despite being hampered by a twisted ankle and missing the second half of the games against Philadelphia Oct. 26 and Kansas City Nov. 2, Dale leads the Chargers in tackles with 67, one more than linebacker Billy Ray Smith.

"He's like the guys from the Raiders at that position," Lynn said. "He's an athlete that can make plays."

Plays such as his interception of Elway's pass in the end zone. And his run.

"When I get my hands on the football," Dale said, "you can see I like to run with it. I really thought I could out-sprint him (Elway), but he had a pretty good angle and caught me."

Don't mention that run to Michelle.

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