PRO FOOTBALL / WEEK 1 : Raiders Meet Their Match in Chargers : Beuerlein and San Diego’s Laufenberg Will Be Making Their First Pro Starts
Brave new world, the Raiders are almost at your shore.
Mike Shanahan coaches his first game today and Steve Beuerlein gets his first pro snap as the new order finally taketh over.
The Raiders are 5 1/2-point favorites over the San Diego Chargers, who are going through a similar process. Don Coryell’s old passing circus has been transmogrified into a kind of Raiders South: power running, fleet receivers and a never-ending search for a quarterback. You could put these teams together and you still wouldn’t have an established quarterback.
Whatever happened to:
The answers are retired, suspended, traded, a holdout, traded at his request.
A year ago, the rebuilding Chargers got a huge spurt from their 3-0 strike team and went on to an 8-1 start, making them a playoff lock, almost. They finished 8-7 and were unlocked. If anyone was fooled into thinking they’d made much progress, the real bottom line by the start of this season was, they’d lost all the players listed above, without getting one starter in return.
Who’s left that you’d recognize?
How about Babe Laufenberg?
This starts his era, too. You fans of Encino Crespi High, Stanford, Missouri, Pierce College, Indiana, the Redskins, Chargers and Saints may remember him. He attended all those schools, and was cut by all those teams and several more, and that still doesn’t include the others--such as the Raiders, Colts and Packers--who worked him out without signing him.
Laufenberg--the Chargers’ starting quarterback--throws well, runs well, and, lucky for him, has a great sense of humor and a hide like a rhino’s. Asked about his, uh, lengthy resume last week, he did 10 minutes of stand-up comedy worthy of Milton Berle.
Question: Why did you go to all those schools?
Answer: Just getting ready for the pros.
Q: How come you only went to one high school?
A: The priests wouldn’t let me transfer.
Q: Did you have any timetable for making a team before you’d quit?
A: I said, before I die. . . .
Q: How many times were you cut, six or seven?
A: I’m not really sure. I’ve heard six, I’ve heard seven. It felt like 70.
We’re talking rarity here. When was the last time both quarterbacks made their first starts in the same game? The day the American Football League opened?
Charger Coach Al Saunders says Laufenberg is a blue-collar type, notes that he drives a rusted-out Pontiac to work and claims he’s become the hero of every Charger fan hunched over a brewski in Mission Valley.
“If you’ve never seen him before, you’re going to love him,” Saunders said last week.
Laufenberg is said to be at his best when everything is falling in, which could come in handy, since everything may.
The line misses Lachey. Ex-Raider John Clay, recovered from his injuries, is still only a backup.
The Raiders had first tried Clay on the left side, the “short corner” where a tackle has to be nimbler, and decided their 300-plus pounder was better on the right side where bulk is more useful in blocking for runs. After he was traded for Lachey, the Chargers tried him on the left side--in Lachey’s old spot. It didn’t work, and if the Raider experience means anything, may never.
Perhaps to balance out the load on the bench with another 300-pounder, Saunders has also demoted another one-time high hope, James FitzPatrick, the ’86 No. 1 pick from USC. Perhaps to keep the bench from collapsing, Saunders is starting a 300-pound rookie, David Richards, a fourth-round pick from UCLA.
The defense misses Banks, who is reported by his agent to be on vacation, the agent doesn’t know where. The returning stud, Billy Ray Smith, has been moved back to Banks’ right side, but there aren’t enough Billy Rays to plug all the holes.
In Smith’s old spot is Keith Browner, a Raider replacement player a year ago. Three Charger strike replacements--cornerback Elvis Patterson, whom you’ll remember, linebacker Jeff Jackson and end Les Miller--still start.
Other key Raider components--the offensive line, the defensive line, the cornerbacks, aw, just about everything--are going to get their first acid test, but as usual, the spotlight falls on the kid QB.
The Chargers aim to do what they can to mess up Beuerlein’s mind and body. Defensive coordinator Ron Lynn figures to show him everything a pro defense can do to confuse him. The Chargers like to blitz from everywhere so Beuerlein is going to have to bring all his cool.
Last week, it was Jay Schroeder trade talk, but Beuerlein held up admirably.
“If he comes in, he’s got to beat me out,” he said, grinning.
The Chargers will hit harder than rumors, but as so many in today’s game could tell you, everyone has to start somewhere.