When your 12th man is the instant-replay official and their 12th man is the crowd, your team should win.
Sure, the people at the Kingdome are the noisiest in the league. They are of hardy stock. Most of them look like they just walked out of an Eddie Bauer catalogue.
But that apparently didn't faze Grover Klemmer on Sunday.
"I'm tickled to death to win," said Seattle Coach Chuck Knox.
The Chargers failed to see the humor. "I feel terrible," Charger center Dan Rosado said. "I don't ever want to feel this way again."
Klemmer struck for the first time 13 minutes into the game when Seahawk quarterback Kelly Stouffer found wide receiver Louis Clark in the right corner of the end zone for what appeared to be an 11-yard touchdown. Klemmer said Clark didn't have possession. The Seahawks had to settle for a 26-yard Norm Johnson field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Klemmer failed to rescue the on-field officials in the second period when the replay showed Stouffer's 23-yard strike to wide receiver Brian Blades looked suspiciously like a touchdown. This time Stouffer shrugged Klemmer off and hit Blades one play later.
Blades had beaten cornerback Sam Seale, who was replacing the injured Elvis Patterson. The Seahawks picked on Seale all afternoon. Patterson's nickname is "Toast" because he gets burned. (Are we now to call Seale "English Muffin?")
Finally there was the Klemmer reversal of a 40-yard Stouffer-to-Blades pass midway through the final period after the Chargers had closed to 10-7 on the first of Mark Malone's 2 fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller.
This ruling stripped the Seahawks of a first down at the Charger 8. Many in the crowd of 59,641 stood and directed obscene gestures toward the replay booth. Call it creative finger-pointing.
Not to worry. Seven plays later, Stouffer dumped the ball off to John L. Williams in the right flat for a 6-yard touchdown.
Stouffer, the second rookie quarterback to start against the Chargers in 2 weeks, finished with 14 completions in 28 attempts for 121 yards. He is 3-2 as a starter since replacing Dave Krieg, the quarterback the Chargers forced onto injured reserve when Lee Williams separated his shoulder in their 17-6 victory over Seattle Sept. 18.
John L. Williams led all rushers and receivers with 73 yards in 15 carries and 34 yards in 6 catches. Malone completed 20 of 32 passes for 169 yards. Seldom-used Tim Spencer was the Chargers' leading runner with 69 yards in 8 attempts.
But in the end, it came down to this: The Chargers, a team that needs all the help it can get, got it from Klemmer. It wasn't enough.
The Chargers lost their fifth straight game on a day in which their defense allowed the fewest yards (235) of the season.
The Chargers lost their seventh straight in the Kingdome on a day in which their offense outgained Seattle's by 64 yards.
The Chargers (2-7) dropped 3 full games behind the AFC West first-place Seahawks (5-4) on a day in which they forced 7 punts.
"I don't know what the problem area is," said defensive tackle Joe Phillips.
Try 4 fumbles and 7 penalties. The Chargers lost 2 of the fumbles. One of them proved costly.
An 11-yard touchdown pass to Miller had just cut the Seattle lead to 3 early in the final period. And the Chargers had just forced a Ruben Rodriguez punt. On first down from the Charger 42, Malone and Rosado teamed for an aborted snap. Seahawk defensive end Jeff Bryant pounced on the ball for his second recovery of the game.
The lost momentum was even more expensive than the lost ball. "I feel like apologizing to everyone on this team and every fan in San Diego," Rosado said. "Whatever it is," Malone said, "we're finding a way to make mistakes."
Bryant's first fumble recovery, off a bad handoff exchange between Malone and Gary Anderson, had set up Johnson's field goal back in the first quarter.
On their final possession, Malone drove the Chargers 84 yards in 12 plays and brought them to within 3 points with 53 seconds remaining when he hit Miller on a 10-yard slant-in for a touchdown. But Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent gobbled up the ensuing onside kick.
Largent had already caught 3 passes for 37 yards and extended his string of consecutive games with at least 1 reception to 161. Couldn't the Chargers have found somebody else at whom to direct the onside kick? "The ball's going to bounce your way and it isn't," kicker Vince Abbott explained. Earlier, Abbott had missed a 49-yard field goal try.
Nobody's perfect. Least of all Grover Klemmer.
The Chargers' 2 fourth-period touchdowns ended a string of 4 games with no fourth-quarter points. . . . The Chargers didn't pass for a first down until the final period. . . . Running back Barry Redden, just off injured reserve, carried once for 3 yards and suffered a lacerated finger. . . . The Chargers had 99 yards of offense in the first quarter. . . . Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth (shoulder) did not play. . . . Seattle Coach Chuck Knox refused to criticize the replay official. "The official on the field makes the call," he said. "Then you get into whether it was conclusive or inconclusive. That's semantics."