Early this spring, Lt. (j.g.) Napoleon McCallum was the only person confident enough to publicly predict that the United States Navy would allow him to play professional football for the Chargers in 1989.
The Chargers, fearful of alienating the Navy, insisted they were not involved in McCallum's attempts to secure a transfer to the San Diego Naval recruiting office, where he could also play running back for the Chargers in his spare time.
The Navy, fearful of a creating a public perception that they would allow a prominent athlete to dictate policy, answered most inquiries with stony silence.
The charade ended Wednesday when the Navy publicly confirmed that McCallum has been assigned to San Diego immediately. The Navy also said that Vice Adm. Michael Boorda, chief of naval personnel, had approved McCallum's request to seek outside employment (read "NFL") with the proviso that it not interfere with his duties.
After meeting with his new commanding officer, McCallum, who hasn't played a down in two years, could be in a Charger uniform (No. 37) by today's morning workout at the mini-camp that ends Friday.
"We're very pleased that the chips have fallen this way," said Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers' director of football operations. "But he's got a tough road. He's going to need to be able to re-prove himself as an NFL player."
McCallum graduated from the Naval Academy in 1986 and played in 15 games for the Raiders--rushing for 536 yards and catching 13 passes. Then the Navy shipped him out to sea, and he missed the 1987 and 1988 seasons. His commitment with the Navy ends Jan. 1, 1991, but the sea duty portion of that commitment is over.
McCallum was the second and final part of a controversial trade that began last July when the Chargers sent tackle Jim Lachey to the Raiders for tackle John Clay.
New Charger Coach Dan Henning said he wasn't sure where McCallum will fit in. McCallum is 6-feet-2, 215 pounds, and, according to defensive coordinator Ron Lynn, "ran some of our better conditioned players into the ground" a month ago when he visited the Chargers' practice facility.
Henning met with McCallum at the time and said he was impressed with McCallum's physical condition and mental agility.
The question the Chargers' need an answer to as soon as possible is this: How much time will the Navy allow McCallum from his recruiting duties to participate in the Chargers' meetings, practices and games?
The man who will make the final determination is Capt. Samuel Hallmark, commanding officer of the San Diego Naval Recruiting District. Hallmark did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Henning has given McCallum an outline of what the Charger practice schedule will be in the upcoming months. "I imagine somewhere in there they (McCallum and Hallmark) will try and find out a compatible way of doing things," Henning said.
"I don't think an NFL player can miss any of the physical part of game preparation and be expected to play," Ortmayer said.
Asked if McCallum could play for the Chargers if Naval obligations prevented him from given something less than a full-time commitment to the Chargers, Henning said, "It depends what 'something less' is."
If the Navy restricts McCallum's practice time, Henning said that would make it harder for McCallum to be a "third down" back because of the added blocking responsibilities.
Reaction from Charger players to the McCallum news was mostly favorable. "He can take it up inside, and he has the speed to make the corner," said linebacker Billy Ray Smith. "he offers a tremendous repertoire."
Charger cornerback Sam Seale, a Raider teammate of McCallum's in 1986, talked about McCallum's deceptive way of running. "He doesn't look like he's moving, but he gets four or five yards," Seale said. "When you look at him, it's like, no way he's running. But all of a sudden, it's second down and four, second down and five."
McCallum rushed for 56 yards in 14 carries in the final period of a 17-13 Raiders' victory over the Chargers in 1986 at the Coliseum.
During his rookie season with the Raiders, McCallum commuted from Long Beach, where he was stationed, to El Segundo (the Raiders' practice facility) and the Coliseum.
The Chargers already have Gary Anderson as their primary running back. Anderson finished third in AFC rushing with 1,119 yards in 225 carries last year. Anderson is a free agent and not in attendance at the mini-camp. Barry Redden was the Chargers' goal-line running back last year. And they recently acquired unprotected free agent Tim Smith from Washington.
"I can't tell at this point how this will affect me," Redden said. "I learned a long time ago not to guess what they (coaches and front office) are trying to do. You keep your sanity that way."
McCallum, 28, was the NCAA all-purpose yardage leader in 1985. He finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior.
McCallum recently completed a recruiting course in Orlando, Fla. His duties in San Diego will almost certainly involve community speaking and appearences during which he can sell himself and the Navy to potential recruits.
"I think that's logical to assume," said Cmdr. Doug Schamp, a San Diego-based public affairs officer. "Obviously if you've got a good public speaker, he will probably visit the high schools and colleges."
Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers' director of football operations, spoke briefly with the agent for AWOL punter Ralf Mojsiejenko Wednesday. Ortmayer said the agent blamed the absence on Mojsiejenko. "I haven't heard from Ralf, and Lord knows when I ever will," Ortmayer said. Mojsiejenko is under contract but unhappy with the terms.