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Chargers Need to Be Flexible for McCallum to Have a Chance

In a listing of America’s favorite hobbies, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be too long before playing in the National Football League ranks right up there with stamp collecting, bird watching and Ponzi scheming.

You know, “What do you want to do this Sunday? Go to the beach, take up the hot air balloon or play NFL football?”

Bo Jackson, of course, is the most famous NFL hobbyists, cavorting for the Raiders during his off hours from laboring with the Kansas City Royals. He has chosen this over duck hunting, golfing and collecting fallen leaves.

Napoleon McCallum hopes he might be the latest to take up the NFL as a leisure pursuit. Having already procured a home in San Diego, he has undoubtedly contemplated such things as visiting Mexico, watching sunsets from Point Loma and hiking in the Laguna Mountains and concluded that he would spend his spare time as a running back with the Chargers.

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McCallum also has roots with the Raiders, but they traded him away last fall. Presumably, Al Davis became concerned that he would soon be fielding a team of bartenders, insurance brokers, longshoremen and merchant bankers dabbling in football on weekends.

The Chargers acquired the rights to McCallum as a belated addendum to a transaction that sent Jim Lachey to the Raiders and brought John Clay to San Diego. It was appropriate that a good back be included in the deal, because Clay came to town with a bad back.

Unfortunately, to say that the Chargers “acquired the rights” to McCallum was an understatement. At the time of the trade, he was oceans away aboard the guided missile cruiser California. The Chargers needed him in California, not on California.

McCallum, you see, is Lt. (j.g.) McCallum, U.S. Navy, not yet retired, 1985 graduate of the Naval Academy.

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If you think working for the U.S. Navy makes it a little harder to pursue a hobby with the NFL, you are right. Yessir.

In the fall of 1986, while stationed in Long Beach, he was able to resist Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain and spend his spare time with the Raiders. He actually played in 15 games, probably missing one for a Universal Studios tour.

However, his Raider recreation ended when he was shipped first to Alameda and then to sea. So much for frivolous times with Howie Long, Matt Millen and Lester Hayes.

Once again, at the age of 25, it looks as if McCallum will be able to pursue his avocation. The Navy has been kind enough to assign him to San Diego. This happens to be the home of the Chargers, who now own the rights to be his play pals.

It still won’t be easy.

The Navy must contend with those who would assert that this is yet another athlete getting preferential treatment, though sending an NFL-caliber athlete to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean at the height of his physical prowess hardly seems to be special treatment.

The problem is that as an Annapolis grad, McCallum is required to serve with the Navy until Dec. 17, 1990.

McCallum comes to San Diego as a recruiting officer, not as a football player.

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Short of making book, running brothels or stealing hubcaps, Naval officers are allowed the job or hobby of their choice in their free time. What comes into play here is a definition of free time . . . or how can a recruiting officer fit into a National Football League schedule?

Easy, right? Suit him up on Sundays, and let him play.

Wrong.

NFL teams, the Chargers included, generally run on six-day work weeks, with either Monday or Tuesday off. These are eight-hour days with meetings and practices, plus travel every other week. Sunday may be the easiest day of the week.

When, exactly, is a recruiting officer to recruit?

Nights and Tuesdays? At halftime?

This will require creative scheduling. McCallum has two bosses, one his commanding officer and the other his coach. I don’t have to tell you which has priority.

It is a time for being fair to the Navy, but also being fair to McCallum. Forget the Chargers. They are concerned only for their own interests, as well they should be.

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McCallum’s real boss, the Navy, has obviously decided to allow him to resume a hobby interrupted by two years of mandatory sea duty. OK, so it isn’t really a hobby. It pays very big bucks, but for such a limited period of time.

The Chargers have their part to play in this deal. NFL teams are very uncompromising in terms of what they expect of their players, and rarely are exceptions made.

In this case, the Navy is making the biggest exception, to the benefit of Lt. (j.g.) Napoleon McCallum . . . and, of course, the Chargers.


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