Get in Vencie Glenn’s way, and you will pay. That is the message the Chargers’ medium-cool free safety leaves if you cross the hairs of his trigger.
Run your pick-up truck through a red light, smash it into his Bronco, and he will half choke you to death. It happened during the off-season two years ago in Indiana when the driver who had just broad-sided Glenn’s vehicle at a busy intersection had the temerity to tell Glenn he was the one who had ignored the red light.
Run your pass route over the middle, and Glenn will try to separate you from the ball and your senses. Even if you manage to hold on to both, he will stand over you, point at you, deride you and remind you how much you paid in pain for the reception you just got.
Away from football, Glenn is a garrulous sort--one of the most outgoing, approachable and friendly Chargers. He is a character. He is fun.
Strong safety Martin Bayless says he brings Glenn along to Balboa Park for off-season pickup basketball games because of his “mouth.” And he means it as a compliment.
If the Chargers were a jazz band, Glenn would play the horn. The band leader would call him jive. And he would mean that as a compliment.
“I don’t have any problem with a player being excited about making a big play,” says Charger Coach Dan Henning.
And Henning doesn’t appear to have any problem with the other identities that have flourished on the Chargers since the departure of Al Saunders as coach. Too often, Saunders’ Chargers were mere instruments. Their production on the field was the melodic equivalent of chamber music.
Henning, in his own way, is trying to foster an atmosphere that will allow his players to be instrumental. He doesn’t care what kind of noise they make as long he hears the right notes.
Abrasive young defensive end Burt Grossman rumbles like a set of drums. Veteran sacker Lee Williams twangs like a bass guitar. Rookie scatback Dana Brinson sounds like a tambourine when he walks, so laden is he with jewelry. Quarterback Jim McMahon prefers to fiddle around six days a week and play the magic flute on Sundays.
“Teams that win Super Bowls have lots of personalities,” Glenn says.
But Glenn has no delusions about the way opponents view his demonstrative style on the field: “If you go out and give guys hits and taunt them a little a bit, then, at the end of the year, they’re going to say, ‘Man, this dude tried to knock me out, talked crap to me all game.’ ”
And they will make a point of omitting his name from their Pro Bowl ballot. “No matter how they pick that team, there’s going to be some politics,” Glenn says. “That’s the way it is in everything.”
Trade Glenn on the cheap, and he will come back to show you he can play. The New England Patriots now know that. They selected Glenn in the second round of the 1986 draft and traded him to the Chargers for a fifth-rounder four games into that season. Glenn had missed training camp in a contract dispute. And the defending AFC champions decided he could learn about the pros on somebody else’s time.
Since then, Glenn has become a fixture in the Chargers’ secondary--a chandelier of emotion, ability and incandescent desire to get better each week; to help his team into the playoffs, and, despite his notoriety, to sit on the beach in Hawaii with a long, cool drink and celebrate that week-long party the NFL calls the Pro Bowl.
Glenn has never missed a football game because of an injury. Not at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Springs, Md. Not in college at Indiana State. Not in four years in the NFL.
During his rookie year, he broke his jaw in the first half against Dallas. Doctors wired it at halftime. He returned to his position that day. “It was hard,” he says. “Every time you made contact, you checked your face. Every little hit jarred. Right through my mouth. Just like getting a cavity pulled.”
Glenn played the following Thursday night against the Raiders. And the week after that. And the week after that. He has started the Chargers’ past 39 regular season games at free safety.
He has played through the pain because the last person he will allow to get in his own way is his own self. When Glenn crosses himself, there is hell to pay.
It started when he was a boy in Louisiana. His father coached the defensive linemen at Grambling. Glenn watched a lot of football players. And watched the way coaches watched those players. He decided he would rather discipline himself than hear it from somebody else.
“I judge myself real critically,” he says. “They say if you make a mistake during the game, to put it out of your mind. It’s six points. There’s nothing you can do about it now.
“But after the game there is something you can do next week to get better. There was something you did wrong that made you make that mistake. It might have been the angle you took to the ball; the way you broke; the fact that you weren’t deep enough. Whatever. You can’t let it happen again.”
“Vencie Glenn says, ‘I’m making a statement,’ ” Charger cornerback Gill Byrd said. “He says, ‘I’m going to autograph my performance every Sunday. I want to be proud of that signature I put down on it.’ ”
Which is why Glenn was so miserable Monday morning. Less than 24 hours earlier, the Charger defense had intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and scored a touchdown in the team’s 24-13 victory over the Cardinals in Phoenix. It was the Chargers’ second consecutive victory. And it set up Sunday’s battle for first place in the AFC West at Denver.
Glenn slumped in a chair, hung his head and whispered when asked about how he had played against the Cardinals. “I was terrible,” he said.
He took full blame for the 59-yard touchdown pass Cardinal wide receiver Roy Green had caught in the third period to put Phoenix ahead, 13-7. And he said the 35-yard completion from Gary Hogeboom to Don Holmes in the fourth quarter was his fault, too. In the Chargers’ season opener, the Raiders picked on cornerback Sam Seale like a scab. But they were also capitalizing on Glenn’s occasional tendency to gamble and arrive too late to the spot where the cornerback expects help.
On the Green score, the Chargers were in a three-deep zone. Glenn was the middle man. Earlier in the game, Green had determined the Chargers were stealing the Cardinals’ audibles. He wasn’t sure how. But he instructed Hogeboom to call an audible, then pump-fake.
Glenn bit on the fake, Green sailed past him, and Hogeboom laid the ball in perfectly. After the game, Byrd tried to share the blame. “It wasn’t Gill,” Glenn said Monday morning. “It was me. Right down the middle. Three deep.”
“He got beat on a guess,” Henning said. “But all around, he hasn’t made a lot of mental errors.”
Nor has he made a lot of friends in the rest of the division. Receivers don’t need someone to stand over them after they have dropped a ball or absorbed a blow against which they had no time to defend themselves.
“Given a choice,” says Charger wide receiver Quinn Early, “I’d like to have it happen as few times as possible.”
“It just makes you more determined and try that much harder,” Brinson says. “You know the guy’s trying to take your head off. But if you make something happen, he’ll cool down.”
But Glenn isn’t about to change. “If I hid my emotions,” he says, “I wouldn’t be playing my style.”
“What you see is Vencie,” Byrd says. “He just shoots from the hip. And that’s the kind of player he is on the field.”
Bayless says Glenn’s emotion on the field is both contagious and healthy. “I’m a big-hit player, too,” Bayless says. “And it’s nice to see a teammate doing those things on the field. That kind of stuff should pick us up. We can’t win if we don’t play emotional. We found that out the first two weeks.
Glenn found out how nice it was simply to be alive after the car accident he was lucky to walk away from two years ago. Glenn was driving when the other car smashed into his door at an intersection.
The force of impact hurtled his Bronco into a telephone pole, leaving it leaning, face-up, against the pole. The other car spun 180 degrees and lodged itself at the base of Glenn’s vehicle. That meant when Glenn climbed out of the hole left by the shattered window to his left, he had to hop into the cargo portion of the pick-up before he got his feet back on the ground.
He hadn’t been wearing a seat belt. And he knew immediately he was lucky to be alive. The worst of his injuries was a sore shoulder.
“I’d always said, ‘I’m living good,’ ” Glenn said. “But this made me think, ‘I’m not living right.’ It just kind of made me take life one day at a time and be thankful.”
But it didn’t change him. The next day he took a camera to the junkyard and snapped pictures of the wreckage. He looks at the photos often. They remind him of what can happen to people who get in the way.
“I lived to fight another day,” Glenn says. “And I thank God every day.”