The football game was right there for the Chargers' taking, and for a change they took it. On two particular plays, the football was right there for the taking. Both times, Henry Rolling took it.
The linebacker's fumble recovery on the second play of the fourth quarter set up the Chargers' decisive touchdown, and his interception later in the quarter helped shut down the Raiders' last real threat as the Chargers recorded their first victory of the season, 21-13, at the Coliseum Sunday.
Rolling's performance was part of a second consecutive strong effort from the Chargers' defense, which limited the Raiders to one touchdown, three points after halftime and no big-gain plays of 25 yards or more.
"When the plays come, you have to make 'em," Rolling said. "Today they were there and we made 'em."
The Chargers were protecting a 14-13 lead and the Raiders had advanced inside the 35 when tackle Joe Phillips stripped Roger Craig and the football bounced away from a scrum of tacklers and blockers. Rolling scooped the ball in stride and took off down the left sideline, running 53 yards before being pushed out of bounds by quarterback Jay Schroeder.
"The ball was laying there, I just picked it up and started heading down the sidelines," Rolling said with a grin. "I had help--I saw Joe hit Craig and strip the ball, I had my eye on the ball the whole time."
Did he think he might score a touchdown? "I don't know, Gil (Byrd) was yelling something at me so I was looking back at him," he said.
The Charger offense took the ball the final 13 yards to build the lead to 21-13. On the Raiders' next possession, Schroeder threw a pass that bounced off Mervyn Fernandez near midfield and was picked off in mid-air by Rolling, who returned to seven yards for his second career interception. That locked up the game for the Chargers.
"You've got to always expect to make these plays," said the 225-pound Rolling, who in his second year with the Chargers and fourth in the NFL has replaced Billy Ray Smith at starting outside linebacker. "I don't like to talk about myself but it's nothing new to me to make big plays. I like to rush the passer but I haven't had much chance to do that here, so you try to do other things."
In fact, Rolling insists he's had bigger days, though perhaps none more satisfying.
Rolling was drafted by Tampa Bay out of Nevada, a Division 1-AA team. A good all-around athlete, he started out at wide receiver before switching to linebacker as a sophomore. His forte then was pressuring the quarterback, and he recorded 32 sacks at the Reno school. Tampa Bay let him go after the 1989 season, and his signing as a free agent paid immediate dividends for the Chargers.
Rolling, who had a 67-yard interception return in his first start last season to help set up a touchdown in a 24-14 victory over Cleveland, teams with Junior Seau, Gary Plummer, Leslie O'Neal and Smith to give the Chargers one of the NFL's strongest linebacking corps.
He said starting out 0-5 "brought us closer together, it didn't break us apart. Our defense has been playing tough all year. We've bent but we haven't broken. The rough times brought us together, made us a tighter unit. I think we're destined for something very special."
He added, "I'm not saying one victory turns things around, but to me all things are possible. Once you come together as a team, you're hard to beat. We were there to make the plays. Some injuries hampered me the first four games but the last few I've come on to do the things I can do."