Friesz's Most Prolific Day Turns Into a Nightmare

John Friesz enjoyed his finest afternoon as a National Football League quarterback Sunday afternoon at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Unfortunately, he also experienced his worst moment.

That, baby, is called life in the big time.

Not a trace of satisfaction fought its way through the furrows on his unshaven face as he stood in front of his locker and shouldered the blame for the Chargers' latest moment of darkness, that 30-24 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Friesz, to be sure, had thrown the pass David Brandon intercepted and returned 30 yards for the winning touchdown 7:40 into that overtime period.

This was a crushing loss, not because the Chargers were going anywhere but rather because victories are simply so hard to come by. This was against a bad team they had down by 14 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth quarter. And they had a shot at winning in regulation, but for a very inopportune holding penalty.

To John Friesz, this was his loss.

This one made the Chargers' record 1-7.

"Each one is getting more difficult," Friesz said, "but this one is more difficult for me. It was my mistake that cost us the game."

John Friesz is a rookie, at least when it comes to being a starting quarterback. He is maturing rather quickly, it would seem. It might also be called growing older, but this job will do that to you.

Dan Henning, the embattled coach, felt for the young man. His first words in the aftermath addressed Friesz's afternoon. It had been a nice one.

"This young quarterback we have played a helluva game," Henning said. "We put a great deal of pressure on him to get downfield, and he gave us a number of opportunities to win. It's a shame it ended that way."

Indeed, Friesz deserved more than a long face and a feeling that he was the goat of the affair.

Friesz was certainly not kept under wraps on this day. He was not a caddy, merely handing off to the likes of Marion Butts and Rod Bernstine and Ronnie Harmon. He was not handed a conservative game plan and told not to hurt himself . . . or anyone else.

On this cloudy October afternoon, he came of age as a starting quarterback who was asked to do what big guys such as Bernie Kosar are asked to do. He threw the ball 54 times for 33 completions and 321 yards. Those are big-league numbers. Those are Dan Fouts numbers.

Maybe someone should tell him Dan Fouts had days like that with endings like that. These things are not scripted. They are lived. Life can be painful.

Bob Gagliano, the veteran backup, tried to ease the pain. Friesz sprawled forlornly on his back as Brandon raced into the end zone. Gagliano virtually raced to his side.

"There's a numbness that goes through you after a loss like that," Gagliano said later. "He played well. The only thing to do is learn from it. It certainly builds character, but you don't really like to build character this way. He put it on the line for us all afternoon."

John Friesz did put it on the line, or at least in the air, all afternoon. The first half was rather ugly, as 3-3 ties tend to be, but he put it together in the third quarter when the Chargers seemed to be taking charge.

Given field position from excellent special teams play in the third quarter, he directed efficient drives of 41 and 48 yards to touchdowns and a 17-3 lead.

At this point, the roses had no thorns.

Cleveland came back to tie, however, in part because of an interception thrown by Friesz. He had a defender in his face, and he threw a pass maybe he shouldn't have thrown.

However, he came back and directed a splendid 86-yard drive that consumed 6:53 of the fourth period. He completed seven of nine passes for 68 of those yards, the final two coming on a play-action pass to Steve Hendrickson. That should have been enough, except Kosar is not a bad quarterback himself. He brought the Browns back.

Friesz still got the Chargers into position to win in regulation, but a holding call on Arthur Cox took them beyond the realistic range of kicker John Carney. He missed from 49 yards . . . and then came overtime.

The decisive play was on a second and 10 from the Charger 32. It was a naked bootleg with three receivers in the pattern. Pio Sagapolutele, Exhibit A for the quality of education at San Diego State, did not buy it. He ended up in Friesz's face and cut down his options. Friesz would have to go in the flat to Nate Lewis. Sagapolutele left him no other choice.

"We ran that play four or five times," Friesz said, "and each time they probably defended it better than the time before."

Cleveland defended it perfectly.

And John Friesz was left to feel nothing about this afternoon had been worthwhile.

"The only way of rating a quarterback," he said, "is by wins and losses. On that last play, I took a chance I shouldn't have. I should have thrown it away. We lost because I didn't. It was a poor decision with poor accuracy. We're still 1-7. That's the bottom line."

John Friesz was being a little hard on himself, which was probably the way he should be. However, another bottom line is that an afternoon like this will be followed by many more such afternoons with a much happier ending. He has shown he has that in him.


* Cleveland's Richard Brown, a Rancho Penasquitos resident, returns. C15B

* David Brandon waited for the right time to sting his former team. C15B

* Notes, Report Card C15A

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