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Battered, Beaten, They Bow Again

This is another outstanding San Diego Charger football team they have here . . . not.

The Chargers are living proof that even somebody with Bobby Beathard’s smarts cannot squeeze lumps of coal and turn them into diamonds. Sunday turned out to be another dreary day and night for San Diego’s general manager, what with those boltheads of his losing a very winnable game against the Raiders, 9-7, as the thoroughly uninspired coaching reign of Dan Henning dragged on.

The Raiders themselves left much to be desired, the margin of difference in their success being a 53-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger that was nearly squandered with one of the most stupid delay-of-game penalties ever committed. Yet, at least Art Shell’s squad has the satisfaction of a record of 9-4, plus a piece of first place in its division and an appointmentwith Buffalo next Sunday with a score to settle.

The Chargers are going nowhere, except maybe to Tijuana to drown their sorrows. They have been tattooed with a record of 3-10 and have been defeated 20 times in their 29 games since Beathard became general manager. Oh, and here’s a preview of coming attractions: Games with Kansas City, Miami and Denver.

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While the organization Beathard once ran, the Washington Redskins, spent the afternoon Sunday mopping up the field with those helpless mopes from Anaheim, running their season record to 12-1, the Chargers spent the evening fielding a patchwork lineup, running poorly, punting poorly and giving away the game on a holding penalty against their center on the one good pass their quarterback threw all night.

The Redskins have won three more games this season than Beathard’s Chargers have over the last two seasons. Bobby went to three Super Bowls in his wonderful 11-year term in Washington. The only way San Diego would be involved in any Super Bowls soon would be to host one.

Experiments haven’t helped. The Chargers have tinkered with quarterbacks ranging from damaged-goods Jim McMahon to never-good Billy Joe Tolliver. They have stocked their backfield with men so large they qualify as livestock and have maintained a strong defense even without the strapping presence of Lee Williams, who took off for greener pastures.

But San Diego continues to lose. This season, even the New England Patriots have a better record than the Chargers’. You can’t sink much lower than that.

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There has been a certain nobility in the way the Chargers have kept fighting this season, beating New Orleans when the Saints were still playing well, winning twice on John Carney’s last-gasp field goals, even playing the Raiders tough even though the healthiest body in the San Diego organization was probably Beathard’s, but only because he jogs.

The quarterback, John Friesz, played with a bum ankle and no rehearsal. Cornerback Gill Byrd sat this one out, and fellow defensive regulars Billy Ray Smith, Junior Seau, George Hinkle, Burt Grossman, Stanley Richard and Henry Rolling all played hurt or got hurt. You cannot expect to do much tackling with a Blue Cross/Blue Shield lineup like this, but San Diego’s defense did plenty, and did itself proud.

Said Grossman, justifiably: “Anytime you hold a team in this league under 10 points, I think you’ve done your job.”

Joe Phillips, one of the few defensive starters who did not need to be helped off the field, said: “It’s frustrating and heart-wrenching to lose so many close games. But our guys are still giving 100%. We could easily give up, but we don’t.”

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Even so, this does not completely excuse a team having five net yards at halftime. Or having one first down at halftime. And several Chargers made costly errors, Ronnie Harmon fumbling away the game as though he were back in the Rose Bowl; Courtney Hall needlessly holding to wipe out Derrick Walker’s fourth-quarter touchdown catch; and John Kidd’s onside punts . . . you know, the kind that barely go 10 yards.

Luckily for the Chargers, their opposition’s offense was just as careless. Jay Schroeder passes were intercepted three times, and although he finally has gotten around to getting the ball to Tim Brown, who usually catches the footballs thrown within his reach, Schroeder continues to throw and throw and throw footballs to Ethan Horton, who does not.

The game was saved by two alert plays . . . both on the same play. After a completed pass, Greg Townsend judo-chopped the ball right out of Harmon’s buttery fingers, and Riki Ellison belly-flopped onto it as heroically as a soldier hurling himself on a hand grenade. If there was a game ball to award Sunday, that was the ball. Townsend and Ellison can carve it at the seams.

All San Diego got was another game ball that got away. In recent weeks and recent seasons, there have been so, so many.

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