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Rick Neuheisel was unbeaten as an NFL scab quarterback for the Chargers in 1987

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, a former Bruins quarterback, throws a pass as his players warm up in 2011.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, a former Bruins quarterback, throws a pass as his players warm up in 2011.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

If they’re playing in empty stadiums, NFL teams will have to get used to noiseless games this season.

During the 1987 players strike, all Rick Neuheisel heard was noise.

The former UCLA standout was quarterback of the San Diego Chargers scab team — people sneeringly called them the Re-Chargers — and Neuheisel felt the scorn of full-time players he had gotten to know in training camp.

“When you’re driving into the stadium and you see all these guys with signs, you see players that were your buddies when you were in training camp,” Neuheisel recalled recently. “They’re giving you dirty looks, and you’re going, ‘Dude, [linebacker] Billy Ray Smith told me to come and play. We’re winning games for you guys right now. Don’t try to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. If you were on this side of the fence, you’d be doing the same thing.’ I just wanted to play.”

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Neuheisel, who was most valuable player of the 1984 Rose Bowl in leading UCLA to an upset victory over Illinois, played for the USFL’s San Antonio Gunslingers after college, then made the Chargers in 1987. Sort of.

After training camp, Chargers general manager Steve Ortmayer told Neuheisel the team planned to keep him but needed a couple days to make waiver wire moves before bringing him back. Dan Fouts was the starting quarterback, Mark Herrmann was the backup, and the No. 3 was fourth-round rookie Mark Vlasic.

But the Chargers had a change of heart on Neuheisel. They decided to hold off and re-sign him to be their replacement quarterback when the regular players went on strike.

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By that point — two games into the season — Neuheisel had gone home to Los Angeles to return to law school. Still, when the Chargers called, he answered.

“When I went back, I was rusty,” he said. “I think I came back four days before our game at Cincinnati.”

Rick Neuheisel led UCLA to a 45-9 victory over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl.
Rick Neuheisel led the Bruins to a 45-9 victory over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl.
(Associated Press)

Nonetheless, Neuheisel led the Chargers scabs to victories in each of their three games. He even made a bit of history in the win over the Bengals.

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“I’m still the answer to one of the great trivia questions of all time,” he said. “Who was the last NFL player to score a one-point conversion without kicking it?”

Neuheisel was the holder on that crazy extra point, and the replacement long snapper dribbled the ball back to him with a hard, bouncing snap. The ball caromed off Neuheisel’s hands and into those of kicker Jeff Gaffney.

While the coronavirus outbreak will make for a unique 2020 season, the Rams endured a pair of unusual seasons in the 1980s.

Gaffney started running for the goal line but quickly realized he wasn’t going to make it. Neuheisel was running behind him, yelling, “Pitch it! Pitch it!” So the kicker did.

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“I start going back the other way, and I see a guy open in the back of the end zone,” Neuheisel recalled. “I don’t throw it to him because I realize he’s wearing a 60-number, so he’s not an eligible receiver. I have to run for it, and I dive in. I make the one point ... and we wind up winning that game, 10-9.”

It was one of the many enjoyable memories Neuheisel has of that confusing time.

“Because we were considered a bunch of no-names, it was a blast,” said Neuheisel, who stayed with the team for two games after the strike although the regular players refused to talk to him. “The replacements stuck together.”


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