SAN DIEGO — The New Orleans Saints packed their bags and boarded a plane for the West Coast on Thursday, a day earlier than indicated on their itinerary.
It wasn't because they were stimulated by the prospect of tonight's exhibition game with the Chargers. The Saints, who weren't going to fly out of New Orleans until this morning, left in haste because of the approach of a hurricane.
Nothing so exciting as a storm is likely tonight in this, the fourth and final exhibition for both teams. Perhaps the highlight of the evening for Charger fans will be the work of backup quarterbacks Bruce Mathison and Mark Herrmann.
That is, if Mathison is able to throw a pass.
What had shaped up as a last-minute duel for the right to serve as Dan Fouts' fill-in underwent a script change Wednesday when Mathison injured his hand in practice.
It's been a difficult week for Mathison, who threw two interceptions, fumbled twice and completed just 10 of 29 passes last Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers. Until that performance, he had all but locked up the No. 2 job.
Mathison may yet prevail, but first he will have to overcome the injury to the middle finger on his right (passing) hand.
He was hurt when his finger struck the helmet of a pass rusher in a practice session Wednesday.
Coach Don Coryell said Thursday he expects Mathison to be able to to play tonight, but it won't be certain until pregame warmups.
If Mathison can't play, Herrmann would likely play the entire game. Fouts, who has a pulled groin, definitely won't play tonight, but Coryell said his veteran quarterback will start the season opener Sept. 8 at Buffalo.
Herrmann has not played a down in three exhibitions and has practiced on a limited basis. If he were hurt tonight, the Chargers would call upon tight end Pete Holohan to move to quarterback.
Holohan has missed most of the preseason with an injured foot and is due his first game action tonight.
If the Mathison-Herrmann contest isn't resolved to the liking of the Charger staff, it's conceivable a third party culled from the waiver wire could be brought in next week. A trade is another possibility.
The offensive line is another area in transition. Because of a concussion suffered by left tackle Jim Lachey last weekend, the line has been reshuffled.
Tonight's starters will include Sam Claphan and Ed White at tackle, Dennis McKnight and Ken Dallafior at guard and Don Macek at center. Jerry Doerger and Bill Searcey also will play.
The Chargers, who must trim five names from their roster by Tuesday, will let rookie Ralf Mojsiejenko handle all the kicking chores while Rolf Benirschke rests a slight groin strain.
For the Saints, there is a decision to be made at quarterback, where Dave Wilson and Richard Todd are competing for the starting job, and now Bobby Hebert has entered the picture.
Tailback Earl Campbell has averaged 5.2 yards per carry through the exhibition season.