SAN DIEGO — The revolution that began Sunday ended Monday, which may be a record, even by the standards of banana republics, much less the AFC West.
In the exuberant aftermath of the 40-34 overtime win over the Raiders, receivers coach Al Saunders said the Chargers were going to revolutionize offense in pro football for the second time in a decade.
With their three-back alignment and the unique Wishbone-like option pitchout from one halfback to another, the Chargers had come up with a wrinkle that would sweep the National Football League, or so Saunders seemed to be saying.
Coach Don Coryell, whose agile mind has long been recognized as one of the most innovative in the game, seems to think his lieutenant got a little carried away in the emotion of the moment.
Asked about Saunders' statement, Coryell smiled and said, "No, I don't think we're going to revolutionize the game again. What we're doing (with the option play) kind of fits our personnel, but you have to remember we were using a similar play last year.
"The option has been around football for a long time. I'm sure there's a high school team somewhere that's doing something like this."
The difference is, no one else is doing it with backs such as Gary Anderson and Lionel James, or against the Raiders, arguably the most physical defensive unit anywhere.
In a season of pronounced ups and downs, Sunday's win was indisputably the most dramatic and uplifting, surpassing even the previous week's 30-10 victory over Denver. It was one of the most compelling games in Charger history, comparable to the 1982 playoff win over Miami.
Owner Alex Spanos also got caught up in the emotion.
"I've never had a better feeling in my life," he said. "This is my biggest thrill ever. Fantastic. I've been watching the tape, and I just don't get tired of it. Our players are inspired, and we're right in the thick of the race."
When informed that Raider defensive back Lester Hayes had paid tribute to him by saying Spanos has the Al Davis mentality, the owner seemed delighted.
"I think Al Davis has the most brilliant mind in football, so for Lester to compare me to him is marvelous," Spanos said.
It's easy to understand--what with detente with the Raiders--how even a level-headed man like Saunders might tend to go a bit overboard in assessing the meaning of the game. He wasn't alone. Hayes was so impressed by Anderson, he referred to him as the best back in football and the second coming of Gale Sayers.
"Let's hope that's right," Coryell said, smiling again. "I don't think our offense has reached its potential yet. You can always do better. But considering the opposition, our play was very good."
Coryell was especially pleased by the work of the offensive line, which had been overwhelmed by Howie Long, Lyle Alzado and Greg Townsend in the previous meeting with the Raiders. The line blocked with far more efficiency Sunday, helping quarterback Dan Fouts pass for 436 yards, the sixth time in a regular-season game he has bettered 400 yards, an NFL record.
"Our line held up very well, even after (tackle) Sam Claphan got hurt in the first half," Coryell said. "Gary Kowalski came in cold after practicing last week at guard and did a good job. All our linemen fought very hard."
The Chargers had only three healthy offensive linemen in practice last week, including Jim Lachey, Dennis McKnight and Claphan. Ed White and Don Macek were held out of practice, but were able to start Sunday. Claphan suffered a hamstring injury in the first half against the Raiders and did not return.
Coryell was straining not to let his players get carried away by the joys of having evened the record (5-5) with consecutive victories over the AFC West leaders. Upcoming this week is a trip to Denver to close out a string of four straight games against the Broncos and Raiders. Thus far, the Chargers have won two of three, and a win this weekend would put them squarely in position to contend for a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons.
"Yes, I think we may have turned the corner," Coryell said. "But, then, maybe we turned it earlier in our second game against Seattle, or in our game at Minnesota. We played well enough to win in those games.
"We've got to keep the proper perspective. We have played hard all year, and it gripes me that people overlook that. If we hadn't made a lot of big plays Sunday, like blocking an extra point, we'd have lost, and people would have been talking about how lousy we are. But we did make those big plays, and it was one of our great wins."
The 345 all-purpose yards by Lionel James--the second-best total in NFL history--kept him atop the list of San Diego rushing and receiving leaders after 10 games.
James has 305 yards rushing, just ahead of Tim Spencer, 273, and Anderson, 248. He also has 53 pass receptions, 10 more than Wes Chandler. He also leads the team in punt returns and kickoff returns.
Coryell credited Chandler with one of his finest catches, a one-handed stab for a first-quarter touchdown, and was encouraged by the play of tight end Kellen Winslow.
"Let's not forget him," Coryell said. "Kellen is going to come into his own soon. He's got his confidence back and he looked like his old self."
Maybe the Chargers can find a way to use Winslow on the option, or some such gadget play. Not that it would revolutionize the game. But it would keep Winslow from being forgotten, right?
For the last word on the revolution, here is Saunders:
"I think this game was the turning point of this organization. We beat Denver and the Raiders back to back. We still have a long way to go, but it's been a long time since we got two in a row against anyone."