SAN DIEGO — Tom Flick drives a car worth about $1,200, is living in a duplex apartment that rents for $600 a month and still maintains that the material rewards of being a pro football quarterback are not what motivate him.
What he's after is a bit more elusive. It's a form of affirmation, not unlike what his father, a Navy test pilot, was seeking as he pushed plane after plane to the limit of its performance envelope.
"What I like is being in control and choosing my own fate," he said. "I like it best when the coaches back away and leave me alone, so I can get into my own little world.
"In a game, my concentration is heightened. That's a time when your senses are cleared and it's finally your show. You're being tested to the ultimate, and you can really let your imagination go."
It requires a certain amount of imagination to envision Flick in a Charger uniform this year.
He is one of three candidates for a job that may not even exist--the No. 3 quarterback, behind Dan Fouts and Mark Herrmann.
Two candidates--Flick and Wayne Peace--were out of football last year. The third, Daryl Dickey, played at the University of Tennessee and was most valuable player in the Sugar Bowl, but hurt his knee last week, missed five days of practice and fell behind the others.
It is far from certain that any of the three will earn a place on the team's 45-man roster. If none shows a flair for moving the offense in exhibition games, the Chargers may decide to carry just two quarterbacks and try to strengthen the team at another position.
"We might go with an offensive lineman who knows several positions, or a defensive back who can also play special teams," said offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese.
"A quarterback will really have to perform, because he is limited basically to one role. All three of these guys have ability and seem to understand what we want, but we have to see how they react in a game, with 22 bodies coming from all over the place."
Flick, Peace and Dickey share an optimistic outlook on the terms of employment. Each seems convinced there will be a No. 3 job. Each believes he can create a spot through his play in the preseason games. Of course, the Chargers would not want a quarterback without that conviction.
"Some guys think and move well in practice, but we want a guy with a knack for getting the team to play," Zampese said. "We want a guy who, when he jumps in that huddle, there's no question who's boss.
"We've had players who looked great in practice, but when they got in a game, they couldn't see anything. It was like they had never played the game before. Other guys, you put 'em out there, and everything gets real clear."
Zampese's thumbnail assessment of the candidates:
Dickey--Competitive, tough, a good leader, throws well enough.
Peace--Tremendous in the huddle, clearly the boss. Decisive, a fine athlete, with enough arm.
Flick--A fine pure passer, throws tight spirals, reads defenses well.
The three can take heart from Mark Herrmann's experience last year, Zampese said.
Herrmann was given almost no chance of dislodging Bruce Mathison for the No. 2 job. He received scant attention in training camp and didn't get to play until the second half of the final exhibition. Yet, his performance in that half was so good, Herrmann was awarded the job and Mathison was cut.
Can it happen again? Well, there's virtually no chance of Herrmann being ousted as Fouts' primary backup. The focus is on whether the team would benefit from having a third quarterback, or would be better off with an extra player at another spot.
"I'm assuming they'll keep three quarterbacks," said Flick, 25, who has been with three NFL teams since he left the University of Washington in 1981.
"I expect to make this team. I want to make a good enough impression that they will want to keep me. I feel very comfortable about proving myself on the field in the exhibitions. I think of myself as a gamer."
The confidence may seem misplaced in one whose pro football career consists of stopovers in Washington, New England and Cleveland, with minimal exposure in any of those teams' highlight films.
Flick admitted it has been a hard path, a deviation from the natural progression he expected after high school and college.
His confidence is founded upon the realization that his life is not dependent on football. He enjoyed success as a businessman in Seattle, buying and rehabilitating dilapidated buildings and selling them for a profit.
"Football used to be the focus of my life--it was me," he said. "But I've grown beyond that. I can do fine in life without the game. I've got my health, I've been blessed with some looks, I've got my faith in the Lord and stability from being married. I no longer feel like I have to make football my life."
Peace has discovered a similar brand of confidence, linked not to football success but to success beyond the game.