SAN DIEGO — At the start of the 1986 training camp, Charger linebacker Shane Nelson, summed up his chances:
"I don't think the game has passed me by."
After being waived by the Chargers Monday, a surprised Shane Nelson had to reassess his career.
"Maybe I've gotten old and I'm not the player I used to be," said Nelson, 31, who was attempting another comeback from a serious knee injury and torn Achilles' tendon that have sidelined him since the start of the 1982 season.
"The attitude is still there," Nelson said. "The burning desire to achieve is still there. But maybe I'm not the player I used to be. . . .
"Being off the playing field for almost four years probably didn't help. The fact that I've been injured in the past may have made them wonder about my durability."
Actually, a lack of speed was Nelson's biggest nemesis in the three exhibition games he started this summer.
"His injury was not a factor," said Charger linebacker coach Mike Haluchak. "It came down to size and speed. Shane didn't play poorly Saturday night (against the Rams). He was always there, but nothing really special happened. There were no real big hits."
Nelson wasn't making the impact on the field that he was off it.
"We felt it came down to abilities versus other qualities," Haluchak said. "Shane is a very vocal and an outgoing personality. He made practice fun. He enjoyed playing the game. And he was able to anticipate plays through his experience."
Said linebacker Billy Ray Smith about Nelson: "He's an upbeat guy. He's always positive and he's a good influence on the other guys."
It was because of this positive attitude that cutting Nelson was such a tough and emotional decision for the Charger coaches.
"It was a very, very difficult decision for us," Coach Don Coryell said. "Shane's one of our favorite people, but we felt some of the younger linebackers are better athletes and a step faster. We feel they can fulfill our needs more than Shane can at this time."
Haluchak said rookie Ty Allert is expected to start at inside linebacker in the Chargers' final exhibition game against St. Louis Friday night.
"We will move Ty to Shane's spot," Haluchak said. "Ty has made some dramatic improvement in the last couple of weeks. Obviously we don't want to have a rookie there, but we may have to."
Except for Smith, the Chargers' linebacker situation is still unsettled. The recent acquisitions of Ronnie Washington from Atlanta and Andy Hawkins and Gary Plummer, formerly of the USFL, have made the position even more open.
Even without a set lineup, Nelson no longer fit into the team's plans. And that came as quite a surprise to Nelson when he arrived for meetings Monday morning.
"I was working hard to achieve a goal. Obviously, there is disappointment," said Nelson.
But no bitter feelings toward the Chargers.
"I don't feel the Chargers didn't want me," Nelson said. "Things just didn't work out. . . . They have to make a decision. The decision was theirs, and I don't question their decision. I think they're outstanding coaches."
Nelson, who is still dreaming about playing in a regular season game for the first time since Sept. 12, 1982, was upset but not defeated.
"I have a couple of calls out to coaches in the league who I've played for," Nelson said. "Hopefully, there are some teams who need a guy who can win."
And who doesn't give up easily.
Charger Notes In addition to waiving Shane Nelson, the Chargers waived rookie nose tackle Kevin Lilly of Tulsa and put defensive end Tony Simmons on the injured reserve list with a sprained knee. That brings the roster to 57 players. Seven cuts have to be made today and five more will be made Monday. . . . Injury update for Friday night's exhibition game: Cornerback John Hendy is out (strained knee); center Jim Leonard is doubtful (pulled hamstring); defensive end Earl Wilson is questionable (strained knee); linebacker Mike Douglass (pulled hamstring) is probable, as are safety Jeff Dale and nose tackle Chuck Ehin, who both recently underwent arthroscopic surgery.