SAN DIEGO — Without shoulder pads or coaches, the real Chargers--not the non-union players--begin preparations today for the Seattle Seahawks.
Receiver Wes Chandler said he will bring the footballs (some of his old game balls), and quarterback Dan Fouts will bring the game plan. Linebacker Billy Ray Smith is bringing a whistle.
"It'll be brisk, it'll be concise, and it'll be practice," Smith said Tuesday evening.
After practice, they will picket. That's what you do when you're on strike. Smith has a poster all ready to go.
"We have the artistic freedom to make our own posters," he said, "but mine says something normal like, 'We Support the Union Against the NFL Owners!' "
Tuesday, Day 1 of the National Football League strike, came and went quietly here. Smith said he and his good buddy, fellow linebacker Ty Allert, spent their afternoon shopping for sweaters and then stopped somewhere for a chili cheeseburger. Meanwhile, people such as Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers' director of football operations, were a bit busier, shopping for football players.
Tuesday was quiet, but today should not be. Ortmayer is expected to assemble members of his non-union team this morning at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The striking Chargers plan a closed 8:30 a.m. workout on the UC San Diego campus, and they then will convene at the stadium--posters in tow--at 10:30.
The Charger front office is beefing up security, but most of the Chargers don't anticipate violence.
"As long as the current (Chargers) do not attempt to cross the picket line, I don't see any problem," said Chandler, the team player representative.
Tight end Eric Sievers said: "No one's going to throw heads of lettuce or tomatoes."
And Smith said: "I don't think they'll be the need to bang on cars and do crazy things."
David Diaz-Infante, a non-union center from San Jose State, isn't concerned.
"I think the reaction will be mixed," he said Tuesday. "I don't think the majority of the people will take it personally. I don't think we're a real threat to them."
Ortmayer--for his part--doesn't want a confrontation, either.
"These (regular Chargers) are the guys we want back," he said. "We hope this thing ends as quickly as it possibly can, and they'll be back in the locker room. But, right now, our responsibility is to put a team on the field."
Some Chargers don't think it will be much of a team.
"That 45-man roster that was submitted before opening day were the guys that were legitimate," Chandler said. "Everything else is just a mere emulation of what football is supposed to be. It does not bother me that a lot of players have signed and have been brought in. It just shows the mentality of what the (owners) are trying to do to the public. If the management council wants to fool the public into thinking that this is football at its finest--with scab players--then we'll let the public decide."
Chandler said Tuesday that football players are underpaid, a statement that caused team owner Alex Spanos to chuckle.
"Certainly, he says that," Spanos said. "Hey, he's just doing what he's told to do. But I don't think what he and rest of the players are doing is right. No way are we going to give in on free agency, and that's what they want. I wasn't here five years ago, but the average salary was about $90,000 and it's now up to $300,000-plus, with benefits. That's a long ways.
"If free agency is the issue, it'll be a long strike."
Spanos--giving the standard party line--said the games must go on.
"We've got to keep on playing football," he said. "There are a lot of kids out there who do want to play. It probably won't be the same, though. Like I've said, the fans will get hurt. And I don't think the fans deserve this."
Tuesday started as a normal football day for Coach Al Saunders. He got out of bed early, watched videotape of this Sunday's opponent, Seattle, and waited for his players to show up for their normal 9 a.m. meeting.
"And 10 people showed," Saunders said. "They were all coaches."
No, Fouts did not show up. All of last week, Fouts had hedged when asked if he would join his teammates in a strike. But he attended a team meeting Monday night and vowed to honor the picket line.
Fouts did not return phone messages Tuesday, but Chandler said: "Dan Fouts is a member of this ballclub. And I can surely say that whatever this team does, Dan Fouts will support us 100%."
Meanwhile, non-union players were walking in the stadium doors. Demetrius Johnson, a former cornerback for the Detroit Lions, said he'd been offered a non-union contract with the assurance that he'd be kept on the roster after the strike.
In other words, if and when this strike ends, one of the striking Chargers would find himself out of a job.
Chandler, upon hearing this scenario, said: "My players aren't really concerned about that."
They are, however, concerned about money. Sievers, for instance, said he has been planning over a year for this strike.