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Chargers Rally for 10-9 Win : Kelley Leads Non-Union Team Past Bengals

October 05, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI — Lineup cards instead of programs at a National Football League game? Riverfront Stadium filled to less than one-third capacity for a Bengal game?

Fumbles on the first and sixth plays from the line of scrimmage? An NFL game that took less than three hours to complete?

Sunday's game between the non-union Bogus Bengals and Re-Chargers counted in the standings just like any other, but it was different.

Quarterback Mike Kelley--a third-string nonroster player who was working out with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League just two weeks ago--came off the bench to lead the Chargers to 10 fourth-quarter points and a 10-9 victory over the Bengals.

Rick Neuheisel, the Chargers' starting quarterback, took a pitchout after a bad snap from center and ran 15 yards to score an extra point in the quarter.

Kicker Jeff Gaffney, who was released by the Chargers during the exhibition season and who has been preparing for his real estate license, kicked a 24-yard game-winning field goal with 2:44 remaining.

Bengal tackle Wade Russell--who had lined up as a tight end--caught a four-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

And the Charger defense forced the Bengals to punt 10 times, tying a Bengal team record. Their punts were double the number of passes they completed: five for minus 13 yards. Quarterbacks Adrian Breen and Dave Walter will not be mistaken for Boomer Esiason.

"If you quizzed all the coaches," said Charger Coach Al Saunders, "I don't think there's a coach on this staff or any other staff that knows the name of every player on their football team if they walked by them."

Think how the 18,074 fans at Riverfront Stadium must have felt. That's right, 18,074 fans at a stadium seating 59,755.

"I wish we'd have had a bigger crowd," said Bengal Coach Sam Wyche. "But our fans here were our most loyal fans."

There were 6,462 no-shows, and about 25,000 tickets were returned during the week. Approximately 30 striking Bengals and 300 supporters from various local unions picketed outside the stadium.

Inside the stadium, the Bengals took the field with only two players who had NFL experience: running back Pat Franklin and linebacker Reggie Williams, the only regular player on either team to cross the picket line.

"One of the things I've stood for is the right for an individual to make a decision on his own," Williams said. "That decision should not be predicated upon intimidation, physical threats or predicated upon, 'If you don't do as I say, I won't be your friend and talk to you.' "

The Chargers were a veteran unit compared to the Bengals. They had 23 players with previous NFL experience, but about half their roster joined the team between Monday and Thursday.

"It certainly wasn't the level of play, the synchronization that we get from our 45 guys and their 45 guys," Saunders said. "But I want to take my hats off to those guys that came in and worked as hard as they could. We're proud of the fact that they won a game and had the opportunity to compete in the National Football League."

It might be a short-lived opportunity, but for at least one day, a guy such as Kelley was a hero in the NFL.

"I take it in stride," Kelley said. "I know I can play. But I've had to prove it over and over again."

Kelley hadn't appeared in a game since June, when he played in an exhibition with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was drafted out of Georgia Tech and was cut by the Atlanta Falcons in 1982. Then there were stops with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan of the CFL and with Tampa Bay and Memphis of the United States Football League.

Some of the Charger assistant coaches knew Kelley from the USFL and recommended him when the strike was called.

"I think we begged him," joked Saunders.

Even though he had never taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game, Kelley was suddenly in demand.

The day after the strike was called, Kelley planned to join the Buffalo Bills. On his way to Buffalo, he was paged during a stopover in the Toronto airport. His wife, Jan, was on the phone, saying the Chargers were interested in him.

Kelley liked San Diego and felt he might have a good shot to play with the Chargers. So the day after he arrived in Buffalo, he flew to San Diego. Until Thursday, when Neuheisel decided to leave law school at USC and join the Chargers, Kelley was pegged as the probable starter against the Bengals.

But since Neuheisel had been with the Chargers through most of training camp before being cut, he was chosen to start. He practiced for just a day and a half this week, but he was familiar with the Charger system.

"It (not starting) was disheartening," Kelley said. "Any competitor wants to play, wants to start. I worked hard. I gave it my best. But I've been there before. I felt maybe I'd get a chance."

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