SAN DIEGO — For most of 27 years, they have taken it, most often in the face. For as long as there has been football here, so have there been the Raiders; intimidating, infuriating, and generally bouncing the Chargers around.
The teams played again Sunday night, only this time, a few of the Chargers were playing by a new rule. The defensive linemen had decided among themselves: If the Raiders cut, clipped, chopped, and were otherwise cheap--and you didn't fight back--you would be fined $50.
Late Sunday night, unmarked defensive end Terry Unrein smiled and checked his wallet. "We're still going to look at the films closely," he said. "But right now, nobody owes anything."
Except perhaps a bit of thanks, from the rest of the team to those linemen, who fixed the expressions in the Chargers' quaking 16-14 victory.
Those tiny white flags waved by the San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium record crowd of 60,639, maybe they were tourniquets. For more than three hours, the Chargers shoved. They swung. They kicked. They upset the Raiders such that the Raiders ceased fighting fair and were assessed a remarkable 186 yards in penalties, a club record. That's more yards than they gained rushing with running backs Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen (150), and it was mostly for offensive holding.
"And that's the sure sign that we had them on a roll, because when the refs call holding, it's not for holding," Joe Phillips said. "They were tackling us. They were grabbing us and riding us down and hoping the quarterback threw the ball before the referee saw anything."
Now it is the Chargers who are riding down the rest of professional football. This being their eighth straight victory after a season-opening loss, they are reasonably one win away from a playoff berth, considering that nobody else in the conference has won more than six games.
"We're the kind of team that, as soon as we start thinking about playoffs, we're in a little bit of trouble," warned Charger linebacker Billy Ray Smith. "We've got to be nearsighted about this."
Take Sunday. The Chargers scored their 16 points in the game's first 26 minutes, and then reclined until the Raiders scored twice in the game's final eight minutes to make it closer than it was.
"Basically, in the first half we just beat the stuff out of them, and then we just messed around," Phillips said.
The difference was, the bully Chargers did enough damage that even the sleeping Chargers couldn't give it all back.
Quarterback Dan Fouts was only 15 for 32 for 149 yards and it didn't matter. The Chargers were outgained, 365-248, and it didn't matter.
What mattered was, four plays into the game, there was a fight. Next play, two more fights.
In the first 13 plays, there were five penalties. In the 42-play first period, there were nine penalties, or one penalty for every 4.6 plays.
Though the Raiders were mostly guilty--guard Dean Miraldi had two penalties in his team's first seven plays, costing them 21 yards--the Chargers were being just as brutal. And it worked.
"We showed the Raiders that we could play down and dirty, too," linebacker Chip Banks said.
"We showed them," said safety Martin Bayless, "that we weren't taking nothing from them no more."
The Raiders subsequently backed down, and, like most teams that back down, began backing up and making mistakes.
The Chargers points came on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Fouts to Kellen Winslow and then three straight Vince Abbott field goals.
Their first score came two plays after a pass interception by Billy Ray Smith.
Their second score came four plays after a 30-yard Raider pass-intereference penalty.
Their third score came five plays after a fumble recovery by linebacker Jeffrey Jackson.
Their fourth score came two plays after an offsides call on third-and-22 against Raider defensive end Sean Jones moved the ball into field goal position.
"This was not the same Raider team that I played three times last year," defensive back Daniel Hunter said. "This Raider team was timid."
Said Phillips: "You could see it. When you come off the ball and see a guy planted and gritting his teeth like blocking you is the last thing he'll ever do . . . you know you're on a roll."
That roll started with Hunter, and the fights.
On the fifth play of the game, Charger Ralf Mojsiejenko kicked a 37-yard routine punt, returned seven yards by Chris Woods to the Raider 19. Routine play.
Except after the whistle, when Hunter and Townsend came up from the ground pushing and balling their fists.
"He hit me when I was down, and I knew I had to retaliate," said the 178-pound Hunter of the 250-pound Townsend. "I knew we couldn't act scared of them."
On the sixth play of the game, Bo Jackson went up the middle for four yards. Routine play.
Except out in the left flat, Charger defensive back Elvis Patterson and Raider receiver Mervyn Fernandez were swinging at each other.
"Before the play, Fernandez said, 'Now we're going to get it on,' " recounted Patterson. "I said, 'Fine, bring it on.'