SAN DIEGO — They gave him all of three games and nine minutes to get acquainted. Suddenly, on Sept. 29, 1985, against Cleveland, somebody on the Charger sidelines pointed at Mark Herrmann.
Quarterback Dan Fouts was limping off the field. Herrmann was being whapped on the shoulder pads and shoved past him.
The Chargers were leading, 7-0, and driving from the Cleveland 35-yard line. The Chargers, some of whom Herrmann barely knew, were instantly his.
"I'll never forget walking into the huddle," he said. "The players were all just sort of looking at me. I'll never forget how anxious they seemed."
Said Charger running back Lionel James: "It was like, 'OK, let's see what we got.' "
On his second play, Herrmann was hammered on a nine-yard sack by then-Browns star Chip Banks. The Chargers punted.
But Herrmann began the next series by completing a nine-yard pass to Eric Sievers. Then an eight-yarder to Pete Holohan. A 12-yarder to Chris Faulkner. A 23-yarder to Jesse Bendross. A nine-yarder to Lionel James. A five-yarder to James.
His first six passes were all completions, good for an average of 11 yards. He wound up 16 of 23 for 178 yards.
The Chargers lost, 21-7, but Herrmann won. With the team. With himself.
"I'll remember that game," Herrmann said.
Added James: "Right from that game, the team believed."
Good for both. They'll need every bit of mutual admiration this week, as the team with the best record in the National Football League may have to consign its fate to the only Charger who has yet to play a single down during the "regular" season .
Fouts, the club's emotional leader--as well as a passer on a heck of a roll--is hobbling with a severely pulled muscle in his right calf. He is being listed as "questionable" for Sunday's game against the Seahawks in Seattle. He nearly didn't play in last Sunday's victory over the Raiders.
Next in line: Herrmann, age 28, five pro seasons, nine starts.
He battles history: Over the past four autumns, the Chargers have won only 4 of 16 games Fouts has missed.
He battles histrionics: Fouts is a gruff vocal leader; Herrmann speaks so softly that sometimes receivers can't hear his cadence--even when there's not 62,000 people screaming bad things about your relatives.
At first glance, you'd think the Chargers would rather go into Seattle's Kingdome with claustrophobia.
Yet this has not been a Charger team that one can judge at first glance.
"This team has too much stability right now to let it bother them," said quarterback coach Roger Theder. "They won't let anything like this disrupt what has been going on. We've got enough offensive leaders--Don Macek, Wes Chandler--that nobody will let down."
"As far as the offensive line is concerned, it doesn't matter if our quarterback is Dan Fouts or Dennis McKnight," Macek said. "And anyway, Mark has already proven himself."
Chandler agreed, too.
"Mark is a great person to have at quarterback. We've seen enough to have just as much confidence in him," he said. "We've seen him be a great quarterback."
First things first. Any chance Fouts will still play?
It appears nobody will know until Sunday at, say, about 1 p.m.
Tuesday, he was limping badly, moving ever-so-carefully around the Charger offices and training room.
"It's getting a little better," Fouts said, forcing a smile. "I'll just have to take it day by day, just wait and see."
He didn't practice Tuesday. He won't practice today. He might not practice this week.
And that may still tell us--and the Seahawks--nothing.
"Come Sunday, when he gets that adrenaline rush, I've seen Dan almost invincible," Charger Coach Al Saunders said. "We'll have to wait until then."
Herrmann is ready to be counted in. At least they will grant him ample notice this time, as in more than five minutes. Fouts pulled the muscle just before Sunday's game with the Raiders.
"Coach Saunders walked up to me right before the game and said, 'You're starting,' " Herrmann recounted. "I said, fine. Nothing like getting your game face on at the last minute.
"But then I'm out there warming up and here comes Fouts and I'm down again. Kind of a roller-coaster."
This week is different. As far as the practice field is concerned, Herrmann is the starting quarterback until further notice.
"This week is a big chance for me," he said. "I know that even if Dan starts, I might be used. As of now, I have to consider myself the starting quarterback. Nobody has said anything, but that's the way I have to look at it. It's the way I always look at it, anyway."
Herrmann's first start as a Charger came the week after the Cleveland game in, of all places, Seattle. He was 26 of 35 for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"I had some good yardage, I guess, but I had some mistakes," he said. "And I remember, it was loud. We tried to go to the shotgun a couple of times, but, forget it."
Seattle was the start of a nice Charger career thus far, as Herrmann has completed 62% of his passes (Fouts has completed 59%). In 1985, Herrmann would have set the club's completion percentage record (65.7%), but he was eight short of the minimum 140 completions required.
And who will forget one of only six games games he played in last year, in San Diego against the Raiders? He threw three touchdown passes in the second half to lead the Chargers back from a 31-10 deficit, forcing an overtime the Chargers finally lost, 37-31.
"We do not have to sell Mark to this team," Saunders said. "He sold himself to this team a long time ago."
Charger Notes The Chargers have waived cornerback Charles Romes, who was beaten by Raider James Lofton on a 47-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds remaining in Sunday night's 16-14 Chargers' victory. They have re-signed free-agent Darrel Hopper, a cornerback who was cut during training camp.