SEATTLE — Al Saunders came out of the Charger locker room late Sunday afternoon, backed against a wall and threw his arms out as if he were expecting to be on the uncomfortable end of a firing squad.
Indeed, this was an afternoon when his Chargers were on the very uncomfortable end of a 34-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and a machine gun rat-a-tat of questions about the quarterback situation was appropriate.
Consider that Dan Fouts, he of the gimpy right calf, was called upon to pitch in relief with 8:26 to play in the third period and Seattle leading, 24-3.
Consider also that Fouts was still playing in the fourth period after Seattle had already gone to its backup with a 34-3 lead.
This sequence seemed to be a bit twisted.
Here was an MVP--as in most valuable property--who was not on the field at 1 p.m. when the score was 0-0 but was on the field at 2:54 p.m. when the score was 24-3.
Fouts did not practice all week because he injured his calf in pregame warm-ups last Sunday. Mark Herrmann was expected to be the quarterback, and was.
Yet, Fouts was out there moving around during warm-ups Sunday, not exactly looking nimble. But then, no one has ever confused him with Nureyev.
Asked about Sunday's warm-ups, Fouts said: "I felt pretty good, but the decision about starting was made before that. Mark had a good week of practice and I didn't practice at all. It was the right decision."
That decision, Herrmann said, had been made Thursday and he never had reason to think it would be changed.
"I thought I'd go the entire way unless I got hurt," he said. "Then Dan would go. I thought Dan looked good in warm-ups, but no one mentioned the possibility he would play."
The tone for this game was set when Gary Anderson fumbled the opening kickoff and Seattle recovered, coming away with a 3-0 lead. Herrmann started in a hole and never dug out.
"Mark did a fine job," Saunders said. "Nothing he did put us in the position where we didn't have an advantage in points."
Saunders said Herrmann did fine and Fouts said Herrmann did fine and Herrmann said Herrmann did fine.
The quarterback, in truth, had very little to do with the fact that the Seahawks were treating their guests rather rudely in all phases of the game.
When the Chargers gained possession with 8:26 remaining in the third period, Seattle had a 24-3 lead and it seemed logical to assume that the Chargers' best bet was going to be to try to escape with their health intact if not their egos.
But Dan Fouts shuffled onto the field to take over with the ball on the Chargers' 20-yard-line.
"In the second half," Saunders said, "I thought we needed a spark. Dan felt like he could go and we sent him in. There was a lot of time left and we still felt like we could come back. We had more than a full quarter to go and it would only have taken a couple of plays to get back into it."
Fouts threw incomplete to Lionel James on his first attempt, then hit James between two defenders for a gain of eight. A bomb to Anderson on third and two was incomplete.
By the time the Chargers got the ball back, it was 27-3. Fouts was sacked by Fredd Young for a loss of nine and then Eugene Robinson intercepted a long pass down the right sideline intended for Anderson.
"The guy just made a great play," Fouts said.
That was typical of the Chargers' day.
"Seattle did everything right, and we did nothing right," Fouts said.
One of the things that seemed wrong was that Fouts was still in the game when the Chargers regained possession and Seattle had increased its lead to 34-3. By then, Seattle had replaced Dave Krieg at quarterback with Jeff Kemp. It was mop-up time.
"It was important to try to score some points and leave here with a better feeling than we're leaving here with," Fouts said. "I'm sure that's what the coaches had in mind."
Saunders, by that point, was not thinking in terms of miracles.
"We just needed to generate some offense," he said. "We felt there were some things we could do, but we didn't."
Indeed, Fouts was promptly sacked for a loss of seven yards by Young. He was sacked again for a loss of six, but the play was nullified because Seattle had 12 men on the field. It hardly needed that advantage. Fouts completed a pass to Barry Redden for seven yards and threw incomplete on third down to Anderson.
His day was done.
"We put Mark back in," Saunders said, "because he hadn't run our two minute drill yet this year. We wanted to give him some experience in a game-type situation."
The good news was that Fouts came out of the game feeling better about next week's game against Denver.
"It helped me to loosen up," he said, "and get the adrenaline going. I'll be 100% next week."
"I haven't been 100%, since I was in the third grade," he said.
That was probably when he started playing quarterback.