A San Diego-based flight attendant flying out of Seattle Monday had heard a score for the Chargers' game against the Seahawks, but she was hoping it wasn't the score. She was hoping that maybe the good folks of Seattle were dreaming wishful dreams or putting her on.
No, she was told, the score was 34-3.
She leaned forward. She had a distasteful look on her face, as though she was talking to somebody who had driven past a wreck.
"Was it ugly?" she whispered.
Ugly? What an appropriate word. The Chargers had gone into the game looking as serene as a Renoir portrait and as heroic as a John Wayne character and came out looking as disjointed as a Picasso and as smooth as a Steve Martin jerk.
Forget the score. It was hardly that competitive. Look at first downs. Seattle had 34 and the Chargers had 6. I have seen 63-0 games that were not so lopsided.
Dan Fouts said: "The loss might have been good for us. It slaps us back to reality."
It was more like the Chargers had been collectively doused by a giant bucket of Gatorade . . . a bucket about the size of the Seattle Kingdome.
This yellow brick road, it seems, has some potholes . . . and they're big enough to swallow 45 rather large human beings.
That Seattle should win that game was no great surprise. The Chargers win in Seattle about as often as the sun shines on Puget Sound. They may as well have sent Vista High School's football team, which is clamoring to play someone somewhere.
What was shocking was the totality of the Seahawk victory. It stripped the Chargers of the momentum afforded by an eight-game winning streak and, more importantly, could strip them of the confidence created by such success.
Could that winning streak have been a figment of our imaginations? Could it have been a cruel tease?
I got that impression from Monday's Seattle newspaper.
"Seahawks unmask Chargers," said one headline.
"San Diego's NFL deceit exposed," said another.
Has this season been one long masquerade ball?
The question, thus, is where to go from here? Was the Seattle debacle the gory end of the glory road? What is this reality the Chargers have been slapped back to?
It is hard to imagine last Sunday's Chargers winning against Denver this coming Sunday. Or Houston a week later. Or Pittsburgh a week later. Or . . .
It's convenient to say the Chargers were drubbed so thoroughly because Dan Fouts did not start, except it really did not make any difference who played quarterback. Alex Spanos could have played quarterback and it wouldn't have been any worse.
Al Saunders, the coach, has a favorite saying that is quite applicable:
"We win as a team," he has said, "and we lose as a team."
This was one whopping team loss. Seattle did everything better--running, passing, blocking, tackling, covering, coaching and presumably eating salad with the right fork.
However, one loss counts as only one loss. That's what I have heard so often in the past, and it seems to be this week's special.
"It doesn't make any difference." Fouts said, "if you lose by one or you lose by 31."
That leads to the most baffling aspect of Sunday's loss, that being the fact that Fouts was brought into the carnage in the second half and kept on the field when the score was 34-3 in the fourth quarter. This man was being unnecessarily subjected to the possibility of aggravating his calf injury or sustaining new injuries.
Why? I have been asked that question dozens of times, starting with the cab driver who picked me up at the Kingdome. I'm sorry, I don't have an answer. No one else does either, at least not one that makes sense.
Al Saunders has said the idea was to get something going, to try to find a positive note on which to go home. He was asked about it for about the 1,000th time, according to his estimate, on Tuesday and the explanation was the same.
I'm still not buying it.
Was it going to be positive to lose 34-6 or 34-10 or even 34-17? A spectacular 90-yard scoring pass to Gary Anderson, for example, would have done nothing more than provide a highlight for Channel 10's "Charger Report" Monday night. What else would it have accomplished?
As it turned out, the Chargers did come home on a positive note, because Dan Fouts survived this foolishness. He said he will be ready to start against Denver Sunday.
The Chargers can instead concern themselves with more mundane questions arising from the unsettling Sunday in Seattle.
Such as . . .
Can they dare dream of playoffs with a running offense that averaged 1.4 yards per carry?
Can they dare dream of playoffs with a running defense that gave up 277 yards?
Can they dare dream of playoffs when they play so important a game and don't manage to complete a pass to Kellen Winslow?
The answer, in truth, is that, yes, this team can dare dream of playoffs. The Chargers are, after all, still in first place. I've heard that this week, too.
However, there is reality to be considered, and the loss in Seattle did bring that into focus. This football team is not a juggernaut. It is lucky because the American Football Conference does not have any teams without flaws. If the Chargers are not for real, no one else is either.
For the Chargers to get back to where they were, which is to say solidly rather than tenuously in first place, they must be coached perfectly and play perfectly.
And they know what that means. They were there Sunday when the Seahawks did it.