SAN DIEGO — Mark Herrmann once thought he would make his future as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Instead, he made the future of the Broncos by leaving Denver.
Herrmann was part of the 1983 trade that brought John Elway to Denver from the Colts. The trade started the Broncos rolling toward the Super Bowl and gave the Colts offensive tackle Chris Hinton and guard Ron Solt, both named to the Pro Bowl Wednesday.
As for Herrmann, he has gone from Baltimore to Indianapolis to San Diego, starting eight games in five seasons.
"I guess I'll always be the answer to a trivia question," Herrmann said Wednesday. "You know, 'Who was that guy who . . . ?' There will always be that asterisk by my name."
Having your career reduced to fine print might not be flattering, but Herrmann accepts that it's impossible to change history. His only request might be that he could add another chapter, starting Sunday with the Chargers' game in Denver.
Dan Fouts is out with a slightly torn rotator cuff in his throwing arm and Herrmann will start against the Broncos. It would be his first game against his first professional team.
"I know the place will be rockin'. It always is," Herrmann said. "It would be great to go back there and have a great game. I'd like nothing better than that."
Not, Herrmann says, that he has any bad feelings against the Broncos or Coach Dan Reeves for trading him. It's just that if any team needed a lift, it's the Chargers, who have lost five games in a row.
"Dan knew I could be a quality quarterback, so it's not like I have a grudge or anything like that," Herrmann said. "He had an opportunity to get John Elway, and he did what he had to do. This is a business, and I understand that."
Nevertheless, the trade was a disappointment to Herrmann, who found himself going from one of the NFL's top organizations to a team that was about to play its last season in Baltimore. To the Baltimore fans, he was more than a trivia answer; he was the quarterback they had to settle for instead of Elway.
That was not what Herrmann envisioned when he was selected by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 1981 draft. He dreamed the dream Elway seems destined to live, spending a successful career with the Broncos.
"I would have liked to have played 10 or 12 years in Denver, made my career there," Herrmann said. "Of course, it didn't work out that way. But coming to San Diego has worked out well for me. I've had a chance to learn and I've been able to play behind Dan."
The start will be Herrmann's second of the season. If Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland Saturday, it will also be the second time he has been thrown into the starting lineup in a crucial situation.
The first opportunity came five weeks ago in Seattle, when Fouts did not start because of a calf injury. The Chargers were looking to prove, against one the AFC's best teams, that their 8-1 start was no fluke. Instead they lost, 34-3, to begin their losing streak.
Now Herrmann must take over when the Chargers still could be fighting for a playoff spot. They would earn a wild-card berth by beating the Broncos, coupled with a Steeler defeat and a Cincinnati victory over Houston Sunday.
"Seattle and Denver have to be the two toughest places in the league to play," Herrmann said. "It's not the easiest situation, but I'm confident. I know I'll be ready."
Herrmann has struggled in six starts since 1985, when the Chargers traded a 10th-round draft pick to acquire him from Indianapolis. The Chargers won only one of those games, 31-20, against Kansas City in 1985.
Herrmann said he might have an advantage this week because he has known since Monday that he would start. Against Seattle, there was doubt up until kickoff and Fouts played in the second half.
"It gives you more time to prepare," he said. "It's not an iffy thing or a probable or a maybe. Dan is out, and I have to do the job."
But Coach Al Saunders said that situation might be more difficult for Herrmann than coming off the bench at the last minute.
"It's tougher because all the responsibility is yours," Saunders said. "It's a more relaxed situation to come in as a reliever."
That is a role Herrmann fills more often than some reserve quarterbacks because of Fouts' recent history of injuries. But stepping in for Fouts, second on the all-time passing yardage list to Fran Tarkenton, is one thing. Replacing him is something else.
"Mark is a good quarterback," Reeves said. "I had him here, and I think the world of him. He has great vision of the field. The type of offense San Diego runs is really suited for Mark's talent because he goes to the open receiver very well. He stays in the pocket. Certainly, he's not a Dan Fouts. He doesn't have the quick release of Dan, but he certainly gets rid of it. We've got to learn from last year. They came in and beat us without Fouts."