SAN DIEGO — The Ring, Part I.
It's five years ago. Bob Petrich and his family return to their El Cajon home after visiting neighbors. Their front door is open. There's been an intruder.
Petrich rushes inside, through the living room, past the spot where burglars had hauled away the television, past where they had wrapped up the stereo.
He runs directly into the bedroom, grabs for the tiny tray on top of his dresser and-- gone! They'd taken it. His 1963 American Football League championship ring.
The former San Diego Chargers defensive end runs back through the messy living room, back outside, and sticks a finger into the darkness:
"Whoever stole my ring, I'll find you! Whatever it takes, I'll find you! And when I do, I'll kill you!"
His wife grabs him and it is then, 43-year-old Bob Petrich realizes, he is on his knees. And he is crying.
The problem here is this: For the next eight days, a couple of professional football teams are going to be running around San Diego as if they own the place.
The Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins will be dodging waves and killer whales and shrimp enchiladas and Tijuana chewing gum salesmen and, finally, each other, in Super Bowl XXII.
After this happens, next Sunday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, one of them will be ruled the best in professional football.
But before anybody does anything stupid, like feel around for the city's keys, a few guys would like the future champions to realize something.
They aren't the first ones around here. Not by 24 years.
On Jan. 5, 1964, at Balboa Stadium, the San Diego Chargers defeated the Boston Patriots for the championship of the four-year-old AFL, 51-10.
Fact: It has been the only ultimate football, basketball or baseball championship in this city's history.
Legend: They were the greatest AFL team in the six years before football chose to make the league prove itself with a Super Bowl. In personality and game plan, they were one of the strangest.
"We raised football to an art form," said tackle Ron Mix, now a prominent San Diego attorney not given to hyperbole. "We were light-years ahead of our time."
You don't remember them? Drop by Canton, Ohio. In pro football's Hall of Fame are 1963 receiver Lance Alworth, Coach Sid Gillman and Mix.
You don't remember them? Turn on NBC television. That sports announcer who gets laughs with plastic pig noses is 1963 linebacker Paul Maguire.
You still don't remember them? Go to the Super Bowl, and you won't even need a ticket. The guy under the big tent by Gate C, the guy selling chicken and ribs from five pits, will be 1963 halfback Paul Lowe.
By now, if you still don't remember them, you may need a drink. Try Solana Beach's Belly Up Tavern. The bartender there, with the gray beard and granny glasses and sandals, is 1963 guard Pat Shea.
"We are everywhere," Mix admitted.
Only, look around. When one Super Bowl team is not fashioning itself after a barn animal, the other is doing fast-food taco commercials. It is 1988, and the 1963 Chargers are ancient history.
One of the 22 starters is dead. Another just announced his retirement from the real world . A couple can't run, one walks with a cane, and another has trouble even admitting he ever played here. All that's left are their voices, their memories.
Yet this week, those voices will surface, like warnings from the deepest part of the woods. The memories will be filled with messages.
There are things a few guys think the winner of the Broncos-Redskins battle needs to know:
--Champions should have fun. They should scream and fight and raise the dead, because one day, champions will be old. One day, it will take them 20 minutes to get out of bed.
--Champions should take time to look out the window because the signs will not always be so well marked. One day they will retire, and they will feel lost. For some it only lasts a moment, for others, a lifetime.
--Champions should never expect this week to happen again. And they should promise themselves they will never forget it. Because one day, they may want to.
The Ring, Part II.
Since accepting his simple, gold, one-diamond, one-sapphire championship ring, Pat Shea has never taken it off.
Not when he was working as an installer of sewer pipes. Not when he was diving in the Atlantic Ocean for abalone. And not when he was tending bar, something he has done at 21 different drinking establishments since 1966.
"Just the other night, sitting around, I counted," Shea said.
These days, the tips are good and the fights are few. But the facts are hard.
"Face it," Shea said. "Who wants to be a 50-year-old bartender in a rock 'n' roll joint?"
They say the experiences you can't shake are the ones you never expected. Pat Shea figures this might be his problem.