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Chargers' Tolliver Gets No Respect

July 21, 1991|DAVE DISTEL

If there is one thing the Chargers do not need this summer, it just so happens to be the one thing they do not have.

They do have a coach, Dan Henning, on the bubble.

They do have one of their best offensive players, Marion Butts, holding out for more money.

They do have one of their best defensive players, Lee Williams, demanding a trade.

They do have two other defensive standouts, Leslie O'Neal and Burt Grossman, bickering with each other.

They do not need any more controversy or distraction.

They do not need a quarterback controversy.

They don't have one.

However, they do have a controversial quarterback.

His name is Billy Joe Tolliver. He will be The Man, even though it seems most of San Diego would prefer that he be home in Boyd, Tex., tending bar. The theory is that overflows are much more tolerable than overthrows.

Charger fans have spent their off-season bemoaning their ill fortune in having Mr. Tolliver as their quarterback, this after they spent much of the 1990 season booing him. He has been made to feel about as welcome as a permanent eclipse.

Now, to be sure, these same fans are likely chagrined that there is no quarterback controversy. They clamor instead for a John Friesz or a Bob Gagliano or maybe even a Lee Hamilton. Please, they plead, anyone other than Billy Joe.

Excuse me, folks, but please settle down.

Tolliver is the antithesis of Dan Fouts' contention that he always got too much credit for the success of the Charger offense. Billy Joe gets too much blame.

To his credit, it does not seem to bother him.

"It comes with the position," he said, "and it comes with the fact that the Chargers have had eight losing seasons in a row . . . or whatever it's been. People get frustrated and everyone has their own opinions. You get used to it. People say what they want to say."

Tolliver has been a quarterback since he played for the Boyd Yellow Jackets. High school football being what it is in Texas, there was probably pressure there too.

"The difference," he said, "was that there was bigger allegiance to the hometown team."

However, a further difference is that fans at the National Football League level are more inclined to voice their opinions on what they perceive is best for the home town team.

Not too many seem inclined to buy the notion that Tolliver should be the quarterback, but that's what I want to sell. He represents the most complete package in terms of familiarity with the system, physical tools and future potential.

What's more, he has maintained a healthy perspective and an even temperament in the face of criticism.

Asked if the fan unrest motivates him to prove them all wrong, he shrugged his shoulders.

"That's not the thing that motivates me," he said. "The thing that motivates me is to be the best. One of the guys asked me what I'd like to have said about me and I said I'd like the other teams to get their scouting reports together and say, 'How are we going to stop this guy?' The rest would take care of itself."

Obviously, neither Tolliver nor the Charger offense have gotten to that position yet. It has been a very conservative offense designed more not to lose.

"In the past, especially last year, we were a young offense," Tolliver said. "The defense had to keep us in the game and we had to try not to get us out of it. There's more familiarity now with what we're trying to do. We can conceivably go out now and win football games ourselves."

The difference . . . from his standpoint?

"It's easier to handle stuff once you've been there, especially a number of times," he said. "Experience gets you over the hump and then winning cures all ills."

Significantly, the Chargers were 8-11 in games Tolliver started over his first two seasons. Significantly? Indeed. In games with other starting quarterbacks, the Chargers were 4-9. That is a significant difference. I doubt that Joe Montana could take a 4-9 club and produce playoff caliber numbers in 19 starts. The quarterback simply does not make that much difference.

However, Billy Joe Tolliver himself is not inclined to dodge the pressure which befalls those who make their livings playing quarterback in the NFL.

Asked what it will take for the Charger offense to get into gear, he said: "Consistent play at quarterback."

Bang. Right like that. Those were his first four words.


"Everybody has to stay healthy," he continued, "because we're not a real deep football team. But we're going on our second year of all working together . . . wide receivers, running backs, everybody. You always have additions and subtractions, but, for the most part, we've kept a lot of people who've been here."

One of them is the much-maligned quarterback. Controversy may swirl around this training camp, but there is no doubt Billy Joe Tolliver a) has the job and b) deserves it.

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