DENVER — In their last nine trips to Mile High Stadium, the Chargers have recorded one--that's one--victory.
"One win," recalled cornerback Gill Byrd, "and the most improbable scenario."
The quarterback was Tom Flick.
The motivation was a story about the Vietnam veteran with no legs who took four days to complete the New York Marathon.
The Chargers were coming off a defeat to Kansas City in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Chargers were 1-8, the Broncos 8-1.
The Chargers were 14-point underdogs.
The Chargers didn't score a touchdown--and won, 9-3.
It was Al Saunders' first victory as coach of the Chargers.
"It's been a while then, huh?" said quarterback Stan Humphries.
It has been that long--six years--but has anything really changed?
The Chargers (0-1) return to Mile High Stadium today, after losing last week to Kansas City in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, as 6 1/2-point underdogs to the Broncos (1-0).
Coach Bobby Ross is seeking his first victory as an NFL head coach.
Flick was a Bobby Beathard draft pick in Washington who failed to make it with the Redskins.
Humphries was a Bobby Beathard draft pick in Washington who failed to make it with the Redskins, and today he makes his first start for the Chargers.
Both the Broncos and Chargers are having trouble on offense. Both teams have the sort of defenses that invite a 9-3 rerun.
In 1986, Saunders whipped his players into a competitive frenzy with a stirring "You got to believe" pregame talk.
"I told my players if a man like that can believe in himself enough to go four days for 26 miles," Saunders said after the game, "we can believe in ourselves enough to play 60 minutes of football."
In 1992, Ross threw a temper tantrum, stopped a midweek practice and ordered his players from the field for a private "You got to play better" pep talk.
Will history repeat?
"I remember vividly sitting in front of my locker after the game and Dan Fouts coming over," Flick said. "He said, 'You should be happy, not too many people come in here and win.' "
Flick, now a motivational speaker for hire, completed 16 of 22 passes for 130 yards against the Broncos. He made only one more appearance in his seven-year career as a journeyman quarterback, but looking back, he said, "That day brought a lot of satisfaction.
"We probably caught Denver on a sour day, but I thought we had a lot of talent on that team. We just didn't gather it together."
That's Ross' cue. He has been hired to bring all this present-day talent together.
"We're better off now than we were then; we have more talent," said linebacker Billy Ray Smith, one of only four remaining Chargers who experienced victory in Mile High. "We should have been more than two-touchdown underdogs in 1986, but I think we have a great chance to win in Denver this time. We'll be in the game."
The Broncos have compiled a 65-20 record under Coach Dan Reeves in Mile High Stadium. Denver has won 11 of its last 12 games at home and is coming off an uplifting 17-13 come-from-behind victory over the Raiders.
"It seems like the Chargers are more disciplined in what they are doing," Reeves said. "They are very well coached, you can tell that by watching film, not that they haven't been in the past, but they seem to stress the basic fundamentals a little bit more, particularly on defense.
"In the past you'd have the chance to make some big plays because they gambled a great deal, but now they make you go out and execute. That's the toughest kind of defense to operate against in my opinion."
The Chargers will open with Humphries at quarterback, and Reeves has had his eye on Humphries for some time.
"We were interested in Humphries, but felt Washington was asking too much for him," Reeves said. "At the time we talked to them, we looked at a lot of film and were very much impressed. He's a big guy that has a strong arm.
"We felt he was a guy that if given the opportunity to play he would be good. But in our situation (with John Elway), we didn't feel he would be in any better situation here than he was in Washington. And he didn't seem to be motivated by that, keeping his weight down and doing the things you need to do to be ready to play. I think this type of situation is ideal for him."
The Chargers will call on Humphries, who has five starts in his NFL career, to hand off the ball to a healthy Marion Butts, and then sting Denver's blitzing defense with a long-range strike to wide receiver Anthony Miller.
The team has practiced all week with crowd noise blaring through speakers in preparation for a Mile High welcome from 76,273 fans--the 174th consecutive sellout.
"I hear it's quite the atmosphere," Humphries said. "But I had it tough when I started that stretch (in Washington in 1990) when we played the Giants twice and the Eagles twice. I'll be ready."
The Chargers' defense, meanwhile, must contend with Elway, the winningest quarterback in the game from 1984-1991 with an 85-47-1 record.