Philip Rivers guns for 455 yards in grey Seattle, and it's the most ever on a single day for a Chargers thrower. Consider that San Diego lineage. More than Dan Fouts, more than Drew Brees, more than old Johnny Hadl, when he was out there slinging 'em deep and Lance Alworth and Dave Kocourek and Keith Lincoln were doing the rest.
A lot of people don't care for Rivers. Everyone wants to rub Brett Favre's tummy, but the public grows a sour face when it comes to San Diego's No. 17 … or Chicago's Jay Cutler … or even way back with Joe Theismann, when he was piloting the Redskins. The perceived whininess about them. I remember the way one old NFC defensive end would sneer when discussing a game with Theismann on the field.
"Biggest whiner in the league," he said about Joe. "Oh, Lord, you wanted to hit him. You really wanted to try and knock him out if you could.
"Remember back when you were in school, there was the little girl who thought she knew everything, who was always so prissy and always trying to be the show? And you just wanted to slap the hell out of her? Joe Theismann was like that on the field. I like him as an announcer, but as a player he was at the top of my list of people I wanted to hit very hard."
But Theismann was a tough son of a gun, and he could snap off good passes when he was hurting and rally a team, and he delivered the Redskins to their first Super Bowl win.
People don't like Rivers because of his mouth, the little tantrums he lets go on the sideline, stomping around and jawing back at the fans.
But I don't care about that garbage. What I saw was a warrior out there against the Seahawks, trying to pull out a game through force of sheer will, after his special teams (two TDs allowed) and — if you want to take it back a step further — his front office let him down. I felt a pang as he stood back there cranking up, over and over, clutching for points, like a guy pitching snowballs at a house fire.
The Chargers are a depleted club. No word on Vincent Jackson, their top receiver, a money holdout. Their running game has been reduced to a shuttlecock (5-foot-6 Darren Sproles) and a Coastal Carolina bowling ball (Mike Tolbert, a 5-9, 243-pounder), and had the Seattle defense recognized that they would have sent the wolves after Rivers and could've torn him apart. Instead they dropped dutifully into their heavy-legged zones and the Chargers' receivers found their spots and Rivers got himself a big record. But shame on his supporting cast. He deserved a victory, too.
George Blanda, gone at 83. Bear. Oiler. Raider. Kicker. Punter. Passer.
"In all honesty" says former Raiders LB Phil Villapiano, "when I missed a tackle or made a bad play out there, I would rather walk off the field in front of John Madden than in front of George Blanda. Madden would yell. George would jump down your throat. He was such a competitor, a perfectionist. In football that's the way I always wanted to be.
"Everyone knows the wild Raider stories. We used to have this air hockey tournament, and when it was all done we'd set up this awards banquet and have dinner and have a little fun. One year George didn't participate and a food fight erupted, and all the local TV cameras were there to catch it. Ha ha, those wacky Raiders.
"Well, the next day Blanda caught up to me. He said I was a disgrace to the Oakland Raiders, that I was ruining the team. I really felt bad about it. One of my teammates said, 'To hell with the old man.'
"I said, 'Not that old man.' When George Blanda spoke you listened."
A report from the Big Ten territories: Michigan State 45, Northern Colorado 7; Michigan 65, Bowling Green 21; Wisconsin 70, Austin Peay 3; Iowa 45, Ball State 0; Ohio State 73, Eastern Michigan 20.
A waning, humbled king shows his might by torching the peasant villages.
CBS TV. In between football we get promos for a slimmed Jimmy Johnson on "Survivor." Jimmy Johnson, one-time football baron, one-time Pygmalion master, now munching stink bugs in Nicaragua and shilling for male extension pills. You hate to see it. Like Bill Walsh in a wing-eating contest, or Chuck Noll dancing around on "Pee Wee's Playhouse."
Things must be not so good for the coach. Seventeen years have passed since his last title. People forget after 17 years. Others, they never remembered. I look at the path Johnson's is now travelling, and I think about a story the Steelers' Art Rooney Jr. used to tell, about the way time can scrape and pick away at the ego.
"Once, years ago, I took my family to an NFL meeting in Hawaii," says Rooney, "and Joe Foss, the former AFL commissioner and governor of South Dakota was there. He was also a great Marine aviator in World War II, a Pacific war ace who shot down many, many planes. I knew all about Foss and I wanted to meet him so I introduced myself.
"The next day I was with my son, who was around 13 years old. We saw Joe Foss standing around a reception room by himself, so I felt it was a good time to introduce the great ace to the kid — something for the lad to remember. So I walked over and said, 'Governor Foss, I'd like you to meet my son Mike.' We were all smiling, shaking hands. I told Mike, 'Governor Foss was a great Marine aviator, a top ace.'
"Mike, who didn't know anything about Foss' career, asked him, 'Oh, where did you fly your airplane?' Foss looked at him, and in a somewhat proud but sincere way, answered, 'A little west of here, son … a little west of here.' "
Art Jr. had controlled Pittsburgh's crisp personnel division for years, starting with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene and Franco Harris and on through the Super Bowls and trophy lifting. But by the middle of the 1980s things had slipped and, in 1987, Art moved aside and the calendar kept peeling away by until it was time to rip down old Three Rivers Stadium.
"We hosted a big party to honor the place," says Rooney. "Most of the great players of the '70s were in attendance, all the stars. Mike was now a grown man, and he introduced me to a friend of his who was on Bill Cowher's coaching staff. It was quite obvious the friend didn't know about me, or really even care, but he was nice. To him, I was Mike's old dad and a Rooney, so this fellow went out of his way to make a little conversation.
"The young coach asked me what I'd done with the Steelers. I said I was a scout.
"He said, 'Oh, who did you scout?'
Rooney looked around and saw all those grand old Steelers in the room, all their gleaming rings — Jack Lambert and Lynn Swann and Larry Brown and the others. My God, what a cast.
"For a moment I thought of Governor Foss' reply to my son years before. That's what it felt like, but I didn't know how to put it in my own words. So I just kept it to myself.
"A little west of here, son … a little west of here."
Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.