Which brings us to the actual game on Sunday, which took place at the Seahawks' temporary home, Husky Stadium, on the University of Washington campus. This is a lovely site, flanked on the west by hills, pine trees and college buildings and on the east by Lake Washington, yachts and the occasional raft. On a beautiful sunny afternoon the stadium played host to some very ugly football, at least during the scoreless first quarter and part of the second. Then, with the score tied 3-3, the Natrone Bomb detonated on San Diego's last drive of the half. Means carried five times and caught two passes for a total of 34 yards before blasting over from the one to put the Chargers ahead 10-3 at intermission.
Not only was it Throwbacks Weekend, an occasion for wearing old-fashioned uniforms around the NFL, but it was also retro-offense day. Warren left the game for more than a quarter with a bruised elbow, and the Chargers lost rock-steady center Courtney Hall indefinitely with a torn biceps muscle. Running games pretty much vanished. At the half Mirer had completed six of 13 passes for 48 yards, and San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries, the highest-rated passer in the NFL, was 12 of 20 for 115 yards and no touchdowns. The only impact player for either team, other than Means, was the Chargers' hyperactive cornerback, Dwayne Harper. By the midpoint of the second quarter, the 174-pounder had already been flagged for three pass-interference penalties and one unnecessary-roughness call. "You can't let the refs take you out of the game," he said afterward, noting that the officials looked and acted silly in their throwback white caps. "Maybe that was their problem—those funky hats."
Whatever the problem, Harper chilled out in the second half and finished with eight tackles, a pass broken up and a not-disastrous game, considering the havoc he wreaked on his own side. The real loser after the break was Mirer. On first-and-10 at the Charger 28 midway through the third quarter, he was blitzed by linebackers Junior Seau and David Griggs, and he threw a quick out pass toward tight end Paul Green that Charger safety Stanley Richard homed in on like a hawk on a pigeon. Richard snatched the ball and waved bye-bye.
Eighty-three yards later (counting the 10 yards of end zone) the 6'2" Richard rose up and prepared to do a Michael Jordan midair extravaganza, but then...well, let him describe the letdown: "I was just kind of cruising, putting on a show for the crowd, and at the 20 all I saw was a big goalpost and I thought, Oh, wow, I need to do something. So I tried to get the height and wrap the ball over the crossbar, but I, man, I lost my vertical leap."
The monster dunk turned into a baby finger roll, but the touchdown counted anyway. Richard had put the Chargers up 17-3, and that was all she wrote. The Seahawks seemed clueless on offense. Mirer was sacked six times by San Diego, once each by Seau, end Raylee Johnson and tackle Shawn Lee and three times by resurgent end Leslie O'Neal.
Even when the Seattle defense did well, things turned out wrong. With the Chargers backed up to their own 10 near the end of the third period, Seahawk defensive end Brent Williams grabbed Humphries and spun him down for what looked like a safety. Nope, said funny-lidded referee Jerry Markbreit, mark the ball on the half-yard line On the next play Humphries dropped into the end zone again, dodged a blitz and hit wideout Tony Martin with a sweet post-route are at the 35. With cornerback Patrick Hunter chasing him like a scalded dog, Martin set out in the direction of Lake Washington: the 40, midfield, the other 40. Hunter was getting closer. The 30, the 20. And suddenly Hunter crumpled as though he had stepped in a hole. Martin crossed the goal line with a 99-yard touchdown reception, tying an NFL record held by six other men, and Hunter was helped from the field with a strained left hamstring.
That made it 24-3, San Diego. Warren would score on an 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to make the final score 24-10. San Diego had its first 3-0 start in 13 years, and Seattle had to wonder what exactly had not gone wrong. "I don't feel too good right now," Hunter said later in the locker room, speaking for his whole team. In a moment of poignancy, rugged sportswriter Craig Smith of The Seattle Times helped the crippled Hunter put his feet into his shorts, pulling the garment partway up the player's legs. "Patrick." Smith then said, standing up, "I only go up to the knees."
Meanwhile the members of the Chargers' wide-receiving corps—Martin, Mark Seay and Shawn Jefferson—were laughing and basking in an all-for-one show of unity. Last Thursday, Jefferson and Martin had listened as Seay explained to a writer how he lost a kidney in a random shooting in Los Angeles six years ago and how playing football was no big deal. "How dangerous can a football field be?" he asked. "I got shot at home. Homes are supposed to be safe." The other two players nodded, then bent at the waist and chanted to Seay, "We are not worthy!"
Well, Martin was worthy Sunday, snagging six passes for 152 yards and a score, and the other two were thrilled for him. "It doesn't matter which of us it is," said Jefferson, a victory cigar in his mouth. "Stan will throw to anybody at any time."
Humphries is a gritty guy who doesn't put much stock in his astronomical passing rating. He has completed 49 of 80 passes for 793 yards and hasn't thrown an interception this year, but what means the most to him is a W. "I'm not fast, I'm not quick, I don't have a quarterback's body," he says. "But I try to be smart out there and make some plays. Plus, I've got a little bit of the gambler in me. The Number 1 stat to me is what our record is, what my record as a starter is. That quarterback rating deals with so many odds and ends. I don't know about that thing." For the record, Humphries is 23-10 as a starter. Not bad.