On San Diego's opening drive Benirschke hit a 32-yard field goal, which figured. The guy hadn't missed a road kick on grass all year. Then San Diego wideout Wes Chandler returned a short punt for a touchdown to make it 10-0. Benirschke wedged the ensuing kick-off high into the wind, and when it hit the ground, it bounced backward into Chargers hands. That set up a one-yard touchdown run by bespectacled halfback Chuck Muncie. Three plays later the Dolphins' wunderkind 23-year-old quarterback, David Woodley, fired a beauty straight into the arms of Chargers free safety Glen Edwards, who ran the interception back far enough to set up another easy score—24-zip. And how's your Sunday going?
"I wanted to dig a hole and crawl in it," says Miami tight end Joe Rose.
Across the sideline the Chargers' veteran receiver, Charlie Joiner, had his head in his hands. "What's wrong?" Winslow asked.
"Man, you just don't do this to a Don Shula team," Joiner moaned. "He's gonna pull Woodley, put in [backup veteran Don] Strock, start throwing the ball, and we're gonna be here all damn day."
Joiner was wrong. Strock kept them there all night.
The year he nearly died, Benirschke was perfect. He opened the 1979 season with four-for-four field goals in four games, then spent the rest of the season in area hospitals. He had what the doctors originally thought was a demon intestinal virus that they eventually identified as ulcerative colitis. Basically it was eating up his intestines, microscopic bite by bite.
Two surgeries, 78 units of blood and 60 lost pounds later, Benirschke wasn't dead, but he was a reasonable facsimile. "After the second surgery," he recalls, "I knew that if I had another, I wouldn't make it."
Three days later the doctors told him he needed a third operation.
Everything changed the instant Don Strock and his mod-squad haircut and double-hinged arm strode on the field three minutes into the second quarter. "You could just sense the difference," says Chargers linebacker Linden King. "Strock had a real presence out there." Calling his own plays, with nothing to lose, Strock drove the Dolphins to a quick field goal, then a touchdown.
The Chargers' O, meanwhile, was suddenly getting battered. The Killer B's strategy was to turn Winslow into a complicated collection of lumps, so on every pass play the defensive end would take a lick at him, linebacker A.J. Duhe would say a quick hello with his forearm, and then one of the defensive backs would take a shot at him. Early in the second quarter Duhe opened up a cut in Winslow's lip that needed three stitches.