At 0700 hours, the June sun has yet to muster enough strength to burn off the haze over San Diego. In the parking lot at Jack Murphy Stadium, a man steers his weathered sedan from garbage can to garbage can, stopping to rummage for returnable bottles to toss into the car's open trunk. McCallum, fueled by an 0630 breakfast of Sugar Pops, milk and a peanut butter sandwich, climbs from his red Mitsubishi Starion carrying his Navy whites on a hanger, heads to the locker room and slips on his Charger gym clothes. None of his new teammates are in sight. "They can afford to sleep in," he says.
To put it simply, when the sun is up, McCallum is either working or working out. For now, his life as an officer and a running back is fluid and programmable; both of his jobs—recruiting minority officers for the Navy and training for the NFL—have flexible hours. His life will be streamlined when training camp begins on Saturday, because McCallum plans to cash in the remaining 40 days of his accumulated leave to do battle on the field. But once the NFL season starts, he will be caught up in an unforgiving twin grind: jumping on his recruiting chores Mondays and Tuesdays while nursing his wounds from Sundays, then facing dual shifts at the office and at the practice field Wednesdays through Fridays.
McCallum isn't daunted by what lies ahead. "I know I'm not going to be as exhausted as I was with the Raiders," he says. In his round-the-clock season of 1986, he rushed for 536 yards in 15 games while serving as assistant food-services officer aboard the USS Peleliu, an amphibious helicopter carrier docked at Long Beach. With relentless on-ship duties, practices and commuting to L.A., his schedule was so tight that he took his wife, Karen, to the team movies on Friday nights—risking his fellow Raiders' wrath—so he and she could spend time together.
As McCallum goes about his training regimen, he is clipped and calculated. "If I don't get it done in an hour, I'm just playing around," he says. An occasional smile ripples across his calm face. It was his brisk nature that pulled McCallum through his two seasons away from football. After he graduated from Annapolis in December 1985 as the Middies' all-time leading rusher, the Navy allowed him to play for the Raiders while he was stationed on the Peleliu. But in April of '87, James Webb succeeded John Lehman as secretary of the Navy, and Webb believed the academy's finest should fight for yardage in one uniform only. Despite McCallum's requests to stay near L.A., his next orders, in May 1987, dispatched him to the USS California, a guided-missile cruiser that was based near Oakland and headed to sea. He wondered whether he would be permitted to play again before his five-year hitch was up, by which time he would have turned 27—ancient for an NFL back.
Nonetheless, he brought his Soloflex weight-training machine aboard the California. He pumped iron in his cramped stateroom during lunch. At dinnertime he would run sprints on the forecastle, or complete 10 laps around the deck, five laps to a mile. Then there were his duties as the ship's disbursing and retail-sales officer, supervising 16 sailors. "I'm normally a positive person, but five or six times I asked myself, Just why am I doing this?" McCallum recalls. "Why am I working out when I'm not going to play? That kind of stuff just keeps creeping into your head.
"But my feeling was: Once was, always will be. I was a football player, and if you were one, you're going to be able to go back."
While at sea about his NFL career, he argued publicly that he could serve the Navy's interests as a football player, acting as a sort of human recruiting poster. A good omen came in March 1988, when William Ball succeeded Webb as secretary of the Navy. The good news came in October '88, when the California was near the Philippines, in the form of a telegram from Karen:
HI, HONEY. YOU'VE BEEN TRADED TO THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS. HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY.
Happy was an understatement. San Diego is home to the largest Navy base on the Pacific Coast. McCallum believed he had a good chance to be posted there after he returned to shore duty.
So did the football operations director of the Chargers, Steve Ortmayer, who had obtained McCallum and tackle John Clay for tackle Jim Lachey. Ortmayer had been an executive with the Raiders when they drafted McCallum. "You gain a little admiration for a person when you see him sacrifice as he did to handle both jobs," Ortmayer says.