Kemp is very much like Unitas. He is quick and elusive enough to stay out of the clutches of charging linemen when his own pass protection breaks down; he fakes beautifully, and the passes he throws appear to have been shot out of a gun. He has very good receivers in Don Norton, Dave Kocourek and Luther Hayes, who must be good in self-defense. Most of the passes that Kemp fails to complete bounce off someone's nose. "You get your hands up when he throws," says Hayes. "You don't catch his passes against your chest."
Kemp can throw a football 90 yards in the air, quite an accomplishment for a boy with a chronic dislocated right shoulder. "I have to throw from here," he says, demonstrating his three-quarter style. "If I put my arm up over my head, it pops out of joint." Kemp has sometimes been criticized for throwing too hard, but the Chargers have made no attempt to change him. "If our ends can"! handle his throws," says Gillman, "we'll just find some new ends."
"Maybe I'll ease up a little when I know my receivers better," Jack says. "By throwing hard, I can wait just a split second longer, after they make their fakes and cuts to get away from the defensive backs."
"He didn't get to play for us," says Kyle Rote of the Giants. "He didn't have any experience but we all knew he could throw. I like that kind of hard pass myself, especially when I'm covered closely. Less chance of an interception. And he could throw the real long pass; you know, 60 and 70 yards. Not many quarterbacks, even in this league, can do that."
Kemp has been playing this season with an injured left shoulder, too, and a twisted ankle, a combination that prevents him from practicing during most of the week. Before a game he slips a harness onto the left shoulder, takes a couple of shots to dull the assorted pains, and goes out to murder the AFL. At the first of the season, until he learned to live with his injuries, Kemp was slightly less effective than in 1960. In recent games, however, he seems to be even better. Gillman's only worry now is that Kemp will be called up with an Army reserve unit, the 977th Transport Company. Kemp, for his part, is embarrassed by all the attention the case has received; he failed one pre-induction physical and next week must take another to definitely establish his military availability. The Chargers may also lose Mix, who passed his physical but hopes to receive a temporary deferment until the end of the season on hardship grounds—he supports a widowed mother—and Howard Clark, last year's star pass-catching end who is still unable to completely straighten one knee because of postoperative adhesions and has been kept on the bench.
"If we lose Clark and Mix," says Gillman, "we'll survive somehow. But if we lose Kemp, I'll probably have to play myself. I'd rather not think about it right now."
If the Chargers stay intact and healthy, they should also remain the class of the AFL, slightly ahead of the New York Titans, the Dallas Texans and the defending champion Houston Oilers, off to a miserable 1961 start. In fact, even critics of the AFL admit that the Chargers are good, so good that they may eventually cause their own downfall. The old bugaboo that keeps popping up is the infamous Ail-American Conference, which collapsed after featuring the Cleveland Browns and a horde of also-rans.
"A league cannot survive with a serious imbalance," said a National Football League official recently. "I wouldn't be surprised if the Chargers and a couple of other clubs kept improving to the point where we had to take them in." He gloated for a moment. "That would be the end of the AFL."
"No such thing is going to happen," says Gillman. "The rest of the league is improving, too. If we lose a weak franchise, there are a number of cities anxious to get in. As for a comparison with the All-American Conference, no such situation exists. The owners in this league have enough money that they don't have to throw up their hands and run at the first sign of trouble.
"Imbalance?" says the Charger coach. "I wouldn't mind a little imbalance. Just so long as we stay on top."