"If I can credit that transition to one thing," he says, "it's that I kept up with the defenses. In the old days you had to beat bump-and-run coverages. If you couldn't get away from them you weren't going to last very long. But now I'll probably see 25 different varieties of zone coverages within a few weeks. If you want to stay in the game, especially at my age, you'd better keep up with it."
Joiner has kept abreast of changing conditions ever since he was growing up in Lake Charles. La., the only child of Effie and Charlie Joiner Sr., a driver for the Roy Hay Trucking Company. Lake Charles was Grambling territory. Joiner's coach at W.O. Boston High, Wiley Stewart, had played for Eddie Robinson and taught his system. There was no doubt about where Joiner would go to college.
"We liked our receivers a bit bigger," Robinson says. "But Wiley said, 'Believe me. Coach, this kid can play for you,' and that was all I needed to hear. Charlie was quiet, just like he is now, very serious about football, a very serious student. He got his degree in accounting. He could have played defensive back for us, too. He wasn't afraid to give a good lick."
"Football was serious stuff at Grambling," Joiner says. "What you see in the NFL in the last few years, the high fives, the dancing in the end zone—well, I don't think you'll see a Grambling guy doing it. It just isn't Grambling's style. You catch a pass for a touchdown, toss it back to the official and get ready to line up again. Maybe that's why I've always gotten along with defensive backs. You don't want to get those guys hating you. I work out with a lot of them in the off-season back in Houston, Lester Hayes, Darrell Green, different ones every day. We run The Hill together."
During the off-season, Joiner and Dianne, his wife of 11 years, along with his daughters Jynaya, 9, and Kori, 7, live in Houston, and for 13 years he worked in a Gulf Oil accounting department. Dianne knows all about The Hill. "Actually, it's a steep 15-yard incline on the side of a bayou," she says. "People who go out with Charlie to run that thing for the first time don't know what they're getting" into."
"Tom Williams devised the drill," Joiner says. "You go up forward, then backward, then forward again. You do it 10 times. That's one set. Tom might call for three sets of 10's. You don't want to schedule any racquetball or anything like that after you've done The Hill."
Earl Campbell occasionally runs The Hill but he's not one of its real fans. "That's for guys like Charlie, not people who are built like me."
Joiner's build might seem delicate in comparison to Campbell's, but he certainly can match the 238-pound running back for ruggedness. Coryell says Joiner didn't miss a practice last year. "Actually I don't recall him ever missing a practice at all since I've been in San Diego," Coryell says. "Last year he cracked a rib and didn't take one day off. He said, 'I'll work through it.' "
In 1981 Joiner dislocated a shoulder in the next-to-last game against Tampa Bay, a game the Chargers needed to win to stay alive for the AFC West title. He came back in and made a clutch catch to set up the victory.
"It popped out and they popped it back in on the sideline," he said.