"Did it hurt?"
"Hell, yes, it hurt," he said.
Next week he caught six balls against the Raiders as the Chargers clinched the title. His teammates voted him Most Inspirational Player that year, an award he duplicated last season.
In fact, Joiner hasn't missed a game in 11 years, including the final one of 1979, a Monday-nighter against Denver that earned San Diego a division title. In the second quarter of that contest, Bronco linebacker Tommy Jackson knocked Joiner cold with a shot that mashed the receiver's helmet down over his right eye and opened a cut that required 12 stitches to close.
"He hit me on a crossing route over the middle," Joiner says. "It was the only time I'd ever been knocked out. I remember the second quarter, then I remember the fourth quarter." Included in that blank stretch was the game-winning pass Joiner caught—a 32-yarder in the third quarter.
It's something Joiner must have thought of last July after his two-year contract had run out and he was marking time in the Hanalei Motel in San Diego while the Chargers were practicing. Joiner, who acts as his own agent, was asking for a new contract with a bigger number than the $215,000 he had earned last year, with a two-year guarantee. The Chargers were offering only one year. According to Tank Younger, the Charger assistant general manager who was negotiating with Joiner, it had been decided two years ago that all future Joiner contracts would be on a one-year, no-option basis. The Chargers were playing hardball. They were letting Joiner stew, and it was tough on him. "He honest to God believes that if you miss one practice you'll lose something," says assistant coach Ernie Zampese.
Another bitter pill was that Younger was a Grambling guy, the first of the great Grambling superstars in the NFL. A picture of Joiner hangs in Younger's office. The inscription reads, "Just keep treating me like a son and we'll be all right."
"Last July he stopped." says Dianne Joiner.
Joiner signed his contract at the end of July—one year, with no option, for an estimated $375,000, and incentives that could raise the total over $400,000. It will probably be worth it in publicity alone when he starts closing in on Taylor's record. A couple of weeks ago Fouts was asked if he'd feed Charlie a few gimmes, a few little out-passes at the end of a game that was in the bag, something to help his numbers along.
"Hey, we don't work that way," Fouts said. "It wouldn't be kosher. Besides, Charlie wouldn't go for it. All I'm trying to do out there is look for a port in the storm. He's the port."