Seyi Ajirotutu has been fielding questions about his name since before grade school, back when he was still learning to lace his shoes with fingers nowhere near large enough or strong enough to do anything but shield his face should an NFL-sized football approach.
Still, the topic arises, about how his 13-letter tag team of consonants and vowels is pronounced, about its lineation, its meaning, or how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell never called it last April when the 6-foot-3, 211-pound 23-year-old went undrafted out of Fresno State.
With a Chargers uniform stashed in his locker behind him, Ajirotutu smiled on Sunday when granting a pair of familiar requests. He stood tall in a gray button-down collared shirt, tightly securing with his hands an NFL football bearing Goodell's signature — a game ball.
“Shay-ee Ah-jeer-uh-too-too,” he said deliberately, nodding his head. “My father is from Nigeria, and it means 'God has done this.'”
A practice squad rookie thrust into action for a wide receiver-starved offense, Ajirotutu was a gamebreaker in his third career game, tying the contest early and scoring the winning touchdown late to lift the Chargers to a 29-23 win over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
It was the first road win in five tries for the Chargers, who activated Ajirotutu on Oct. 23 and were playing without their top four wide receivers. That mattered little thanks to their rookie's emergence.
The speedster who has drawn comparisons to veteran Malcom Floyd sprinted past a dire Texans secondary for 55 yards in the first quarter, quieting a crowd still chattering over the Chargers' latest touchdown gift wrapped by shoddy special teams play. Pressed by cornerback Kareem Jackson, he cleanly broke off the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter and streaked 28 yards down the left sideline on a touchdown that earned him the commemorative game ball.
Ajirotutu lowered his head and stared at the ball as he brought it toward the pit below his left bicep.
“I'm going to hold on to this for a while,” said Ajirotutu, whose four receptions, 111 yards and two scores were all career highs. “Probably I'll let it go after the bye week. I'm just glad I could get it. A lot of people contributed to this win.”
Quarterback Philip Rivers was masterful as usual, serving as the season's one constant for a passing game that was also without tight end Antonio Gates (foot), inactive due to injury for the first time in his eight-year career. Also leaning on veterans Patrick Crayton and Randy McMichael, who was downright Gates-esque on a pair of touchdown catches, Rivers had little trouble picking apart the league's worst-ranked pass defense for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
But the game wasn't without its shades of ugly for San Diego.
Fullback Jacob Hester fielded the opening kickoff while his momentum carried him out of bounds at the team's own 4-yard line. Four yards later on fourth down, punter Mike Scifres was essentially blocked for the fifth time this season — the deplorable total will stay at four because any ball that travels at least one yard forward does not constitute as a block — and the Texans scored easily on a short field off a dash by running back Arian Foster.
The San Diego native was only getting started, as he barreled through the Chargers' top-ranked run defense for 99 of his 127 yards in the first half. But the unit rose when it had to, stonewalling the Texans on two separate fourth-and-short conversion attempts, one by running back Derrick Ward and the other by sneaking quarterback Matt Schaub.
Chargers safety Paul Oliver stepped up at the most opportune time. Late in the fourth quarter with the Texans driving for the win, he intercepted a pass at the 10-yard line that deflected off wide receiver Andre Johnson's knee. It was the first takeaway for the Chargers (4-5) in over five hours of football, dating back to a Week 4 game over the Cardinals.
The team now has a bye week to get healthy and savor a win that rolls right off the tongue.
“Say-hee Ah-jeer-uh-too-too,” Rivers said with confidence when asked if he could pronounce the rookie's name.