Bolts So Bad They've Let Hochuli Off The Hook

The once-reviled referee can hardly be blamed anymore for derailing the San Diego Chargers' season with a blown call that cost the Bolts a victory at Denver in their second game.

No, the Chargers have done a mighty fine job of that all by themselves.

With four games left, they're 4-8 and three games behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West, the NFL's most pathetic division. The Chargers were supposed to make it to the Super Bowl. Instead, they're all but mathematically eliminated with a quarter of the season left.

The Chargers have struggled with the basics, from running the ball to tackling. LaDainian Tomlinson lacks his normal explosiveness and is having the worst season of his brilliant career. The defense can't get to the quarterback or off the field on third down.

Fans at Qualcomm Stadium are booing early and often, more so than in recent memory. Jokes that were popular during the dreadful Kevin Gilbride-Ryan Leaf-Mike Riley years have resurfaced.

Such as:  What do you call 53 millionaires watching the Super Bowl on TV?  The Chargers.


The California Highway Patrol is cracking down on speeders heading into San Diego. For the first offense, officers give you two tickets to a Chargers game. On the second offense, they force you to use them.

Coach Norv Turner has drawn the bulk of fan ire because of his perceived lack of strong leadership and his 73-95-1 record in three stops as an NFL head coach.

There is increased grumbling that general manager A.J. Smith's ego has contributed to the downfall.
The Chargers have gone from one game shy of reaching the Super Bowl to being just one win better than the Oakland Raiders. Maybe they're simply not as good as everyone thought.

"Once you got to the AFC championship game, expectations are so high," strong safety Clinton Hart said. "People have to understand, this is the NFL. Every year you may not be able to go out and do what you did. Teams catch up to you. Things catch up to you."

 Smith didn't return calls seeking comment on why the team has stumbled on his watch. Also mum was team president Dean Spanos, who for six years has tried unsuccessfully to get San Diego and other communities to help his team build a new stadium.

Marty Schottenheimer, meanwhile, has been watching from the opposite coast. A few Bolts fans even chanted his name during Sunday's 22-16 loss against the Atlanta Falcons. Not to the degree they did during the fourth game of 2007, but enough to be noticed.

Schottenheimer could take some shots if he wanted to. He lost a power struggle with Smith and was fired by Spanos a month after the 2006 season.

"I've stayed above the fray and I'm not going to change now," Schottenheimer said by phone from his home in North Carolina. "I hope what we were able to achieve will be remembered. It is highlighted because of their struggles.

"I'm certainly not sitting back here gloating," added Schottenheimer, who said he had good relationships with most of the people in the Chargers' organization and occasionally speaks by phone with Tomlinson.

For whatever reason, the team with the lightning bolt logo has absolutely no energy in Turner's second season. The Chargers have become a finesse passing team that runs when it can.

Smith said recently that Turner will be back next year. To fire him would, of course, be an admission that the organization made a mistake in firing Schottenheimer and hiring Turner, who had previously been canned by the Redskins and Raiders.

Then again, this season could get even more embarrassing. Also, Smith and Spanos reportedly said at midseason that no changes would be made until the end of the year, then Turner fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell during the bye week and replaced him with Ron Rivera.

Turner's job security could be more tenuous next year if the Chargers continue to give fans a dose of Norvacaine. Yes, the Chargers won two playoff games last season. But with his hands on the wheel of a football Ferrari, Turner has managed to turn a 14-2 team into a 15-13 squad over two seasons.

There have been injuries, most notably the one that sidelined outside linebacker Shawne Merriman after one game. Schottenheimer points out that the Patriots and Colts have dealt with injuries, too, and both are in the playoff hunt.

The Chargers keep mentioning that they've been playing good teams and that they need to finish close games. Curious, because they were supposed to be a great team, and even good teams are supposed to find ways to win close games.

Now they're waiting for a miracle that likely won't happen.

"The Padres' season is starting," a team employee cracked on Monday.

There's nothing like gallows humor, considering the Padres lost 99 games last season.

Ed Hochuli might get a laugh out of that one, too.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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