MIAMI — OK, I know all about Steve Young and his quest for acceptance. But what about the other guy? Stan Humphries limped through a game this season
with a bum foot, an elbow cast, and a torso stuffed from top to bottom in thick padding. He looked like the Michelin Man. I remember thinking, “This guy doesn’t undress — he unravels.” Then he dropped back to throw, moving like a creature who just came out of the tar pits, and the ball wobbled and hung and went almost as fast as a paper airplane. Somehow it landed in the receiver’s arms. Touchdown. Humphries raised his fists and opened his mouth and yelled something. I believe it was: “Ooouuwwch!”
You have to like that kind of effort — especially in a nice guy from Louisiana who looks like a grown-up Wally Cleaver. Stan Humphries is a great story. And imagine your delight to learn there is a second Stan, fresh from Louisiana, on the same team, with a similar tale, one of pain and endurance finally paying off. I am talking about Stan Brock, the right tackle who blocks for Humphries, and who has become a sort of alter ego for his quarterback, Stan and Stan.
One up, one in the mud.
They are pals, these two, the QB and the lineman. Brock’s kids baby-sit Humphries’ kids. The dads eat pizza together and razz each other. And the players talk about how their former teams gave up on them. And now, look, they’re at the Super Bowl. How about that?
Stan the Man.
“He took me in the minute I got here,” Brock says. “I think, deep down, he’s more like a lineman than a quarterback.”
“I guess it’s true,” Humphries admits. “I’m certainly not the type of quarterback you’re gonna videotape and show kids in high school.” A story worth telling
And yet, maybe they should show Humphries to high schoolers — OK, not his thick, pasty body, which is so bruised and unsculptured that when Brock sees him bare-chested he throws Humphries a T-shirt and begs, “Please, cover it up”
— but his story. Stan’s story should be told.
This is a tale of perseverance. Of a second chance. You may recall that Humphries, 29 — who hails from Joe Dumars’ hometown of Natchitoches, La., so you know he has to be a good guy — was with the Redskins for a while and was on their roster when they went to the Super Bowl three years ago. But he never played, and he felt “like I was just tagging along.”
He was traded the next summer for a third-round pick.
The good news was he was out of Washington. The bad news was the town he went to, San Diego, had never gotten over the image of Dan Fouts, Mr. Rifle Arm, whipping out passes the way a pasta machine whips out noodles. And here comes Humphries, whose throwing style can politely be described as
And he’s supposed to lead the Chargers to a title?
“I don’t why I don’t throw it the pretty way,” Humphries says. “They tried to teach me that in the high school camps and all. But it just never felt comfortable. I went back to the way I liked.”
“Go out there and sling it.”
He doesn’t always sling it to the right guy — he has his share of interceptions — but he does sling it well when he has to, down the stretch.
(In the playoffs, the Chargers were trailing Miami, 21-6, and Pittsburgh, 13-3, and Humphries led them back both times to victories.) And he definitely slings it when he’s hurt.
Frankly, I don’t know if he’s ever not hurt.
There was the bad leg. The bad elbow. There was the time against the Raiders when he played the entire second half with a dislocated shoulder. Most people can’t even move with a dislocated shoulder — it hurts too much. Humphries was getting whacked after every pass.
“Why do you have such a threshold for pain?” he was asked.
“It’s not the pain. I don’t want to come out. I sat for four years. They always say you don’t lose your job to injury, but I know that’s not the truth. I don’t want to take any chances.
“If you go out, you never know if they’ll want you back.” Life after Sainthood
Just ask the other Stan, Brock, who, at 36, is the oldest member of the Chargers. For 13 years, he played for the New Orleans Saints. Almost never missed a start. He loved it there, figured to end his career there. And then suddenly, two years ago, they let him go. He had noticed the Saints trade for another lineman, so he called head coach Jim Mora, just to check things out, and at one point he said, “Do you still need me?” And Mora said, “Well, no, we don’t.”
Just like that, Brock was out of football. He was in a shock — and it takes a lot to shock a 6-foot-6, nearly 300-pound lineman. “I didn’t exactly have people banging down my door. I hadn’t made any plans for life after football. I never wanted to think about it.
“I pretty much had one phone call I could make.”
It was to Carl Mauck, the line coach for San Diego. Brock knew Mauck from way back, and he knew Mauck would give him a straight answer. “If Carl said,
‘Stan, I’ve looked at your tapes and we can’t use you,’ that would be it, I’d be done.”
He waited a day to get the nerve to make the phone call. His hands were sweating like a high school kid’s. But Mauck said the right thing. He said he thought Brock could still play.
Today, he is the starting right tackle for the Super Bowl Chargers..
“It’s amazing when you think about it,” Brock said. “Of all the scenarios. I used to think it was hard work and X’s and O’s that got you to a Super Bowl. Now I know it’s a lot of luck and fate.”
And pizza. The pie that binds
It is pizza that unites Brock and Humphries, and has helped develop their bond. It seems that Brock lives closer to Domino’s Pizza than Humphries, so Humphries orders the pizza to Brock’s house, then comes over. “I’ve never seen
anyone eat as much as Stan,” Brock says. “He finishes a whole large pie, then eats half of mine.”
You want to impress a lineman? Eat more than he does. You want to impress a quarterback? Block for him.
Stan the Men. Funny. You have all these people comparing Humphries to Joe Namath now, as the quarterback who could engineer the most unlikely Super Bowl upset. And while Humphries says, “The only reason anyone compares me to Joe Namath is the point spread. We’re not alike. And I don’t wear panty hose” — still, what a story that would be, huh?
They keep talking about Steve Young and redemption at this Super Bowl. Could you imagine if San Diego won? The fans are going nuts, the announcers screaming about “the upset of the century!” and there go Humphries and Brock, having cashed in on their second chances in life, now heading for the pizza, turning to each other and saying, “Stanley, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. . . . “
You never know.