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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Watford's sayings influence his playing

Watford’s sayings influence his playing
By Hugh Kellenberger331-4369 |
February 13, 2011

Indiana’s Christian Watford reacts after being called for a foul against Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. Saturday at Crisler Arena. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Two shoes. Two sentences. A window into Christian Watford’s mindset.

On the left: “If it ain’t rough . it ain’t right.”

On the right: “What can man do to me?”

The origination of the first is unknown. Watford liked it because he found it symbolic of the Hoosiers.

“That’s what we’re going through right now,” Watford said. “We’re going through a rough stage. We need to get back to the right state.”

The second is from the bible, from Psalm 56. The full version is: “In God, whose word I praise/In the lord, whose word I praise/In God I trust and am not afraid/What can man do to me?”

He wrote both on his Adidas in November, and they have been with him as he has pushed and persevered through a trying sophomore season.

He has scored 20 or more points six times, but Indiana lost four of those games. Watford scored a career-high 30 against Iowa on Jan. 23, but all coach Tom Crean wanted to talk about afterwards was how many points Watford gave up.

He responded with the best week of his career, despite shooting 10-of-29 against Illinois and Michigan State. Watford was focused, driven on defense and did everything his team needed him to do.

He, it turns out, even played with a broken hand against Michigan State. Played 38 minutes actually — diving for a loose ball late, after the injury had occurred.

Thirteen days later, Watford suited up for the Hoosiers and took the floor at Crisler Arena Saturday. He had successfully fought through an injury that can leave you on the shelf for much longer than three games. With a pad and a large bandage protecting his left hand, Watford entered the game with 15:53 remaining in the first half.

In 22 minutes on the court, he was very good. Watford did not attack the rim as well as he would have liked, and the 83.5 percent free-throw shooter did not attempt one Saturday, but he was 6-of-10 from the field and had a team-high 14 points.

With 27 seconds remaining and the Hoosiers down five, Watford dribbled into the paint with his left hand, using his body to create separation and easily put up a basket that cut the lead to 3.

“He really wanted to be back,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I think that’s a big part of this, because he rehabbed very strong. . He was tired early, but he really played hard and through it late. I thought it might be the other way around.”

Watford responded to adversity the way he has so often this season. He slips on occasion — the scouting report on Watford has long had “not consistent effort” under weaknesses — but he always seems to respond. Crean challenged him to have a double-double during the team’s second game: Watford had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Then Crean emphasized getting to the free-throw line: among players in the top 10 in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage, only JaJuan Johnson has more than Watford’s 133 attempts.

You cannot put too much into the magical powers of Sharpie on Adidas. But what Watford, or any player, chooses to write does mean something. When it matters, as those 13 words seem to for Watford, it tells you something about his character.

There are five regular-season games left in the 2010-11 season, one that has the Hoosiers in last place in the Big Ten. In the NBA, where Watford hopes to one day play, this is the time of the season in which stars on losing teams choose to sit back, “rest” and wear a suit during games.

So it says something that Watford did not choose that path. That he had to get back to the team.

The key word from Crean’s press conference was “combative.” The Hoosiers played hard against the Wolverines, but were not combative, Crean said.

That has been an issue for him — he walked out of practice Friday, Watford’s first back with the team since surgery on the hand. The team was better Saturday morning, but that was not the case later in the day.

But what is the difference between hard and combative? I work with words for a living, and it is not entirely clear. The difference left at least one other Hoosier stumped.

Watford had an answer, though.

“You can play hard, but we weren’t playing together,” Watford said. “We were playing hard, but trying to do too much on our own.”

Indiana has now lost three in a row, and the momentum gained from wins against Illinois and Minnesota seems to have dissipated. Maybe Indiana does enough to merit an invite to the CBI, but the season could just as easily be over in less than a month.

It would have been easy to pack it up and focus on next season. Watford didn’t. That matters.

“I wanted to help my team,” Watford said, “with whatever I could give.”

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chappell right at home at Indiana
What you see is what you get with Bloomington native, Hoosier starting QB

By Dustin Dopirak 331-4227 |
August 29, 2010

Indiana's Ben Chappell, a former standout on the Bloomington South football and basketball teams, is beginning his second season as the Hoosiers' starting quarterback. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

The question doesn’t seem that difficult, but no one seems to be able to come up with an answer.

What about Ben Chappell does Bloomington not already know?

The Indiana fifth-year senior has lived all but the first few months of his life here, and he’s spent a significant chunk of his 23 years in some of the more glamorous positions attainable for a young Bloomington athlete. He was the starting quarterback on Bloomington South’s football team for two-plus years and the starting center on its basketball team for three before moving up town to IU, where he’s heading into his second year as the full-time starting quarterback.

And yet in all that time in the hometown spotlight, it seems that everything that has been learned about him has fallen in the same impossibly straight lines. Bloomington knows that he’s a good-natured, smart, humble kid who stays out of trouble. That he’s a heady quarterback without a lot of speed, but a live arm. That he was a good all-around athlete and a great leader in high school, and that he’s becoming a great leader at IU now.

“He’s a golden boy,” said Drew Wood, his former football coach at South.

But doesn’t there have to be more to it than that? Doesn’t he have to have some secrets? Not necessarily deep and dark ones, but maybe just a personality quirk or meaningful anecdote known only to he and his family and friends? Isn’t there any interesting information about his life’s journey that hasn’t already made its way around town?

Perhaps, but Chappell himself couldn’t come up with much. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound redhead widened his eyes, pushed out a deep breath, shook his head and laughed when asked the question.

“Man,” he said, totally stumped. “There might not be (anything). I don’t know.”

Eventually, he mentioned his deep love for golf, but admitted that’s not that deep a secret, especially for anyone who plays Cascades.

But perhaps that’s just Chappell being his unfailingly modest and cautious self. Surely, his parents would have something new to add to the narrative, right?

There wasn’t much there either. His father Steve also pointed to Ben’s golf game as well as his closeness with family and friends. His mother Laura said Ben likes baby back ribs, onions and trips to Georgia to see her family and the beach but admitted there wasn’t a lot else.

“He’s pretty much an open book,” she said.

At least Tyson Weaver, who played football with Chappell at South and rooms with him at IU, had something worth a laugh.

“If you’re looking for something funny, it’s that he’s a terrible dancer,” Weaver said. “That would be the one thing. The kid’s got no rhythm whatsoever when he’s not on the football field.”

But other than that, Weaver said, the story of Ben Chappell is exactly what you’ve always heard it is.

“He’s the kid that every parent dreamed of having,” Weaver said. “That All-American boy. He’s the guy everyone looks up to, and he sets the standard for everything. He’s a role model for his friends. . He doesn’t keep anything in the closet. It’s all out there. Everyone who knows Ben Chappell knows what he’s about.”

It really is just that simple.

Success never slumps
Chappell has, more or less, always done what he was supposed to do, and his resume reflects it. There aren’t any epiphanies, turning points or plot twists. Virtually no drama. Just a string of achievements.

He’s been a star athlete since pitching and playing shortstop on his little league baseball team. He started playing football in fourth grade, when he had to play center because he was above the weight limit for ball carriers. Two years later he started playing quarterback and hasn’t moved since.

He was a three-year starter in high school, though the first year was cut short by a broken collarbone, and was named all-state as a senior. In the meantime, he was a three-year starter at center on the South basketball team, which reached the semistate in his senior year. He graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average.

College has been the same. He’s already graduated from the prestigious Kelley School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a 3.7 GPA. He’s taking classes toward his master’s this year as he enters his senior football season as the leading returning passer in the Big Ten.

“He’s that kid growing up that’s done everything right all the time,” IU tight end Brad Martin said.

And yet somehow, remained stunningly well-adjusted.

Chappell himself has developed no sense of entitlement or arrogance in all that time as a “golden boy.” He’s unfailingly polite and self-deprecating. His insistence on diverting attention to teammates and coaches in interviews would be unnerving if it wasn’t so genuine.

He hasn’t lived like a monk at IU, but whatever social life he has on Saturday night doesn’t keep him from making it to church on Sunday. And he’s kept close ties to those he grew up with, still keeping in touch with his former teammates, coaches and teachers. Every home game, there are hundreds of people he knows in the stands. His kindergarten teacher still attends his parents’ tailgates.

“No one’s perfect by any means,” Weaver said. “But he’s done everything right as far as putting yourself on the right position at all times and just to make sure you don’t get caught up in the riff-raff and all the things kids get involved with. . And he’s stayed true to his roots. No matter how popular or big his name’s gotten, he’s never gotten a big head over his celebrity status.”

What’s kept him on the straight and narrow? That question has a pretty simple answer, too.

“His mom taught him that,” Wood said. “If he even started to sniff like he was going to be cocky, his mom would call him out on it. His dad, Steve, too. They’re top notch.”

Said Chappell: “It definitely all comes down to my parents, and the way I was raised. My mom is awesome, and she’s such a good person. She taught me how to be a good person and to treat people with respect. My dad taught me how to work hard and support family, and I think definitely the way I’ve been is a direct reflection of the way I was raised by my parents.”

Steve, a salesman and former baseball player at Kentucky, and Laura, who works at Childs Elementary School, also succeeded in parenting through balance, keeping Chappell disciplined without being disciplinarians. They were never ultra-strict or overbearing but made sure he got the point.

“He’s been drilled from Day 1 that whatever he does, he represents first himself,” Laura said. “He represents his family, his God, he represents his school and he represents his team.”

Team leader
Team has always been a driving force for Chappell as well. He grew up playing football and basketball with mostly the same tight-knit group of South kids and came to realize early how much he depended on everyone else. That’s why he doesn’t let any interview stay focused on him. Every positive offensive possession requires the work of 11 guys.

Sometimes, though, he can be a tad too deferential, and if there was a critique of Chappell last season, it was that he was never quite completely in control. It wasn’t that his teammates didn’t listen to him, but that his comfort level with his position wasn’t absolute because it was his first year as the starter after splitting time with the departed Kellen Lewis the season before. He still threw for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns, but after a 4-8 campaign, he went into the offseason feeling like he could’ve done more to get IU back to a bowl for the first time since his redshirt freshman season.

So far this year, though, that hasn’t been a problem. Since the spring, players and coaches have seen a change in the way he commands the offense. He was recently named captain by winning a team election in overwhelming fashion.

“He’s really taken over the football team,” Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. “In the spring, to me, he was a different guy in the spring. You use the expression that it became slow-motion to him, or the game slowed down. You could just tell that he was out there, and he’s at the point where he can tell the tackle what to do, he can tell the left guard what to do, he can tell the wideouts, ‘Cheat your split end, go out.’ He can tell the back, ‘They’re going to blitz here, here’s your protection.’ Now all the sudden, you talk about trust, he’s got teammates that trust him, because they know he knows.”

Chappell’s made vast improvements physically and mentally. His understanding of the playbook has always been strong, and now he knows it cold. His throws are sharper than ever before, and he seems to be able to make all of them now, hitting receivers on the hands on out routes, in the chest on slants and perfectly over the shoulder on deep balls.

“He’s got every throw in the bag,” IU offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “He’s making throws that people on Sunday are going to want him to make.”

There’s been talk recently about Chappell playing on Sundays. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., for instance, called him IU’s most draftable player.

But Chappell doesn’t talk about that much. He’s obviously set himself up well if a pro career never happens, and his focus of the moment is still Saturdays and trying to lead IU back to a bowl berth.

That’s what the rest of the Hoosiers are looking to him for.

“This year, he’s become that complete quarterback, complete leader,” Martin said. “He’s a lot more vocal, we all respect him. He’s just taken over the leadership role completely now. Last year, yeah, we all followed him, but this year, he tells us what to do and we all do it. We all respect him.”

Because like the rest of Bloomington they all know his story. There isn’t a lot of drama to it, but that doesn’t matter.

He’s Ben Chappell. The All-American boy. The one everyone looks up to.

Copyright: 2010

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Patti Haston's legacy lives on in her son

Patti Haston’s legacy lives on in her son
Former IU basketball standout trying to instill late mother’s values into his son, Kenner

May 10, 2009


Kenner Haston has never met his grandmother, but he has heard all about Grandma Haston.

His daddy tells him she was the best mother a son could ever wish for.

She raised him tall and straight, a gentle giant, a God-fearing man. She saw that he attended church on Wednesdays and Sundays, saw that he kept up on his studies, and that he said “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am.” She was his best friend and his biggest fan. She didn’t think twice about driving seven hours to watch him play college basketball.

What a grandmother she would have been but for that terrible day, May 6, 1999.

That’s the day a killer tornado ripped her away from her loved ones. Ten years later, her son, Kirk Haston, has come to grips with it.

Kirk Haston needs no introduction to those who follow Indiana basketball. The 6-foot-10 center enjoyed three superb years at IU from 1998 to 2000. At the end of his junior year, he entered his name in the NBA draft and went in the first round.

It was just two years earlier, a couple of months after his freshman season at IU, that he received that unthinkable phone call. It came only hours after he had spoken to his mother, Patti Haston. Her final words to him were, “Love you.”

That next day, Patti and her friend, Hollis Hinson, huddled in his home, trying to ride out a tornado gauged at 200 miles per hour. Tragically, they were directly in the furious storm’s path, and all that was left of the house was the foundation. Neither of them lived to see their 50th birthday.

Killer tornadoes are all too common in Tennessee. Earlier this spring, on Good Friday, a storm swept through the state and claimed the lives of a mother and her infant daughter — a storm too close to home in too many ways for the son of Patti Haston.

“It forces you to think about it,” Kirk said.
Many reminders
Hardly a day goes by that Kirk doesn’t think of his mother, even 10 years later. Her picture hangs in the wing of the Tennessee elementary school where she taught for 26 years, a wing now named after her.
One of her students was Kirk, who has followed in her footsteps by serving as a staff member in the same school system.

“I go down that hallway, and her picture is there,” he said.

Memories sharpen each year, as Mother’s Day approaches. For Haston they are not your typical Hallmark moments. Not only did he lose his mother around Mother’s Day, he also lost his grandmother, Betty Kirk, in that month. She perished in a car crash in May, 2007.

“There is something about the month of May,” Haston said.

The toughest of times for Haston came in the first two years following Patti’s passing, his sophomore and junior years at IU. The 300 miles between central Tennessee and Bloomington did not keep Patti from attending every home game his freshman year. How elated she would have been to see her son blossom into an All-Big Ten center. How thrilled she would have been to see him beat No. 1 Michigan State on a last-second 3-pointer. How proud she would have been to see him play professional basketball.

“The toughest part for me,” Haston said, “came after those games, especially after big wins. Those were big moments in my life, not just in basketball. I always looked forward to that reaction from her. For me, the game wasn’t complete until I heard from her. It took a long time for me to find a new ‘end’ to the moment, because that was the ending to all my moments before. After that pattern for 20 years, I had to find a new ending. Not having that closure was the toughest thing.”
His faith unshaken
Losing someone so close might have shaken a lesser man’s faith, but all those Wednesdays and Sundays in church prepared Haston for that jolt.

“A lot of people wait for that one moment to get their life right, but I would like to think my faith has been about the same all along,” he said. “I can’t say I’d lived my life any differently before than after.”
If it changed Haston in any way, his teammates didn’t notice.

“I’m sure that when by himself, those ups and downs were there, but as a teammate you couldn’t pick up on it,” said Michael Lewis, who was a junior teammate at the time of the tragedy. Lewis and sophomore Tom Geyer accompanied coach Bob Knight to Tennessee to offer support during those anguished days that surrounded the funeral.

“I don’t know how to describe what it was like down there,” said Lewis, now an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois. “I didn’t know Kirk’s mother all that well, other than seeing her at games, but I felt I just needed to go down there as a teammate. It was just the right thing to do. Publicly, Kirk handled it really well. He knew he couldn’t change it. He knew had to deal with it and move past it.”

Even so, Haston still had his moments.

“You always have that ‘why me’ thing, but God never puts more on your plate than you can handle,” Haston says. “If it took me to experience this so other people could handle something down the line … well, there is nothing fair about life. We are all going to experience four or five difficult things. Once you’ve dealt with one, it makes the others easier to deal with.”
Leaving her mark
In many ways, Haston feels his mother has never left him. He notes areas of his life where she left a permanent imprint.

“The first thing is spiritually,” he said. “I never even thought about asking the question, ‘Are we going to church on Wednesday?’ I knew we were going. Even though she was a single parent with many responsibilities, and even after a long day’s work, there was never any question whether we were going to church. What she did for me there is immeasurable.”

Haston also talked about the influence she had on his athletic career. As a parent, Patti never lost her perspective, and that carried over into Kirk’s life. He has grown to appreciate that now as he serves as a volunteer basketball assistant at Perry County High, where he is still a central Tennessee legend for having led the school to a state championship in 1997. He also is the school corporation’s health program coordinator.

“I pray I’m as good a parent to Kenner as my mom was to me,” Kirk said. “I can’t believe how some parents talk to their kids during games. It’s so painful to hear. My mom had that mentality that you work your butt off, but when the game comes you let ’er rip. I’m glad I had that environment.”
Knight saw it in him
Throughout Haston’s red-shirt year and freshman year, Knight kept waiting for him to “let ’er rip.” Losing losing his mother so unexpectedly seemed to unleash that side of him. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds his sophomore year. Playing for Mike Davis his junior year, Haston led the Big Ten in scoring at 19 points and was named a third team All-American.

“Coach Knight was always pushing me to be tougher,” Haston said. “He said, ‘I know you’ve got toughness in you. No one can raise a child while keeping a job like your mom did.’ That was one of the great pieces of encouragement I got after Mom passed away.”

Drafted 16th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, Haston’s pro career ended after five injury-riddled seasons. In 2005 he married Kasey Foster, a homecoming queen from Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, the same Christian school where his mom was a homecoming queen her senior year. Last August the Hastons celebrated the birth of Kenner, named after a line of superhero toys that always fascinated Kirk.

“I guess I’m kind of a geek that way,” he said.

Now that he has a child of his own, Haston is trying to be the parent his mother was. As a single mother and an only child, they were inseparable. Haston’s father was never much a part of their lives.

“I just remember all the time Mom and I spent together,” Haston said. ‘The last day of school every year, we would always go to the movies. We went on vacations every year. She was always creative even if we didn’t have the means.”

Patti would have surely doted on her first grandchild, so Kirk was quick to visit her grave following Kenner’s birth.

“I gave her the rundown — the height, weight, everything,” he said.

The day has now arrived for Kenner to join his father on one of those visits.

“I think it would be neat telling him about the first time I took him out to where Gram’ was buried,” Haston said a few days before the 10th anniversary of her death. “I think it should be the anniversary of something big. I guess May 6th is that day.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

'I Don't Know Any Other Way': Sporting News Conversation: Philip Rivers

Part of this article was posted on the Sporting News website on May 31, 2009, here: <> and the entire article is found in the Sporting News print copy from May 25, 2009. The Q&A's with an asterik (*) beside them are only found in the print copy.

*San Diego's family-man quarterback hasn't alway endeared himself to opposing fans, but he just might be the cleanest-living, cleanest-talking trash-talker in the NFL.

*There's a word for a guy like Philip Rivers. Cocky? Many NFL fans would say so, considering his yap-a-lot demeanor toward anyone--player and paying customer alike--wearing an opposing team's jersey. Annoying? The folks in Denver believe it, especially after the Chargers came from three games down in the AFC West with three games to go to overtake the Broncos in 2008. Driven? After Rivers played with a torn ACL in the '07 playoffs, then led the league with a 105.5 passer rating last season, it certainly fits.

* But the best word to define Rivers? "Homebody," he says proudly. Rivers is an old soul of 27 who married at 19, has three daughters and a son and heads home--no, races there--at the end of every workday with the Chargers, the team he has quarterbacked for three seasons after sitting behind Drew Brees in '04 and '05. On an early-May Thursday in San Diego, after 90 minutes in the weight room in anticipation of what he hopes will be a Super Bowl season, Rivers sat for an interview with Sporting News' Steve Greenberg. Then he rushed to the players parking lot, jumped behind the wheel of his black Ford F-250 and made his way toward the destination that matters most to him.

What does San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' in-game yapping at opposing players and fans alike really say about him? What does it mean to him that he outlasted Jay Cutler in the AFC West? And can he own a division for an extended period of time like some of his heroes -- Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady -- have done in their careers?

Rivers, 27, discussed those matters, as well as his devout Catholic faith and his unique family life, in a wide-ranging Sporting News Conversation with Steve Greenberg. Here are some excerpts and outtakes from the magazine interview that is on newsstands now:

Q: You say you're going to tone down talking to opposing fans. Why would you do that? It seems like fun for both sides.
A: It is fun. There hasn't been profanity on either side; it hasn't been vulgar. In Indianapolis (in a January '08 playoff game), every completion Peyton threw: "That's how a real quarterback does it!" And then we scored and I said, "Yeah, what now?" But the reasons for toning it down are, 1) so it's not a distraction for any of us, and then 2) it wasn't explained on the SportsCenter reel like I've explained it to you. People watched it and said, "This guy's out of his mind." Not that I always worry about the perception, but I'm not going win that battle by saying I'm just having a good time.

*Q: You're not going to pipe down with opposing players though, are you? That wouldn't be you.
A: It's not like I go into the game with a plan: What am I going [to] think of today to say to these guys?

*Q: You don't write messages on towels?
A: No! It's all with the game. You get a guy to bite up and throw deep over his head: "Quit bitin' the cheese now!" It's all things you'd say in the backyard that I've said to my brother: "We're gonna lay you out all day!" "Ya'll can't stop that play!" It's all fun. And, over time, you get to know these guys and you can't wait to play them. Jared Allen in Kansas City was always fun to play against, hearing him holler back and forth, "I'm gonna be on you all day!" He caught a touchdown against us and was hollering over at Antonio Gates, "Hey, how'd you like that? It was a pretty sweet catch, wasn't it?" If you can't have that, then we're kidding ourselves--because it's a game.

*Q: Is it important to you that fans know you keep it clean?
A: It really is important. Being a family man, having four children, it is important that it's clean and that I can go home and tell the story to my wife or my mom. In high school, and for 51 games at N.C. State, I was the same guy and nothing really surfaced then. There just happens to be a camera at every angle now.

Q: One of those cameras caught you gesturing to Jay Cutler during a win against the Broncos a couple of seasons ago. It sure looked like you were taunting him. Did you go too far?
A: There are obviously two sides to every story. I've seen the clip over and over. They're a division rival, our guys got a big defensive stop, they'd been going at it all day with Jay, and I was kind of congratulating Matt Wilhelm and Shaun Phillips. I had a little smirk on my face, had a little, "Atta baby, nice play!" with my eyes directed toward Jay. Is it something I regret? No, because it was clean. But I understand some of the feedback and the perception it created. Maybe it wasn't the best thing. But I can repeat everything that was said and how it went. If it doesn't get caught on TV, I don't think either one of us would have ever thought about it.

*Q: But Cutler was offended. He later said he's "not a big fan" of yours and he doesn't like the way you carry yourself on the field.
A: I've been nothing but complimentary of Jay as a player and a quarterback. I think he's a great player. I would like to think we've got a great deal of respect for each other as players, competitors. I think it's become a non-issue. It has fizzled out. But I will miss the two times a year against Jay (who was traded to the Bears in April) and the hype that it brought.

Q: How great was it for this team to hang in there last season and win the division the way you did, especially after that nutty call in Denver in Week 2?
A: It was unreal. I was talking to my wife about last season, the 4-8 (start) and how we came back. She said, "Isn't it funny how you just remember how it ended?" It's hard to put yourself back to how hard it really was and how rough and sick we felt coming in here at 4-8 and going to Wednesday practice. It was rough. ... And it was super rewarding, and a lot of people deserve a lot of credit. Norv (Turner) did a heck of a job. Maybe he doesn't get the credit he deserves for never flinching. To stand in front of the team and it looks like it's slipping away from you, it's not easy. What do you say? "Hang in there, we're almost there, keep playing hard." But he did that;
he never flinched.

*Q: How great was it for this team to hang in there last season and win the division the way you did?

A: It was unreal. I remember us quarterbacks, me and Billy (Volek) and Charlie (Whitehurst), sitting there in between meetings and film doing probability on our chances four the playoffs. Treating it as if every game was 50-50, we were going, "All right, we have a 3.5 percent chance at this point," and it kept moving up; it went to 12 and then 25 and then, obviously, in the last game against Denver it was a 50-50 chance.

*Q: You didn't have it more like 90-10 by then?

A: It was 50-50 on the board, but we said, "Shoot, it isn't 50-50."

Q: Did you know you were going to win that final game, at home vs. the Broncos for the division title?
A: Oh, yeah. We did. And I think the whole world knew it and everybody picked us. We said, "Guys, let's do it. Don't get caught up in it." But we walked into the locker room after that crazy loss to Denver in Week 2 and Norv said, "Hey guys, Week 17 is going to be for the whole division, at our place." And it turned out that way. That was awesome.

*Q: Well, the Cutler stuff is over--you outlasted him in the AFC West. Can you rule the roost in the division for a while?
A: We hope so. The division has changed a lot this offseason, with new coaching staffs--which will mean new systems--and new players. Those teams were very active in the draft and free agency. You normally go into the season with six games where you pretty much know the personnel, and those are the easiest games to prepare for. It's going to be different going into this season, but we certainly feel like we're the team everybody is chasing.

*Q: Are the Chargers going to win the Super Bowl this season?
A: I don't even want to say yes because for two offseasons now there's been so much hype around this town and in the national media that this is the most talented team in football--the Chargers have got this and this and this--and then we've gone 1-3 and 0-2. We've been battle-tested, faced every situation we could face, had every type of adversity. You can kind of just sense now in our locker room, "Let's be quiet and go play and get it done."

*Q: What are you expecting from LaDanian Tomlinson? It it possible anymore, in this offense, for him to lead the league in rushing?
A: There's no question it is. He's looked awesome this offseason. And nobody really knows but him about what he was going through with the injuries last year. He has looked as fresh and excited as he's been since I've been here. I don't see any reason he can't win that thing.

*Q: If you could play the rest of your career for Norv Turner, would you want that?
A: No question. There's a perception that he's so laid-back, he needs to be more fiery. He's as passionate and as excited and motivating and hard-working of a coach as I've seen. I don't know how much more you could ask for and what you could want. And he's a lot of fun to play for. I like to think that we're wired the same way. It's good when the head coach and the quarterback are on the same page. It sounds funny, but we both like football a lot.

Q: Was there a big difference between the undefeated Patriots team you lost to in the '07 playoffs and the Steelers team you lost to last postseason?
A: The records were different, but the Steelers have a disciplined, tough, nasty defense with an offense that gets it done. The atmosphere is a lot tougher in Pittsburgh. We'd already been there once, and we went right back six weeks later. That's as good and tough and nasty of a defense as I've played. They've got the great players -- (Troy) Polamalu, (James) Harrison -- but they've got so many guys who know their roles and play them to a T. We hung in there, but that third quarter was so crazy. It's hard to win a game when you run one play in a quarter.

Q: Who's the best player from your 2004 draft class?
A: I think, right now, it's Larry Fitzgerald. The things he does and how consistent he is and what he can do in one play, one catch, to change the game, is really unmatched.

Q: Here's an impossible question. If you were on a team with Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, who would start?
A: That is pretty impossible. I imagine you'd get three "I woulds" if you asked all three guys that question. I think I'd have to say I would.

Q: It's pretty neat, isn't it, how things have really worked out for you, Manning and Roethlisberger, but also for Drew Brees, whom you replaced here?
A: All four guys have continued to improve and have good careers. The one thing I really appreciated was the relationship with Drew here my first two years, what I learned from him about pushing myself and competing. He's meant a lot to this organization. Eli and Ben have a handful of Super Bowls and obviously have played great, and here in San Diego we've won a lot of football games. Since 2004, we're in the top four in games won in that span. New England, Indianapolis and the Steelers are the only teams that have won more.

*Q: It was quite a haul the Chargers go for Eli Manning--not only you but draft picks that turned into Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding. How would you analyze that 2004 draft-day trade?
A: I like to think the Chargers go the better end of that deal. When you think about what Merriman has meant to this team, and Nate Kaeding's one of the top kickers in this league, we have greatly benefited from it.

*Q: What has Manning been missing out on these past five years?
A: San Diego is a great place to live. I'm sure there are a lot more sunny days and it's a little warmer year-round, that's for sure. It worked out for both of us. Not knowing the type of team camaraderie they have there--obviously, they won a championship--I'm excited that I was the one who got to be around these guys and this organization. It's amazing how much Southern California has become home.

Q: What was it like to play high school ball for your father in Athens, Ala.?
A: Some of the greatest memories that I've ever had. It was awesome. Ever since I was old enough to think about it, I couldn't wait to play for him. It was something both of us couldn't wait for. And then it just flies by. I'll never forget both of us literally crying our eyes out after the last game we were together. We lost in the playoffs in the quarterfinals. We were the last two in the locker room; we sat there and had a big hug. God, it was over. It was the end of it. I remember that like yesterday.

*Q: Somebody said of you, "When he leaves here, he leaves here." As in, it's family time. What does family mean to you?
A: It means everything. I love being around the guys, but when the day is done I like to be with Tiffany and the kids, playing and swimming and wrestling on the floor, watching some videos. The Chargers and football are part of our family, certainly, but family is definitely ahead. Tiffany is great. We met back when I was an eighth-greader and she was a seventh-grader. We go way back. She loves being a mom.

*Q: A 27-year-old with a wife and four kids--that's some heavy-duty stuff.
A: I don't know any other way. Tiffany and I got married after my freshman season. I was 19. We had Halle 15 months after. I had a semester in the dorm, and that was all I needed.

*Q: How did you know Tiffany was the one?
A: I knew she was special from early on. I remember seeing her at the baseball field and telling my mom, "You see that girl over there? She's a good girl." I kind of picked her out. And I guess from then on, I was kind of in pursuit.

*Q: You are a devout Catholic who speaks out about his faith. That's kind of a rarity in the sports world, isn't it?
A: There are not a lot of us, and we need more of us. It's faith, family, football--in that order. I grew up in Alabama and was a little bit of a minority down there already. We went to Mass every Sunday. Tiffany wasn't Catholic growing up; she was a very strong Christian. It was important to us as we nurtured our relationship that, spiritually, we were on the same page. She actually converted before our wedding day. We're both very strong in the faith. We both say we're best friends, and that's where it all starts. Raising our children in the faith now, it has provided us many blessings and means a ton to us.

Q: You publicly supported Prop 4, a California ballot initiative that would have required parental notification before abortions could be performed on minors. Did you also get involved with Prop 8, which eliminated same-sex couples' right to marry in the state?
A: On Prop 8, I did not, but I have the stance that you would imagine. As for Prop 4, just having young daughters, I felt strongly enough about it to try to help out. Another thing I feel strongly about is chastity. You ask why I got married so young -- it was important to Tiff and I to remain pure until we got married. That was certainly some motivation right there to get married young. (Laughs.)

*Q: Have you struggled at times to be yourself in the jock culture, where there's a lot of sex outside of marriage?
A: Temptations are there in every profession, wherever you are, whatever you do. Me? No, I haven't struggled. I credit that to my strong faith and commitment to not put myself in tempting situations.

*Q: Do you talk to teammates about their sex lives?
A: I certainly am open to it, but I just try to live by example. I certainly stand up for what I believe with anything that may come up that I feel convicted and strong about, but I try not to be pushy or force things upon guys.

*Q: Back to football--who's the best quarterback who ever lived? And who's your all-time favorite?
A: Right when you first asked the first question, two guys popped into my mind: Joe Montana and Dan Marino. I had a poster wall of quarterbacks, and Marino, Montana, Brett Favre, John Elway, Troy Aikman, those guys were all on the wall. I wasn't a "That's my guy!" type of fan; I was just a fan of quarterbacks. I couldn't wait to watch a game and see guys play. Maybe because I see a similarity in style--toughness, grittiness, hating to lose, enjoying the game--I've always wanted to play like Brett Favre. And then Peyton Manning has always been a favorite. Playing against a Peyton Manning-led team--the way he plays the game and goes about it and respects it--it's always meant a little more.

*Q: Who do you see as the best quarterbacks in the game, and where do you fit in the pecking order?
A: The first two guys that come to mind are always (Tom) Brady and Peyton.

*Q: In that order?
A: Not necessarily. In fact, Peyton probably would be the first guy if you asked me who I'm taking today for one game. You know, these questions are hard for me because I always try to be humble as possible. But as a competitor, I want to be confident in myself. If somebody actually did ask me who I'm taking today to play one game, I'd say I want to be the guy. So I say Peyton, eliminating myself. I may be the only guy who thinks that, and that's fine. I feel like if I can continue to get better, I can be right up there in the mix with all those guys.

This story first appeared in the May 25 edition of Sporting News magazine. If you are not receiving the magazine, subscribe today, or pick up a copy, available at most Barnes & Noble, Borders and Hudson Retail outlets.