SAN DIEGO -- Stan Humphries, tough guy. That's the image the San Diego Chargers quarterback will bring to tomorrow's AFC championship game in Pittsburgh. That's the image he cemented a month into this season.
It was late in the fourth quarter in Los Angeles, and Humphries had just thrown an interception that led to a go-ahead touchdown for the Raiders. His knee had been scrambled from behind by a 310-pound lineman.
Trainers and doctors surrounded Humphries as the Raiders kicked off. Gale Gilbert, the Chargers' backup quarterback, started onto the field. He didn't get far.
"It's my game," Humphries said, grabbing Gilbert's arm.
Humphries gimped out to the huddle. His teammates remember the moment.
"Stan Brock was excited," wide receiver Shawn Jefferson said this week, talking about an offensive tackle who has been in the NFL for 15 years. "Stan Brock said, 'We're not losing this, men.' "
The Chargers went down and scored to win the game. The drive included a reverse on which Humphries, still limping, threw a block on a 290-pound tackle.
"He takes some hits," Brock said. "He's not a crybaby. He doesn't get up and yell at the offensive line."
Humphries' catalog of injuries this season includes all the major body parts. Among other things, he has hurt his thumb and sprained his knee. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove loose cartilage from his elbow -- and played the next game.
Humphries is living proof that football tough guys can be made, not born. A record-breaker in college at Northeast Louisiana, also the alma mater of Bubby Brister, Humphries led the Indians to a Division I-AA national title in 1987. But he wasn't known for limping into huddles.
"It's important for a quarterback, even when he's hurting . . . to know you can do it," said Pat Collins, Humphries' college coach. "That's what Stan learned at Northeast. He taught himself that."
He had started out at Louisiana State, where fun was his priority before he flunked out more or less intentionally. The coach there would assign an assistant to take Humphries to class. It didn't always work. Humphries was known to walk in the front door and slip out the back.
"He was always a great person," said Bill Arnsparger, that LSU coach, who now happens to be the Chargers' defensive coordinator. "He maybe just didn't like to go to that particular class."
If a coach thinks enough of the talents of a freshman quarterback to have an assistant coach trail him, there must be something there. All the tough-guy talk shouldn't disguise the fact that Humphries always had a live arm.
"He throws a very tight ball," Jefferson said. "He does a great job of placing the ball where you can catch it. He always throws right at your chest. It's like there's a target on your chest."
Humphries knew that last Sunday's playoff game against Miami was being billed as a defining moment in his career. He didn't disagree. He wound up struggling against a Dolphins zone in the first half, when he often was forced to throw wide of his targets. Some minor adjustments were made, and he ended up completing 28 of 43 passes for 276 yards in the Chargers' 22-21 victory.
Humphries started out with Washington, but Redskins coach Joe Gibbs grew disenchanted because he thought the quarterback was overweight and because he wouldn't stay in Washington to work out during the off-season.
Bobby Beathard, by then the Chargers' general manager, had drafted Humphries for the Redskins. He had no problem taking him off Gibbs' hands for a third-round draft choice.
"You can look at players -- quarterbacks especially -- and find guys with great stats, but one of the things you have to look at is, 'Can the guy get the team into the end zone?' " Beathard said. "The good ones can. Other guys go up and down the field but don't get them into the end zone.
3 "Stan has the qualities the good quarterbacks have. They're not robots. They have minds of their own. They take chances. But they also have something you can't coach. They have to be competitive."
* NOTE: The Chargers certainly couldn't have expected this: better weather in Pittsburgh than in San Diego. Tomorrow's forecast calls for temperatures in the low 50s, with an 80 percent chance of rain -- a marked contrast to the minus-59 wind-chill temperature for the Chargers' last AFC championship game in Cincinnati in 1982.