The Houston Oilers today listed Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini and Ken Burrough as doubtful starters for Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game with the San Diego Chargers (WRC-TV-4, 4 p.m.). Nevertheless, Charger Coach Don Coryell said this afternoon that he fully expects to see all three play Satuday.
"I know what kind of guys these are and I'm sure they'll play," Coryell said. "I don't know any quarterback tougher than Dan Pastorini. If he can walk, he'll play. So will Campbell and Burrough. We've been preparing that way all week."
All three players, the heart of Houston's offense, were injured last Sunday in the Oilers' 13-7 wild card win over Denver. All suffered pulled groin muscles, with Pastorini's supposedly the most serious. None of them have practiced this week.
Making the situation even more serious is the fact that Campbell's back-up, Rob Carpenter, twisted an ankle in practice Thursday and is listed as questionable.Without Campbell or Carpenter, Houston will start Ronnie Coleman, who carried 18 times for 58 yards this season, in the backfield with Tim Wilson. Gifford Nielsen will be at quaterback if Pastorini cannot play.
By contrast, the Chargers, who had last week off after finishing 12-4 to win the AFC West, are probably the healthiest they have been all season.
Quaterback Dan Fouts, who played throughout the season with a series of nagging injuries, says the week off has left him feeling better physically than at any time since training camp. Wide receiver John Jefferson, who caught passes for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight season, is back practicing after missing the season finale against Denver with a rib injury.
The Charger's other wide receiver, Charlie Joiner, also a 1,000-yard man, needed 12 stitches in the head after the Denver game, but he, too, is okay. Ex-Redskin Mike Thomas practiced today after missing two days with the flu. Even Louie Kelcher, the Chargers' all-pro defensive tackel who has been out all season with a knee injury, practiced this week and may see some action Saturday.
Coryell painted a dark picture for his team, despite the Oiler injury troubles. "Houston's so big and strong, especially on defense," he said. "They remind me of Pittsburgh a lot. They can get themselves up for the big games; they've done that well the last two years. And they have playoff experience. That's got to be to their advantage."
Oiler Coach Bum Phillips, who seems as loose and relaxed as Coryell seems intent, can play that game too. "They're rested and ready," he said of the Chargers. "They've got a million ways to beat you and we don't even know if out main man (Campbell) will be able to go. But we'll be there."
There is a similarity in the back-grounds of these two teams. Both were among the worst in the NFL in the early and mid-70s and have now blossomed into playoff teams. In each case, one man has been held largely responsible for the emergence of the team; Campbell at Houston, Coryell here.
Both teams' cities have gone slightly crazy over their NFL success. The Oilers have had a song written about them; their fans show up en masse carrying blue and white shakers, and throughout the game wave "Luv Ya Blue" signs.
Here, the mania may be more intense. Every radio station in town (it seems) has some kind of Charger-related promotion this week; every street corner has a "Charger Power" sign or bumper sticker, and as far as the local media are concerned, the NBA basketball team, the clippers, and a college basketball tournament here this weekend that includes Indiana and Tennessee, do not exist.
"The contrast between playing in Los Angeles and playing here is remarkable," said tight end Bob Klein, who played for the Rams for nine years before coming here in 1977. "There, the fans were in and out. If we fell behind, they'd start booing.Here, if we fall behind they're apt to cheer louder."
Klein is one of several Chargers who has found new life in this balmy haven after being up by other teams. Wilbur Young, never a star as a defensive end in Kansas City, has become a pro Bowl defensive tackle here; Willie Buchanon came from Green Bay; Glen Edwards from Pittsburgh; Ed White from Minnesota; Lydell Mitchell from Baltimore; Thomas from Washington, Joiner from Cincinati.
The Oilers are a team built by the draft -- 36 of the players on their roster are Houston draftees.
There are further contrasts. The Oilers lived by the run --mostly Campbell -- the Chargers favor the pass. Houston is a physical team, tries to beat up an opponent. San Diego is a finesse team, its running backs are small, its receivers quick.
The Chargers are healthy and they have the home field advantage. The Oilers will be playing their fifth playoff game two seasons, having gone to the AFC final last year. Of the 45 Chargers who will dress for the game, 36 will be playing their first postseason contest.
"We are inexperienced at this," said Joiner, who played in two playoffs with Cincinnati. "But I think having played in the AFC West all year has to help us. Every game was a big game. Our last game with Denver meant everthing (division title, home field for the playoffs). We've been in the pressure cooker before, so we should be all right."
Even with Campbell, Pastorini and Burrough 100 percent, which they won't be, the Chargers would be favored. But not by seven points. But Coryell, 0-2 as a playoff coach in St. Louis, was noticeably nervous today as he headed to direct a final light workout.
"I've been in this sport a long time," the 55-year-old coach said. "Everyone loves us today but I know you're only as good as your last game. I wonder if they'll still love us Saturday night?"