This article took me a while to write and there’s a reason for that: Superstition. I interviewed legendary Rolf Benirschke the Monday after the Vs. Eagles away game. Dustin had just started to reach his stride and I truly believed we had found our kicker. With that momentum, and as a true fan, I thought if I released an article about how good our kicker is, with the Charger’s luck, something would happen to our mojo on special teams because of it. So, I waited until the end of the season to ensure no jinx is put on Dustin (who just so happened to be resigned to a new three-year deal with the Chargers). Special teams also added a pro bowl snapper and punter in the offseason… so maybe the superstition paid off.
If you don’t know who Rolf is, you should. A Pro Bowl kicker. Winner of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year, Comeback player of the year. A member of the Chargers Hall of Fame, a member of the Chargers All Time Team, and, quite possibly, one of the most down to earth people you will ever speak with.
As a third-generation Chargers’ fan, I know who Rolf is. I may not have been able to see him play, but I’ve heard the legendary stories, I’ve watched the films, and I know of his accuracy, but more importantly his courage. Just his second year with the Chargers, Rolf was diagnosed with a disease that would change his life forever and create a nationwide advocacy for Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Longtime fan Sheri Fisher said, “I remember Rolf most for his courage and selflessness in giving back to the community during his fight. It really pulled the Chargers and the community together.”
With the Chargers moving from San Diego to LA what is the most important thing the Chargers can do as an organization to bring a culture and a fanbase to the huge LA market? Rolf said, “Get involved with the community.” Nobody knows this better than Rolf. When hospitalized, his dad would bring him pounds and pounds of mail from the community reaching out, he still gets teary eyed to this day just thinking about it. “The outpouring of people that I had never met and will never meet. The amount of emotional support and prayers from every denomination and faith, it was incredible.”
I asked Rolf if he had been out to Sofi Stadium yet. He told me he hadn’t yet but was looking forward to legends weekend and a trip to Sofi, as well as seeing all of his brothers and former teammates. Since this interview, Rolf attended the Chargers vs Giants game, and I hope it astonished him, like it has fans of all teams.
During this offseason, a member of the NFL hosted Jeopardy. Interesting enough, Chargers very own Rolf Benirschke, hosted Wheel of Fortune. Knowing this, I had to ask Rolf what his experience was like, and how he found himself hosting a television show. Rolf proceeded to tell me a story and I just couldn’t keep this from the world, this is how he responded, “So back in the day I was doing a charity telethon on the local San Diego station. Now mind you, it’s a segmented charity telethon going on, so there are different acts, and I was asked to talk about my Crohn’s disease. So, you have a magician going before me and on stage he has all these cages of rabbits and he’s having just a world of a time keeping these rabbits in the right cages and doing what they are supposed to be doing for his act. So, as he goes on these rabbits just end up covering the stage. Now what do rabbits do ….so these rabbits are doing what they do best on the stage, now mind you there’s kids and cameras so this magician is scrambling to get these rabbits, so the host decides and when we get back Rolf Benirschke on Crohn’s disease.” Just so happen to be that in the audience that day was the creator of Wheel of Fortune, and he liked Rolf and asked him to host the show.
I told Rolf with that transition, when talking about something that is so personable like having a disease or having cancer or something like that, what a great way to have that energy right off the bat during that conversation be lifted and be positive to be able to have that conversation, what a great outcome from that. “It’s interesting you say that, Chris. My illness had a huge impact on my life, and one of them was to recognize we don’t live a guaranteed 80 or 84 year whatever the life expectancy is supposed to be of a male these days, mine really should have been taken at 24. When it wasn’t, and I got a chance to return to do all the things I loved, including playing football, made me very conscious about how precious time was. Part of that, and the outcome of that was to have the willingness to say yes more than no. To try something new. To put yourself out there, in a place that’s unfamiliar. Because that’s how you grow and how you learn. So, doing Wheel of Fortune was a no brainer with that thought process. That world is much like the sports world, trying to prove you belong, and then trying to prove that you haven’t lost a step. It’s very vertical and descending. insecurities lead to self-preservation.
The morning after a game winning field goal. They won by a game winning field goal! Not the same old Chargers indeed. We see a hole, or a problem or weakness and we go after it and sort it out. As a great head coach once said. “You gotta let me get my own groceries.” and looks like were only missing a few more items on that list, but for once in a long-time, kicker isn’t on that list.
I asked Rolf, “When looking at kickers do you believe in giving them time to develop? Especially after seeing such kickers like Koo with the Falcons, Lambo with the Jaguars, or now Badgley with the Colts…” Rolf comes from a very different era where once drafted by a team you played your career with that team mind set. The drafts were longer had different rules to allow for not star stacking teams and, although he was drafted by the Raiders, ended up a charger. “I really like Dustin. Hopefully I can meet him someday, but he’s got a great leg and experience and think he will be a great fit. That game winner last I was watching that, what a game.”
Knowing a switch at kicker is needed as a fan you always hope for success to happen sooner rather than later. To keep the dream of post season a reality. It really is the most scrutinized position in football, and as my pal Rolf puts it, “Kicking is objective not subjective.” And he couldn’t be more spot on. It’s the only position that is black and white on success or failure. What i do know is things are optimistic in a way I haven’t seen for the Chargers, and as a beat writer and a fan i can tell you….Bolt Up!