Chargers' Ross contends with yet another tragedy

On the NFL

June 02, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Bobby Ross is no stranger to tragedy.

The former Maryland coach, now coach of the San Diego Chargers, was only 10 or 11 years old when he first experienced it.

His aunt and godmother, who lives in Baltimore (Ross declined to identify her), lost two children at the ages of 4 and 5 in separate accidents six months apart.

Ross also lost a son who lived only 10 or 15 minutes after he was born and a granddaughter who died after a heart transplant at 15 months.

One player he coached with the Kansas City Chiefs and one at Georgia Tech died in drowning accidents. And in the past 16 months, Ross' Chargers family has endured four tragedies.

In January 1995, the ex-wife of coach Dwaine Painter committed suicide a few hours after the team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn a Super Bowl berth. Two weeks later, Painter's daughter, Debbie, was killed when she was swept off a ledge by waves while spreading her mother's ashes in the Pacific Ocean.

Five months later, on June 19, 1995, linebacker Anthony Griggs died in a one-car accident on the Florida Turnpike when he swerved across a ramp and a median and hit a signpost. His blood-alcohol level of 0.16 was twice the legal limit in Florida.

On May 11, running back Rodney Culver and his wife, Karen, were aboard the ValuJet plane that crashed into the Florida Everglades.

Ross was left in the position of providing leadership while experiencing his own grief. The Culvers left behind two daughters, Briana, 2, and Jada, 1.

"It's not something I haven't experienced," Ross said. "I guess as much as anything, I've got a strong faith that helps me. I don't like to talk about it a whole lot. I deal with it my own way. Whether it's right or wrong, it's just kind of a thing that remains pretty private."

Ross led a delegation of 10 members of the Chargers' organization, including four players, to Detroit for a memorial service for the Culvers a week ago Saturday and gave what by all accounts was a moving eulogy.

"This guy was a special guy and I just tried to say that Rodney was probably very happy where he was and was looking down on us and saying, 'Don't get down. I'm very happy here. Get on with your life.' He was a great example to the younger players. He was smart and prepared," Ross said.

Culver, a backup on the Chargers, had a reputation for being a great example. In 1990, he was Notre Dame's first single captain in 20 years and the first black captain in school history.

Culver was a devout Christian who used to point to the sky after scoring instead of spiking the ball.

"That was his little way of acknowledging his Christianity," Ross said.

When Culver signed autographs, he included the bible reference "Mark 9: 22," which states, "All things are possible to him who believes."

Culver had been with the team only two years after being claimed off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts, but made a profound impact.

The Chargers will have a memorial service for Culver tomorrow night in San Diego at the end of the first day of minicamp.

The team also has had a chaplain and a psychologist on hand for players who wanted to talk about it.

The players will wear Culver's No. 22 on their helmets this fall and have established a trust fund for his daughters the way they did a year ago for Griggs' daughter.

The last time a team had to cope with anything like this was five years ago when the Detroit Lions slumped from 12-4 to 5-11 after Mike Utley was paralyzed, assistant coach Len Fontes, the brother of coach Wayne Fontes, died of a heart attack and guard Eric Andolsek died when he was hit by a truck while trimming weeds in his front lawn.

Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson, who was on that Lions team, said, "It's just a tragic thing. You can't describe it."

Ross is hopeful the team can cope with it.

"You never forget him, but you try to go on with what you have to do. It's no different than in any other family and this is a family, there's no doubt about it," Ross said.

The selling game

Max Muhleman, the Charlotte, N.C., consultant who, for better or worse, is credited with inventing the unpopular permanent seat license concept, has a message for Baltimore fans who are confused about the way the Ravens are selling tickets.

Muhleman, who put together the two-step buying program, said fans who buy season tickets for 1996 along with a $100 deposit can buy a PSL of any price when they go on sale this fall, regardless of the price of the tickets they order.

Many fans were confused because they thought there was some relation to the ticket price they ordered and the PSL price they will be charged.

"Maybe we didn't do an adequate job of explaining it," Muhleman said. "I apologize that we made it confusing."

It could be that the demand for tickets is so strong in Baltimore that the confusion won't hurt the sales.

But PSLs still remain a tough sell. Muhleman still has almost 6,000 unsold PSLs left in Charlotte, where they went on sale three years ago, but he is confident they'll sell soon now that the team's new stadium is almost complete and fans can see the seats.

Seeing the world

Tony Vinson, the former Towson State running back who is tuning up for a shot with the Atlanta Falcons, is thriving in the World League.

Vinson has been the World League's Offensive Player of the Week for two straight weeks after gaining 137 yards and 232 yards.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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