As the majority of San Diego Chargers fans will attest, life without star linebacker Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman spearheading the Chargers’ 3-4 defense is about as enjoyable as sitting on the 405 during rush hour.
That 405 line is not original, but it correlates to the 2008 Chargers defense, which could not break free from the traffic (offensive lineman) in front of them and generate a consistent pass rush.
Failure to put pressure on the quarterback was a key reason they fell to the Steelers in the postseason.
Merriman only played in one game last season due to torn knee ligaments, so his return has Chargers fans and pundits like ESPN the Magazine picking the Chargers to win their first Super Bowl.
Not only that, but his return gives him the shot at reestablishing himself as the premier linebacker in the game and sets him up for possibly the richest contract ever dished out to a defensive player next year or in 2011 depending on how the Collective Bargaining Agreement shakes out.
Those goals are still within Merriman and the Chargers grasp, but they have been bizarrely and disappointingly overshadowed by the shot of domestic violence accusations against Merriman by Tila Tequila, star of the MTV reality show, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.
At 3:45 Sunday morning at Merriman’s San Diego house, Tila, whose real name is Tila Nguyen, called the police claiming that Merriman “choked and physically restrained” her.
Since Tila filed a citizen’s arrest (battery and false imprisonment charges) as well, Merriman was brought into jail until he was released on bail at 11 AM. It has now turned into a he said, she said story.
Merriman and his lawyer are on the record as saying that Tila was intoxicated during the incident. Tila, on her Twitter page, denied that assertion and said she is allergic to alcohol. A YouTube video of her under the name “While haters hate, I am enjoying my life, haha” does not aid that argument as she prominently displays champagne multiple times.
In addition, Chargers beat writer Kevin Acee revealed these tweets written by Tila last Friday: “Dman im drunk!!!!!!! Im headed to this Chargers VS 49ers game right now!!!!!!!! YAYYYYYYY!!!!!! @shawnemerriman u ready?? LETS GOOOOO!”
She also added this beauty- “U want me to post another pic of me DRUNK right now?? LOLLL I cant walk! HELP ME! falls down toilet.” Social networking at its finest...especially if you are a Merriman lawyer.
Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, did not confirm Tila was intoxicated, but stated that “alcohol was involved,” to the Union-Tribune. She went on to say that “[Tila] was able to walk. She was mobile. She did not have any serious injuries that our deputies saw.”
In a statement made available by the San Diego Union-Tribune last Sunday, Merriman said, “At the time, I was concerned about her welfare given the intoxicated state she appeared to be in and I encouraged her to stay until safe transportation could be provided. We would all do our best to help a friend if we considered their actions to be detrimental to their personal safety. I in no way caused any harm to Ms. Nguyen.”
Tila’s attorney, Alan S. Gutman, countered vehemently on Tuesday in an Associated Press story, “Shawne Merriman and his advisors have decided that the best defense is a good offense, attacking Tila Tequila in the press with a lot of calculated spin to cover up his illegal and indefensible actions.
"However, society won’t tolerate a physical assaulting on a young woman who weighs 93 pounds by an All-Pro linebacker who weighs 270 pounds.”
Criminal charges against Merriman have yet to materialize, but are still being considered by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. A “Tequila Sunrise hangover” of this magnitude will affect his career no matter the verdict. In addition to the legal ramifications, this episode has put an even larger dent in the Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith’s belief in Merriman.
Smith is an old-school GM in that he is all business and disdains players who rock the boat.
With San Diego being the only professional football team in Southern California, Chargers players have the Hollywood market at their disposal should they prove popular. No player takes more advantage of the media perks it has to offer more publicly than Merriman.
He has appeared on Mad TV, had a cameo in Keri Hilson’s “Knock you Down” music video and last year signed on with Fox Sports’ Pro Football Preview, filmed in Los Angeles, to become the first active player in any sport to serve as an analyst in-season for a television show.
As long as Merriman stayed out of trouble and produced on the field, his Hollywood lifestyle would be overlooked by Smith, but he has not been able to avoid controversy. In 2006, Merriman was suspended for four games in the middle of the season for violating the league’s steroid policy.
Then, after injuring his knee during the 2007 season, Merriman opted to disregard four different doctors’ advice that he opt for surgery after the season to fix the torn ligaments in his knee. As a result, Merriman lost all but one game of the 2008 season.
Even though Merriman had an NFL high 39.5 sacks from 2005 to 2007, significantly raises the intensity of the defense and makes other players better by creating match-up problems, Smith is still not ready to embrace Merriman into the Chargers long-term.
This past spring Smith used a first round draft pick to select Larry English of Northern Illinois, someone who also plays outside linebacker, as insurance for Merriman’s knee and the possibility he will leave when he is a free agent.
Unless Team President Dean Spanos steps in like he did when Smith foolishly chided LaDainian Tomlinson during the offseason, it appears the lights are dimming on rectification between Merriman and the front office. A suspension though is unlikely if the District Attorney’s office decides not to prosecute.
Thus, that would leave Merriman and the Chargers with another and possibly final shot at finding a pathway that prevents the team from crashing and burning in the NFL playoff highway logjam and finally bursting to the front of the on-ramp that leads to the Lombardi Trophy.