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JOHNSON READY FOR FLUTIE'S CHARGERS

This should be brutal. This should be acrimonious. This should be nasty and cold-blooded. This should be wonderful.

Gentlemen, start your forearm shivers. Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie take the spotlight for the Bills-Chargers' game Sunday in San Diego. The winner takes the bragging rights for this emergent East Coast-West Coast rivalry while the loser will have some "splainin" to do come next week.

And Johnson can't get enough of it.

"I look forward to these types of games; you have to play for these big games," the Bills quarterback said. "It kind of reminds you of a college-type atmosphere with a rivalry type of thing. It definitely gets fans talking about it and makes it more interesting."

It is unlikely that any other NFL game this weekend will generate the heat this one will, and to this day the Johnson-Flutie debate can take Western New Yorkers through every emotion imaginable.

The Johnson-Flutie grudge dates back to the 1998 season and boiled over last season. The two feuded openly -- Johnson accused Flutie of back-stabbing in a magazine article during the season -- and the bad blood didn't cool down once the Bills decided that Johnson would be their quarterback of the future. Johnson even suggested that this drama be played out in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football.

Now add the fact that owner Ralph Wilson said in April that he'd rather win this game more than the Super Bowl, then took a few not-so-subtle parting shots at Chargers General Manager John Butler, who signed a five-year contract with the franchise just 17 days after being fired by Wilson. The ultra-competitive Wilson suggested that Butler plotted for the Chargers job for months.

"He signed pretty quickly, didn't he?" Wilson said during the offseason. "If people don't think after this chronology that Butler didn't have any intention of extending his deal with the Bills, then they think people don't drink beer in Munich."

Toss in the fact that in addition to Flutie three more ex Bills -- Marcellus Wiley, Sam Rogers and John Holecek -- have joined the Chargers and you have two trains running at one another on the same track. Still, the focus of this week will center on the two quarterbacks and probably the only thing missing is that Johnson and Flutie can't pound on each other on the field.

"I don't have to face him, he's not playing defense, although some of his fans probably think he can play defense," Johnson said. "I have enough problems with (Junior) Seau and (Rodney) Harrison and all those guys."

Whether Flutie was playing or not, Johnson would still be motivated for this game. While playing for USC when Chargers head coach Mike Riley was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Johnson set 20 NCAA, Pacific-10 and school records and became the Trojans' career passing leader. Chargers defensive line coach Wayne Nunnely was the running backs coach at USC when Johnson was there and Chargers wide receivers coach Mike Sanford also was on the staff. Johnson, a Southern California native, also expects many friends and family will attend the game.

"It's not just Doug," Johnson said. "I'm playing against one of my favorite coaches in Mike Riley. . . . My whole family is going to be out there and my friends. It's a lot of things, it's not just the Doug Flutie thing. That adds to it."

There's also the fact that Flutie has guided a team that won one game last season to a 4-2 record after Sunday's upset over the Denver Broncos. The Chargers are now a half-game behind AFC West leader Oakland. Meanwhile, Johnson is coming off perhaps his best game this season, a 13-10 triumph over Jacksonville, but the Bills are still just 1-4.

Many observers are still undecided as to whether the Bills made the right decision regarding their quarterbacks and naysayers point to the Bills' record as evidence.

"It's crazy to me that everyone keeps win/loss records for quarterbacks," Johnson said. "That's part of the business but I'm not facing him and he's not facing me. . . . I know people are going to look at it that way, but I'm not treating it like that."

For the moment, the Bills are saying all the right things. There were no sound bites laced with venom from defensive end Phil Hansen, who is worried more about the three-hour time difference. Just another game on the schedule, said Ken Irvin, who added the Bills have to work on being a more sound football team.

"We have to leave the grudge matches out of it," said linebacker Keith Newman. "It's the San Diego Chargers vs. the Buffalo Bills and you're going to have two teams out there playing a football game on Sunday."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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