SAN DIEGO -- As soap operas go, it could have been called ''All My Quarterbacks.''
The Buffalo Bills simply thought it made sense to have two good QBs in Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. If one got hurt, the team would still be in good shape with the other.
Johnson got hurt, Flutie got a chance and three seasons of feuding followed. There were two sets of hands and only one football.
''It was just weird, man,'' said defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who like Flutie and other former Bills players and executives joined a great westward migration in the offseason and signed with the San Diego Chargers.
''It was totally 'The Young and the Restless,' '' Wiley said. ''Just being in the locker room and saying, 'What's going on today?'''
The QB controversy officially ended on Feb. 28 when the Bills settled on Johnson, a beach bum from Southern California, and got rid of Flutie, who'd revived his career after an eight-year exile in the Canadian Football League.
But Johnson vs. Flutie isn't over. The Bills play the Chargers Sunday in San Diego, and their showdown is the juiciest of several subplots.
Both quarterbacks are downplaying the matchup and what went on in the past. Still, Johnson managed to get in a zinger.
''I don't have to face him. He's not playing defense. Some of his fans probably think he can play defense, but no,'' Johnson said.
Johnson won the Bills' job, but he's not necessarily the most popular QB in Buffalo. Although he's only 5-foot-10 and now plays 3,000 miles away, Flutie casts a long shadow.
Flutie's jerseys are still abundant at Bills home games. Buffalo-area newspapers publish weekly comparisons, charting the two quarterbacks' statistics. The CBS affiliates in Rochester and Buffalo show Chargers games. A Rochester radio station tried, but failed, to get permission to join the Chargers' network.
''When you have someone of that proportion, Doug Flutie, I mean, he's like a rock star who plays football,'' Wiley said. ''He's that adored.''
Flutie, who turned 39 on Tuesday, has been a big part of the Chargers' turnaround from an embarrassing 1-15 last year to 4-2 this year. The rebuilding Bills are 1-4, their worst start in 15 years.
When asked if he ended up in a better situation, Flutie said: ''I don't know what the situation there is now. I know that I'm in a very positive situation here. I'm very thankful for this opportunity. When I was released I was a little upset at first, but within an hour I realized it was the best thing for me, the best opportunity for me.''
Flutie was 21-9 when he started for the Bills.
''We won more games with Doug,'' Wiley said. ''Doug had more support. If you had to take a vote, without a Florida recount, Doug's going to win that one. It's not because of who's taller, who's older. All those things are secondary to who won more games.''
John Butler, the general manager who brought both Johnson and Flutie to Buffalo in 1998, is now San Diego's GM.
''All you really think about is having the two best players possible,'' Butler said. ''In case something happened to one, boy, you still have a a chance to still be a good football team. I didn't realize until I left how much of a split it was. I was looking at what was best for the football team.''
When Johnson went down with a rib injury in 1998, Flutie replaced him and turned the Bills around with an effort that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.
The following season, Flutie started the first 15 games and led the Bills to the playoffs. With the berth secure, coach Wade Phillips started Johnson in Week 16. Johnson had a big game against Indianapolis and wound up usurping Flutie for the wild-card game against Tennessee, which the Titans won with the Music City Miracle.
Things got worse in the middle of last season. Flutie replaced the injured Johnson in overtime against San Diego, and led the Bills to a win. He started the next four games, winning three. When Johnson returned, he was the starter.
''Both of us were competing for a job,'' Flutie said. ''We got along in meetings; we sat in meetings every day. It was a business relationship more than a friendship. We weren't best of friends, but it wasn't this hatred that everyone's made it out to be.
''Steve Young and Joe Montana, I guess, went through the same thing, two guys trying to fight for a job.''
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