And that was before anyone knew who wouldn’t be trotting onto that field.
“If they had said, ‘Oh, yeah, and the quarterback is going to be Justin and he’s going to find out five seconds before he goes on the field,’ the spread would have been 19 or 29,” Mark Herbert said. “But you know what? It doesn’t always go that way.”
No, it doesn’t. Not always. Sometimes, in fact, it goes sideways.
That’s what happened when Mark, Justin’s father, turned the television channel to the start of Chargers-Chiefs after noticing on his phone that the game was about to kick off.
The first thing he saw was the last thing he expected to see, his middle son’s face up close just as Justin was heading for the huddle.
“He’s starting!” Mark said he yelled to his wife, Holly, who was in another room. Her response was a predictable one: “What?!”
Justin’s NFL debut was a chaotic one that nobody — from the Chargers’ SoFi Stadium locker room to the Herbert’s family home in Eugene, Ore. — knew was coming.
Thanks to modern-day technology, everyone who mattered most was aware within a minute.
Justin’s older brother, Mitchell, started watching the game on his phone in a library at Columbia University, where he’s a medical student.
Patrick, Justin’s little brother, raced home with three of his buddies, and they positioned themselves on the couch.
Mark stood behind them and watched Justin throw for 311 yards and a touchdown, pushing the Super Bowl champion Chiefs into overtime before the Chargers fell 23-20. Mark never did sit down.
“It’s almost indescribable,” he said of the emotion he was experiencing. “There is no greater feeling than watching your son or daughter have success at something they truly love and want to do.”
Justin will make his second career start Sunday when the Chargers meet Carolina at SoFi Stadium.
This is all a very big deal in Eugene, where Justin played in high school and college. The local CBS affiliate even decided to switch to the Chargers-Panthers game after learning Herbert would remain the starter.
KVAL’s original plan — the station is permitted to air one game Sunday — was to show a pretty good earlier matchup: Las Vegas-New England.
Now, imagine if Herbert and the Chargers had completed the upset by holding on to beat Kansas City. They had an 11-point lead in the final four minutes of the third quarter.
Instead, they were buried by 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, on a field that sits nearly 100 feet underground.
“You just want your kids to get opportunities,” Mark said. “They were so close to making that opportunity perfect. Dang it, that would have been epic. It’s corny, I know.”
Unlike a week ago, the Chargers are favored over Carolina. Also different: Herbert has had days, not nanoseconds, to prepare. Coach Anthony Lynn said Herbert was at the team facility Tuesday to start watching tape at 6:30 a.m.
Herbert also ran for a touchdown in his debut, on a four-yard dash around the right end, a sprint that ended with the rookie taking a hit from Chiefs defensive end Mike Danna.
“I think he just showed some toughness,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “He did take some shots and he bounced right back up.”
Herbert pinpointed a 25-yard completion to Keenan Allen over the middle and between two defenders. His 14-yard touchdown throw to Jalen Guyton was expertly placed and timed, coming on third and goal.
In Eugene, Mark said watching his son’s first NFL game brought back some familiar images.
The touchdown run looked a lot like his first score for Oregon in a game against Washington State. One of the hits he absorbed resembled a shot on which he suffered a broken collarbone against California.
That’s all part of being a quarterback’s dad, even if nothing readied this quarterback’s dad for the most surprising of starts.
“You feel good that he’s in the right spot, with the right people,” Mark said. “There’s going to be heartbreak. There’s going to be good things. But he’s enjoying what’s he’s doing. You like to hear that.”
The Chargers placed edge rusher Melvin Ingram (knee) and defensive tackle Justin Jones (shoulder) on injured reserve Saturday, meaning both will miss at least three weeks. Linebacker Asmar Bilal (calf) also was placed on IR. The team activated safety Jahleel Addae from the practice squad. Offensive lineman Ryan Groy, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end Jessie Lemonier and running back Darius Bradwell also joined the active roster.