Source: Associated Press
By Bernie Wilson
<img width="205" height="307" align="left" alt="Shawne Merriman" title="Shawne Merriman" src="http://www.sdhoc.com/main/awards/starsoftheyear/Stars2005/Image00078061" />SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The lights flickered back on for Shawne Merriman, who returned to the San Diego Chargers from his four-game steroid suspension on Monday, flashing a funky haircut and eager to resume pounding on quarterbacks.
Merriman's first game back will be at Buffalo on Sunday, when the AFC West-leading Chargers (9-2) will try to extend their winning streak to six.
"I think I'll be a little bit anxious waiting for Sunday to get here, but Sunday I'll be fine, just getting out there, flying around, knocking some heads," the star outside linebacker said.
With plenty of time on his hands, Merriman had his nickname, "Lights Out," carved into his hair. He earned the nickname with his jarring hits, and he celebrates sacks by pretending to flip a switch tattooed on his forearm, followed by a spasmodic dance.
Merriman was tied for the NFL lead with 8 1/2 sacks when his suspension began on Nov. 1. He's now tied with six other players for the fifth-highest total.
Merriman has denied he's a steroid cheat, saying the positive test stemmed from a tainted supplement. He has refused to identify the supplement because his attorney has threatened a lawsuit against the manufacturer.
Merriman, the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl starter, knows some people will remain skeptical.
"You have to understand that the kind of person I've been and the kind of person I am, there should be no question in nobody's mind -- even though there will be -- about my ability on the football field," Merriman said. "This is God-given talent and that's what I've been showing since I've gotten on a football field. I think over time everybody will see that and know that."
Merriman called it "a mistake" and "a hard lesson learned." He spent a great deal of time during his suspension working out. He said he remains at his playing weight, "but a lot angrier."
Fueled mostly by LaDainian Tomlinson's incredible touchdown binge, the Chargers and their depleted defense went 4-0 in Merriman's absence. That streak included consecutive rallies on the road, when they came back from deficits of 21 points at Cincinnati and 17 points at Denver.
"I was proud of those guys," Merriman said. "It was no doubt in my mind that they were going to win the games when I was out. A lot of people said they thought they'd got 2-2 without me, or 3-1. I said, 'No, you guys are going to win it all.' I can be nothing but proud of how they played in my absence."