OK, so I am pretty late to the party with this article… but, whatever. I have been insanely busy over the holidays, and this is the first time I have had an opportunity to write anything for over two weeks. The one thing I did get to do over the break was to go to the Chargers final home game, and hang with some of the Bolt Beat crew at ‘The Q’ before we played the Chiefs. I was also honored to be asked to represent Bolt Beat in the press box, and had a wonderful opportunity to go down to the interview room, and locker room afterward. It was awesome to meet some of the players, meet other sportswriters, meet the Charger staff, and essentially fulfill one of my childhood dreams. There were moments where I was just speechless, and felt extremely blessed.
Let’s start from the beginning. The parking lot was brimming with anxiety from the minute I got there. People had flat screen TV’s, radios, and were constantly checking their phones to see what was going on with the Dolphins & Ravens games. Some people I talked to actually preferred to stay away from the scores, and were too scared to find out what was going on, until it was over. I was not one of those people. Nick (619Charger4Life on Bolt Beat), his girlfriend Ashley, his roommate Chris, and I headed over to a camp where they were televising the games on two flat screens. I had been following the games on my phone, and on my way to the stadium, and was excited that both games were going our way ALL MORNING! We were most worried about the Jets / Miami game, and were praying for Sexy Rexy to do us a huge solid. Could he make it up to us for those playoff defeats, and the deadbeat comments he made about us in years past? Possibly… but, it was a long shot.
When the final whistles blew in both games, and the Dolphins & Ravens both fell in their “must win” games, you could just feel the anxiety level turn into total elation. The main fear that the fans in the parking lot had, was that this would be a meaningless game. The game went from possibly having no meaning, to having major playoff implications, within minutes. The Charger faithful were excited to watch their team take control of their destiny. The Chargers had their opportunity to waltz into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC, to go take on the Cincinnati Bengals. There were people jumping for joy, people high fiving, and people cheering out “Chargers are going to the playoffs”! All they had to do was take care of a group of second stringers on their own turf. However, there were a lot of people I talked to who were noticeably nervous. These were the long-time fans that had seen this before, and were familiar with that “pit in the stomach” feeling that we have become so accustomed to over the years. No matter how easy this looked, there is always a good chance that the Chargers will play down to their competition, and shoot themselves in the foot.
Heading into the game, the stadium was loud. I made my way up to the press level, and found my station. I was right next to BoogaP, an old friend of mine, the main editor at BoltBlitz.com, and former Bolt Beat staff writer. We caught up on old times, and settled in for the games. The ESPN writers were to our right, and John Gennaro of ‘Bolts From The Blue’ was on our left. A couple of Chiefs reporters were below us. Once the ball was kicked off, we got our game faces on, and watched the game unfold. I won’t even get into my assessment of the game too much. Quite honestly, there was little to talk or write about. The Chargers came out flat, and except for a few players (Mathews, Allen, Weddle, Novak, etc), they looked pretty terrible all day.
However, one thing I was pleasantly surprised with was our home crowd. Many fans, and haters (myself included) have criticized our fan base for being fair weather. That was not the case on Sunday. It was so loud that I turned to BoogaP, and said “I have NEVER heard it this loud here… never”. They were definitely making it hard for the Chiefs when they huddled up, and at the line. Unfortunately, the defense was making it far too easy for the Chiefs, despite the noise. Then, somewhere between the two overthrown long passes to Eddie Royal on short yardage situations, and The Chiefs marching down the field EASILY in the waning seconds of the game, the all-to-familiar “pit in the stomach” feeling came back. Defeat seemed imminent. There would need to be a miracle, or divine intervention to send the Chargers to the post season. As I looked to my left, and to my right, I could already see reporters typing frantically on their laptops, probably writing articles with headlines like “Chargers Snatch Defeat Out Of The Jaws Of Victory, Once Again”. And then, it happened.
I just want to make something perfectly clear. Say what you want about the defensive line being overloaded on one side, about new rules, or about refs blowing calls. The reason that the kick was missed was because the crowd got SO loud that it was completely deafening! I am quite certain that the way the Chargers were lined up had much less to do with the shanked kick, then it did with Succop being totally overwhelmed by the noise, and the gravity of the moment. From our view, it was difficult to even see that he missed the kick. You just knew what happened by the way the crowd reacted, and then the following “no good” waving of the refs arms.
It was extremely difficult (being a Charger fanatic) to sit there quietly during a playoff game. You can get kicked out of the press box for being loud, and I was told that they will embarrass you over the loud speaker on your way out, should you be “that guy”. I’ll tell you what, though… BoogaP and I lost our friggin’ MINDS at that moment! Then we caught ourselves, looked around, and everyone else was cheering too… including Chargers writer Ricky Henne. So, you can imagine the excitement in the entire stadium at that moment. Our playoff hopes were still alive… at least for the moment.
The Chargers got the ball first, and Philip Rivers & company were back in business! They started in their own end, and they initiated the final march to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the march stalled immediately, and they were forced to punt. This is when Eric “we ain’t going out like this” Weddle made the gutsiest call I have ever seen in my life. He had already faked a punt earlier in the season with success, and had one last year against the Bills. This time, it was deep in our own end, and the stakes were so high, it was total insanity to call the play.
Despite the horrible things that would be said about the call if Weddle didn’t make it, he plowed forward for the first down, and got the Chargers the most important first down I can remember in a long time. It was probably the most important first down in Charger history. There is a ton of controversy over whether the whistle should have been blown when the ball came out, or whether the play was dead when the helmet came off. But, at the end of the day, it was ruled a first down, and the Chargers went on to score the game winning field goal. After stymieing the Chiefs on the following drive, the Chargers secured their path to the 2013 NFL Playoffs. Miracles, divine intervention, a gutsy call, and the loudest Charger fans I have ever seen made a playoff berth happen.
When the whistle blew, every Charger fan, player, and coach felt a huge weight lifted off of their shoulders, and the place went insane! The Chargers had overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to put themselves in the dance for the first time in 3 years. They were tagged as “a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs”, and were referred to as being one of the best teams that would miss the playoffs this year. Fans were already talking about draft position earlier in the week, and had almost given up. I’ll tell you who didn’t give up… The Chargers. Nor did I give up on them. This is a prime example of why you should never give up on your team until they are mathematically out of contention. Anything can happen in the NFL, and anything DID happen last Sunday.
Down in the locker room, the players looked tired, but had big smiles on their faces. Despite their obvious joy, nobody was being overly cocky. It was clear that the players knew how close this game came to being something that sat in their bellies for the next 9 months. In the interview room, McCoy was the first to the podium. He joked with a quirky smile, saying how he “would never have scripted it like this”. He said all the usual things about how the team never gave up, but gave immediate credit to the “12th Man”, for winning the game. It was nice to hear the words”12th Man” and “The Chargers” in the same sentence again. When asked about how he felt about the missed field goal, Ryan Mathews simply responded with one word… “Juice”.
Gates & Rivers also came out, and duly gave credit to everybody, except for themselves. Philip acknowledged the ‘lucky breaks’ in the game during his press conference. When asked “Do you believe in luck”, he joked “Sure. I think the ball sometimes bounces to you there… That’s one thing my Dad always used to say. If you want the ball to always bounce back to you, go to the gym”. He added “The ball doesn’t always bounce where you want it to. I don’t know about luck. This game, both teams fought hard, and I think those bounces are all part of the game. Sometimes you get em’, and sometimes you don’t. But, then I think you have to do your part, in order for those bounces to go your way, for you to capitalize on”.
I had the extreme pleasure of shaking Philip’s hand, and congratulating him on a career year before I left. Then, I did the same to coach McCoy as we exited through the tunnel, on our way out past the buses. As for this fan, I do believe in luck. I believe in divine intervention. I felt lucky, and whether or not the Chargers will admit it out loud.. they do to. When I drove out of the stadium later that night, fans were still celebrating. It was a great day to be a Charger fan. With a little ‘luck’, this team can continue their road through the playoffs, and give San Diego something to be proud of again. Hopefully, that ‘something’ is a Lombardi trophy.
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!