As the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the conference championship games, fans of the teams that have already been eliminated can only think back to the time their team was in the same moment.
The Los Angeles Chargers have been to the AFC Championship Game four times, but three of those have resulted in a disappointing defeat. So here, we’re going to talk about the one time the team one and advanced to the Super Bowl.
We have taken a look back at this game many times before. That should come as no surprise as to this day, it’s the best win in franchise history. Here, the focus will be more on one play and one player.
The Chargers were underdogs in the 1994 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many onlookers likely viewed the Chargers as a team that should just be happy it had made it that far.
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The Chargers were the AFC’s No. 2 seed that year but after a first-round bye, they barely survived in the divisional round against the Miami Dolphins. The Pittsburgh Steelers — the No.1 seed — dominated the Cleveland Browns in the divisional round and most expected them to reach the Super Bowl.
The Chargers had other ideas, going into Three Rivers Stadium and handing the Steelers a 17-13 defeat. Gibson had one of the most memorable plays in Chargers history in that game.
The ’94 Chargers had several superstars. On defense alone, the team featured Junior Seau, Leslie O’Neal, Chris Mims and Darrien Gordon. But it was Gibson, a a player many fans would not even remember if not for this play, that made the game’s biggest play.
The Chargers were clinging to a 4-point lead late in the game. But the Steelers were driving and many viewers likely figured they were going to pull it out. Neil O’Donnell was the team’s quarterback and he had weapons on offense to include Barry Foster and Eric Green.
The Steelers’ final drive started at their own 17-yard line with 5:13 left in the game.
O’Donnell hit Green for 17 yards on first down. O’Donnell would complete his next six throws, putting the ball right where it needed to be on a drive that seemed like it would end with a game-winning touchdown.
Suddenly, the Steelers were at the Chargers’ 9-yard line. Then, the defense stood its ground.
After John Parella tackled Foster for a 1-yard loss on first down, O’Donnell threw his first incompletion of the possession on the next play. On that play, O’Donnell spotted what appeared to be a wide open Green, but at the last second, a linebacker dove in and knocked the ball down, nearly intercepting it. That was Gibson.
That made it 3rd-and-goal from the 10-yard line.
O’Donnell found John L. Williams coming out of the backfield for a 7-yard connection, but he was three yards short of the end zone. That set up the big play.
But first, just who was Gibson?
The former linebacker was a local legend in the small town of Ankeny, Iowa, but he had a very nondescript professional career.
An eighth-round selection of the Detroit Lions in 1987, Gibson spent seven years in Detroit before signing with the Chargers prior to the start of the 1994 season. The only reason he was brought in was to replace Gary Plummer, who had left to join the San Francisco 49ers.
He only played for the Chargers for two seasons before retiring following the 1995 campaign. See how easy it would have been to forget this guy?
But that was before he made the big stop on fourth down in this game.
Williams went in motion and O’Donnell took the snap, dropped back and spotted Foster who had run right up the middle and turned about two yards in the end zone. O’Donnell flicked it to him but Gibson timed it perfectly (video), diving over the top of him and knocking it down.
Had he been just a shade later, the pass is likely completed and the Chargers lose. To this day, they would still be searching for their first trip to the Super Bowl.
Gibson will always be remembered for this great play, one of the best in the history of the team.