Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
Coulda. Shoulda. Woulda.
I had a dream last night. It was a revision of history. The Chargers had beat Cincinnati (28 – 14) and Denver (32 – 8) and were in the playoffs. They went on to trounce Indianapolis (36 - 3). The following Sunday, in Pittsburgh, the Chargers led 26 – 0 at the half. Nobody—but nobody!—got past our defensive line. And when we had the ball, Sproles could not be caught, slipping in and out of holes LT could not even have put his arm through. On return teams, Ryan Matthews ran back two kickoffs and a punt return for touchdowns. Meanwhile, "Sticky Fingers" Gates, tripled teamed, rose above the coverage to snag throws. And Rivers—just for the fun of it—began completing passes with his eyes closed.
The town went wild. Anyone who had anything blue or gold dug it out of the closet, and the city glittered like sunrise on the ocean. Parks and streets were renamed after players, who received keys to the city after the parade. Norv Turner was nominated for Mayor.
It was quite a dream. The San Diego Chargers had finally caught the nation's headlines—"Who Are These Guys???" and "Look Who's Riding A Wave Now" and "Powder Blues Rule"—and were igniting the imaginations of recession-weary America. Our Chargers became the team to follow. Even Patriots fans, whose imaginations had atrophied after so many winning seasons, got on the Chargers bandwagon (but only after the Jets took care of them).
"We must be careful," Norv warned as guest on The David Letterman Show. "We still got the Jets before we get to the Super Bowl."
But we got by the Jets the following week. The score was 43 – 0 at the end of the first half. Norv sent in the substitutes, and they scored three more touchdowns. The frustrated Jets defense, unable to stop, drop or tackle, eventually just put their hands on their hips and watched. It was a cake walk, and the frosting on the cake was LT bolting across the field to be the first to congratulate his old teammates.
So in my dream we were in the Super Bowl. And it was a hell of a football game. At opening kickoff Sproles zigzagged his way to the 50 yard line, and Chargers' fans sat back to watch yet another blow out. But that wasn't going to happen. Both teams had brought their A games, and the first quarter saw nothing but three-and-outs. Defense ruled. Perfect passes were swatted out of the air. End runs met barricades. Gaps in the line of scrimmage snapped shut on ball carriers like Venus flytraps. Neither team was giving an inch. And at the end of the first half, the score remained 0 – 0.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. There were no penalties, no fumbles, no interceptions. Play-by-play broadcasters were comparing this Super Bowl to baseball's Perfect Game. Radios and TVs were on every living room, every bar, every electronics store. The nations came to a stand still. Cabbies pulled over. Church services let out early. Hospitals postponed deliveries. Movie theaters switched to big screen TV, and were packed.
Then, shortly after the Two Minute Warning, the opposition scored on a safety. But the Chargers executed a perfect onside kick, and recovered the ball when it bounced off a receiving team member's helmet. With only 33 seconds to play the Chargers had the ball back on the 50 yard line, but were behind 2 – 0.
On the first play, Rivers fumbled at the line of scrimmage, but fell on the ball to retain possession. Twenty-three seconds left. On the second play, Sproles zigzagged in the back field until there was no one between him and the goal line….. then tripped on his own shoelace and was down at the line of scrimmage! Third and 10, still on the 50, with 14 seconds left. Gates did his magic, and stood all alone in the end zone. But the ball went right through his hands. Two seconds remaining. Both teams used up their timeouts trying to see what the other team had in mind. Finally it was decided. Nate Kaeding came on the field to kick a 60-yard field goal. The ball was hiked, and Nate "The Great" toed the pigskin deftly a second before the final buzzer. The ball spun end-over-end and wobbled ever so slightly as it sailed through the dark, chilly, night air above the hushed stadium. Halfway to the goal post it appeared to have the height and the angle to split the uprights, making the Chargers the winners of this year's Super Bowl. The buzzer went off. But it wasn't the buzzer. It was my alarm clock.