This defense is clearly looking to have an impact on the game now. That’ll bring up third down and long. Have to think the opposition will throw here. They do…and it’s another sack, this time by Shawne Merriman! And there’s the “Lights Out” dance we have all come to love. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doles out pain better than Seau, but Merriman is certainly making a case to keep the argument close.
On comes the punt team, with Darren Sproles back to return. There’s little doubt this pint-sized player has the talent to do something special. He takes the kick, makes a couple men miss…he’s starting to break free… Oh, dragged down at midfield. What a run. With his speed and small stature, he’s easily one of the best pound-for-pound athletes taking the field today.
That’ll bring out San Diego’s fearsome run game now, fronted by a man who will surely go down in the city’s sporting annals in LaDainian Tomlinson. At this moment, the man known simply as L.T. (only he could fill the shoes of the original, Lawrence Taylor) sits on 28 touchdowns on the year, tied for the most any player has scored in a single season. With #21 jerseys peppering the stands, the offense begins its march down the field, eventually settling on the 7-yard line. This could be it.
There’s the handoff to Tomlinson…left side…and he will gallop into the end zone! Charger fans are witnesses to history! As the team swarms him in the corner of the end zone, Tomlinson appears almost uncomfortable, desperately pointing to the teammates that paved the way for him. And so it is that cheers simply rain down on any player in navy blue and gold within reach, a celebration befitting not only the future Hall of Famer, but also Neal, Hardwick, Dielman, and the blockers in front of him that made such a mind-boggling season possible.
Unfortunately, even after a moment as time-stamped as that, the issue at hand remains: the Chargers still trail, and they will need something special to salvage this one. With the opposition looking to run out the clock at this point, the burden of keeping the hometown team in the game likely falls squarely on the shoulders of the big guys along the defensive front.
And just when you thought it wouldn’t happen…yes! Rookie Joey Bosa rips through the line on second down and tears the ball away, pouncing on it to give San Diego possession with mere seconds left on the clock. The stadium surrounding them may be crumbling and decrepit, but everything about this crowd screams hope and the opportunity of an answered prayer. Might the Bolts pull this one out?
There’s Philip Rivers now, dropping back to pass, his feet not-so-nimbly evading the near-nonexistent pressure of a three-man rush.
There’s Antonio Gates, the team’s longtime tight end, lumbering towards the end zone. Rivers has to be looking for him in a moment like this given the team’s lack of true downfield threats and the ability of the physical Gates to outmuscle a defensive back on a ball in the air. He played basketball, you know…
Rivers lofts the ball into the air with that strange sidearm sling of his, the one that looks like it originates as much from his ear as it does from his right arm.
Gates appears to be jostling for position, the ball very clearly headed his direction.
Bolts backers around the county hold their breath…
Ball meets turf. Incomplete.
Chargers lose 20-17.
All the hope that had been inexplicably allowed to rise to the surface, daring rationality to stop it, is sucked out of the stadium at once. The crowd is quiet, somehow shocked into silence despite the objective inevitability of the situation.
Eventually, reality sets in, pounding the pigskin-hungry souls of Bolts backers like one of those famous Seau hits. Fans pick up their foam fingers and walk towards the cracked exits of a venue desperately in need of a retirement party. Players on both sides jog towards the middle of the field to visit with friends before heading to the locker room, ready to relax with their families for a night. There’s Hank Bauer and Chuck Allen, standing alongside Jamal Williams and Ron Mix. A little farther along, there’s Billy Ray Smith and Rodney Harrison and Mike Scifres.
Emotions seem to be high, spirits definitely low. This was more than just a game, more than just a last-second loss, more than a football family or even a pure love of city and sport. In a season full of body blows, this was the impending gut punch that finally found its mark.
Up in a luxury suite, owner Dean Spanos finds it hard to suppress a smile that is nothing short of sickeningly satisfied.