“Where Were You 25-Years Ago”
It’s AFC–NFC Championship weekend, and all NFL fans attentions will be on Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Where were you when it happened on the special San Diego Sunday? I am talking about 25-years ago this coming Sunday, during the day, in the evening?
It was 25-years ago this AFC-Championship Sunday, our hearts, minds and passions were on 3-Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The Chargers beat the Steelers for the right to go to the Super Bowl in Miami.
Yes the Bolts got blown out by Steve Young’s 6-TD passes as the 49ers smoked San Diego on Super Bowl Sunday.
But it was 25-years Sunday, the Bolts went into Blitzburgh and beat Bill Cowher’s heavily favored team in the AFL title game. And it was that night that 68,000-fans showed up in the rain at 10-pm at then Jack Murphy Stadium to welcome home the team.
They walked on the field thru the tunnel, just off the buses from the Airport, smoking cigars, raising the AFC-Trophy, waving the Terrible Towels they had picked up off the turf in Pittsburgh.
The noise, the bedlam, the fans in the stands wearing Lightning Bolts was a moment to remember.
It was a Sunday of superb performances. Stan Humphries huge touchdown bomb to ‘Touchdown’ Tony Martin. The wham blocking tight end Alfred Pupunu catching a TD pass. Natrone Means banging and busting for tough yards. A defensive front and LB-Junior Sean stuffing RB-Barry Foster all day. A secondary that gave up yards infront of them to Neil O’Donnell, but never the big play. And the two defensive pass deflections on the goal-line by LB-Dennis Gibson.
It was a moment in a lifetime grasp. Equally important was the journey that got the Chargers to Pittsburgh.
The opening Sunday night win back in September in Denver, in a place the Chargers never-ever won, at least not in the John Elway era. Seau’s interception with under a minute to go, ended the possible game winning drive. Thunder and Lightning danced across the Denver sky at that moment. Maybe we should have had a premonition.
Teams that got hot, became targets on everyone’s schedule. Humphries was getting battered up in Seattle by a Chuck Knox defense that blitzed him unmercifully. Pinned at his own 1-yard line, facing what I called on a radio as a “3rd and 99”, my color analyst Jim Laslavic chimed in throw it, and Pat Curran, our other color analyst, said throw it deep to Tony Martin. And they did, a 99-yards slant pattern TD that broke the game open.
Late in the season on a cold November night, an eclectic team patched together by GM Bobby Beathard, came together as a unit in the hatred filled game against the Chiefs. The Kansas City Chiefs, led by pass rushers Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith, were blitzing, blitzing, blitzing non stop. Humphries kept taking hits. Then just before halftime, as the crowd roared, and the heat came, Thomas nailed Humphries on a late hit. As he was trying to get up, Smith kicked the quarterback on the ground. Humphries kicked back as flags flew. An enraged Marty Schottenhimer, the Chiefs coach, roared off the sidelines onto the field, demanding Humphries ejection. Stan Brock, the Chargers massive right tackle walked across the field, and poked Schottenheimer in the chest, nearly knocking him down. More flags. An incensed Bobby Ross had to be restrained from coming on the field. The Bolts kicked a field goal to end the half, the fans raged as Ross shook his fist at the Chiefs coach going up the runway to the dressing room. The Chargers stormed out the second half, ran the ball down their throat, pushed the Chiefs into the parking lot, and got the win.
It was a galvanizing moment for the team, that brought together a group that finished (11-5), beat Miami in the mud and then won in the January cold in Pittsburgh.
It was a culmination of a lot of hard work. Lead owner Alex Spanos, who had known nothing but failure since he bought the team 10-years prior, has to be credited for hiring Beathard.
The eclectic Beathard hired Ross, and in the process put together a unique roster of rentals.
Ross brought an old tough guy mentality to practice and games. Run it, throw it deep, and get to the ball, fast, furious and in a bad mood. ‘Boss Ross’ knew football.
Beathard traded for long ball throwing Stan Humphries from the Redskins. He signed Baltimore defensive end Harry Swayne, and made him an offensive tackle. He signed the fierce competitor that was Stan Brock. He drafted the tough guy running back Means, and signed free agent 3rd down pass catcher Ronnie Harmon. He dealt for big play receivers Tony Martin and Sean Jefferson. They landed two defensive tackles, the ‘Tons of Fun’ combo of Reuben Davis and Shawn Lee to compliment Leslie O’Neal. There was the fast track superstar in Seau, a young Rodney Harrison and veteran kickers on hand.
It was a once in a lifetime group that got hot, believed in the ‘dad-gum it’ approach of a demanding Bobby Ross, and played and won.
The journey should be part of the folklore of what happened 25-years ago this weekend.
If you google ‘Chargers Road to the Super Bowl-1995’ you will get a rush listening to the NFL Films version of that day.
Sadly, 8-members of that team passed on in the years right after that memorable season. Sadly too, the classless Spanos family never saw fit to honor that team, not on the 10th anniversary or the 20th. The paper has hardly recognized that team over the years.
For Chargers fans, cut adrift when the Spanos Family moved the beloved team out of San Diego, this must be a hard weekend, for where they have been before and what they witnessed in America’s Finest City.
Two things we know for sure. That was the greatest day in Chargers history, and should never be forgotten. And Dean Spanos may have taken this team away from San Diego, but he can never take away the memory of this weekend…25-years ago.
“Show Me Your Lightning Bolt”