The Justice Files

Greetings, FAITHFUL READER. As you can deduce from the picture on your left, I finally got my Cinco De Mayo pictures developed. I was walking home from Coyote Ugly (don't worry, it's a lot better than the movie) and there it was. When I asked my wife to take the picture, I wasn't sure how to pose.

I was tempted to urinate on the tire cover or even force myself to vomit on it, but my hatred of New York's finest and my desire not to get pummeled by the car's driver changed my mind. As fanatics, how far can we really go? Reds closer Danny Graves was released this week for flipping off a fan. Sure, I called Eli Manning the night before the draft to haze him and threw my Charger beads on his daddy's lawn in New Orleans during last year's Jazzfest. But I knew I wasn't really going affect events in the real world. I just knew it would make for a great story.

A.J. Smith is really digging in his heels with this Shawne Merriman thing. It's no secret that our defense needs help, but I really respect what Smith is doing. Since the advent of the salary cap, the NFL has become increasingly about business. Smith's stance is purely a business tactic. Once it plays itself out, Merriman will suit up and be welcomed into the fold. Sproles, on the other hand, is fast becoming the feel good story of the spring. Too small to be drafted in the first few rounds, Darren is fast becoming the second coming of Lionel "Little Train" James. One of the threads on the message boards this week, was concerning the following blurb on www.profootballtalk.com:

CHARGERS FACING A STEP BACKWARD?

Their unlikely 12-4 record in 2004 coupled with recent tough talk from G.M. A.J. Smith regarding first-rounder Shawne Merriman has made the Chargers one of the higher-profile teams of late in the NFL.

And with high profile often comes resentment.

As a result, league insiders are anticipating that San Diego will be the source of a little schadenfreude this year as the Bolts take a big step backward.

There's a school of thought in league circles that the Chargers benefited from a soft schedule last season, which featured only three out-of-division games against 2004 playoff teams.

And the Chargers lost each of them.

Their total record against 2004 playoff teams (including the playoffs)? One wins, five losses.

This time around, the schedule figures to not be as easy. In addition to six games against arguably improved AFC West foes against whom the Chargers fattened up with five wins in 2004, they'll also face the Patriots, the Steelers, the Eagles, the Colts, and the Jets.

Said one league source: "They'll be 6-10 this year, and [Smith] will be another wannabe G.M. again."

In case you were wondering, schadenfreude describes the secret pleasure you take someone else's misfortune. I know that the aforementioned site contains a lot of speculation and I really don't think that after a decade of playoff-free football that anyone really thinks that the Bolts are entitled to another descent into futility. But it's that very fall from grace that I'm afraid of. I don't want to harp on the same them each week, but it will be much harder to get back to where we last found the Chargers.

However, I think that the Bolts conducting themselves like an organization worthy of respect is a way to prevent a regression. Smith isn't being stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn, which is something I often accuse Marty Schottenheimer of being. It's not just "tough talk." I certainly don't think that A.J. is acting like the Bolts are something that they're not. Even if Drew Brees' surprise season, Phillips' resurrection of the defense, and the schedule of a team coming off a 4-12 season were all factors in last year's AFC crown, you can't discount Smith's contributions. Even if you think he was a little lucky in his standoff with the Mannings, so what? The Chargers have to take the mindset of a winning team from top to bottom. To quote Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap, there's a fine line between stupid and clever. There's also a fine line between confident and cocky.

The Chargers should have the attitude this year that they're going to take the next step while also knowing that it will be much harder than last season. We all know our schedule and know our difficulty in getting over the hump against playoff teams last season. I use that expression because it's not as if we were outclassed by our competition. My biggest regret about the playoff loss to the Jets was not that we turned back into pumpkins, but that we didn't have ENOUGH swagger. I'm not suggesting that the Bolts should have taken the Jets lightly—quite to the contrary. I think they should have had the attitude (and displayed the aggressiveness that comes with it) that it was their game to win. In fact, it's a sign of respect to your opposition that you would carry the chip on your shoulder necessary to beat them. The Bolts aren't "wannabes," but they need not to think like them. Speaking of schadenfreude, how happy are you that we didn't draft Kellen Winslow II?

RLW


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