Seriously, it's nice that after years of leaving messages with the Personnel Department (which I used to do) to sending faxes to Bobby Beathard that someone within The Organization actually takes my calls.
Of course, I usually express my concerns about the Chargers' players and coaches here within "The Justice Files" and on www.justiceiscoming.com.
Although I was pretty confident by the time my dad and I cracked open our first beer three and a half hours later, my increased optimism had very little to do with anything I had seen over the past three games. Yes, the Bolts' offense woke up against Jughead and the Giants. But the secondary looked to be as suspect as ever. Surely Tom Brady would pick us apart on those throws across the middle that he loves so much.
Maybe it was the beautiful weather, sharing a cigar with my dear ol' dad or the blazing rendition of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" that was blaring from the speakers. It may have been a combination of all three that resulted in my rosier outlook.
However, I truly believe that I had convinced myself that we could win because that's the ONLY WAY to approach each game. Obviously, the players and coaches need to put themselves in that mindset. But if you can't get yourself to believe in the Bolts, then there's no point in watching and hoping each Sunday. There certainly wouldn't be justification for driving up to Foxboro to see us take on the three-time world champs.
When I originally saw that our seats were in Section 323, I wondered how the Chargers' distributed their allotment of tickets. It's not as if the players' families attend road games. Maybe The Organization was sticking me where I couldn't get into trouble.
When I got there, I was awestruck. The entire section was filled with Charger fans. Every person there either knew someone connected with The Organization or had contacted the club about making the trip. I saw jerseys I thought only existed in theory. I saw people wearing #54, 74 and 81. Those, I would later learn, belonged to relatives of Stephen Cooper, Jacques Cesaire and Kassim Osgood, respectively.
Being surrounded by The Legion Of The Lightning Bolt, I felt as if I had found political asylum in an unfriendly land. I have to make a special mention of the guy sitting next to me. David, if you're reading this, thanks for putting up with my constant commentary and obscure references. I did, however, hear a "GET HIM A BODY BAG!" scream that I didn't even provoke. Loving a good "Karate Kid" line, I did offer up the standard "Sweep the leg. Is there a problem, Mr. Lawrence?"
Of course, my day would have been ruined if the Bolts had lost. The defense looked a lot like last year's in the first half. They bent, but didn't break. We were fortunate that the Pats missed a field goal. There were our usual blown coverages and pass interference penalties, but I chalked at least some of that to New England's prowess. What did frighten me, however, was that the Bolts still made some questionable playcalls on offense. Third down and 2--there's no reason to pass, especially not with LaDainian Tomlinson on the field. There were times where we seemed too timid. We all know how that can bite us in the butt.
But the Bolts eventually wore down the Patriots, albeit in their injury-depleted state. The turning point was the Patriots' last drive of the 1st half. The Chargers were able to keep them out of the end zone and not just because the opposition dropped the ball. I got the impression from that drive that New England still saw our defense as suspect, but recognized that giving the ball right back to our formidable offense would be a major mistake.
Even though the Pats got the ball back to begin the half, the Bolts were already rolling. Tim Dwight was the latest ex-Charger to make a play against his former team. Marion Butts' only good game as a Patriot came during my '94 visit to Foxboro to see the Chargers. But much like the game at Arrowhead last season, the Bolts didn't panic.
There were times during the second half where I found myself saying "A pass here would really keep them on their toes" and Brees handed the ball off to LdT. That's the kind of predictability I can live with. I wish they had done that against Dallas. People should remember that when they criticize A.J. for suspending Gates.
There is no question that Gates, like Tomlinson, is simply taking over games. We haven't had two players who create such mismatches since the "Air Coryell" era. Drew Brees is also not to be overlooked amongst all the offensive praise. It was no surprise that he won the AFC Offensive Player Of The Week honor, succeeding Tomlinson. He went without an interception for the second week in a row, showed incredible poise and threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell. Many connections were drawn between this win and the '94 AFC title game. I didn't get the same surge of delirium as I did when Tony Martin caught that Humphries bomb, but there was a similar feeling of waiting for the ball to finally come down and the thrill of a huge touchdown being scored.
I mentioned last week that the Chargers had the chance to do something special on Sunday. They needed to play at a level that they hadn't yet even sniffed. Sure, New England missed Rodney. But they're still the Patriots and we still handed them their first home loss in three seasons. I don't know why Tom Brady got pissed when Marty speculated as to New England's future. Maybe he saw it as Schottenheimer reading the team's eulogy. I think he was just trying to keep the Chargers humble and went a little off topic. The Bolts have their own injuries to worry about before Monday. I wondered why I wasn't hearing Steve Foley's name called more often until I read about his abdominal strain. With the next five games being pivotal, Foley will play but not practice.
We can't really complain since we were relatively-injury free last season. Sure, Tomlinson wasn't 100%, but that's not why we were knocked out of the playoffs. Good teams have to withstand these setbacks. I can't see the Chargers letting up on the intensity, with the first Monday Nighter since the Lions game of '96 (another game I was fortunate enough to be at—my first in San Diego) and the powder blues in tow. Pittsburgh is a very tough team. They aren't likely to abandon the run as New England did. But when the wheel is turning, you can't slow it down. You can't let go and you can't go on. You can't go back and can't stand still. If the thunder don't get you, then the lightning will. This installment of "The Justice Files" is dedicated to the memory of Don Adams and Nipsey Russell.
P.S. The football to your really does have LaDainian Tomlinson's signature. It's amazing what The Organization will do to get you to stop bothering them.