There's little doubt the Chargers are among the NFL's elite teams.
Its roster is sprinkled with Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball and they are fresh off an NFL-best 14-2 regular season in 2006.
But there is another memory from last season that has stuck with the players like the unseasonable humidity that has swallowed San Diego the past week: that playoff pratfall to the New England Patriots.
While the team has done its best to push that aside, the Chargers aren't afforded the opportunity to ease into the campaign.
In the first three weeks, the Chargers face the NFC champion Bears, then travel to New England and Green Bay.
But that's looking down the road, a no-no in the competitive NFL. Even for a team with its sights on the Super Bowl in February.
It's opening week, and for that the Chargers are grateful to come out of their offseason hibernation and wrestle with the visiting Bears.
"The first week is exciting for everybody," NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson said. "You look forward to it for a long time. When it finally gets here, you want to start strong and play your best. It's a special week."
And this is to be a special season for the Chargers, as they aim for their second Super Bowl in franchise history. The players, coaches and brass are confident the pieces are in place to produce a season that doesn't produce a sour taste.
"I'm pretty anxious," Tomlinson said. "I've been waiting to get back on the field in a game situation for a while now. Now that it's finally here, I'm very excited."
Tomlinson didn't play in the preseason, so it's a fresh running back the Bears will be asked to corral. The Chargers' All-Pro is well aware of a Bears defense that unleashes linebackers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
"They're aggressive, fast and smart," Tomlinson said. "Urlacher is a big part of it, but Tommie wreaks havoc in the middle and Lance is tough. They're going to be a big challenge."
This season will be one big challenge for the Chargers. Not only do they carry the heavy expectations of playing in February, but everyone will be gunning for them as well.
While NFL insiders knew the Chargers were going to be good last year, there were also questions marks at quarterback and left tackle.
Those two first-year starters -- Philip Rivers and Marcus McNeill -- did just fine, thank you, earning Pro Bowl selections. Still, the Chargers won't sneak up on opponents, which might have been the case last year.
There's a bull's eye on the Chargers back, as well as the playoff monkey.
That includes Tomlinson, who set a number of NFL records in his season for the ages in 2006. But Tomlinson is using his patent stiff-arm regarding predictions of just what kind of mind-boggling number he can produce this season.
He has one number rattling around his noggin' and that is No. 1.
"I will always have individual goals in my mind, but I am more catering to what this team needs and winning a championship," Tomlinson said. "I just want to be consistent. I think that's the biggest thing."
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Bears lead series, 5-4, The Bears have won four straight over the Chargers and five of the last six meetings. The Bears haven't been to San Diego since 1999, when they prevailed in overtime.
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