Takeo Spikes has practically seen it all in his 14-year career.
He was a highly-rated linebacker from Auburn University and was drafted 13th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He lived up to the expectations, leading the Bengals in tackles in his rookie year and four out of five seasons.
He cashed in his productive years with the Bengals and signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills.
He was honored with two Pro Bowl selections (2003, 2004) and a place on the All-Pro team in 2004.
He bounced back from a serious injury and remained productive. He adapted from being the defensive centerpiece to supportive veteran and locker room leader.
He has seen the playoffs. Likely from the living room couch or in the built-in home theatre.
As for actually playing in a playoff game, it hasn’t happened yet. More than 200 games played and not one postseason experience. This season won’t end any differently for Spikes as San Diego was eliminated from the playoffs after a 38-10 loss to Detroit.
The result is unexpected. The Chargers just missed the playoffs in 2010 after four straight appearances and three division championships. S.D. was coming off of having the NFL’s best defense, the best offense and was second in the league in offensive scoring. Missing the playoffs last year should had been an aberration.
Two things make coming up short this season especially poignant for Spikes. He left San Francisco as a free agent this year after three playoff-less seasons to join the Chargers. As San Diego’s season spiraled down the drain, the 49ers experienced a complete 180 under a new coaching staff and won the NFC West. This will be San Francisco’s first playoff appearance since 2002.
And if Spikes decides to tune in to the playoffs, he might see his younger cousin Brandon in his first playoff game with the New England Patriots in just Brandon’s second season.
Hard to say if these disappointments hurt more than the other ones. Spikes left Cincy after winning 19 games in five seasons. Between 2000 and 2010, the Philadelphia Eagles missed the playoffs just twice. The chances of Spikes signing with the Eagles for one of these two playoff-less seasons was slim, but he did in 2007.
Maybe none was worse than 2004. Buffalo had nine wins and needed one more to lock up a playoff spot. But they lost to Pittsburgh in the season finale as the Steelers rested several players, including QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Defeated by five points by a less than full strength Steelers team. Does it get worse than that?
Hard to say. The six-game losing streak after a 4-1 start tamped Spikes’ optimism this year. The Chargers played like they had nothing to lose and everything to gain after they fell into a 4-7 hole. Coming up short in the penultimate game hurts.
They all hurt for Spikes, but after 14 years of with a playoff void, Spikes might be numb to another shortfall. He still feels the disappointment, but he’s used to it.
What Spikes isn’t used to is wondering how many chances does he have left. He’s fortunate to be around for this long, especially for a linebacker. But the clock is ticking very loudly now.
Spikes can’t ignore Miami’s Jason Taylor announcing he will retire after 15 years. Will that be Takeo next year, ready to hang it up? Though productive in 2011, will the San Diego organization believe Spikes can still get the job done next year at 35 years old?
A lot of questions will swirl in Spikes’ head this offseason as he looks at his future. He still has two years remaining on his contract, but the Chargers have declined for two years with a possible coaching change coming. Will that set the Chargers back or will San Diego play to their potential?
Spikes doesn’t have any answers now. But it would be hard to believe he would give up his pursuit of the playoffs. Fourteen years of chasing the elusive goal, and Spikes still has visions of being in the playoffs.
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