I currently reside in New Orleans. I used to live in San Diego for four years.
While I was in San Diego I was a Saints fan. But I followed suit with many of my friends who were Chargers fans, and would root for them in all but one game during the time I lived there.
In fact, my team before converting to Who Dat Nation was the Chargers (which was also actually before I lived in San Diego).
I was a Drew Brees fan from his time at Purdue, loved LaDainian Tomlinson and enjoyed watching the Chargers play with their aggressive 3-4 defense and often unpredictable offensive attack (save for the Jets' playoff overtime drive in the 2004 season when Marty Schottenheimer would not allow the white hot Drew Brees to throw the ball and settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt from the young Nate Kaeding).
It's been easy to maintain my loyalty to the Chargers, post-Brees since Philip Rivers was my favorite college quarterback since Drew Brees, along with the additions of such players as Eric Weddle and more recently my fellow Aztec alum Vincent Brown and this year former Saint Robert Meachem.
In other words, I have a lot of reason, even living in New Orleans, to root for the Chargers. And that's what made last night so tough, watching on national television 2,000 miles away.
To quickly set this in greater context, my house did not have power last night so I was watching the game with native-New Orleanians in their home. They are the ultimate Saints family. Yet I was watching my second favorite team in New Orleans with people who love football but could care less about the Chargers.
Now to the game.
The Chargers strutted out onto the field wearing their good 'ole "power blues," which is just a really corny name for their powder blue uniforms that Chris Berman thinks are the coolest digs in sports.
Those unis are supposed to take the team to a new level of play. And for the first half it seemed to be working, at least relatively speaking. Combined with some poor turnovers and sloppy play from the Broncos, the Chargers sprinted the locker room up 24-0.
This is not intended to be a summary or play-by-play of the night. If you're reading this, you probably watched the game for yourself. The point is that description of the first half would be meaningless. The game, and thus the pain, didn't really begin until the second half.
That's when Peyton Manning transformed from average, post-neck-surgery Manning to 2006 Manning with deft touch and incredible accuracy on every pass. At one point Manning was 12-for-12 in the second half.
He may not have finished the half perfectly (frankly I don't care about the statistics on this one), but it seemed as if he did and that's enough for me.
He fit the ball in perfectly to Brandon Stokley to officially give the Broncos their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Given the history between Stokley and Manning, it is only appropriate the two would hook up on the go-ahead touchdown to complete what was officially the greatest regular season comeback in NFL history, not to mention Monday Night Football history.
At this point it seems appropriate to mention that my Saints friends were relatively ambivalent to the pain that I could sort of feel in my gut, though that pain was not as real as when the Saints gave up an 18-point lead three weeks earlier to the awful Kansas City Chiefs.
It was real nonetheless. To see a team completely crumble the way Norv Turner's squad did Monday night, in front of an entire nation, is hard to watch. I would venture to say that unless a person is a dedicated Broncos fan, they were likely enthralled with Peyton's greatness but also sickened by the utter collapse of a team with great talent but almost literally no toughness (Chargers, in case that wasn't obvious).
Even as a Chargers fan, I was blown away by the acute nature of Peyton's second half. It was nearly a 180 from the first half, when Manning looked to be making slow reads and had as much difficulty threading passes into tight spots.
But calling the change in Manning's second half play a 180 doesn't do it justice. In fact it was a transformation from a quarterback with seemingly no hope to a player who had been given new life. I mean just see the play where he literally jumped over a Charger defender.
Twenty-two-year-old Manning, doesn't do that. How or why, or on what planet does 36-year-old Manning leap over anything, much less a moving and athletic pass rusher?
So to say that Manning's second-half transformation was unbelievable seems a bit shallow, doesn't it? Instead, it seems it could only be explained in the same way every other San Diego sports memory of the past, or ever, can be.
It's simply to say that anything that can possibly go wrong, inevitably will, if it involves a San Diego sports team. Sure the Chargers and Padres have both made their sports respective championship events, but neither has won. And both were slaughtered at that level.
Yet, Monday night may have been a new low for the city. In the exchange of texts after the game, one of my good friends (we'll call him Jay) described the loss as a "Dragon punch!" He continued, "Dude, I don't care what our record is, if you blow a 24-point lead at halftime...you might be the worst team in the league."
That's the mentality of a Chargers fan...defeated, feeling as if a mythical dragon came to life and punched them in the gut and the face at the same time while breathing fire down their neck at the same time.
Maybe that is the explanation for how the fragile Manning became nimble. Perhaps it is that a dragon breathed hot fire down the necks of all Charger fans, causing some weird cosmic reaction by which Peyton Manning could jump over buildings like he's Spiderman.
I know it's all a stretch. But how else do you explain giving up a 24-point halftime lead at home on Monday Night Football in natural terms? I can think of no other way. Not even Norv Turner is a rational explanation for such a meltdown.
The collapse was epic. The psychological effects may last a lifetime. Another friend hinted that he would like to ditch the Chargers for some other team, but seemed to feel some gravitational pull to the lovable losers of the gridiron, that would not permit him to do so.
I've lived in New Orleans just two months now. But if there's anything I've learned in my short time here it's this: Don't give up hope. If any city and fanbase was more battered and bruised it was the city of New Orleans and the Saints franchise.
But the Saints' story proves there is hope. And one day a championship will reach the city of San Diego. To my friends in San Diego, don't give up hope. It will come. And it'll make all this suffering worth it.
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