The 1994-1995 San Diego Chargers: Bolting Down Memory Lane
As Tony Martin streaked through the field in Husky Stadium towards the end zone, his place in history was secured. Little did he know, his team would finish the season making history of their own.
A silky pass from QB Stan Humphries to WR Martin resulted in a 99-yard touchdown that helped the Chargers defeat the Seattle Seahawks that September afternoon in 1994. The touchdown tied a record for the longest pass play in NFL history.
That Charger team would start the season by winning their first six games and eventually end it 11-5, earning the franchise's first and—so far—only, Super Bowl appearance.
Solid—albeit not spectacular—on both offense and defense, the '94 Chargers were the opposite of flashy, with very few big-name stars surrounded by "blue collar", hard-nosed guys.
The team's play reflected their coach's mindset and personality, one Bobby Ross. Ross had already mounted a successful 20-year tenure as a head coach in the college ranks, taking Georgia Tech to a share of the national championship in 1990.
He had taken over the Chargers in 1992, taking them to the playoffs in his first year on the job.
After a mediocre 1993, San Diego was considered a fringe contender, overshadowed in its own division by the defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Raiders, and the Denver Broncos—all of whom had reached the playoffs the previous season.
Ross was determined not to let success elude his players.
On defense, the heart and soul of the club, LB Junior Seau, was one of those few big names. The USC product had entered his fifth season in the NFL with a reputation for punishing opposing quarterbacks and offenses in general.
He was accompanied on the defensive line by DE Leslie O'Neal—who finished the year with 12.5 sacks—and DE Shawn Mims, who racked up 11 sacks of his own.
The secondary was headed by S Stanley "The Sheriff" Richard, who picked off four passes, and CB Darrien Gordon, who also returned two punts for touchdowns.
The offensive unit was led by the aforementioned Humphries, a former retread who started his career in Washington, coming over to the Chargers with a far from impressive record of 4 TDs and 10 INTs in his time with the Redskins.
After becoming San Diego's starter upon coming to the Chargers in 1992, Humphries would throw for over 3,000 yards in the '94 season and complete almost 60 percent of his passes.
San Diego's running attack featured thousand-yard back RB Natrone Means, and WRs Martin, Mark Seay, Shawn Jefferson, and TE Alfred Pupunu were the main receiving threats.
Going just 5-5 in their last 10 games of the season, San Diego somewhat stumbled into the playoffs and proceeded to host their only postseason game against Miami on Divisional playoff weekend.
After a hard fought game, San Diego took the lead with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter following a Humphries pass to Seay.
Dan Marino gave the Dolphins a chance to win it, but a last-second field goal attempt by Pete Stoyanovich sailed beyond the goalpost and the Chargers escaped with a 22-21 victory.
Coming into Pittsburgh as heavy underdogs, the Chargers were down 13-3 in the third quarter. A couple of 43-yard strikes to Martin and Pupunu later, the Chargers stunned the Three Rivers crowd by taking a 17-13 lead.
True to their style, the Chargers delayed glory to the last moment, assuring victory by stopping a Steeler drive on fourth-and-goal with less than a minute remaining and thus cementing the franchise's first-ever trip to the Super Bowl.
Cinderella's story was rudely cut short two weeks later at Super Bowl XXIX by the San Francisco 49er championship machine, this time led by QB Steve Young and WR Jerry Rice.
That night, San Francisco's offensive juggernaut put 49 points on the board and blew out the Chargers en route to their fifth Super Bowl win in franchise history, the first team ever to do so.
However, the 1994 season would be the defining moment for several players on that Chargers team, players like Humphries, Means and Pupunu who would never reach a Super Bowl again, and have their career cut short by injuries or inconsistent play.
For those too young to remember San Diego's AFL Championship win in 1963, it would be a bittersweet brush with greatness that not even the spectacular Air Coryell team of Fouts, Joiner, Winslow and Muncie nor the current star-laden squad of Tomlinson, Merriman, Rivers, and Gates have been able to match.
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