The 1994 San Diego Chargers were not loaded with talent on their roster. They made up for it with gutsy play and a never-say-die attitude that led to some dramatic wins. No one will deny that a few calls and a few bounces went the Bolts’ way, but that did not diminish the team in the fans’ eyes.
They inspired us, they captured our hearts, and they are the reason I became a Chargers fan.
The opening game at Denver was an indicator of how the Chargers’ season would play out. Mile High Stadium had historically been as kind to the Chargers as a pit bull is to a steak. When Denver got out to a 17-0 lead, it looked like another mauling was in the works, but something was different about this Charger team. They wouldn’t give up.
Stan Humphries showed his knack for throwing the long ball with touchdown passes to Alfred Pupunu, Shawn Jefferson and Mark Seay. Stanley Richard returned an interception for 99 yards and a touchdown and the Chargers suddenly had a 27-24 lead at halftime.
The score was 37-34, Chargers, late in the fourth quarter, but there was still time left, Denver had the ball and they also had that one guy, John Elway.
Fortunately for the Chargers, Elway was as out of character in this game as the game itself had been. In Yepremian-like fashion, Elway lost the handle on a pass attempt and Junior Seau recovered the fumble, allowing the Chargers to escape with a win.
It was a convenient sort of symbolism that a thunderstorm was developing around Denver and lighting began striking late in the game. The game itself had been an anomaly; why not find deeper meaning in the weather conditions?
Each player and coach contributed in some way to the success of this team. They had to. There wasn’t enough talent on this roster to dominate like the Dallas Cowboys of that era had.
The players spent a lot of time with each other outside of their work environment and became a cohesive unit. There were no T.O.s, no Ochocincos on this roster. It was a big part of why the fans were won over.
Even though this was a cohesive unit and teamwork was critical to their success, there were a few who stood out for their efforts.
The perseverance of this team came in large part from the coaching of Bobby Ross, whose military background made him a great motivator and leader.
It would have been so easy to give up when many in the national media picked the Chargers to finish last in their division or when they fell behind in a game. Boss Ross taught his players to never quit and to believe in themselves when no one else would. There’s no way they get to the Super Bowl without him.
Stan Humphries’ toughness and leadership as a quarterback deeply influenced this team. If he could continue to play and lead the team to victory after some of the bone crushing hits he took, then as a teammate, you felt obligated to not give up when the team was behind and find some way to make a play.
He often took you as a fan from the depths of despair with a long touchdown pass, usually to Tony Martin. On the surface, he didn’t look like a quarterback. His stats were unimpressive and he wasn’t very athletic or agile, but he did whatever it took to win games.
Mark Seay was another player I will never forget. In a playoff game against Miami, the Dolphins were in control at halftime with a 21-6 lead and the Chargers showing no signs of life. Seay caught an eight-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 22-21 lead with 35 seconds left in the game and turned out to be the game winner.
Just as the Chargers made a comeback in that game after being left for dead, Seay made a personal comeback after his life was threatened back when he played for Long Beach State.
He shielded his niece after gang members opened fire on a family party and took a bullet for her. The slug would remain in Seay’s body after doctors determined it was too close to the heart and not safe to remove.
Seay went through rigorous training to get back into shape after his weight dropped to 100 pounds. When he was ready to resume playing for Long Beach State, the school would not allow him to do so because of the risk.
After a legal battle, Seay was eventually allowed to play and resume his athletic career. No one deserved the chance to make that catch against the Dolphins more than Seay did.
After the team defeated Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, it was impossible to get into to Jack Murphy Stadium after it was filled to capacity for an impromptu celebration to welcome the team home. For the next two weeks, it was great to be a San Diegan and feel the collective joy that reigned over the region.
When the San Francisco 49ers were able to score at will against the Bolts in Super Bowl XXIX, the dream season was over. In spite of that disappointment, those of us who followed that Charger team will never forget their accomplishments or their greatness.