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The Epic at the Orange Bowl

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The Epic at the Orange Bowl

The year was 1982. 

The Chargers were playing the Dolphins at their home stadium in the NFC divisional game.  I lived in San Diego at the time, so I was forced to watch the Bolts using basic television technology—mind you, this was before Cable, Tivo, HDTV and all the other hoopla that the Powers-That-Be in corporate America have fed down our throats the last fifteen years.   

Little did anybody know it beforehand, but the fans that were lucky enough to be at the Orange Bowl (which is where the Dolphins played back then) would witness one of the greatest games in the history of professional sports.  A game characterized by miscues, insanely spectacular coincidences, and more than anything else—endurance.

The Chargers had the league's most potent offense that year—featuring Quarterback Dan Fouts, runningbacks Chuck Munchie and James Brooks, receivers Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler, and tight end Kellen Winslow.  They came out of the gates in a hurry, and by the end of the first quarter were dominating 24-0.  

The game's over, right?  Wrong. 

After all, the Dolphins were coached by the legendary Don Shula, who wasn't about to watch his team get blown out of the water.

In the second quarter, Shula replaced starting Quarterback David Woodley with backup Don Strock.  Courtesy of a few offensive blunders on the Chargers' part and renewed energy from Strock, the Dolphins cut the lead to 24-17 by halftime.

The second half started out the way the first half ended—Strock led the Dolphins to another TD to tie up the game.  The Bolts responded with a field goal, which the Dolphins then matched to tie the game once again at 31-31. 

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins capitalized on a Dan Fouts interception and took their first lead of the bout.  But later in the quarter, Dolphins running back Andra Franklin let the Chargers right back in the door when he fumbled the ball into the hands of Safety Pete Shaw with just over four minutes left in the game. 

And that is when things started to get really, really interesting.

Fouts drove the Chargers offense deep into the Dolphins Red Zone.  But a Miami blitz caused Fouts to throw an ill-advised pass with a minute left in the game.

The passed sailed over intended target Kellen Winslow…and right into the hands of James Brooks in the end zone.

The game was now tied.  But there was still a minute left to play. 

I remember being on the edge of my seat, sweating profusely.  The defense was our biggest weakness—we ranked 26th in the league that year.  And mind you, in those days there were only 28 teams in the NFL!

Strock and the Dolphins took advantage of the Chargers' defense and advanced the ball to the 26-yard line with a few seconds left on the clock.  The Dolphins could win now if their special teams unit could come through. 

But Kellen Winslow—playing special teams that day in addition to tight end—broke through the front lines and blocked kicker Von Schamann's 43-yard field goal attempt. 

The game was sent to overtime.  And my heart was racing 100 miles an hour. 

How could things get any more exciting?  The Chargers still had a chance to win!

Overtime ended up being just as thrilling as regulation—and initially heartbreaking for everyone in the San Diego area.  After winning the coin toss, Fouts marched our troops down to the Miami 10 yard line—but kicker Rolf Benirschke's 27 yard attempt flew wide due to a bad snap.

I was up in arms.  How the hell did we just blow this opportunity?

But it still wasn't over.  Miami took advantage of our poor defensive unit once again, driving down the field and setting up a redemption chip shot for Von Schamann.

It just wasn't Schamann's day.  He kicked one right into the hands of Leroy Jones, a Charger defensive lineman, who blocked the kick and further extended the game. 

We were still alive.

The players on both teams were exhausted; their endurance had been stretched beyond all levels of human comprehension.  You could see it on their faces—a look of complete desperation.  It was almost as if they'd rather lose than continue to play more football…they were too tired to go on.

That is: all players except Kellen Winslow.

Now don't get me wrong: Kellen was in bad shape.  In fact, Kellen was in worse physical shape than pretty much anyone else out there.

But despite catching 13 balls for 166 yards throughout the game, suffering from severe cramps, dehydration, a deep cut in his lip, and a pinched nerve in his shoulder, Kellen was still out on the field, trucking away. 

To put it bluntly: Kellen wanted to win—even if it killed him.

Winslow's willingness to fight until the end gave the Bolts the emotional boost they needed to push on.  The offense managed to come together one final time.  They drove the ball 74 yards down the field to the Miami ten-yard line. 

Benirschke had a little more luck that day than Schamann, as his second game-winning field goal attempt went straight through the uprights.

The game was over.  Kellen Winslow was dragged off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, a winner in the truest sense. 

The Chargers had won the most exciting game in NFL history.  I probably drank a liter of Jack Daniels that night and threw up the entire next day.  I was still high (both on booze and on the Bolts) when Sunday evening rolled around.  Life couldn't have been better. 

It was truly an epic for the ages—a game that symbolized sports from a totally different era than that of today.  Kellen Winslow and the players in that game used heart, determination, and courage to create the most entertaining gridiron battle of all time. 

And they did it the old fashioned way—with no multi million dollar salaries, money-hungry agents, and drug dealing trainers to help them along. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: they just don't make em' like they used too.

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