10 Great Plays from San Diego Chargers Who Were Unceremoniously Dumped
San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith gets a bad rap for being the mean guy who wants to control everything. Apparently, he lets all of his good players get away in free agency and laughs at them as they plead to stay in sunny San Diego.
Okay, so he's not that mean, but there are several players who made strong contributions that were run out of Diego and not all of them should have been.
Today, I just want to sit back and reminisce on some of the great plays made by guys who are no longer a part of the Chargers organization. A couple of times, it was a play made against the Chargers that stood out to me, but more often than not it was for the Bolts.
Donnie Edwards Saves the Day Against Tampa Bay
In 1996, the San Diego Chargers were a top NFL team heading way down hill and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were heading way up. The Bucs scored a huge upset by taking down the Chargers on their own field. Some NFL analysts pointed to that game as the turning point of both teams.
For the next seven years, the Chargers went on to become the second worst team in all of football while the Buccaneers became an NFL power.
Eight years later, the Chargers rose from the ashes and found themselves tied with the Brian Griese-led Buccaneers who were in the second year of their post-Super Bowl Championship slide into futility.
With the score tied 21-21 and everybody in Qualcomm Stadium on the edge of their seat, Griese dropped back to pass and gave way to one of the greatest radio calls I ever heard.
"Oh! It's picked off! San Diego Chargers got it! It's Donnie Edwards to the 10, Edwards to the five, touchdown San Diego Chargers and they take the lead!"
It was the Buccaneers Radio Network, but that was one of the most exciting calls I ever heard.
My favorite part of this play was seeing Steve Foley push Griese who made his way to the end zone sliding on his back.
Michael Turner Burns the Colts' Perfect Season
Michael Turner was a genius pick of the Chargers in the fifth round of the 2004 draft. After flashing big play ability in the final game of his rookie season, Turner broke out in 2005. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry on the season.
Drew Brees handed off to Turner on second-and-long and excitedly watched "The Burner" stomp 83 yards to the house and caused color commentator Hank Bauer to crow "13 and 1, here ya come Colts!"
Harrison Knocks out a Baltimore Raven Legend
The Chargers and Ravens have played in some good games in the past, but the first game of their seven game series sticks out to me for one play.
The Ravens had a guy similar to the electrifying Darren Sproles named Jermaine Lewis, who was a great kick returner. He was tiny at 5'7" and 172 pounds. The Chargers' angry strong safety Rodney Harrison didn't cut the little guy any slack.
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw a high pass, Lewis attempted to stretch out for the catch, only to catch hell from Harrison. A writer from the San Diego Union Tribune joked that Harrison hit Lewis so hard that the Raven on his shoulder pad said "Nevermore."
The little man came back and beat Harrison on a long touchdown bomb, though the Chargers still won the game.
Marlon McCree Showboats His Way out of the Charger Fans Hearts
You've heard of the Showtime Lakers right? Well in 2006, we had the Showboat Chargers. After every big play, the youngest team in the league celebrated every big play. Each celebration angered east coast writers and fans more and more.
In the 2006 Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, the Chargers were about to polish off the Patriots when Marlon McCree intercepted a desperate Tom Brady fourth-down pass that wasn't even close. Instead of falling to the ground only to rise in celebration of a hard fought win, McCree decided he'd try to score a touchdown, no doubt with thoughts of wild celebration in the end zone.
The glory was his.
In a game where everything was going wrong, McCree was stripped by receiver Troy Brown allowing the Patriots to steal the victory after getting a new set of downs.
The next week, Brady threw the same horrible pass against the Colts and once again it was picked off. Troy Brown couldn't come to the rescue this time as the Colts' Marlin Jackson quickly fell to the turf in celebration after seeing the previous week's debacle.
Brees Gives a Foreshadowing of the Fire, Downs the Unbeatable Patriots
Tom Brady and the undefeated Super Bowl Champion Patriots came to San Diego riding a 10-game, 32-year winning streak against the Chargers. With both teams sporting a record of 3-0, the national perception was the Chargers weren't for real.
The Patriots came into the game averaging 38 points and had demolished their first two opponents 74-21. They showed championship heart by overcoming the Chiefs the previous week.
Things looked ugly when the Patriots marched right down the field and scored an easy touchdown on the Bolts, but Brees responded in a hurry with a 52-yard bomb to Curtis Conway on the Chargers' next possession.
The Chargers went on to defeat the Patriots and raced out to a 6-1 record only to finish 2-7 and out of the playoffs, but the moxie that Brees showed on that one play was enough to prove to me that he was going to be a big time player in the NFL.
LaDainian Finally Breaks a Long Run to the House
In the same game that Drew Brees broke out in, so did LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers got a lucky break in that the Patriots were exposed in the previous week by the Chiefs for not being particularly strong against the run.
Priest Holmes and the Kansas Chiefs unleashed a play I'd never scene before. The Chiefs faked the reverse to their wide receivers, but surprised the Patriots with a hand off to Holmes. All game long. The result was a dominant 221 yards rushing.
Being a copy cat league, the Chargers stole the play and used it to rush for 238 yards against New England. The Chargers continued to use this play with much success for Coach Schottenheimer's entire tenure.
Teams were confused and afraid when the Chargers faked the reverse, because they knew eventually the Chargers would actually run the reverse. This allowed Tomlinson to make the first of many huge touchdown runs for the Bolts.
In a show of uncanny strength, LT ran through a gaping hole in the line, ran through an attempted trip and out-ran Patriots to the end zone for 37 yards.
LT later made an even more spectacular 58-yard jog to the house, but that was more of a team effort which was highlighted by a Tim Dwight block at the end and a spectacular call by Greg Gumble.
Laila Ali's Husband Flashed His Phenomenal Speed, Torches the Raiders
Curtis Conway had more of an impact on the Chargers than you know.
The team never had a winning season with him, but his departure and inadequate replacement David Boston led to an abysmal season by Drew Brees. After that debacle, along with the flop that was Marcellus Wiley (who was actually a great player for the Chargers), the Chargers decided to never spend big money on a free agent again. They also made a trade that landed Philip Rivers.
That aside, Conway made one heck of a play against the Oakland Raiders in San Diego in 2001. Doug Flutie handed off on the opening play from scrimmage, but it was a reverse! Conway took the reverse 67 yards to the house to stun the home crowd.
Unfortunately, Flutie's 98 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception sank this play, along with a touchdown run by LT, and kick-off return for a touchdown from the phenomenal return man Ronney Jenkins. The Raiders won the game 34-24.
Conway scored again when he married Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila.
Ronney Jenkins Sets the Tone to Buck the Broncos
In his first two years as the Chargers kick returner, he took three back to the house. When Marty Schottenheimer came in in 2002, he made a change to the Chargers kick-return strategy in a way which rendered Jenkins ineffective.
Jenkins was released, joined the Oakland Raiders, and was never heard from again.
That doesn't mean he didn't leave a lasting impression while he was here. In 2001, the Chargers were in a slump against the rival Denver Broncos. It wasn't much of a rivalry, because the Chargers had lost seven of the last eight games against Denver, and the one win was the last game of the 1999 season in which the Broncos put forth no effort.
Back in 2001, the Chargers were the opposite of what they are now. They were known as a team that started fast and crashed hard in the end (they started 5-2 in this season, which could have easily been 7-0, and still finished the season 5-11).
In the sixth game of the season, the Chargers knew they had to start fast to have a chance to compete with the Denver Broncos and break a two-game losing streak. They started as fast as they possibly could when Ronney Jenkins took the opening kick-off, broke a tackle, stutter-stepped, faked out the kicker and exploded down field for a touchdown that set the tone for the game.
The Broncos couldn't recover and got walloped 27-10.
When it comes to kick-off returns, this guy may have been the best player the Chargers ever had. It was a huge mistake on Schottenheimer's part to come in and mess up the kick-return game.
Reche Caldwell, the Big Tease
Reche Caldwell was Buster Davis before Buster Davis, a player with immense talent who couldn't stay on the field. In 2004, Caldwell was on course to record a 1,000 season and he was going to do it emphatically. He was special.
Then it all went wrong against the Atlanta Falcons. Caldwell tore his ACL playing on that horrible carpet in the Georgia Dome and was never the same explosive player again. That's a shame, because he was really a beast.
It was also a good for Antonio Gates, who proceeded to take on the role as the top receiving target.
Caldwell had a couple of stunning plays, one of which was against the Chargers in the playoffs.
In his rookie season of 2002, the Chargers were once again starting fast, only to crash hard. The Chargers were attempting to start the season 5-1 against the visiting Chiefs, who were not interested in laying down.
The Chiefs held a seemingly insurmountable 10-point lead eight minutes left in the game, and they kicked another field goal for good measure. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, after Brees hit Dwight for an 11-yard touchdown with four minutes left, he hit the rookie Caldwell for a two-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left.
The Chiefs had no time to respond and lost the game by a single point.
Shawne Merriman Buries the Most Hated Manning in San Diego
The Bolts made a fool out of Eli Manning in his first trip to San Diego after refusing to play for the Chargers, who preferred Philip Rivers anyway.
Manning had every intention of returning the favor against San Diego, in New York four years later as the Giants were holding on to a slim six-point lead with time running out on the Chargers in the fourth quarter. After Rivers lead the Bolts down field for the game-winning touchdown, Manning tried to mount a comeback of his own.
The game ended as Shawne Merriman was turned loose and sacked Manning on the last play of the game. After a quick "Lights Out" dance and a collar pop, the Chargers celebrated yet another victory over the rival Manning clan.