A few emails going around and sports articles I've read have compelled me to step onto my soapblog box regarding the San Diego Chargers and their recent playoff demise to the New England Patriots.
First, this statement may be a little dramatic but here it is anyways - The feeling of loss and shock that the Charger fans felt this last Sunday was about the same magnitude of emotion I went through at the end of last season when Drew Brees was given free agent status and he decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints.
(NOTE: I tried to keep this short, but as I typed, I realized I have a lot to say about this.)
I thought that with Drew leaving the team before the start of this season, we(San Diego) lost our best chance at the playoffs and even a Championship. I didn't feel that Phillip Rivers, in his first season as starting QB, could carry the team through the season with a winning record, let alone the playoffs. But I knew Brees could do it. The Chargers were improving and playing well together, and I felt that their next season would be much better after having a season of experience together. But it was also known that the current Chargers EVP and GM, AJ Smith, was not a big fan of Brees and was anxious to get Rivers on the field. After all, it was Smith who drafted Rivers (as part of the Eli Manning trade) and it was John Butler, the previous GM, who drafted Brees. But then Brees had to get hurt, on the last play of the last game last season, and it gave Smith, the easy out to let Brees leave and go to another team and allow Rivers step up into the QB role. That was when I was at a loss and very disappointed with the Chargers. And before this (2006)season even began, I already thought it was at a loss, and I didn't have any hope. And all my friends knew this, and knew how upset I was, and I kept my loyalty with Drew and it followed him when he signed with the Saints.
And I want to be clear on where my loyalties lie.
I am a fan of Drew Brees. I enjoy watching and rooting for him. I admire him for his work ethic and for his comeback after a lowsy 2003 season (11TD/15Int) to a Pro-Bowl 2004 season(27TD/7Int). I've even met him and he was really nice to me and the rest of the fans. I have a lot of confidence in him as a player and wanted to see him do well with the Chargers. I am also a life-long Chargers fan, despite the many disappointing seasons we've had. I even had season tickets in 1998, but they didn't treat me well and so I cancelled my season tickets. Add that and other Chargers' front office moves and management decisions regarding trades and signings that I was disappointed and upset with, I was losing faith in the Chargers. So when the Chargers let Brees go and didn't try hard to keep him and didn't believe in him, I lost further faith in the Chargers' management, mainly AJ Smith, and became anti-Rivers. I couldn't be against the team, that was hard for me to do, so I chose to go against Rivers, which may end up making me go against the team. But I am really unhappy with the Chargers organization, as a whole.
I maintained my faith in Brees and followed him to the Saints, which became the other team I was rooting for. And it became a great team to root for, as it quickly became "America's team" and symbolized the city of New Orleans for its resiliency and bouncing back from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. I was happy for Brees and hoped for the best for him and the Saints. And I read in an article that Brees wanted so badly to turn the Saints around, who were 3-13 the previous season, and prove to everyone, especially the Chargers Management that he can lead a team into the playoffs. And now he IS. And he's playing in the franchise's first ever Conference Championship this weekend where the winner will play in the Super Bowl. How can you not cheer for a story like that?!? Go Saints! You're no longer the 'Aints!
So how do I feel about the Chargers at this point? First, they exceeded my expectations (and everyone else's) this season by far. Rivers played well. I commend him for that. And L.T. is awesome. Well done, MVP. But then to end the season like they did....Everyone(except me) had huge expectations going into the playoffs and already had thoughts of a Super Bowl dancing in their heads. But I knew this was the real test, and when Rivers would need to prove his worth.
If I didn't choose sides already, I would have been sick to my stomach watching the game last Sunday. It was sickening to watch unfold. The Chargers had the lead and were winning most of the game, but you could just feel the game slip through their fingers. Mistake after mistake was happening and the Patriots kept fighting and taking advantage of the Chargers play. You can blame all the Chargers you want, but you must also admit and applaud the Patriots for executing well. They still had to execute because they were losing. They were able to recover the punt return that Parker failed to catch. Props to Caldwell for having the mindset and ability to strip the ball from McCree after just intercepting the ball, and New England still had to recover the ball. Props to Brady for staying focused and driving the team downfield for a touchdown to Caldwell(a former Charger). And immediate props to New England for converting on the two-point conversion to TIE the game. And props to the New England defense for stopping the Chargers offense on the ensuing possesion. And props to Brady for making that final drive, and great throw to Caldwell(again) to get into field goal range. And finally props to the rookie kicker, for sending in the winning field goal. If the Patriots didn't do ALL that, despite the Charger mistakes, the Chargers could have still won. And then I leave it to Rivers, who had two possessions late in the 4th quarter, to control his team and lead them to victory. Right after the Patriots tied the game, the Chargers had the chance to drive for the win, but they went 3 and out. And on the last possession of the game, the Chargers simply ran out of time. Rivers had the chance to prove his worth to me, but he didn't. Charger fans can blame the Chargers (offense AND defense) for all their mistakes and failures, but they should also blame the Patriouts, especially Tom Brady and Reche Caldwell, for executing in the end and getting the win. They earned it. And I cheered for the Patriots.
But hours later, the outcome really hit me, and I became sad for the Charger players, to end the season like they did. And it was a home game. But I was especially sad for the Chargers fans. I would have been just like them - shocked, upset and disappointed. I had already expected this outcome and was prepared for it. But I didn't expect the journey to be like this - from such an extreme high and all the expectations that went along with it - to a devasting, heartbreaking blow to end the season sooner than expected. That's what makes it even more painful and I am sorry for the fans and the players. But I am not sorry for the Chargers' front office and management. I am still too bitter to them. And with my current loyalty situation, I can't help but enjoy the fact that the Chargers are out of the playoffs while Drew Brees and the Saints are still in it. And they have a fighting chance to make it to the Super Bowl and even win!
I will jump back on the Chargers' bandwagon, one day, if I'm allowed. But right now, there's plenty of room to join the Saints' bandwagon and root for them!
I am now stepping down from my soapblog box. If you made it this far, thank you for listening.