We all know I’m a Chargers-homer. I grew up in San Diego and can’t help it, I love my Bolts. And I’m well aware that this weekend’s game against New England will see my beloved team facing probably the top offense ever and arguably the best team in NFL history. All of that means they’ll probably be known as the team that lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game during their perfect season. But some of the statements I’ve heard coming out of New England and squawking at me from sports talk radio hosts have made me do a double-take.
It’s like the fact that the Chargers have won eight straight games and have been playing on another level over the past few weeks doesn’t mean anything. But that’s fine, I realize people are excited about the Patriots and that happens. Then I read this column by Gerry Callahan of The Boston Herald. Don’t read it if you don’t feel like it because it’s absolutely a piece of garbage.
In it, Mr. Callahan (pictured at right) claims that the Chargers would do best to not even show up in Foxboro on Sunday. He states that these are the same two teams who played in Week 2, only now the Chargers are injured. He rips the 10,000 or so Chargers fans who welcomed the team back home Sunday night because their team “hadn’t won a championship.” He says the only real challenge this week will be for NFL analysts to keep straight faces while breaking down the game, and that the Patriots will completely trounce a physically and emotionally spent San Diego team. He also adds that if this were a title fight there would be someone in the Chargers’ corner screaming: “Stay down! Stay down!”
Where to start.
Look, I know the chances of the Chargers winning this game are incredibly slim. But to claim that an NFL team shouldn’t even show up or to suggest that pride alone won’t carry them through the game is insane. I know Callahan was just trying to be provocative and make a statement, but this might be the dumbest idea for a column ever. And it starts with they way he tears apart the Chargers and their fans.
Rule No. 1 in sports is to respect your opponent. He clearly skipped that day in school. Yes, the Patriots embarrassed the Chargers at Foxboro in week 2, but to claim this is the same San Diego team shows a lack of knowledge and insight on a massive scale. In Week 2 the Chargers were still lamenting the loss of Marty Schottenheimer, their coaches hadn’t realized how best to use the players and the team hadn’t bought in to the new system. Now they have. And since that game they’ve added Chris Chambers – who has completely changed the passing game for the better – and Antonio Cromartie and his 11 interceptions have emerged. Cromartie barely played in Week 2. The Chargers are now able to get pressure on quarterbacks and cause turnovers (a league leading 48 this season) due to the fact that defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell knows his personnel now. Oh and our mouthy quarterback Philip Rivers has taken his game to an entirely new level over the past few weeks. And bank on this, neither Rivers, nor LaDainian Tomlinson would miss this game for the world. They’ll both play, as will Antonio Gates. They wouldn’t miss a chance to pay back the Pats for what they did to them last season. They’d love nothing more than to ruin New England’s amazing season.
Now I understand the love-fest going on in New England. What with the Mr. Perfect quarterback, genius coach, undefeated season, trust me, I get it. But the type of arrogance that Callahan displays in his column is the exact reason so many people can’t stand the Patriots right now. It’s not individual players or anything else that turns us off, it’s the general air of the Pats fans. Almost like they have already won the title and it’s time for their parade. I’m sure the team doesn’t feel that way but the fan-base needs to revert back to Rule No. 1 that I alluded to earlier. Basically they’re acting exactly the way Yankees fans did in the late 90s.
Callahan states that the only chance the Pats would lose this year was to a “dangerous” Indianapolis team, and now fans should book non-refundable tickets to Arizona. Uh, Gerry? I was watching those “dangerous” Colts on Sunday and the same Chargers team you rip on, beat them on their home field. And if you watched the game you know the Colts didn’t blow that game, the Chargers simply outplayed them in all three phases. They also dominated the line of scrimmage and relied on depth and toughness to gut out a win. I’ve never been so proud of a team I root for than I was on Sunday. That same level of pride is why those 10,000 fans showed up. They wanted to show their appreciation for what the team did despite being roughed up and down and out. They came back, fought, clawed and were simply tougher than the other team. It was simply a great performance. What Callahan doesn’t get is that sometimes you don’t need to win a championship for people to be proud of you. Sometimes all you need to do is show heart. Maybe that idea has been lost on New England fans with the recent dominance of the Patriots and the two Red Sox titles in recent years.
And before you ask, no I don’t think it’s OK that Philip Rivers was yelling at Indianapolis fans during the game. But everyone I know who’s met or knows Philip insists he’s one of the greatest guys they’ve ever met and when he’s on the field he’s just a completely different guy. I think he needs to tone it down but at the same time I’ve seen the work he’s done in the community and how humble he is off the field, so I’ve given him a bit of a pass for now.
Back to my point. While I don’t think the Chargers will win this game, to say that the Patriots can’t be beaten and say that a team shouldn’t even show up to play is just moronic. Have the Pats lost this year? No. Are they the best team we may ever see? Maybe. Do they have the best offense I’ve ever seen? Without a doubt. Are they beatable? Of course. They only beat the Colts by four, then slipped past the Eagles by three points and by all rights they should have lost to the Ravens, who they edged by three as well. The Eagles and Ravens won a combined 13 games this year, same as the Chargers. The two teams didn’t make the playoffs yet they almost knocked off the Pats. Of course they’re beatable. Every team in the NFL could lose in any week.
People are also forgetting one simple fact. LaDainian Tomlinson may be the best running back we’ll ever see play, and his offensive line is nasty, completely healthy and on the same page for the first time all season. They aren’t going to just roll over and play dead because the Patriots are going for perfection.
The Patriots will, in all likelihood, win on Sunday. But one thing you can be sure of, they’ll know the Chargers were there. One thing San Diego has done over the past 10 weeks is be more physical than their opponents. No one can dispute that. At the very least the Patriots will enter the locker room on Sunday evening bruised and battered, knowing that the opposing team actually came to play.
That seems to be exactly what Callahan doesn’t want.