This year, the San Diego Chargers, perennial whipping-boys ofthe AFC West, have blazed onto the scene early, and not just on theshoulders of their star running back.
I know, we Northwesterners should root for the Seahawks, butthat’s so obvious! Get over the fact that the Boys in Blue get moresunshine than you – here are five reasons why they deserve a secondlook:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson
Sorry to be so predictable, but how could I not start with LT?Chewing up over 1,200 yards rushing each year he’s played, theicing was a stunning 2003 campaign where he became the first playerin NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and complete 100receptions.
He finished off with 2,370 yards from scrimmage, 1,645 of themon the ground – the second-highest single season total ever. Butoff the field, LT is as much a class act as on, committing his timeand money to a host of charitable organizations. I believe he mayeventually be considered the finest halfback in the history of thegame.
2. Antonio Gates
At 6’4″, 240 lbs., the surprising Gates has burst onto the scene inSoCal, one of only five tight ends in the NFL to lead his team inreceptions.
Two years after he led the Kent State hoops team (from which heretired as the school’s sixth all-time scorer) to the Elite 8, hestrapped on the pads for the first time since high school andhasn’t looked back. His improvement is huge, blowing last year’sperformance away, he’s already pulled in 31 catches for 342 yardsand three touchdowns. Look for more to come from Antonio Gates.
3. Drew Brees
After passing on Peyton Manning, it seemed there was a permanentjinx on the Bolts’ throwing game. I mean, Ryan Leaf? But with amuch-hyped rookie breathing down his neck, Brees has opened eyesand blown doors. Would you believe that he has the highestcompletion rate in team history?
So far this season he’s 74 for 118, averaging over 12 yards percompletion. He’s thrown 8 TDs to only 2 interceptions. But mostimportantly, he’s turned a one-trick pony offense into one of theleague’s most dynamic. If Philip Rivers is indeed the team’sfuture, Drew Brees will undoubtedly find success wherever he lands(Please send him to Miami if you cut him, Marty.).
4. The NFL’s best uniforms
Whether you call it Carolina blue, baby blue, San Diego Chargersblue or just plain light blue, the Chargers’ alternate, throwbackjerseys are the tightest in the NFL. Bright, sky-blue, with thosegolden lightning bolts over the shoulder and along the legs…damn, those are some sharp uniforms!
And let’s be honest – unless you and your family are die-hardsupporters of a given squad (the only reason I wasn’t born inVeterans Stadium was that mom went into labor too quickly), youprobably chose your team because of their colors, and San Diego hasthe best.
5. Who’d’a thunk it?
Whether it was Phil Rivers’ training camp holdout, Tomlinson’sunfathomable exclusion from a trip to Hawaii last season, or thepeals of laughter when the team expended a third-round pick on akicker, the adversity tempered this hapless team into, in myopinion, this year’s surprise contenders.
They’re bona fide contenders in the AFC West, which NO ONE wouldhave guessed, and they’re stepping up in big games. The Titans arestruggling (maybe not after last Monday’s Slaughter on the Tundra),but they’re still the Titans and the Bolts handed them theirhelmets, 38-17. Of course we’ll know what’s up come December, butI’ll give the Chargers the nod for a wild-card slot and they shouldonly get better next year.