“It seems like it is magical, the way things are happening for us,” Tomlinson said. “It's just kind of going right for us. Even with the injuries we have had, things are still going right. Let's just hope it ends in a magical season.”
Fourteen wins set a new franchise record, and it was an experience no Chargers fan can say they ever felt before. The Chargers seemed to be on cruise control the entire season - on the fast lane to the Super Bowl. LaDainian Tomlinson was in the drivers seat as he rewrote the record books and piled on the accolades, including the the most prestigious award in football, the NFL MVP.
Fans went watched every game with an uncanny expectation that the Chargers would crush their opponent. And the Bolts responded with win, after win, after win. Fans were witness to the coming of next 'great one.' Philip Rivers emerged as the new face of the franchise and a guy with whom the front office, and in a sense the fans as well, would entrust the future of the team.
Shawne Merriman was unlike anything some fans can even remember seeing. Arguably the most dominant player in the NFL, 'Lights Out' has become the best sackmaster in the game with an uncanny 17.5 in the 2006 regular season. He averages more than one sack per game, a statistic no one in the NFL can match (although Shaun Phillips comes close!). In December of 06, I decided to do the math and came to the conclusion that over the past two seasons, Shawne Merriman has averaged 1.13 per start.
This is barely scratching the surface of the Chargers regular season, but it seemed that none of it mattered once in the playoffs. Indeed, in the playoffs you can throw out all the regular season accolades and accomplishments because they count for nothing. As as quickly as the Chargers entered the playoffs, they exited. With that exit came the questioning and finger-pointing and along with the Bolts' regular season record, the memory of the season seemed to be thrown out of the window.
Immediately following the playoff loss to the Patriots, Charger players and coaches reflected on the accomplishments of the season but finished with the bitterness of the loss:
“All year, things bounced our way. With that said, we still had the opportunity to win the game. We just failed to do it.” - Luis Castillo
“Our guys played their hearts out today. Obviously we’re very, very disappointed in the outcome of this football game, but this team had a hell of a year. We turned the ball over four times, and you can’t do that and expect to win.” - Marty Schottenheimer
It has been a long offseason and there is still the expectation that the Bolts will reach the Super Bowl (and ultimately win it) in 2008. But it occurred to me that maybe we as fans haven't fully appreciated what we have witnessed during the 2006 regular season, and that maybe it was time to remind ourselves that we had the great fortune to be taken on one hell of a ride.
Here's looking forward to many more rides in the future. Go Chargers!