Epic failures make great stories. The Cleveland Browns suffered from "The Drive" and "The Fumble." The Boston Red Sox lost a World Series when a ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs.
Time flies for athletes and teams after huge losses. Windows slam shut. The great Dan Marino never got another opportunity to win it all after his only Super Bowl appearance.
The San Diego Chargers infamous moment struck on January 14, 2007.
That season, the Chargers caught lightning in a bottle. Magic happened. LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego's only NFL MVP, slidestepped to one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.
He shattered the single season record for touchdowns with 31 visits to the paint. It was great to watch. On a beautiful night at Qualcomm against Oakland, he ran for as much as he wanted, whenever he wanted.
A vivid image of his lineman hoisting him burned across the front page of the U-T the next day.
They imposed their will on other teams. Fullback Lorenzo Neal, in his prime, blew up defenders. When they needed 3.5 yards for the first down, they smashed guys and ran for it.
Phillip Rivers played his best season. Rookie Tackle Marcus McNeil made the Pro Bowl. Shawne Merriman made his bones. He whupped up 17 sacks despite a 4 game suspension for go juice.
They won 14 games, including 10 in a row to end the season. They had the NFL's best record. They got the bye and then a home game in the playoffs. It was perfect. San Diego was ready to win it all.
Qualcomm buzzed as San Diego throttled the Patriots early for a 14-3 lead. New England seemed out of answers until they scored just before halftime. Still, with time running out, the Chargers controlled the game.
Brady faced 4th and forever with time running out. 41 yards separated Brady from victory with the score 21-13 in favor of San Diego. An incomplete pass would bring victory for San Diego.
As the ball floated downfield, San Diego momentarily paused before seizing their rightful prize as the NFL's greatest team that year. And then, McCree struck.
He nimbly picked it off. But, rather than taking a knee, he sprinted for daylight, even though the Chargers did not need a score.
It was as if Obi Wan Belicheck jedi-mind-tricked him. Troy Brown stripped him and New England recovered.
Wait! What just happened? Brady got a fresh set of downs. No!
Rejuvenated, Brady drove down the field for the score. New England gained momentum and converted two points to tie it. They won, 24-21.
The loss sealed Schottenheimer's fate. He's labeled for posterity as a choker after being fired that off-season. A lot of players moved on without another taste of it.
LT hasn't returned to that high level of achievement. Neither has anyone else. They've knocked on the door since then, but ultimate glory has been closed off so far.
It takes skill, timing, and good fortune to win it all. The Bolts never have been so ready. What if McCree had decided to, "Just knock it down!!!" History would be changed. The best team became the bust team. They carry that stigma to this day.
That was a team for the ages with skill and luck on their side until that moment. Success breeds success. They could have piggy backed other wins on it.
It was an epic mistake. To every Charger fans' chagrin, we'll never know whether the best Chargers team of all time could have won it all.
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