Chargers' top plays: Gibson's heroics

July, 8, 2014
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Dennis GibsonJEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images
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This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable in San Diego Chargers team history. We will feature: Kellen Winslow’s blocked field goal against the Miami Dolphins in AFC playoffs; linebacker Dennis Gibson’s batted down pass by Neil O’Donnell on fourth down, sealing a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history; and running back LaDainian Tomlinson breaking Shaun Alexander’s single-season touchdown record of 28 with three touchdowns in a 48-20 win over Denver that clinched an AFC West title. Please vote for your choice as the Chargers’ most memorable play.

Score: Chargers 17, Steelers 13
Date: Jan. 5, 1995 Site: Three Rivers Stadium.

The play has been dubbed by Chargers fans as the “Immaculate Deflection” -- a spin-off of the “Immaculate Reception,” Franco Harris’ shoestring catch that lifted the Pittsburgh Steelers to a win over the Oakland Raiders in the 1972 AFC playoffs.

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Leading 17-13 with a minute left at their own 3-yard line, Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson batted down a fourth-down pass by Neil O’Donnell intended for running back Barry Foster, sealing a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

The Chargers came into the contest as heavy underdogs on the road at Pittsburgh. How confident were the Steelers that they would defeat the Chargers? Pittsburgh players had already hatched a plan for a Super Bowl rap video.

But Chargers defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger put a stop to that with an effective game plan that bottled up Pittsburgh’s potent running game for most of the day.

The Steelers dominated play in the first half, but led only 13-3. Allowed to hang around, the Chargers made a run in the second half. Stan Humphries threw 43-yard touchdown passes to tight end Alfred Pupunu and receiver Tony Martin, giving the Chargers all the scoring they would need.

The Steelers’ final drive began at their own 17-yard line. O’Donnell methodically marched Pittsburgh’s offense on 10 plays down to San Diego’s 3-yard line. With Pittsburgh unable to run the football, O’Donnell had one of his best days as a pro, completing 32 of 54 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown.

But on the crucial play on fourth down, O’Donnell never saw Gibson lurking behind Foster, who jumped in front of the Pittsburgh running back to bat down the pass in the end zone, clinching an improbable victory for the Chargers.

“You could see people crying as they walked out,” Gibson told U-T San Diego. “The emotional letdown was overwhelming.”

More than 70,000 fans showed up at Jack Murphy Stadium to celebrate the win with the team the following day.

Eric D. Williams

ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter

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