San Diego Chargers: 2014 Memorable Plays

LaDainian TomlinsonLisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images  
Score: Chargers 48, Broncos 20
Date: December 11, 2006. Site: Qualcomm Stadium

Voters got it right, picking LaDainian Tomlinson breaking the single-season touchdown record in the San Diego Chargers' 48-20 win over the Denver Broncos that clinched an AFC West title as the franchise's most memorable play.

Tomlinson scored three touchdowns in the game. The record-breaker came on a 7-yard run with just over three minutes left. Tomlinson took a handoff from Philip Rivers running to his left, bounced outside and evaded a tackle to reach the end zone.

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Tomlinson finished the season with 31 total touchdowns, earning league MVP honors.

Certainly, Dennis Gibson's pass deflection against Pittsburgh served as a watershed moment in franchise history because it clinched San Diego's first Super Bowl appearance. However, that moment lost some luster when the Chargers were overwhelmed by San Francisco 49-26 in the big game.

The other candidate for most memorable was Kellen Winslow Sr.'s valiant performance in San Diego's 41-38 overtime win against Miami in a 1981 AFC divisional playoff game. Winslow finished with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, blocked a field goal at the end of regulation that allowed his team to earn the win in overtime.

While Winslow's effort might have been the most impressive by a San Diego player in franchise history, it does not match what Tomlinson's performance meant to the franchise in terms of historical significance.

We also would be remiss in not mentioning a performance that did not make the cut -- running back Keith Lincoln's jaw-dropping 329 yards from scrimmage in San Diego's 51-10 dismantling of the Boston Patriots in the 1963 AFL title game, the franchise's only league title.

However, Tomlinson's record-breaking performance stands apart from the others for a few different reasons. The moment represents one of the shining accomplishments of the Chargers' return to a winning franchise during the decade of the 2000s.

Tomlinson's single-season-record 31 touchdowns still stands. His 145 rushing touchdowns ranks second all-time in NFL history, and Tomlinson is perhaps the best player in franchise history.
LaDainian TomlinsonLisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images  
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This is the last of three plays nominated as the most memorable in San Diego Chargers history. We have also featured: Kellen Winslow’s blocked field goal against the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional playoffs and linebacker Dennis Gibson batting down a pass by Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell intended for running back Barry Foster on fourth down in the 1994 AFC title game, sealing a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Please vote for your choice as the Chargers’ most memorable play.

Score: Chargers 48, Broncos 20
Date: December 11, 2006 Site: Qualcomm Stadium.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander’s single-season touchdown record of 28 with three touchdowns in a 48-20 win against Denver in a win that clinched an AFC West title. The performance was a coronation of perhaps the greatest player in San Diego Chargers history.

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The record breaker came on a 7-yard run with just over three minutes left in the game. Tomlinson took a handoff from Philip Rivers running to his left, bounced outside and evaded a tackle to reach the end zone. Tomlinson finished the season with 31 total touchdowns, earning league MVP honors.

What took place after Tomlinson crossed the end zone for the record-breaking touchdown showed what the future Hall of Fame running back symbolizes for the franchise. The entire offense rushed to Tomlinson to congratulate him, lifting him on their shoulders and carrying him off the field.

“Once I got over the pylon, my initial thought process was to bring every guy on the offensive unit over to share that moment,” Tomlinson said. “When we’re old and can’t play this game anymore, them are the moments we are going to remember, that we’ll be able to tell our kids, tell our grandchildren. We can talk about something special that we did. We made history today.

“There’s no better feeling than to share it with the group of guys that’s in that locker room.”

Tomlinson finished his career as the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (12,490), yards from scrimmage (16,445) and touchdowns (153). Tomlinson totaled 47 100-yard rushing games while with the Chargers, made five Pro Bowls and twice led the league in rushing yards.

He is No. 5 on the league’s all-time rushing list with 13,684 yards in 11 NFL seasons.

“He is the finest running back to ever wear an NFL uniform,” Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
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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.
Kellen WinslowAP Photo
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in San Diego Chargers team history. In the next three days, we’ll feature: Kellen Winslow’s blocked field goal against the Miami Dolphins in the 1982 AFC divisional playoffs; linebacker Dennis Gibson’s batted-down pass by Neil O’Donnell intended for running back Barry Foster on fourth down, sealing a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history in 1995; 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 in 2006. Please vote for your choice as the Chargers’ most memorable play.

Score: Chargers 41, Dolphins 38
Date: Jan. 2, 1982 Site: Orange Bowl

The AFC divisional round matchup between San Diego and Miami was the signature game for Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow. Dealing with dehydration, cramping in his legs and a pinched nerve, Winslow blocked Uwe von Schamann’s 43-yard attempt at a winning field goal with 38 seconds left in regulation. That allowed the Chargers to win the game in overtime on a Rolf Benirschke field goal.

Winslow finished with 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. Physically drained, Winslow was helped off the field by two teammates after the game, which was played in hot and humid conditions in Miami that lasted nearly five hours.

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Things looked bleak for San Diego in the fourth quarter. The Chargers trailed 38-31 with just under five minutes remaining, and the Dolphins had a chance to put the game away on a long drive that pushed to San Diego’s 21-yard line.

However, San Diego linebacker Louie Kelcher stripped running back Andra Franklin of the ball on a run up the middle, recovering at his team’s 18-yard line.

With new life, Dan Fouts marched the Chargers 82 yards, tying the game at 38-all with a 9-yard pass to rookie running back James Brooks.

Miami quarterback Don Strock gave his team a chance to win the game in regulation, driving the Dolphins to San Diego’s 25-yard line with four seconds left.

Not usually a part of San Diego’s field goal block unit, a weary Winslow took the field because of his imposing, 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame. The Chargers' defensive line got some penetration, and Winslow leaped, tipping the ball with an extended right hand.

“It was the biggest thrill of my life,” Winslow said. “I felt like I scored three touchdowns.”

The Chargers failed to advance to the Super Bowl the next week, losing to Cincinnati 27-7 in the AFC Championship Game played in minus-50-degree temperatures.

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