Some gridiron pundits had characterized the San Diego Chargers as unlikely to make the NFL postseason. But the Bolts have won five straight games and six of their last seven, and the only hotter team in the league is San Francisco. So what are their chances going into this week’s divisional round matchup against Denver? Here to help us with that question is the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Nick Canepa, who has covered the Chargers for four decades.
BL: Expectations were low for the Chargers at the beginning of regular season. How did they manage to make it this far?
NC: Boy, that’s a good question. They have a new coach, a lot of new players — I think they’ve got 22 players on their roster who weren’t here at the end of last year — a new GM, and Philip Rivers wasn’t coming off his best year, so everybody wondered how it was going to work out. And as it turned out, it worked out pretty well.
BL: You mentioned that Rivers was not particularly successful last year. He’s done quite well this year. Time for him to break through in the playoffs?
NC: Yeah, I mean, he’s won a playoff game before — won one last week, in fact. He’s just been terribly efficient. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes. He’s been terrific, and of course he’s the natural leader of this team.
BL: On Wednesday, a Pennsylvania man — no doubt a Steelers fan — filed a motion in a U.S. District Court claiming that the Chargers should not be in the playoffs because of a missed call in their regular season finale again Kansas City. Seems reasonable, right?NC: Yeah, especially being that that guy’s a convict. That’s interesting because the Chargers got a horrible call in the opener against the Titans. It cost them four points, and they would have won the game. So is it going to go back to that? That’s the way it goes. I mean Ed Hochuli cost them a game in Denver. I don’t see any prisoners complaining about that.
BL: The Chargers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals quite handily in last weekend’s wild card game, but the Bengals don’t have Peyton Manning at quarterback and Denver does. How’s San Diego going to fare against Denver?
NC: I always think it’s very difficult to win in Denver. I think it’s the hardest place in the league to win. It’s very loud, and they’ve got a great fan base, and they’re playing at a mile high. But Rivers has had great success there, and the Chargers have good success there lately, and they’re 2-0 against Peyton in the playoffs, so they certainly have a chance.
BL: Some people have suggested that any further postseason success for San Diego would just be gravy, given low expectations at the beginning of the season. Do you go along with that?
NC: No, I don’t. In fact, I wrote a column about just that subject this week, that they have nothing to play for. Well of course t they have something to play for. You know, if they lose they go home. That “not anything to gain” stuff is all a crock to me.
BL: San Diego has never had a pro sports title. Can that be true? Because if so, how would San Diegans react if the Chargers were to go all the way to the Super Bowl and then win it.
NC: They go crazy when they start to win. They’re going crazy now. They won the AFL title in 1963. That was 50 years ago. In fact, that was 50 years ago last Sunday. They’ve been to a Super Bowl and played one of the great teams when they met the 49ers. Now, the Padres went to two World Series, and it was their misfortune to be playing two of the best teams of the last half century: the 1984 Tigers and the 1998 Yankees. So, I kind of pooh-pooh the San Diego curse. Hey, if you’re better, win the games. They have nobody to blame but themselves — certainly not a curse.