The steaming red face on one of the Chargers' fathers said it all-beneath the hood of his see-through rain parka, his lips were pursed and his eyes were alloy. Seated in the southeast corner of the end zone, he had just watched his son, and the Chargers, go from Cinderella to redheaded step-princess of the annual pigskin ball.
He spit two words like they were tainted food parts: "Marty Schottenheimer." It was the longest curse words he had at his disposal. Democrats had never even uttered "Ralph Nader" with such animosity.
The blame game had begun before the stands were cleared, before the expensive beer was hosed from the aisles, before the shreds of foam fingers were collected like torn appendages of a make-believe war.
Jets 20, Chargers 17. Tongues taking aim at wounds. "Draft" becoming the hottest new noun in town.
The morning after, San Diego was a dry mouth and a headache. The bandwagon had toppled over on the on-ramp, before the fair-weather partygoers were able to feel the breeze pierce the tiny holes in their new Tomlinson jerseys. Sports-radio pundits used Schottenheimer's name like one might use "e-mail virus" or "malignant tumor."
Brilliant coach can't win the big ones, no matter how many chances he earns. He's become professional sports' version of Al Sharpton, Susan Lucci, Nader-all get their name on the top ticket in town, get the dormant hopes of their small parishes up time and time again. And then they drop 'em like the Chiefs' Dante Hall dropped the winning touchdown against the Chargers in Week 12.
The Bolts had a life expectancy of December. But once they got to January, they weren't supposed to lose. They had been knighted by the gridiron gods. They were christened the feel-good story of 2004, the underdog with sharp incisors and an accurate bite.
And then they were gone, like road kill in suburbia, a man in a puffy blue-and-yellow helmet standing over the corpse in tights and pads, expressionless and silent.
The loss most likely decided the Phillip Rivers-Drew Brees quarterback debate. Had Pro Bowler Brees taken this unheralded team to the Super Bowl, general manager A.J. Smith would've been lynched for trading a gunslinger who finally resurrected one of pro football's worst franchises.
But now Brees, a phenomenally stand-up guy from what I can tell, becomes trade bait, doomed to be among the second wave of casualties, along with a few assistant coaches.
A successor to Favre in Green Bay? To Dallas for picks? Holy god no-the Raiders?
Who knows. But being upset in the first round of the playoffs is as good as not getting there. It excuses a certain amount of housecleaning, and the Chargers will lose too much cash by ridding themselves of Rivers, who probably will be a better quarterback anyway.
If I were a betting man, I'd say we saw the best season Brees will ever play. Lucky to have him, we were. When you see him at Lindbergh Field with a one-way ticket and a carry-on, give the kid a tender, soft slug on the shoulder, pat him on the ass, knock knuckles-however you give props. Congratulate him on his newfound millionaire status and thank him for the work and the quality goods we'll undoubtedly get in the trade.As for the team he'll leave behind, the future's bright, but, unfortunately, because of those two words-M.S. for short-the light is programmed to shut off at the end of regulation.