Greatest game never played: Will the Chargers again ruin the NFL playoffs?

Greatest game never played: Will the Chargers again ruin the NFL playoffs?

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LOS ANGELES, January 11, 2014 — The 2006 NFL season saw the New England Patriots and Baltimore Colts battle in one of the greatest AFC Title Games ever played. Tom Brady and the Patriots defeated Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs. Manning collected statistics while Brady collected rings. In 2006, the tide finally turned. Manning led the Colts back from a 21-3 first half deficit to a 38-34 victory.

The 2007 NFL season saw the New England Patriots become the only team to attain a perfect 16-0 regular season. The Indianapolis Colts finished that season 14-2. One of their losses was at home against the Patriots. Peyton Manning had the Colts leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter, when Tom Brady led the Patriots back for a 24-20 win. The entire football world was preparing for an AFC Title Game rematch.

This was to be the greatest AFC Title Game in history. There was only one problem. The game never happened. The 1958 Championship between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants was “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The 2007 non-matchup was the greatest game never played.

In the Divisional playoff round, the Colts were shocked at home by the lowly San Diego Chargers. San Diego would lose against New England in an AFC Title Game that surprised nobody and interested nobody outside of the greater Boston area.

For some reason Manning always had trouble with San Diego, even though the Chargers never seemed to beat anybody else. They would win just enough games to eke into the playoffs, yet they always vexed Manning.

One game against San Diego saw Manning throw six interceptions as the Colts trailed 23-0. However, the Colts stormed back within two points, and had an easy 24-yard field goal to win it. Even a false start penalty mattered little, since Adam Vinatieri was the greatest clutch kicker of his era. None of this mattered. From 29 yards out, Vinatieri was no good and the Chargers won.

In the 2007 playoffs, the odds were even more against the Chargers. Quarterback Philip Rivers was injured. Backup Billy Volek would be starting. Coach Norvelous Norv Turner had never won anything that mattered. When the game was over, in front of a shell-shocked Indianapolis crowd, the scoreboard told the story, Chargers 28, Colts 24. The Colts would not be playing the Patriots. A game for eternity would never be played.

The only equivalent would be the boxing world. The great matchup between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield never happened when both boxers were in their prime. Fluke events led to a multi-year delay. By the time they fought, Tyson was a shell of himself. We never got to witness the bout when it should have happened.

Six years later, there is a chance for football redemption. The Colts play the Patriots this week, but everybody knows this is no longer the AFC rivalry that matters. Peyton Manning is in Denver, and Andrew Luck has no rivalry with Brady. While one player should not supersede a team, in this case it does. The Colts-Patriots rivalry was a Manning-Brady duel.

The Patriots are expected to dispatch the Colts, and the Denver Broncos could host New England on January 19 in the AFC title game. For this to happen, the Broncos have to dispatch the lowly Chargers. In 2007, the Chargers were at least 11-5. In 2013, divine intervention got a 9-7 group into the playoffs.

The Broncos are 13-3, but one of those losses was at home to San Diego. Philip Rivers is as cocky as ever, and new coach Mike McCoy has continued the Norvelous tradition of winning just enough games to get people to be forced to take notice. If San Diego was playing anybody else, they would be laughed at.

They are playing Manning. While nobody expects the Chargers to reach the Super Bowl, they still have the ability to prevent a Manning-Brady rematch.

The 2013 AFC title game could be one of the very best. The New England Patriots could face the Denver Broncos as Brady meets Manning for perhaps the last time.

The alternative is another Chargers victory. This will thrill fans in San Diego and wreck the AFC playoffs for fans of the game itself.

For the sake of the NFL, the Chargers must not wreck another playoff season. The football world deserves to see Brady battle Manning.

The potential greatest game of the decade needs to be played.

The Chargers need to go away. The greatest game never played must not have a sequel.

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