Last Sunday, when Vikings elite return man Percy Harvin ran 103 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the 2011 season, Chargers fans instantly and en masse groaned (and I want you to say this like Darth Vader at the end of "Revenge of the Sith"), "NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" It was seen as the start of another bad start, and San Diego football fans have had quite enough of that, thank you very much.
In his first four seasons as head coach, Norv Turner has had expectations. Those expectations are to at least win the AFC West, and at best win the Super Bowl. Every year his team has started 2-3, causing Chargers fans to get restless. And by get restless, I mean start calling for Norv's job. We've almost come to expect an early season meltdown, so when we see another special teams meltdown and another early deficit to another inferior opponent it's logical to ask for another head coach before we buy another ticket to another game.
This time, however, Norv and his guys were able to make a comeback to beat a Minnesota team that looks to be a lot better than preseason pundits have given it credit. After the 24-17 San Diego win, I heard people on the radio and in the stadium and on the streets of our town trumpeting the death of the dreaded "Early-Season Slump."
Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we ain't seen nothing yet.
Don't get me wrong, I hope 2011 is different. But the fact is, this is the 3rd time Norv's Bolts have opened with a win. In 2007 and 2009, 1-0 still led to 2-3. In fact, in 2007 (Turner's first year) the Chargers won their first game at home, in a close, physical game against an NFC North opponent (the Bears). The next week, they went to New England and got pasted on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Don't think the fact I'm sitting in Providence, RI to cover the game in Foxboro, MA on Sunday has escaped anyone.
The Pats have been the Gold Standard by which other teams are measured for a decade now, even though they haven't won the Super Bowl in seven years. Tom Brady threw for 517 yards, 5th-most in NFL history, in a Monday Night shootout win in Miami. Public perception, even outside the walls of ESPN and their severe Northeast Coast bias, is the Patriots are one of the best teams in the league. Beat them, and you're a serious contender.
And that's why this game is the most important one the Chargers have ever played in Week 2. San Diego's NFL franchise has earned the reputation of having great talent and playing exciting football, but always falling short in big games. Some say they aren't physical enough. Some say they lack the leadership in the coaching ranks to contend for a championship.
I say, nobody really knows what the reason is, but it can start to go away this weekend. If the Chargers beat the Patriots, in Gillette Stadium, in the Pats' home opener, it serves notice to everyone who even casually watches football that the Chargers are different. They've somehow mutated from finesse team that's fun to watch into serious threat that teams like the Steelers, Jets and Patriots can't push around in January.
But if the Chargers lose, even if it's a close game they had a good chance to win, the old stigma sticks. It's not true, of course. The Chargers have all the tools to win a championship. But it's kind of like the George Orwell novel "1984." If someone tells you enough times that 2+2=5, eventually you'll start to believe it.
If the Chargers and their fans keep hearing people say they aren't tough enough to win the Super Bowl, won't it eventually sink into their thought process, too? Beat the Patriots this weekend, and we'll start sending a different message.
The Chargers have figured it out. They're not starting off slow. They won't be playing catch-up late in the season. The little brother all you East Coast teams used to pick on is all grown up, he's bigger than you, and ready to dish out payback for all those times you wedgied him in the playoffs.