It was all smiles at Chargers’ Park on Monday afternoon.
The day after doing what no other Chargers team had done before, the coach, the players, the media, even the man who opens the gate to let people in were in a better mood than they had been all season.
San Diego had never gone into the Steel City and beat Pittsburgh on their own field in a regular season game. Sunday they did it in a big way when, once again, it seemed like their season was as good as gone.
They scored 34 points on the number one defense in the NFL. The Bolts’ defense scored their seventh touchdown of the season.
One of the rites of passage of any sport, is the game ball. A ball awarded to players who did an exceptional job during the game whether it was on the field or with his teammates.
After the game on Sunday, head coach Norv Turner received a game ball from Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos. Earlier in the week there were rumors about the head coach’s future with the team and Spanos' statement was less than reassuring as far as a job security statement.
Turner said that struggle with the outside world caused them to cling to each other tighter than ever.
“When you struggle it either pulls you apart or it makes you closer,” Turner said. “I think the things our players have impressed me with is their closeness and their commitment they have continue.”
Coaches are usually the ones doling out the game balls, for Turner to receive it, he said, was something special.
“I was excited that he felt that way to give me the ball,” Turner said. “And it means a lot to me. And I think it means a lot to our team and I think they appreciate it and I’m going to hand out a bunch of game balls to them because there was some great efforts and great efforts from guys that, six weeks ago, weren’t on our radar.”
One of those guys getting a game ball is cornerback Antoine Cason.
Cason had three tackles on Sunday and contributed to Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completing only about half of his throws.
He explains what it means to him to be a part of this special tradition.
“It’s huge,” Cason said. “You spend so much time with these guys and for guys that get game balls to be recognized, in front of your teammates and the coaches, and it really helps you feel good. It’s a big deal for guys and we enjoy it.”
And even if a player doesn’t get the ball that week, the tradition inspires them for the next.
“That’s what we’re here to do is to compete,” Cason said. “Be those guys that help you never know who it’s going to be. Be that guy this week that helps the team win and make that play.”