One of the many extremely cool things about covering the NFL is the ability to be on the field at the end of a game. They say football is a game of emotion. On the Chargers sideline Sunday in Houston, that emotion was pouring out.
After Paul Oliver grabbed a ball that flew off the hands of all-universe wide receiver Andre Johnson ("He's their playmaker," Oliver would say afterwards. "They go to him in those situations. I'm sure they're saying they should have won that game, but they didn't."), the Bolts wanted to start the kind of celebration that comes with ending a 4-game road losing streak. But they had to wait for a booth review first.
During the delay Oliver was on the sidelines pleading his case the pick was clean. You could just feel the emotion building. Once the referee emerged from the tarp, turned on his microphone and announced the play would stand, the guys wearing white erupted.
Shaun Phillips walked right to the rail to celebrate, slapping fives with a few of the Chargers fans who made the trip to the absolutely massive Reliant Stadium (the Chargers Twitter page was right when it wrote the Astrodome looks like a backyard gazebo next to the Texans ridiculously nice new home). Seyi Ajirotutu couldn't fine enough people to hug or slap on the shoulderpad. Ron Rivera shook hands with everyone in sight, a huge smile plastered on his face after his defense allowed just 3 points in the second half to one of the most potent offenses in football. Kevin Burnett simply sat on the bench, his shoulder aching from a collision late in the game, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and smiled.
The party continued in the locker room, music blaring, Marcus McNeill donning Aviator sunglasses and cracking jokes with his offensive line mates (a unit that played seven guys in the game, none of them named Kris Dielman, and only allowed one sack, which Philip Rivers admitted he took because it was a better option than the throws he had available). Even the normally stoic Norv Turner was smiling, taking congratulations with the look of a man who believes his football team, the real San Diego Chargers, has finally arrived. Well, except on special teams, but this is a positive story, so let's leave that alone for right now.
You can completely understand the release of emotion. The Bolts were 0-4 on the road and had not won back-to-back games this season. Another loss would have dropped them to 3-6 and left absolutely zero margin for error. Instead they have a winning streak heading into a bye week, followed by a Monday Night game at home against the truly awful Broncos. That gives them 15 days to get Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Kris Dielman, Ryan Mathews, Steve Gregory and everyone else who's dinged up healthy, and that gets to the root of Sunday's celebration.'
Optimism. For the first time in a while, the Chargers are truly optimistic about their season. They have every reason to be.