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San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Travis LaBoy drops into coverage on Aug. 11, 2011 in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qualcomm Stadium.
Travis LaBoy plops himself on the couch, turns on the television and, suddenly, his downtown San Diego living room turns into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
The Chargers linebacker is back in anuniform, and red, green and blue confetti are falling from the ceiling. Queen's "We Are the Champions" blasts his ears. Pittsburgh Steelers players are crying and laughing, taking turns to lift the silver Lombardi Trophy.
LaBoy changes the channel with a grumble, and his home returns to normal.
"I've probably seen that game 1,000 times on the NFL (Network)," LaBoy said, twisting and turning his head with a sickened grin. "My jewelry collection isn't as nice as had we won that game ... I can't watch it."
Three seasons after losing Super Bowl XLIII on a last-minute touchdown, LaBoy is traveling a road he hopes will go the distance and net him a world championship ring. The journey continues at 5 p.m. Sunday when the Chargers face thein their second exhibition game, which will be nationally broadcast on NBC.
This offseason, LaBoy followed San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and middle linebacker Takeo Spikes to San Diego, signing a two-year contract in July. The Chargers plan for LaBoy, who turned 30 on Saturday, to figure prominently in the team's constant rotation at outside linebacker.
He's drawn positive reviews.
"He's very comfortable, very familiar with the defense, so that's a head start," head coachsaid. "He's a very sudden player — very physical ... He's in the mix, and when we're at our best, we're able to roll three or four guys in there, and that's what we want do."
LaBoy, a converted defensive end with only three years of experience at outside linebacker, is primarily playing in the 3-4 scheme's strong-side spot — called the "Sam" — instead of his usual weak-side position, the "Will."
The difference in the move, Chargers linebackers coach John Pagano says, is the Sam rushes the quarterback about 10 percent less often and, in turn, drops into coverage more.
Pagano calls LaBoy a "true pro," studying and discussing the game to improve. The two have already spoken about that hauntingcatch, a game-winning tip-toe job at the right edge of the end zone with 35 seconds left.
"We talked about how close he was (to winning a Super Bowl) and just that whole process of how they got there and what they overcame," Pagano said. "Having guys like that around with experience, it helps. It's big."
Few in the Chargers locker room may have been more pleased with LaBoy's arrival than outside linebacker. The two came into the league at the same time, playing in the college showcase Senior Bowl before being selected in the 2004 NFL draft.
Phillips says he's noticed how LaBoy, despite some injuries, has improved his game every year.
"It's good that we get a chance to link back up, and it's going to be exciting," Phillips said. "We have a good understanding of what's going on. We both know what the other is doing. With certain things, we can kind of just feed off each other and non-verbally communicate with each other, which helps a lot."
On the practice field and in the locker room, LaBoy looks around, and he can't help but notice something.
The Chargers have the same caliber offense as his Super Bowl runner-up Cardinals team in 2008, he says, and their defense is even better.
Maybe, just maybe, this group can bring peace to his home and add the missing piece in his jewelry collection.
"Just being there on the losing side, it's not a fun place," LaBoy said. "If we get back, I can't imagine losing again."
Editor's note: A version of this story first appeared Aug. 19 in the Marin Independent Journal.