As technology progresses, I have switched from cell phone to cell phone along with the times (although that's debatable with me now using a 2+ year old iPhone). On one of these cell phones I had a picture of the sports section of the San Diego Union-Tribune from the morning of the AFC Championship game against the Patriots. I had taken it and sent it to my (now ex-)wife, because I was incredibly excited to be in San Diego for such a huge game.
The drawing on the cover of the sports page should've probably been a warning sign, but I loved it. Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson were all missing days of practices and there were rumors about none of them being able to walk on their own that week. The drawing was the three of them, bandaged and bruised, as members of a band in the Revolutionary War. One was playing a flute, somebody had a drum, you get the idea. It was a fantastic image, wounded warriors heading straight towards the battlefield with nothing more than their instruments and their heart. (If anyone can find this image, feel free to post it in the comments)
This was the end of the 2007 season, and when Antonio Gates first hurt his toe. Although the toe took about two seasons to heal, and health is a big reason why Gates has been on a record pace this season, the Chargers TE has not missed a game in five and a half years. The most amazing part of Antonio's career to this point is not his ability to get open and catch the ball, it's that in a position where he's half-offensive lineman and half-wide receiver he has never once missed a game due to injury.
If you think about it, that makes this week's game at Houston a somewhat-historic event. Sure, Dallas Clark and Tony Gonzalez have had similar runs of consecutive games in their careers, but to think that Gates had to play 7.5 full seasons of NFL football (plus a handful of playoff games) before being injured badly enough to miss a game is amazing. What is even more amazing is that he is not ruling himself out yet, tweeting yesterday "Not sure if I'm playing or not taking it one day at a time."
It would appear that not only did the Chargers hit the jackpot in getting Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates in terms of talent, but those two guys also represent two of the toughest men in the NFL. Their talent, toughness and brains are the reasons why these two guys are the leaders of the San Diego Chargers.