This is a great time of year to be thankful for what we have, where we have been, and what the future holds. Although the Chargers have lost their way a bit in recent years, the month of December used to hold such incredible promise! This advent calendar is an attempt to hearken back to these days of December joy. Each day will bring a new advent from the Bolts’ history that makes it wonderful to be a Chargers fan.
Dec. 22: Super Bowl XXIX
Hey, it’s good to get to the big dance, even if your date ends up going home with someone else. Today we remember and are thankful for the Chargers’ only Super Bowl, even if it wasn’t quite everything we had hoped for.
The Chargers were the biggest surprise of the 1994 season, with very few expecting them to even reach the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.
San Diego suffered losing seasons in the 1980s until former Washington Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard joined the team in 1990. Beathard decided to rebuild the Chargers using the same model that he used to build the Redskins into Super Bowl contenders during the 1980s – a powerful running game built around big linemen, a passing game that helped sustain extremely long drives, and a bending but steady defense.
Before the start of the 1994 season, San Diego was not expected to do well because they had so many newcomers via the draft and free agency; the Chargers ended up with 22 new players on their roster, and 10 of them became starters. However, they ended up winning their first six regular season games en route to an 11–5 record, the AFC West championship, and the #2 AFC playoff seed. The Chargers went into the final game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers needing a win to get the #2 seed. Backup quarterback Gale Gilbert, subbing for injured starter Stan Humphries, led the Chargers to a come-from-behind 37–34 win, with John Carney kicking a game-winning field goal in the game's final seconds.
The Chargers' offense was mostly led by quarterback Stan Humphries, who was the Redskins' backup to Mark Rypien during the 1991 season when they won Super Bowl XXVI. During the 1994 season for San Diego, Humphries completed 264 out of 453 attempts for 3,209 yards and 17 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. Running back Natrone Means led the team in rushing with 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also recorded 39 receptions for 235 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. The linebacking corps was led by Junior Seau, who was a Pro Bowl selection for the fourth consecutive year, recording 123 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries.
Chargers backup quarterback Gale Gilbert became the first player to be a member of five consecutive Super Bowl teams. He had been a third-string quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, who had won AFC Championships in the four previous seasons (1990–1993).
The NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and the Cowboys was called "the real Super Bowl", because those two teams were commonly viewed as vastly superior to any AFC team. Furthermore, San Francisco crushed San Diego, 38–15, during the regular season. Therefore, the 49ers entered the game favored to win by an 18½ points margin, the largest in Super Bowl history.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what made this season historic, and what made this Super Bowl special for the Chargers. I haven’t spent a lot of time summing up the game because, well, this is supposed to be a happy time of year.
This was the first Super Bowl in which both teams scored in all four quarters. The combined aggregate score of 75 points and the ten total touchdowns both remain Super Bowl records. Still, the 49ers controlled most of the game, and the final score of 26-49 shows that readily.
Instead of being the ultimate Cinderella season for the Chargers, Super Bowl XXIX ended up being Steve Young’s bombastic entrance to the national stage. He had backed up Joe Montana in the 1988 and 1989 Super Bowls and was firmly making his mark on the sport. His six touchdown passes is also a Super Bowl record.
-Jason “A Fine, Above-Average Owl, at Least” Michaels