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Chargers epic '82 playoff win in Miami

Posted Jan 18, 2002

With the NFL's divisional playoffs taking place this weekend, this is the perfect time to look back at one of the most memorable games in league history: the Chargers' epic victory over Miami in the 1982 divisional playoff game. This excerpt has been republished from NFL's Greatest, Copyright © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Publishing Limited and National Football League Properties, Inc.

The 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins had everything: wacky plays, heroic performances, endless drama, and countless momentum swings in the humid South Florida heat. No wonder many consider it the greatest game in pro football history, the 1958 NFL Championship Game notwithstanding. 

With atrip to the AFC title game on the line, the Chargers jumped to a 24-0first-quarter lead. That forced the Dolphins to abandon their conservative gameplan and bring in veteran quarterback Don Strock. Passing on almostevery down, Strock led the Dolphins to 10 points while the Chargers’ high-poweredoffense stalled. Still, San Diego hada 24-10 advantage as halftime neared until Miami producedlightning.

TheDolphins, without much time (six seconds) or much hope of getting another scorebefore intermission (they were at the Chargers’ 40),calleda play that usually only works on the sandlot, then executed it to perfection.Strock fired a pass to Duriel Harris on the right side at SanDiego’s 25. As Chargersdefenders hurried to make the tackle and end the half, Harris lateraled theball to TonyNathan,who streaked past the San Diego’s stunned defense to complete a 40-yardtouchdown. 

The “Hook and Ladder’ play made it 24-17, and sent the Dolphins into thelocker room on an emotional high that carried over into the second half.Strock, who passedfor 403 yards and four touchdowns, led Miami onscoring drives of 74 and 83 yards. In between, Dan Fouts guided theChargers on a 60-yard march. The teams were tied 31-31 as the third quarterwound down.

But notfor long. An interception late in the period gave Miami theball at San Diego’s15, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Nathan scored on a 12-yardrun. The Dolphins, once on the verge of being blown out, had their first lead.

Theyalmost put the game away with a seven-minute drive, but momentum swung againwhen San Diego’sWillieShaw recovereda fumble at the Chargers’ 18 with 4:39 left.Fouts then completed seven of eight passes for 75 yards, including a 9-yardtouchdown to James Brooks that tied the game 38-38 with 58 secondsleft. 

Back cameStrock, who led Miami tothe Chargers’ 25 with four seconds left. But Kellen WinslowSanDiego’s 6-foot 5-inch tightend, tipped Uwevon Schamann’s attempt at a winning 43-yard field goal andthe teams went to overtime.

Inovertime, after each team missed a potential winning field goal (von Schamannhad another kick blocked), Fouts, who completed 33 of 53 passes for 433 yardsand three touchdowns, found Charlie Joiner for a 39-yard pass. Theplay capped a 74-yard drive and set up Rolf Benirschke’s29-yard field goal to end the game after 13:52 ofovertime, sending both teams, and their fans, home emotionally drained but withthe memories from one of the greatest games in NFL history.


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