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The Epoch of the Epic in Miami
Here are five stories from one of the most iconic Chargers wins and games in NFL history.
By Hayley Elwood Jan 02, 2021

It's not every day an NFL game gets a nickname.

But when it does, it's because it's special.

That was true of the 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. From scorching temperatures to overtime, the game had a little bit of everything and after totaling over four hours of play, it rightfully earned the legendary nickname, Epic in Miami.

It's a game many consider the greatest in Chargers team history and one of the most iconic NFL games of all time.

To commemorate the Epic in Miami's nearly four-decade anniversary, we got a handful of some of the game's players together to reminisce and take us inside the huddle of the Bolts' 41-38 victory.

Here are five stories told by the guys who played through the truly epic game.


The photo of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow being carried off the field after the Chargers' overtime win is the defining image of this game, etched into football lore.

Make no mistake, Winslow literally gave this game his all. He finished with a then playoff record 13 receptions for 166 yards and a score while battling a litany of ailments and dehydration. It's a performance that's one of, if not the, greatest playoff performance by a single player in NFL history.

Take a look back at one of the best games in NFL history, the Chargers 41-38 overtime win over the Dolphins in the AFC Divisional round on January 2, 1982 that would go down as the Epic in Miami.

"(This game) is the main reason, I believe, that he's considered one of the greatest of all time and a Hall of Famer," Dan Fouts said of Winslow. "This happened to be Kellen's week to shine, and he did shine, and I think we're all grateful for the effort he put forth in that game."

On top of all that, Winslow also blocked the Dolphins' field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. It's a play that not only cemented Winslow's personal football legacy, but it also left a lasting impact on the league.

"To go out and block a field goal, that sounds like no big deal, you just jump up in the air," Fouts reflected. "Well, they changed the rule! You can't do that anymore in the NFL. That's how much influence Kellen had on a simple thing like trying to block a field goal."

18 & 89

The Chargers finished the game with three players each cracking the 100-yard receiving mark. While Winslow's performance stands out, what fellow Hall of Famer and wide receiver Charlie Joiner and wideout Wes Chandler did cannot be overstated.

"Wes Chandler had over 100 yards receiving as did Charlie in that game," Fouts said. "I was blessed to play with these guys and to know they were giving me their all and to know that they were gonna make it happen (was special.)"

Chandler notched six receptions for 106 yards, and also had a punt return touchdown in the first quarter to put the Bolts up 10-0.

Joiner had seven catches for 108 yards with a critical reception coming late in overtime to set up kicker Rolf Benirschke's game-winner.


Going into the game, the team knew it was gonna be a hot one.

Even with living and playing in San Diego, Southern California can get chilly in the winter, and the team took precautions to attempt to ready themselves for the humidity of South Florida for the Jan. 2 matchup.

That included head coach Don Coryell making sure former Chargers tight end turned team business manager, Pat Curran, went out and bought plenty of bananas to help players with effects of potential dehydration.

"(Coryell) gets on the microphone (on the plane ride over) and basically says, 'It's gonna be hot guys, it's gonna be a hot one and we gotta have our phosphorus. And there's gonna be orange juice and bananas in your room, so make sure you eat the bananas.' (He meant) potassium, he got it mixed up," Benirschke reflected.

According to Benirschke, Curran had to go to five different places to buy as many bananas as he could to leave two in every player's room.

"We walked out on the field and I’m going, man, our fat guys are in trouble." Hank Bauer
Heat 2

So, all these years later, was it really that hot?

You bet.

"We walked out on the field and I'm going, man, our fat guys are in trouble," mentioned former running back Hank Bauer.

A number of players dealt with cramping, exhaustion, and dehydration with many needing oxygen during the game.

"The thing I take away from the game was how exhausted we were," added former guard Ed "Big Ed" White. "We were sitting on our benches in front of our lockers and I was next to (former defensive tackle) Louie (Kelcher). He was as exhausted as I was, being the other fat guy on the team.

"Someone was reporting on the (game) talking to Louie and they said, 'Louie, how exhausted are you?' Louie said, 'I feel like I just rode from San Diego to Miami on horseback.'

"They then turned to my locker and in the same breath asked, 'Ed, how do you feel?' I said, 'I feel like the horse that Louie rode.'"


San Diego was up 24-0 in the second quarter, so it's kind of incredible that Miami, which then made a change at quarterback, fought back to eventually take a 38-31 lead in the fourth.

"I didn't want to go home a loser, " Joiner stated.

The Chargers got the ball back with 4:39 left in regulation and eventually got down to the Miami nine. On 1st-and-goal, Fouts lobbed a pass that running back James Brooks caught for the score. The pass was intended for Winslow, but Brooks cut in front to catch it.

Benirschke's extra point tied the game, but that game-saving touchdown was a play Fouts said should have failed.

"We ran that play a lot," he mentioned. "It's designed to go to Kellen, which was a good idea. But, in the thousands of times we ran that play … never once did the running back figure in. James Brooks made the smartest football play I have ever been associated with. He ran the base line of the end zone. My ball was intended for Kellen; Kellen was exhausted and really, out of nowhere flashes JB to make the catch for the score. To this day, it's the most amazing play I've ever been associated with.

"It was one that really pissed off (Dolphins head coach) Don Shula. I saw Shula at the Pro Bowl that year and in the first team meeting, he (gestured to me,) 'Come here, Fouts.' He said, 'You overthrew Winslow didn't you?' I said, 'Coach, who caught the ball? That's who I threw it to.' I lied."


So thanks to Winslow's field goal block at the end of regulation, the game went to overtime.

Don't forget, this was sudden death overtime. First score wins.

The Chargers won the coin toss and marched down the field. On 2nd-and-goal from the Miami eight, due to immense exhaustion because of the heat and humidity, they called Benirschke and the field goal unit on to kick a 27-yarder for the win.

However, it went wide left.

"Some of the guys on the field goal protection unit are defenders, and we had three guys who were defensive players who were on the side getting oxygen," Benirschke said. "They didn't hear the call for field goal because it was not when it was supposed to be. So we're out there and we're missing three guys … I (felt) like I should turn to the referee who's behind me and call timeout, but I'm worried they might snap the ball. But I kick it, and I miss it."

Benirschke didn't think he'd get a second chance, especially in overtime, and likened the game to a metaphor for his life.

"A kicker misses a field goal in overtime, you never get a second chance. And here I get a second chance at that." Rolf Benirschke

After all, he earned a second chance at life after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in his second season and battled through surgeries to make it back to kick full-time for the Chargers in 1980.

Later in overtime, the Dolphins ended up trying a field goal attempt but missed it, and the Bolts got the ball back with just over three minutes left in the game.

The aforementioned pass from Fouts to Joiner set San Diego up at the Miami 10, and back on came Benirschke for his second chance. And with a team that played nearly another full quarter game-action, Benirschke really needed to make that kick.

No, really. Just ask Fouts.

"Kellen was done," Fouts said. "Before that, Wes Chandler got the wind knocked out of him, so he's out of the game. Then on (Charlie's) play, he landed on the football and it knocked the wind out of him, so he's out of the game. So dang it, we had to kick that field goal! That was it! We had nobody else!"

"A kicker misses a field goal in overtime, you never get a second chance," mentioned Benirschke. "And here I get a second chance at that."

They call the field goal unit, which was ready this time, and Benirschke came on for the attempt.

He made it.

Chargers win, 41-38.


"The eerie thing was, we're playing Miami, it's their home game," Benirschke said. "So when the kick went through, it was absolutely silent. I turned to the holder and asked, 'Didn't it go through?' And then I turned to our bench and our bench is sort of erupting."

"I had never seen anything like it, even to this day, where you just looked around and every face was absolutely, 1,000-percent invested and totally spent," Bauer said.

Oh, and that image of Winslow being carried off?

"I remember Donny (Macek) and I were walking in together, and here Kellen's getting helped off the field," White recalled. "I go, 'Donny, we're 40 years old and nobody's helping us off!"

"Remember what Louie said?" Bauer asked. "Louie goes, 'Hey, look at that! They never help the fat guys off!'"

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