San Diego Chargers 41, Miami Dolphins 38 Jan. 2, 1982 By Phil Barber NFL Publishing (Dec. 1, 1999) "Great game?" Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula growled after his team had fallen in overtime in a 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff Game. "We lost." In hindsight, even Shula would have to admit that this one had everything, including dramatic comebacks, schoolyard plays and more sweat than has ever been poured into a single sporting event, unless you count the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. The editors of Sports Illustrated recently called it their "Favorite Game" of the 20th Century in any sport. NFL.com fans didn't quite go that far, but they did place it ninth among the Most Memorable NFL Games of the Century. The setting was Miami in all its subtropical glory. Temperature and humidity at game time both hovered around 85. Add the sandy-based surface of the Orange Bowl, and there wasn't a muscle on either sideline that didn't threaten to cramp. Throughout the first 15 minutes of play, however, the visiting San Diego Chargers of Air Coryell appeared to be feeling just fine. They burst from the gates with three touchdowns (including a 56-yard punt return by Wes Chandler) and a field goal for a 24-0 first-quarter lead. The home crowd was stunned. Shula stemmed the flow not with a change of strategy but with a personnel move. He benched 23-year-old David Woodley (at the time the youngest quarterback ever to start an NFL playoff game) in favor of Don Strock, an eight-year veteran and career backup. Strock turned in the best game of his life, completing 29 of 43 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns. His counterpart, San Diego's Dan Fouts, passed for 433, making it the first NFL game in which two quarterbacks exceeded 400 yards. The score was 24-10 with six seconds left in the first half, the ball at the San Diego 40, when Strock went to the sideline to huddle with Shula. Rather than lobbing a Hail Mary pass, Shula authorized 87 Circle Curl Lateral a classic hook-and-ladder play. Strock threw short to Duriel Harris, who immediately lateraled the ball to halfback Tony Nathan, who sprinted unimpeded into the end zone. "On the hitch-and-lateral play, I was standing next to [wide receiver] Charlie Joiner on the sidelines," says Fouts, who now analyzes college football games for ABC. "We weren't happy. But in a sick way, we kind of admired it." Miami tied the game 24-24 in the third quarter, and later took a 38-31 lead. The Chargers, who recently had acquired a reputation for folding in tight games, looked like they were letting another one slip away. But they recovered a fumble at their own 18-yard late in regulation play. Fouts then led them on a hurried drive down the field, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to James Brooks with 58 seconds left. "That pass was not intended for James," Fouts says. "Now if Don Shula were on the phone I'd say, 'Screw you. I was throwing to Brooks all the way.' "I saw Shula at the Pro Bowl a month later. He didn't congratulate me, didn't say 'Nice game.' He said, 'You threw it to Winslow, didn't you?' I guess the statute of limitations has run out, so I can admit it now." The intended receiver indeed was Kellen Winslow, San Diego's gifted tight end. And it was Winslow who saved the day moments later, blocking Uwe von Schamann's 43-yard field-goal attempt with four seconds remaining. The block was an exclamation point to Winslow's heroic day. Despite constant bumping at the line, he beat the Dolphins for 13 receptions, 166 yards and a touchdown. Already nursing a pair of shoulder injuries, he went through three pairs of shoulder pads in the game. He also got three stitches after linebacker A.J. Duhe gave him a forearm to the lip. After the game, Winslow had to be assisted from the field by two teammates. He limped off a winner. Both teams missed field goals in overtime, but the Chargers' Rolf Benirschke finally hit one from 29 yards, mercifully releasing the exhausted combatants. "That game," Fouts says, "was like, 'We won!' 'We lost!' 'We're tied!' 'We won!' We were on the brink of elimination half a dozen times." The Chargers' reward was a trip to Cincinnati, where the wind-chill factor would take the temperature down to a startling 59 degrees below zero for the AFC Championship Game. They survived the fire, but they couldn't make it through the ice.