Sure, history ties the squads together in the form of the legendary 1981 AFC Championship Game known to many as “The Freezer Bowl”, but that’s not the only facet of similarity. Unfortunately, the biggest commonality is the pain felt by fans over the years.
For Who Dey Nation, it’s obviously about their lack of success. That “Freezer Bowl” win over the then-San Diego Chargers was one of the two best moments in team history. Such is the life for a Bengals fan, as immense pain followed that win (and the one against the Buffalo Bills in 1988) in the form of a last-minute loss to the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
The Chargers also suffered a loss to San Francisco in the Super Bowl, while both they and Cincinnati have had recent No. 1 overall picks subtly flip them the bird. Eli Manning demanded a trade after he was drafted by San Diego, prompting Philip Rivers to be their quarterback, while Carson Palmer quit on the Bengals after the 2010 season and was subsequently traded.
However, if there is one pain residents of The Queen City can’t relate to, it’s in losing the actual team from their city. After starting out in Los Angeles back in 1961, the Chargers were moved to San Diego a year later and built a solid fan base there.
After 56 seasons, the Spanos family ripped the Chargers out of San Diego and planted them back in L.A. to share the limelight with the Rams. The decision was based on a lot of factors, including varying attendance and a lack of an agreeable proposal for a new stadium between the team and the city.
Southern Californians have a reputation for being a bit more passive with their sports teams than many other cities. The prevailing belief as to why revolves around the fact that there is a lot to do outside of sporting events in the region (skiing/snowboarding, surfing, Hollywood, a myriad of other big sporting events, etc.) and the moderate climate allows people to partake in these endeavors year-round.
It’s between the many entertainment options and the poor condition of Qualcomm Stadium in its later years that made for an inconsistent home crowd for San Diego in recent seasons. It also didn’t help that the Chargers had just one playoff berth from 2010-2016 before they left town.
Even so, fans of the San Diego franchise have had a massive divide with the club since their move north. Some have completely severed their allegiance to the franchise, while others have decided that they root for the team and not the city.
Regardless, the fact that they’ve won 18 games since the move has helped ease the transition. And, as these two teams face off against each other, they are heading in two completely directions.
It wasn’t long ago that these two squads looked to be headed to a possible playoff matchup. Back in mid-October, the Chargers were 3-2, while the Bengals were surprising everyone with their 4-1 record and scrappy brand of play.
Fast-forward almost two months and the Bengals have gone 1-6, while the Chargers have done the opposite at 6-1. Anthony Lynn, who took over for Mike McCoy when the team made their northern trek, has two straight winning seasons under his belt.
As the Bengals stare at their third straight losing season, it’s hard to remember some of the recent good times with the club. It becomes increasingly difficult when they are two-touchdown underdogs this Sunday against the Super Chargers.
But believe it or not, the Bengals are 5-3 against the Chargers in the Marvin Lewis era. Even more surprising might be their 3-1 road record against them in that same span and the lone loss away from Paul Brown Stadium was a last-second heartbreaker a few days after Chris Henry’s untimely passing.
Lewis has created some quality teams in his 16-year tenure, so I suppose that we shouldn’t be overly-shocked at the record. Rivers is rivaling the amount of kids he’s fathered with the amount of Chargers postseason berths he has spearheaded though, proving that the Bolts are also frequently in the AFC mix.
But, this is a much different Bengals team than those led by Palmer and Andy Dalton. Furthering that point is that backup quarterback Jeff Driskel won’t be throwing to a Chad Johnson or A.J. Green.
The Bolts have lost their share of quality players as well (Jason Verrett, Corey Liuget, Denzel Perryman) and might be without stud running back Melvin Gordon again this week. But, they are relatively healthy at the moment, and it shows in their AFC West-leading 9-3 record.
Injuries are just part of the story this week, though.
A lot of eyes are on Lewis, who has to be drained from talking about his job status. The questions came at him furiously at the end of last season, and it’s rightfully happened again with the Bengals’ full collapse since their Week 6 loss to the Steelers. As he gets set to face a Chargers team that is playoff-bound, we’ll see if Cincinnati plays them tough as they did against the Lions and Ravens late last year, or if they’ll continue to get dominated in an embarrassing fashion.
Personally-speaking, I always enjoy seeing a Bengals road game against the Chargers on the schedule. It allows me the opportunity to see Cincinnati in-person, which isn’t commonplace for me, given my residency in Southern California.
But, to be honest, there is very little that I’m looking forward to going into this Sunday. Obviously, spending the day with family and friends while watching football aren’t on the complaint list—that’s what this weekend will be centered around for me.
However, the Bengals team we will witness is one that I’ll hardly recognize—and I mean that in almost every negative sense of the phrase. Injuries have forced new and sometimes unprepared faces onto the field, while the brand of football they have been playing seems as if it’s from a completely different league than that of the Chiefs, Rams, Patriots and Chargers.
I’d like to say that Driskel bounces back and gets more comfortable in his second career start. Maybe offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will finally use his backs more frequently to aid the young signal-caller. I’m not sold on either scenario occurring.
Unfortunately for the team and its fans, the Bengals are now seemingly in “scout for 2019” mode. That’s not an ideal situation with four games left on the schedule.
Bengals 16, Chargers 31
AC — Catch ya in SoCal.