Anytime the NFL schedule brings them together, particularly in the playoffs as it does on Sunday, San Diego and Miami are reminded of the game 10 years ago that will forever link their franchises.
It was two contrasting teams in a contest that was voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame the game of the 1980s.
They played 4 hours 3 minutes of furious football, setting playoff marks for most points (79) and most yards (1,036). Dan Fouts passed for 433 yards and Don Strock for 403--the first time in NFL history two quarterbacks each passed for over 400 yards in the same game.
At 13:52 of overtime it ended. The Chargers won, 41-38.
The Dolphins' proud Killer B's defense tuned up for the 1982 playoffs by allowing just 13 points in their last two regular season games. At San Diego, Air Coryell was in full flight, a rootin', tootin', attack built around Fouts, who had passed for an NFL record 4,802 yards during the regular season.
In the first quarter, the Chargers moved the ball all over the Orange Bowl.
After Rolf Benirschke's 32-yard field goal, Wes Chandler returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown. Then Chuck Muncie went in on a 1-yard run and 2 1/2 minutes after that, Fouts found James Brooks in the end zone with an 8-yard TD pass. Just like that, San Diego had a 24-0 lead.
In the final minute of the quarter, the Chargers had gained 97 yards and the Dolphins' total yardage read 0. It was a full-blown blowout.
"Things went good all through that first quarter," Fouts said. "We were surprised. It came so easily. There were turnovers, a punt return. We always had good field position. But we were well aware that it was early in the game. The sun was still out. We knew the Dolphins could come back."
Time seemed to be the only thing on Miami's side. There were still three quarters to play. On the sidelines, Don Shula resorted to the second part of his Wood-Strock quarterback tandem, sitting down David Woodley and inserting Don Strock.
Forgive Strock if he thought briefly, "Thanks, coach. We're down 24-0 and I'm supposed to get us out of this."
The miraculous part is that is exactly what the backup quarterback did.
"The insertion of Strock was the key," Fouts said. "He had no pressure, down 24-0. When you're down like that, you can do some things. What do you have to lose? What he did was phenomenal."
Strock went about the task methodically. "You try to get some points, anything on the scoreboard," he said. "I called my own plays. You try to think of running plays that look like passes and passing plays that look like runs."
Slowly, the Dolphins climbed off the deck. Uwe von Schamann kicked a 34-yard field goal. Then, with less than three minutes to go in the half, Strock hit Joe Rose with a 1-yard TD pass, making it 24-10.
Now, with time expiring, Strock and Shula huddled on the sideline and decided to try a little football gimmickry right out of the sandlot playbook--a fleaflicker. Strock threw a 15-yard pass to Duriel Harris, who lateraled to Tony Nathan for the final 25 yards and the TD. On the sidelines, Fouts and receiver Charlie Joiner broke out laughing.
"We admired it," Fouts said. "And we thought, 'Oh boy, here we go.' "
In the dressing room, the Chargers were in shock.
"They ran that hook-and-ladder play that brought them within seven," Benirschke said. "In the locker room, the guys were stunned and didn't know what to do. Dan came in and absolutely, in words we can't talk about, said we cannot lose this game. He proceeded to jump-start us. He was the reason that we didn't lose."
The touchdown at the halftime gun made it 24-17 and the Dolphins couldn't wait for the third quarter to begin. "The fleaflicker got us back," Strock said. "We open the second half down by seven and get the kickoff. That's an opportunity to tie and start all over again."
Just over four minutes into the third quarter, Miami had its tie on another Strock-to-Rose TD pass, this one for 15 yards. The 24-point lead was gone.
"We knew they couldn't stop us," Fouts said. "We stopped ourselves. I threw one interception. They got momentum. Their pass rush and defense got into it. We went into a less aggressive mode, defending the field instead of attacking offensively."
But Fouts struck back, finding Kellen Winslow with a 25-yard TD pass. Winslow was playing with a pinched nerve in his left shoulder and cramps in his back and legs. By game's end, his lip was cut and his eye was swollen. He finished with 13 catches for 166 yards.
"My recollection of that game," Shula said, "is that we had players who continued to help Winslow get up off the field when he was down and tired and didn't have enough strength to get up. We were helping him up, and he would turn around and make a big play again. I was trying to get them to let him get up by himself."
Strock responded to Winslow's TD with a 50-yard score to tight end Bruce Hardy. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Nathan went in from 12 yards out. Remarkably, the Dolphins were in front.