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He's hoping 13 will be lucky

Schottenheimer's previous 12 visits to the playoffs have ended in losses, but this year his Chargers have the NFL's best record.

January 07, 2007|Bernie Wilson | Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — They're the Dirty Dozen.

No, not the tough guys in that World War II flick.

Try Marty Schottenheimer's 12 career playoff losses. They define him as much -- if not more -- than his 200 regular-season wins.

The 63-year-old coach has never made it to the Super Bowl, a trip he hopes to finally make this season with his San Diego Chargers. Led by league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and sackmaster Shawne Merriman, they're the most-balanced team he's had in his 13 forays into the postseason. They've earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by virtue of their NFL-best 14-2 record.

Each of Schottenheimer's previous 12 playoff trips, with Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego, has ended with some form of gut-wrenching loss. They range from John Elway leading "The Drive" in the epic AFC championship game in January 1987 to Schottenheimer's most recent defeat two years ago, when he angrily ran onto the field and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

If this season ends with an unlucky 13th playoff defeat, General Manager A.J. Smith might recommend to team President Dean Spanos that Schottenheimer be fired. The coach, who has a year remaining on his contract at more than $3 million, and the GM have a strained relationship because of disagreements over personnel moves.

Schottenheimer's run of bad luck is near-legendary. His playoff history is like a 12-car freeway pileup -- it's hard not to slow down and gawk.

The coach has lost in every time zone and all sorts of weather: Kansas City's freezing cold, Miami's sunshine and even in the rain in normally sunny San Diego, where his Chiefs were doused by the elements and Bobby Ross' Chargers 14 years ago.

His first playoff loss came during the second Reagan administration. His last win, with Joe Montana as his quarterback, was when Bill Clinton was serving his first term in the White House. He has lost five straight since 1993. He's been one-and-done eight times. They've been tough and close -- eight have been by five points or fewer; two have gone overtime.

Since Schottenheimer's first full season as head coach with Cleveland in 1985, 21 franchises have played in the Super Bowl, including San Diego 12 years ago, with 12 different winners. Six franchises have multiple victories.

Schottenheimer doesn't try to write off his playoff history to bad karma. He's often been accused of being too conservative -- it's called Martyball -- but he chooses to point to a play here or there that cost his team.

"The opportunities to win are going to be available, and you have to seize them when they're available," he said.

He has won only five of 17 playoff games.

"When you lose, there's a hollow feeling. But 'The Drive' sticks in my mind only because they started on the two-yard line. I remember that game."

That momentous loss was on Jan. 11, 1987, in Cleveland. With the Browns leading 20-13 with 5:32 left, Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards in 15 plays for the tying touchdown, then led them to the winning field goal in overtime.

Schottenheimer remembers Elway getting a break on a third-and-18. Steve Watson went in motion and the snap glanced off his hip. But Elway, lined up in the shotgun, recovered and completed a 20-yard pass to Mark Jackson, keeping "The Drive" alive.

"It ricochets to them instead of gosh only knows where, and you fall on it and you win the game," Schottenheimer said. "Again, it's generally the little things that make all the difference."

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