35 years ago, Chargers-Dolphins was one of the best games in NFL history
The Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers will meet Sunday in a game that won't carry the highest of stakes. However, the franchises do share an iconic moment and game that — 35 seasons later — stands every test of NFL history.
In a Jan. 2, 1982 AFC playoff game, the two high-scoring franchises put on a show in the Orange Bowl, combining for 1,036 yards in a battle that took more than 60 minutes to decide.
It didn't start out that way as San Diego roared to a 24-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
That evaporated as Miami charged back. The Dolphins used a hook-and-lateral play to score a touchdown near the end of the first half.
With six seconds left and the ball at the San Diego 40, Don Strock's pass found Duriel Harris. He lateraled it to running back Tony Nathan, who ran the remaining 25 yards for the TD, making the score 24-17.
“It's pretty hard to believe that a guy would bite on that with six seconds to go,” Strock later said of 87 Circle Curl Lateral, “but when it worked, it made every high school coach in the world happy because every high school has that play.”
“We admired it,” Dan Fouts told The Associated Press after the game. “And we thought, 'Oh boy, here we go.' “
The teams fought to a 38-38 tie at the end of regulation, and Chargers All-Pro tight end Kellen Winslow became the lead player in this drama. He barely made it off the field after cramping in overtime — this was a game that saw Winslow endure an injured shoulder, a pinched nerve, a swollen eye, a split lip, cramps and dehydration from the humidity — only to return an block a potential game-winning field goal attempt by Uwe Von Schamann after the Dolphins had recovered a Chuck Muncie fumble.
That was the biggest thrill of my life,” Winslow later told reporters of the game-saving block. “I felt like I scored three touchdowns.”
The Chargers then sealed the deal. A 35-yard pass from Dan Fouts to Charlie Joiner set up San Diego at the Miami 18. Rolf Benirschke kicked the field goal that sent the Chargers to their second straight AFC Championship game.
Three Chargers receivers cracked the 100-yard mark, led by Winslow, who had 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins had two receivers go over the century mark in yardage, and their tight end, Bruce Hardy, came up 11 yards short of making it a trio.
The game had everything — seven turnovers, 100 yards in penalties, 79 points, 96 pass attempts, seven TD passes and a Wes Chandler punt return for a touchdown — and didn't finish until there was barely a minute left in overtime. Winslow wasn't the only one who was spent.
“The locker-room celebration was more low key than other locker rooms I'd been in,” Chargers running back Hank Bauer told reporters. “It was more of 'Thank God that's over. Thank God we got out alive.' “