Bob Baumhower, Miami Dolphins' defensive tackle, remembers walking off the field "in a complete state of mental and physical exhaustion, like nothing I can ever recall. I was absolutely numb."
Don Shula, Miami coach, remembers, "a very empty feeling, a tough thing to live with in the offseason, knowing that we fell so far behind, came back, and then lost the way we did."
Tim Fox, San Diego free safety, remembers watching last year's dramatic Dolphins-Chargers playoff game on television and "thinking how incredible it was and how it just kept going. Now that I'm on this team, I know why we won, I can see how it happened. And I think the rematch is going to be a very similar game."
The rematch will be Sunday. Same site, the Orange Bowl, same teams and the same stakes, a spot in the American Football Conference championship game the following week. "Everything's the same," Baumhower says, "except we think we're gonna win it this time."
A year ago, the Dolphins had similar thoughts after they rallied from a 24-0 deficit to take a 38-31 lead late in the game. San Diego drove the length of the field to tie the game, but Miami came back again, this time setting up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Uwe von Schamann that was blocked by San Diego's Kellen Winslow on the last play of regulation.
In overtime, von Schamann had a 34-yard field goal attempt blocked. Rolf Benirschke, who had missed a short field goal early in the overtime, finally kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:08 remaining and San Diego won, 41-38.
Winslow, who had 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, was so badly dehydrated he had to be helped from the field. "Our training room looked like a combat zone," Baumhower recalled. "It's something anyone who played in will never forget."
Shula says the memory of that game helped his team prepare for the 1982 season. "The dissappointment of being so close and no cigar really hurt," he said. "It gave us great incentive for this year."
Shula's son David, now a receivers coach for the Dolphins, amplified. "The whole offseason, one of the themes was 'remember what happened against San Diego,' " he said. "Guys really worked hard. Even during the strike, the Dolphins were one of the teams that consistently worked out. The whole theme was to remember how bad a taste was left."
The Chargers also remember. "We had our first meeting Monday," said Fox, obtained from the Patriots in the offseason, "and the first thing (Coach Don) Coryell said was that we had to be prepared to play five, six, seven quarters. We all know it's gonna be a dogfight."
Though the game was played only a year ago, both teams have undergone significant changes.
The Chargers have a new defensive coordinator, Tom Bass replacing Jack Pardee, and, while San Diego has given up gobs of yards, "we very rarely give up the cheap touchdown anymore," Fox said. "Last year, Miami used a trick play (a quick pass in the flat to Duriel Harris, who lateraled to Tony Nathan for a 40-yard touchdown at the end of the first half) to get back in the game. I don't think you'll see that happening again."
Said Don Shula: "They are more of a contain-type defense under Bass. They'll give you a lot of stuff underneath, but they'll basically stop the long pass and the long run. They don't gamble as much as they did last year. Their defense is definitely improved."
The Dolphins are different, too.
They are playing with great confidence, particularly quarterback David Woodley, who was relieved in the Chargers game by veteran Don Strock. Will Shula hesitate to call on Strock, the man who directed Miami's memorable comeback a year ago?
"David is playing with great confidence right now," he said. "He's had two excellent games for us. I'll use the same pattern I always use. I don't make up my mind ahead of time. It'll just depend on the feel of the game." Baumhower talked about other differences. "We're so much more mature than we were a year ago," he said. "Last year, we were young; we were supposed to be an 8-8 team. We went into that game (against the Chargers) with very little confidence. Then we played that game. We kept coming back, and I think it's carried over. We know now we can play with any team in the NFL. We're as good or better than anyone."
Winslow agreed. "I don't think there's any kind of revenge thing for them in this game. I think they used the game to their advantage. They came in with a young team that had doubts about themselves. They proved they could play that day. It took a lot of guts and determination on their part to come back like they did, just like it took a lot of guts and determination for us to win it.
"That game did a lot for our confidence, too. People were always saying we couldn't win a big game. What do I remember about that game? I lost a lot of fluids, a lot of minerals, and I had a lot of little injuries that added up to a lot. I was just a little tired; yeah, you could say that. We also won. I remember that. And this week, we'll do whatever it takes to win again."