During training camp I continued to hear the mantra “Next Man Up” from players, coaches and front office executives. The cynical side of me thought perhaps it was just another slogan that could be splashed on a t-shirt and sold. Or perhaps a cool saying to put on an edited picture. I took this catchphrase and used it for my selfish benefit; as a tool in raising my enthusiasm about our Chargers. After three weeks of the regular season, I feel that I might understand and value what McCoy and Telesco were really referring to and where this motto came from.
Rewinding a little – After I cleansed my cynical ideals about the phrase, I sat back and thought about it open-mindedly. With early injuries to Clary and season-long injuries to Freeney and Ingram last year, it would make sense to employ this theory. I felt perhaps the dunce cap was coming off and now I was able to leave the corner of the room. I felt relieved, and a honestly a little dimwitted. I realized it was not just a commercialized statement. It actually had meaning. However, I had not yet fully grasped the concept.
Going back even further now – back to the 2012-2013 season. The New England Patriots clinched the 2nd seed in the AFC playoffs with a 12-4 record. They would lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens, but they had the same motto – Next Man Up. All season long they had dealt with adversity, injuries, suspensions….etc. The coveted phrase would have to prove itself in the AFC divisional playoffs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski re-injured his surgically repaired forearm and a certain running back injured his thumb within the first ten plays of the game. The backup RB, Shane Vereen, scored three touchdowns and amassed 124 total yards. The running back who injured his thumb, was none other than our own Danny Woodhead.
Early in 2014, and more specifically last Sunday’s win against the Bills, I saw……no!…I felt what was happening. It’s not just about being ready to play at any moment with no excuses, it also means producing on the field. I know this might sound muddled, but hear me out. Last season there were no Charger defenders who won “Player of The Week.” Rivers and Peyton Manning played seesaw for the first four weeks with Manning eventually winning the “Player of The Month.” In 2012, we had one Charger win this honor – Donald Butler in week 4. This year, we have had back-to-back winners – Gates and now Liuget. Next Man Up. If Liuget is off his game, perhaps Reyes will pick up the slack and become the fierce warrior. Antonio Gates might have shined in one game, but perhaps Eddie Royal will step up and take a few to the house. Because of this team, this family, this translucent mantra, every player feels that they are next. They believe in this team, this motto, and they want to be a part of it. There is something in the air out in San Diego, an aura of great confidence. Can you feel it?
Fast forward to the here and now. As many NFL teams have experienced thus far, injuries are attacking without any remorse. San Diego is no different. From small irritant injuries to long-term injuries to possible career ending ones, our beloved Bolts have taken a beating….literally. Mathews went down. Insert Donald Brown and Branden Oliver. Woodhead went down. Insert DJ Adams and Shaun Draughn. Melvin Ingram goes down (again) and insert Cordarro Law. What can we expect from them? Only time will tell. In the past, I would have become pessimistic and hopeless watching our starters go down. This year, even with our brutal schedule, I am not panicking. I am not worried, and I am not giving up hope. Why you ask? Because….the Next Man is up.