The San Diego Chargers led the NFL with 30 pass interceptions in the 2007 regular season. They have added three more in the postseason, including two in last Sunday's 28-24 upset win over Indianapolis.
I can't say I'm surprised. After all, San Diego's defensive backfield coach is a master football thief named Bill Bradley. It is worth watching this Game of the Week, just to check for his fingerprints. They are all over it, believe me.
As a free safety with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bradley was the first player to lead the league in interceptions in consecutive seasons. He had 11 interceptions in 1971 and nine in 1972. He played eight years with the Eagles and set the franchise record for career interceptions (34) and return yards (536). He made All-Pro three times.
He wasn't very big. The Eagles listed him at 5-11 and 190 pounds, but that was probably generous. He wasn't particularly fast, but he had a gift for finding the football. The best description of Bradley was offered by Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen who once said: "He's like a ghost. He's there, but you don't see him until it's too late."
You could say the same thing about the San Diego secondary, especially cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions during the regular season and he credits Bradley, who is in his first year on the Chargers staff, with his All-Pro performance.
Bradley has instilled in the San Diego defensive backs the same kind of fearless attitude he demonstrated as a player. He had one thought in mind and one thought only: Go for the ball. His secondary passed one severe test in the Divisional Playoff, defeating the Colts and Peyton Manning; it will now face another in the AFC Championship Game against New England and Tom Brady.
I got to know Bill when he played for the Eagles. We even shared an apartment in downtown Philadelphia for awhile. We talked about his days playing high school football in Palestine, Texas. He quarterbacked the team to the state high school championship and earned the nickname "Super Bill," which followed him to the University of Texas, then to Philadelphia.
For the last 25 years, he has coached all over the continent, from the United States Football League to the Canadian Football League to the NFL with stops in Buffalo, New York (Jets) and now San Diego. In all that time, Super Bill has never been this close to a Super Bowl. All he has to do is find a way to shut down the most dynamic passing game in history.
For the ultimate football thief, it is the ultimate challenge.