Thursday, November 26, 2015

Il Fornaio in Coronado: Our Favorite Restaurant

Il Fornaio in Coronado - Dining doesn't get any better than this
Quick, without thinking too hard, what's your favorite restaurant? Can you name just one that stands out for you above all the rest? It's kind of like eating just one potato chip, right? It's not quite as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of things to take into consideration when choosing your favorite restaurant. The food tops the list, of course. But we all know there's more to it than that. It's the atmosphere. Service. It's the good feeling you get when you walk in and sit down. It's the fellow diners. It's the good memories attached to the place. Hey, for some it's the bathrooms, table cloths and silverware. Some folks were just born quirky.

A restaurant has to rate high on a combination of things before it can be deemed your favorite. For example, great food isn't so great if the service is lousy. And great service doesn't matter much if your pasta is under-cooked. And none of it matters if the place is so expensive you have to take out a second mortgage to leave a tip.

Then there's the view. Surroundings/aesthetics aren't everything. There are plenty of hole-in-the wall places with killer entrees that I like a lot. But when I want to celebrate my life and family and friends and dine in style, I like a nice view as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I probably like a nice view even more than the next guy. 

So, after that unnecessarily long-winded set-up (my apologies), let me cut to the chase: I've chosen my favorite restaurant. In the entire world. And given all the givens, it was really not that difficult a decision after all. In fact, it was a no brainer.

Il Fornaio in Coronado, directly across the bay from Downtown San Diego, gets my highest possible grade. Il Fornaio, which means "the Baker" in Italian, isn't exactly a secret. It's a chain, yes, but each restaurant is designed specifically for the community in which it resides. The Coronado location is just special. Unique. It is my go-to place when I want to enjoy a great meal with the people I care about the most. Has been for many years.  

An award-winning eatery with an authentic and unique Italian/Mediteranean coastline dining experience, Il Fornaio is quite popular, but it's not pretentious or overpriced. It is still intimate and accessible and fun and never stuffy.

But the restaurant has rightly gotten its share of praise, including the 2007 Award of Distinction by the respected Wine Enthusiast magazine and the recently awarded “Marchio Q” by the Italian Chambers of Commerce in Italy.

Il Fornaio serves only Italian and Californian wines, and also offers its own brand of wine: a Chianti and a pinot grigio produced in Italy and a chardonnay produced in California’s Mendocino County. Both are excellent.

Il Fornaio's gifted Chef Giorgio Lo Verde brilliantly melds all the familiar Italian food staples with more exotic and lesser-known dishes that will totally taunt your taste buds and make you so happy you'll start speaking in alliterations like I just did.

And for gluten-free loyalists like me, this place is Nirvana. I can enjoy the full Italian Food Experience here with gluten-free pasta, the best in town. And believe me, I've tried as many gluten-free pasta dishes in San Diego as you could imagine. Top that gluten-free pasta with the Alfredo sauce and shrimp and a salad with the outstanding house dressing, which is a bit like Caeser but even better. That's my Italian dinner of choice, especially when I am with my family and friends. It just doesn't get any better. 

I've never had a bad meal here. And I've tried a variety of entrees. Try the Meatball, mushroom, and polenta dish. Specialties include homemade pastas, pizzas from an oak wood burning oven, wood-fired rotisserie and grilled meats, poultry and game; fresh salads and housemade soups, a wide variety of delicious desserts, and fresh bread made daily in the restaurant's own bakery. 

Another thing I love about Il Fornaio in Coronado is Festa Regionale, a winning idea that introduces diners to a variety of foods indigenous to various parts of Italy. Yep, Italian food is just like American food in that it's regional and diverse. It varies widely in each of the country's 20 regions.  Each month represents a different region of Italy. You can learn a bit of Italian history, geography and culture without having to take the 13-hour flight. It's been a popular feature at the restaurant for two decades. All you have to do is sign up for the restaurant's Passaporto program.

If the food wasn't so delicious, Il Fornaio's location would be its greatest asset. It's spectacular. Arguably the nicest location of any restaurant in America. Back when I visited New York a lot for my work, I was partial to the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That was truly a view from Heaven, but of course sadly and tragically it no longer exists.

Il Fornaio overlooks San Diego Bay and offers the perfect view of San Diego's ever-improving Downtown skyline. Sitting in this restaurant looking out at the boats going by on the bay and seeing the sun glisten off the Downtown buildings just reminds that San Diego really is still America's Finest City.

Il Fornaio also has excellent service. The waiters -- seems there are more men than women serving here, not sure if that's an Italian thing or what -- are all personable, helpful and easy going. They all seem like they really want to be there. And here's a novelty for an Italian restaurant in San Diego: some of them are actually Italian!

And this is all of course a reflection of the enlightened management of Luca Allieri, who goes out of his way to make sure your dining experience is a memorable one. He's a class act, a pro who just knows how to make diners feel welcome. 

The setting at Il Fornaio is casual classy, with beautifully stained wood, floor-to-ceiling windows and white tablecloths and indoor as well as outdoor seating. And the atmosphere is pure joy. This is an an "event" kind of place without ever being too loud or annoying. People come here to celebrate life. Graduations. Marriages. Love. Friendship. Family. In fact, I'm going to be celebrating my life and my family at Il Fornaio in Coronado this Thanksgiving. 



Coronado's Ferry Landing: After we dine at Il Fornaio, we'll probably take a short walk along the water to the Coronado Ferry Landing, the charming village of shops, clothing stores, art galleries and more along the water. It's a pleasant way to walk off the food and top off the perfect evening spent at my favorite restaurant in the world. What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Reno Dispatch Wins Nine Awards at Press Club's 2015 Excellence in Journalism Awards

San Diego is home to some of the finest journalists in the nation. We were honored to be in their company Tuesday night, and proud to have won 11 awards -- the most of any journalist -- at the San Diego Press Club's 42nd Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards. 

The Reno Dispatch, the national news blog you're currently reading, earned nine awards, including First Place recognition for our 2014 election coverage (Young Americans Didn't Vote, Latino Americans Didn't Vote, And You’re Calling This A Mandate?), our health and medicine writing (How Cancer Made Me A Better Writer), and our profile writing (EXCLUSIVE: Renee Richards Talks About Life, Tennis and Bruce Jenner).

I was also pleased to win two awards for my investigative reporting for One was for a three-part series in which I took an in-depth look at whether President Obama has achieved his goals for helping America’s veterans. The other was for piece I wrote on how the Department of Veterans Affairs has evidently turned its back on military reserves exposed to Agent Orange.

In 2013, The Reno Dispatch won five Press Club awards, and in 2014 we won two. That makes a total of 16 journalism awards in the three years we've been up and running. Thanks very much to everyone for reading and supporting our national news blog. I'm not much of a techie, but I'm old that The Reno Dispatch has had more than 700,000 visits in just the last year and 1/2. As long as you keep visiting, and reading, we will keep writing.

October 27, 2015 

Election CoverageYoung Americans Didn't Vote, Latino Americans Didn't Vote, And You’re Calling This A Mandate?  The Reno Dispatch

Health & MedicineHow Cancer Made Me A Better Writer, The Reno Dispatch

Profile EXCLUSIVE: Renee Richards Talks About Life, Tennis and Bruce Jenner,  The Reno Dispatch

Arts & Entertainment ReportingWhy Is Craig Ferguson, Late Night's Funniest Host, Leaving?  The Reno Dispatch

Public Service/Consumer AdvocacyExclusive: An Inside Look at Livestrong After Lance Armstrong,  The Reno Dispatch 

Reviews: RestaurantJamie Reno, Croce's Park West: The Coolest Place in Town,  The Reno Dispatch

Military Reporting VA Turns Its Back On American Military Reserves Exposed to Agent Orange, 

Reviews, MusicIs David Crosby God?,  The Reno Dispatch

SeriesHas President Obama Achieved His Goals For Helping America’s Veterans

Sports - The San Diego Chargers' Owners Don't Care About You.... But it's Nothing Personal,  The Reno Dispatch

Thursday, October 15, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Human Rights Leader Naila Chowdhury Brings Her Groundbreaking Global Summit to San Diego This Weekend

Global human rights leader Naila Chowdhury
I've been fortunate to meet many dynamic and inspirational people in my life, but no one has inspired me quite as profoundly as Naila Chowdhury. A leading global management professional and world humanitarian from Bangladesh, Naila is co-founder and chair of the The Alliance 4 Empowerment (A4E), a non-profit organization that helps people help themselves in communities all over the world, from Norway to India to Thailand to Ukraine to Malaysia to Pakistan.

Naila's achievements in the human rights arena are nonpareil. Serving in a UN agency as well as several multinationals, she's worked closely with Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus for more than 15 years. She's also worked with Bill and Melinda Gates, and many others. 

Naila's non-profit was created to empower underserved people with the opportunity to live with dignity, self-esteem, respect and love. And that's just what she and many other renowned philanthropists will be doing this Saturday, October 17, when the Alliance hosts the Global Empowerment Summit from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

It's called an "Empowerment Summit," but that simply means a special gathering to address ways in which we can all help people in our city and globally fulfill their human potential - and fulfill our own potential, too.

Naila, who I met just recently, said that, "When you attend our summit, we'll give people like you who have love and compassion in their hearts greater insight into how how to get involved and make a real difference in the world. For example, we know that people in San Diego have a lot of compassion, but even people who live here don't know the whole story with immigrants and human trafficking."

Naila has a brilliant way of simplifying complex issues and making all the broken parts of our humanity sound fixable. And, really, they are if we want to fix them. Her positive persona and genuine person-to-person warmth and charisma are undeniable. Resistance is futile. 

It's no wonder that she is able to move mountains and convince countless world leaders to support her efforts. More than just about anyone I've met, she's all about love and compassion for the individuals of this earth. This is her driver. It's that simple. She exalts the term "people person" to new heights. And really, what else matters in this life besides compassion for our fellow man?

And woman. This summit's focus is on women, who as we all know are still tragically abused, exploited, disrespected and discriminated against even in our own country. Even right here in mostly sunny San Diego. 

Among the esteemed speakers and panelists scheduled to appear at the summit:

Dr. Twyla Garrett, Senior Advisor to Homeland Security and CEO of Investment Management Enterprises, Dr. Becky Petitt, Vice-Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UC San Diego, Dayamrita Chaitanya, Executive Director of Mata Amritanandamayi Centers of North America, Dr. Roger Bingham, Founder of The Science Network, Sherry Tross, Ombudsperson for the Organization of American States, Dr. Armen Orujyan, Founder & CEO of Athgo International, Dr. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Chair & Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, Zara Marselian, Founder & CEO of La Maestra Foundation and La Maestra Community Health Center, Dr. Marcia L. Dyson, Chair of Women’s Global Initiative, and Bhavani R. Rao, Professor at Amrita University.

Naila explains that these renowned leaders will "provide a roadmap showing how to support these causes. These people are all hands-on. We have a mixture of every kind of person you can imagine."

While Naila is making an enormous difference in the world, what she does can't accurately be called charity. Her greatest talent is recognizing people's innate gifts and finding ways to use those gifts to support themselves and their families and communities. You see, this is the kind of work that people on all sides the political spectrum can support with enthusiasm. 

When I ask her how she deals with the politics in the countries in which she does her work, she just smiles and says she doesn't get bogged down with politics or other things that divide us. Instead, she moves quickly past labels and stereotypes and cuts straight to the chase and the heart. 

She's a uniter and a fighter, but in a gentle way. And politicians, especially women and male leaders' first ladies, are at the tender mercies of her charms.

Her core focus now is women’s health and economic empowerment through modern information and communications technologies. The goal of her Alliance, Naila says, is to create inspired, innovative & inclusive communities that are sustainable economically, socially and environmentally, and to develop platforms for full participation of women and youth globally.

Naila notes that the Alliance's primary focus is building financially inclusive communities by helping hard-working individuals develop their existing skills into profitable, self-sustaining small businesses, in a nurturing, loving and supportive environment.

To attain this goal, A4E partners with existing community organizations. Instead of working in silos, A4E collaborates with other effective nonprofits to identify as well as work with qualified social entrepreneurs, starting right here in San Diego. With its partner organizations, A4E leverages global connections and provides the expertise to enable them to maximize their impact, increase employment and use resources sustainably.

If you support what Naila does, if you care about the people of this world and want to be a part of the world community, please show up at this summit on Saturday. If you do, you're likely to hear lots of good tunes along with all the great speakers. 

Naila is inspired by music. That's another thing she and I have in common.

"What we are doing Saturday will really move the audience," she promises. "You'll hear real stories about real people. But while this whole thing is academic, and of course educational, I am not a professor. I am what I am. During my sessions, you will hear music, like 'I Can See Clearly Now' by Johnny Nash and 'One Love' by Bob Marley. Music moves me, it moves all people."

I can't wait. See you there?

Global Empowerment Summit
WHEN:  Saturday, October 17th, 2015,  8 am – 5 pm

WHERE: Sanford Consortium
                  2880 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive
                  La Jolla, CA 92037 

Professor Lilly Cheng of San Diego State University's Confucius Institute Joins China Lymphoma Patient Project

Prof. Lilly Cheng of Confucius Institute at SDSU
On a cloudy fall afternoon in 1996, I sat shivering and silent in my oncologist’s office while he gave me the dreaded diagnosis: “Advanced stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer of the immune system!” 

I knew virtually nothing about lymphoma. But I learned quickly when my oncologist told me I’d be “very lucky to live three years.” 

I was frightened, of course, but determined to prove him wrong. And today, 19 years later, I’m thankfully still alive and well. The sun still shines for me and my family. But it’s been a long journey.

In the years since my original cancer diagnosis and several recurrences, 
I've become an advocate for my fellow cancer patients. And that has led to the most important project of my life: The China Lymphoma Patient Project. 

Professor Lilly Cheng & The Confucius Institute
Our project's mission is both ambitious and very simple. Lymphoma diagnoses are alarmingly increasing in China, and we are reaching out to China's population of lymphoma patients and their families, and also increasing awareness of lymphoma in China and across the globe. We're aligned with pharmaceutical and biotech companies and cancer hospitals in China and the United States, and with corporations, foundations, oncologists, researchers and dignitaries in China and the United States. 

And now we are honored to be joined by Dr. Lilly Cheng (pictured above) and her Confucius Institute at San Diego State University. Prof. Cheng is a highly respected professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and Director of the Chinese Studies Institute at San Diego State, which is proudly my alma mater.

A dynamic leader, Professor Cheng is also Director of the renowned Confucius Institute at SDSU. The Institute was established in collaboration with the Office of Chinese Language International Council (Hanban), which is committed to promoting cultural diversity and harmony. In 2013, the Confucius Institute was the recipient of a $1 million grant from the Hanban, which is affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.

Prof. Cheng has kindly offered the Institute, which aims to strengthen educational and cultural cooperation between China and the United States, as a platform to get the word out globally about our project. 
Professor Cheng and the Institute will have a strong presence at our project's global launch event in January, 2016 at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, the epicenter of San Diego, California’s booming science and cancer research community.

The Consortium, which is doing groundbreaking work in stem cells and unlocking their ability to treat cancer and many other diseases and health issues, is located in a dynamic spot on Torrey Pines Mesa in La Jolla, California. 
Within a stone’s throw of the Sanford Consortium are the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, and the University of California San Diego and the university’s renowned Moores Cancer Center, which is my personal cancer hospital.

The project is funded by tax-deductible educational grants and sponsorships, which we are currently seeking. Our 501c3 nonprofit partner is the Asian Heritage Society, a global and prestigious organization based in Southern California whose mission is to help people in need and promote education, good health, and friendship among disparate races and cultures. The Society has a deep commitment to China and does outstanding work.

Lymphoma on the rise in China

How did this endeavor come about? Well, I recently learned that lymphoma is alarmingly on the rise in China, and was saddened by this news. I’ve had a lifelong respect and affection for China's people and culture. While lymphoma is becoming increasingly common in China, that isn’t widely known. Knowledge of the disease remains scarce in China, even as the disease grows.

For the most part, the people of China still think a lymphoma diagnosis means death. 
When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I had the same fear. It was engendered by my lack of knowledge about this type of cancer. I was in the dark. I really thought I was going to die. No one with this disease should have to go through this. 

That's why I am doing this. China, a country I care about deeply, is making incredible progress in lymphoma research, as I will note in more detail below. But its people still face a spiraling rise in this disease. I’m a relentlessly positive and happy person by nature. And I just want to help as many of my fellow lymphoma patients get through what I've been through and give them the information and the hope they need to survive. 

As many of my Chinese friends have wisely told me throughout my cancer battle, “Jamie, being positive and optimistic will not necessarily save you, but being pessimistic and negative will most certainly harm you.”

Building Coalitions With World Lymphoma Leaders
Our project has established significant relationships with several of the world's most acclaimed lymphoma researchers. We will include at our launch event in January, 2016 exclusive talks by these renowned scientists, as well as Professor Cheng and other notable members of the Chinese and Chinese-American communities.

At the launch we’ll be joyously celebrating China’s culture and research and the very real and positive friendship between the people of China and the United States. We will feature some of China’s most beloved artists, musicians, painters and calligraphers, A-list celebrities, personal stories from lymphoma survivors, and more.

Our project is reaching out to multiple cancer hospitals in China who are treating lymphoma, including Buddhist hospitals and others in several locations. A complete list of participating hospitals will be announced soon.

We are connecting, too, with corporations and foundations in China and the United States, who are helping us publicize the project and gain support, and we are of course connecting directly with the people who matter most: the growing lymphoma population in China and their families. 
We know that through all of our contacts and resources, we can get our educational and inspirational message out to a very large number of people in China and around the world.

What Will Our Project Offer?
The China Lymphoma Patient Project will initiate several positive and unprecedented programs to inform and inspire China's lymphoma population, in full cooperation of course with China's government and with China's doctors and hospitals who treat lymphoma patients.

First, the project will have its own dedicated website in both Simplified Chinese and English that will be dynamic and changing all the time. It will include news about lymphoma and China, and will be all about friendship between our two countries. No politics. 

One of the other cornerstones of the project is an entirely new version of my book, Hope Begins in the Dark: 40 Lymphoma Survivors Tell Their Exclusive Life Stories, which is the most popular book ever written for and about lymphoma patients. 

The new book will be entirely rewritten exclusively for China and will include the amazing personal stories of Chinese lymphoma survivors. The book will of course be translated into Simplified Chinese and be given for FREE to lymphoma patients in China and their families at every doctor's office and hospital with which we partner..

The book for China is just the beginning of what we will be doing for China’s lymphoma patients.

We will also include regular online journalism reports about lymphoma and China in both Chinese and English from renowned journalist, author, musician and lymphoma patient advocate Jamie Reno and other respected American and Chinese journalists. 

Our project will keep our supporters up to date on how we are making a real and positive differenced in the lives of China's lymphoma patients, and will be writing about new and pipeline treatments for lymphoma, fellow patients, and more.

Perhaps most importantly, the project will also include a basic full-color, glossy pamphlet, in Simplified Chinese, that explains to patients and their loved ones a little bit about what lymphoma is, the various types, etc. 

Living the Dream
Directing the first and only cancer patient advocacy project for people in China who are suffering from lymphoma is the fulfillment of a longtime dream. This educational project is simply about friends reaching out to friends. No politics. 

We are for the very first time bridging the gap between science in China and the lymphoma patients in China who will benefit from the science. My fellow lymphoma patients need to know that this cancer is treatable and beatable, and that there are many new treatments and more in the pipeline and coming soon.

I just want to help people get through what I’ve already been through, and show them they are stronger and better than their cancer. That mission has led me to the most meaningful endeavor of my life.

The project mission is simple: Inform and inspire lymphoma patients and their families in China, where this disease is increasing, and expand global awareness of what lymphoma is, what the latest treatments are, and what is coming soon.

Our project enthusiastically supports the new generation of lymphoma treatments that have just been approved or are in the pipeline. 
We also support China’s traditional modes of treatment including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which of course has been helping people heal for thousands of years.

Lymphoma Research Booming in China & US
The fact that there is a surge in lymphoma in China, and that China's lymphoma patients still don't know very much about this type of cancer, is ironic because there is so much advanced and exciting lymphoma research being done right now in China. 

Many brilliant scientists in China and the United States are working together to provide new treatments for this disease. However, word of this research has not yet made
its way to the people in China who have lymphoma. But it will soon.

Here are just some of the companies involved in the increasingly common and encouraging lymphoma research and treatment partnerships between China and the United States:

Denovo Biopharma, which has offices in San Diego and HangZhou, China, is a forward-thinking biotech company determined to help lymphoma patients and others through the development of innovative and personalized treatments. 

Cellular Biomedicine Group (CBMG), the stem cell therapy biomedicine firm with offices in China and the United States, has a promising new CAR-T cell therapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma in clinical trials.

Innovent Biologics, the prestigious Chinese biotech company run by visionary CEO Michael Yu, has partnered with American drug company Eli Lilly on a clinical trial of an immunotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

Chipscreen Biosciences, the highly respected China biotech company, recently was given approval for its innovative treatment for T-cell lymphoma patients.

* And Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, an American drug company, along with Casi Pharmaceuticals, an American drug company that focuses on China, have together just brought Zevalin, their effective, lifesaving radio-immunotherapy for lymphoma, to China.

What This Project Will Accomplish
One of my heroes in this world, renowned theoretical physicist, scientist, author and eternal optimist Stephen Hawking, once said, “Where there’s life, there is hope.”

This is so very true. And I’m sure Dr. Hawking wouldn’t mind if I reversed that and also said that, “Where there’s hope, there is life.”

In other words, by spreading hope to our friends in China, we will give many people in that great country the hope and information needed to successfully fight this insidious disease.

This project will literally save lives. And what could be more important than that? We would be honored to get you involved in this project and earn your financial support. Thanks so much for your interest. Hope begins now.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dennis Gibson Lives! Remembering the San Diego Chargers' Epic Upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC Championship

Chargers QB Stan Humphries leads team to memorable win over Steelers
Pittsburgh Steeler fans with their stinky black and gold "Terrible Towels" will undoubtedly show up at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in nauseating abundance on Monday night to watch their team play the San Diego Chargers on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." 

So before y'all arrive, Pittsburgh's finest, let me rub it in a bit: As a devoted San Diego Chargers fan, I will never forget the day the Bolts pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets in the National Football League's modern era by beating a vaunted but arrogant and destructively overconfident Steelers team in the AFC Championship Game in January, 1995.

Some longtime Steeler fans are still bitter about that loss more than 20 years later. But they best not hold their breath waiting for any sympathy from me. Because right now I'm all about remembering the best moments in my team's history. The good times. Why? Because of what may soon happen to this San Diego team. While I've written about the possibility of the Chargers leaving America's Finest City for years, that possibility is more real and imminent than ever.

So let me briefly take you back to one of the team's best moments. 

It was January, 1995, an eventful month in American sports, entertainment and politics. The Los Angeles Rams announced they were leaving for St. Louis. A win by "Forrest Gump" at the Golden Globes would foreshadow its Oscar win for Best Picture a few months later. The O.J. Simpson murder trial began in Los Angeles. Newt Gingrich was named Speaker of the House. President Bill Clinton authorized a $20 billion loan to Mexico to stabilize its economy. And Andre Agassi beat Pete Sampras in the Australian Open. 

For me, life was good in January, 1995. I'd just bought my first home, a condo in Crown Point overlooking Mission Bay. And I was a happy Charger fan with season tickets on the 40-yard line on the Chargers side. I'd only been working for Newsweek for a couple of years at that point, so I really wasn't in a position to ask my editors at either publication if I could cover the game, as much as I wanted to. So I watched it at home with friends. 

San Diego had played its first playoff game that season a week earlier at home against Dan Marino's Miami Dolphins. It was a thriller, and Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm) was rocking like I've not heard it rocking since. 

Marino was great that day, as usual, with three touchdown passes. But unheralded San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries and his Chargers were just a little better. The Chargers' likable, blue-collar quarterback engineered a masterful fourth-quarter drive and found wide receiver Mark Seay in the northern corner of the western end zone with less than 40 seconds to play to move the Bolts ahead. 

Miami's kicker Pete Stoyanovich then mercifully missed a 48-yard field goal with one second remaining and San Diego held on 22-21. 
That win remains my favorite of all home Charger games I have attended.

But They Can't Beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in January.... Can They?

Tony Martin's touchdown against Steelers in 1995
The stage was now set for the AFC Championship game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. This was the first conference title game for the Chargers since the infamous Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati in 1982, which was a disaster. 

That was the coldest playoff game in league history, and San Diego, which had just played in balmy Miami a week before, was crushed by the Bengals like ice in a blender. 

Even the rough and ready Merlin Olsen, in this clip of NBC's game coverage, is visibly freezing as he talks about the matchups

The Cincy loss was a sad moment for Charger fans because that Dan Fouts-led team had just earned a miraculous 41-38 overtime win on the road over the Don Shula-coached Dolphins in what was easily the greatest game in NFL history. It was a game in which the indomitable Kellen Winslow just refused to lose. 

But back to January 15, 1995. On this gloomy, overcast day in Pittsburgh, virtually no one thought San Diego could hang with the Steelers and their stellar defense. But I had a gut feeling about this team. I really did.

I believed in that Chargers group of over-achievers, especially Humphries and of course the All-Everything middle linebacker Junior Seau, may he rest in peace. Junior courageously played that game, and that entire season, with a painful pinched nerve.

But here's what made that game so deeply satisfying: Throughout the week leading up to to it, the Steeler players and their fans acted like the outcome was a foregone conclusion. It was almost laughable how disrespectful they were to a good Charger football team.

Pittsburgh's players were already asking about purchasing extra Super Bowl tickets for family and friends. And they had the audacity to make a Super Bowl rap video on Friday, two days before stepping onto the field against San Diego. 

Steeler defensive end Ray Seals reportedly even suggested that the Chargers would not score in the game.

But the Chargers had other plans. San Diego's coach, Bobby Ross, who with all respect to the great Don Coryell is my favorite of all Charger head coaches, was in his third season. And he was not intimidated in the least. Not much was expected of his team, which boasted only two Pro Bowlers, Seau and defensive end Leslie O'Neal. This group had nothing to lose.

That team was a working-class but classy assemblage of unknowns, except to diehard Charger fans, who can name just about every player on that roster, from bruising running back Natrone Means to the brilliant and flashy all-purpose offensive threat Ronnie Harmon, who had played his college ball at Iowa.

Things Weren't Looking Good 

The game, which was hard fought -- both defenses had their moments -- was called on NBC by the great Dick Enberg, who broadcasted  a lot of Charger games that year with NBC having the rights to the AFC. Who knew that many years later Enberg would become the TV voice of the San Diego Padres?

When San Diego fell behind the Steelers 13-3 in the second half, even I was beginning to have doubts. But in the third quarter Humphries' found a wide-open Alfred Pupunu, the so-called "H Back," for an easy touchdown to make it 13-10.

Now we had ourselves a football game. The natives were beginning to get a bit restless, but they were still clutching those nasty towels. 

The Chargers' defense stepped up in the second half, and Stan's perfect 43-yard touchdown strike to a streaking wide receiver Tony Martin on a deep post pattern late in the fourth quarter remains the greatest touchdown in franchise history.

Stan was an enormously underrated passer and leader. He was accurate and had a strong arm and a big heart. The guy could play, and this was arguably his greatest moment as a football player. As great as Fouts was and Philip Rivers is, Stan, it should be noted, is the only Charger QB to lead his team to a Super Bowl.

It didn't look like that was going to happen, though, when Pittsburgh drove deep into San Diego territory with two minutes to play. But on fourth down, San Diego 'backer Dennis Gibson, who is from Ankeny, Iowa, just outside my hometown Des Moines, read the play with perfection and batted down a Neil O'Donnell pass in the end zone that was intended for running back Barry Foster. 

"Good night Steeler fans, drive safe..."
And the rest is history. The Chargers had pulled out and pulled off what most said was impossible. But you never heard me say it was impossible. This team was just special. 

After Gibson's heroics, the Charger bench went wild, especially Humphries, who had a lot of little kid in him. 

"The Chargers are going to the Super Bowl. The lightning bolt is going to the big show," announced Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton in the Chargers' radio broadcast of the game. Some people didn't care for Lee's play-by-play style, but I'm not some people. 

I loved "Hacksaw," he was the voice and the spirit of that Super Bowl Chargers team. He could barely contain himself after Gibson's play won it.

Steeler Players' Reactions to the Shocking Loss

The reaction by the Steeler players afterward was classic. It still makes me smile. According to a Los Angeles Times report that ran the day after the game, Steeler linebacker Kevin Greene was so upset with the loss that he met reporters in the locker room still dressed in full uniform from a crawl position and tearfully shouted at them: "You . . . get out of my face."

Times reporter Lonnie White noted that Steeler linebacker Greg Lloyd was so shocked that he sat alone on a bench in the Steelers' weight room looking down at the ground without talking for 20 minutes before joining his teammates in the locker room.

It was a great victory for a Charger team that just kept its head down and focused on the game. The Steeler cockiness surely played a role in the outcome. The Super Bowl rap tune was a colossal blunder.

Now a Distant But Permanent Memory

That game seems so very long ago now. But if you've read this far, you know that it is indelibly etched in my brain and my heart. And as any real sports fan knows, memories of our favorite team's greatest victories are happily and inextricably intertwined with memories of our real life. 

Just three months after that impossible win in Pittsburgh, I met my dream girl and future bride, Gabriela. Of course, she had to agree to attend all Charger home games with me before I could agree to marry her. Yes, yes, I'm kidding. Sorta.

It's bittersweet now to recall that time in my life and that game, which is easily the sweetest win in Charger franchise history -- at least after the team joined the NFL from the old American Football League.

Small-town hero

Iowa boy and Charger hero Dennis Gibson
When I think about this game now, I think mostly about Gibson. A solid player, an Iowa kid like me, he was never destined for stardom. But he was responsible for the biggest play in the Charger franchise's 50-plus year history.

That defensive stop was the ultimate moment of redemption for Gibson, who missed a tackle earlier in the game to give up a touchdown and dropped a sure interception on the Steelers' final drive. With that defensive stop, Gibson instantly became a Charger immortal.

The most satisfying thing about Gibson's play was the way in which it silenced the 61,000-plus Steeler fans. There was a "Fourth River" at Three Rivers Stadium that day as so many Steeler faithful wept openly.

In the end, it was the Charger players who were picking up the discarded Terrible Towels and waving them with defiant joy before a stunned and teary crowd. 

And some Steeler fans can't let it go. Matt Loede wrote a piece for some 13 years after the game was played in which he said that the Chargers win was the "toughest loss I have ever endured as a Steelers follower. That 12-4 [Steelers] team was one of, if not the best Steelers team that I had ever seen. While there offense was nothing special (what else is new?), the defense was simply awesome."

Loede, who ignorantly called Stan Humphries "the worst starting QB ever in a Super Bowl," said that it "physically hurt to live through that [Chargers-Steelers] game. All that emotion, all that effort as a fan, it was hard to watch that Steelers team fail on that rainy Sunday in early 1995. They should have won that game, and they should have made it to the Super Bowl... I will never put totally away the pain of that loss."

Well, Matt, guess what? I will never put totally away the joy of that win. 

Loede's description of that game is so typical of the Pittsburgh faithful. Matt, give us all a break. Your team is one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports. Your team has made the playoffs 25 times, won its division 20 times, played in 15 AFC Championship Games, and won six of eight Super Bowls. Just shut up and let us have this one, please.

And if it's any consolation for you spoiled-rotten Steeler fans, San Diego went on to lose to the San Francisco 49ers the following week in Super Bowl XXIX.

Meanwhile, Back in 2015

So who will be the difference maker for the Chargers on Monday night against the Steelers? Odds are it will be Rivers, who's the best Charger player and leader of all time. If he doesn't make it to the NFL Hall of Fame, it will be a travesty. 

I love Fouts, but Philip is even better, by any and every measure. (For the record, I do think Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger belongs in the Hall, too). 

If the hero on Monday night isn't Rivers, it will probably be Antonio Gates, a future hall-of-fame tight end and class act who is just returning after an unfair four-game suspension.

Or, it could be some no-namer who, like Dennis Gibson, comes out of the shadows of anonymity and makes a play that shocks and humbles the Steelers and their arrogant, terminally annoying Terrible Towel-waving fans. 

I should add that Gibson is happily still very much alive. Nonetheless, may the Ghost of Gibson haunt the Steeler faithful on Monday night, and forever!