John Madden
John Madden
Special circumstances set stage for MNF
By John Madden
ALLMADDEN.com

Getting ready for the San Diego Chargers-Miami Dolphins Monday night matchup definitely wasn't business as usual!

The weekend started out pretty normal for me and the ABC crew. On Friday, we hit the Los Angeles area at around 6:00 p.m. with no problems, but we did notice a ton of smoke from the fires in the surrounding areas.

Saturday was also a normal day. We went to the Chargers' facility to talk to players and watch film. Then, we went to Mira Mesa High School to watch the Chargers practice.

But by Sunday morning, things had taken a turn for the worse. When I turned on the news, I saw that Mira Mesa High School was being used as an evacuation center for people whose homes were in danger.

California Fires
Deadly fires in Southern California forced the NFL to move the MNF game.
My first reaction was concern for the people being forced to leave their homes without knowing what they'd find when they returned. But it didn't take long to realize that if the high school was being used as an evacuation center, then the fires were in the general area.

In a normal week, the Dolphins would arrive in San Diego late Sunday afternoon and the crew and I would go to their hotel to meet with players and coaches. But because of the fires, we weren't able to get into the city, so we had to set up a conference call.

As the day progressed and we continued our normal preparation, it became more apparent that the game was going to be affected by the fires. Walking around the hotel grounds, I could see huge clouds of smoke rising in different areas around the city.

After seeing those ominous clouds it became obvious that one of two things were going to happen: either the game was going to be cancelled or it was going to be moved to a different city.

By that time, rumors that the game would be moved to Tempe, Ariz. escalated, but no one knew anything for certain. Finally, at 7:00 p.m. the decision was made to move the game to Sun Devil Stadium.

A few cities were considered for hosting responsibilities, but Sun Devil Stadium made the most sense from a television standpoint. Because the Cardinals had just played there, Fox Sports had a couple of television trucks already in place. That made it easier for ABC to bring in our people and some of our equipment to televise the game.

Everyone involved in setting up and getting this game underway did a tremendous job. The ABC crew did a tremendous job getting from San Diego to Tempe on such short notice and working from the wee hours of the morning to get this game televised.

Everyone from the stadium staff to the concessions people came through in the biggest of ways to make this game happen. It's amazing they were able to get it done under such strenuous circumstances.

At the beginning of the telecast I said it would be difficult for the Chargers to focus on the game at hand. Every player on the field was affected either directly or indirectly -- they had to be worried about their family and friends in San Diego. The Dolphins were also affected because they didn't know if, when or where the game was going to be played.

I'm not trying to make excuses, but during the game, the Chargers didn't look like they were all together. QB Drew Brees didn't look sharp at all as his first pass was intercepted and returned to the Chargers four-yard line.

It's bad enough to throw an interception, but it's twice as bad when you give the opposing team an easy scoring opportunity. That set the tone for the Chargers as they played from behind all night and battled turnovers.

Coming into the game, the Chargers were one of the worst offenses in the red zone and on Monday night, it showed. They were inside the red zone on four different occasions and only scored seven points!

Because both defenses were scheming to stop the run, the pressure was put squarely on the shoulders of the quarterbacks. The biggest difference in the game was that Drew Brees wasn't able to get it done for the Chargers, while Brian Griese performed well for the Dolphins.

The other difference-maker was Miami's excellent defense, which is great against the run and includes a secondary that features cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison. In fact, Surtain played so well (two interceptions) that he was named the Horse Trailer Player of the Game.

Griese's 20-of-29 passing, 192-yard, three touchdown performance is going to make coach Dave Wannstedt's job pretty difficult this week. He'll now have to make a tough decision between Griese and regular starter Jay Fiedler.

If he continues to play well, he'll probably continue to be the starter. It's the goal of all NFL teams to play strong defense, have a good running game and put the game in the hands of a capable quarterback. And Griese looked calm, confident and comfortable running the offense.


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