The San Diego Chargers are long gone and for some, good riddance. But say hello to an NFC Championship Game on Sunday loaded with North County angles.
The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers will tangle for a berth in the Super Bowl, and just maybe, a local will shine.
The 49ers’ Fred Warner, a Mission Hills High School product, is considered among the NFL’s top linebackers — his $95 million contract is proof. Warner is coming off a stellar game in an upset of the Green Bay Packers.
Warner is a key part of a team constructed by general manager John Lynch, the former Torrey Pines High star. Lynch, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after starring as a safety, has built a powerhouse in the Bay Area.
#49ers Fred Warner with the W caption 😂 pic.twitter.com/Mm6YXw9z78
— 𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙎𝙁𝙉𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨 (@TheSFNiners_) January 23, 2022
The Rams counter with their own North County folks with safety Terrell Burgess (San Marcos High), offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell (La Costa Canyon) and safety Eric Weddle. Weddle, a longtime Escondido resident who moved to Poway, was lured out of retirement by the Rams.
O’Connell went from LCC to San Diego State to a brief NFL playing career to quickly climbing the ladder in the coaching fraternity. Not only is O’Connell an integral spoke in the Rams’ explosive offensive wheel, but he’s also in the mix for one of the NFL head coaching vacancies.
For O’Connell, he’s juggling the bright present with what could be a compelling future. He’s wearing two hats, but one rides a little higher.
“First and foremost, the focus with what we’re doing right now as a football team, it’s my No. 1 priority,” O’Connell said. “I feel like you’re absolutely right in the necessity to have a great feel for whatever team that I may be talking to about (its) roster, about their team. That’s really important, but I think they would understand that my focus needs to be on the Rams first.”
Among O’Connell’s tasks is trying to block Warner after his impressive game in disposing of the Packers. Warner, an All-Pro, not only showed his muscle, but his heart, as it was his soul-searching motivational talk to his teammates that got them right.
After the Packers scored an opening-drive touchdown, Warner told the defense it needed to find another gear. His fiery pep talk was mentioned often in the game’s aftermath.
Burgess, 23, like Weddle, 37, went to the University of Utah. But considering their age difference, few thought they would ever play together in the NFL.
Then the Rams’ secondary was waylaid by injuries so Rams coach Sean McVay reached out to Weddle, who spent the bulk of his career with the San Diego Chargers.
Weddle, who retired after the 2019 season, was content hanging with his family in North County and trying to stiff-arm Father Time with pickup basketball. But when the Rams called, there was no question Weddle was going to pick that up, too.
“This is by no means me having an itch,” said Weddle. “It was just an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Weddle sees what everyone else does and that’s a Rams team loaded with talent and swagger. Still, it was an unconventional move.
“This is something that’s never been done before,” McVay said.
But few have Weddle’s tool-set.
“He’s hard not to love,” McVay said. “He’s done a great job. He’s brought great energy. He’s a great communicator. He’s a great leader.”
Burgess, in his second year, continues to develop as a backup and with special teams. He finished with 10 tackles and played in 16 games, which included four starts.
Start spreading the news: The Chargers are long gone, but that doesn’t mean North County is out of the NFL playoff picture.
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports