SAN DIEGO – John Carney kicked for the Chargers for a decade and still holds the franchise mark for most points in a career.
Throughout his career, Carney made his share of memorable kicks. At the now-demolished Qualcomm Stadium, he remembers one in particular from the 2000 season that kept the Chargers from a dubious distinction.
“We, as a team, kicked a game-winning field goal 52 yards,” Carney said. “(Long-snapper) David Binn snapped the ball, (punter) Darren Bennett holds the ball. Get the ball through the uprights and we win our first game of the season. And by the way, our only game of the season.”
Heading into the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers were 0-11 and coming off four single-digit losses in the team’s previous five weeks. Trailing late in the fourth quarter, Carney lined up and drilled the 52-yard kick to put the team ahead for good, 17-16.
The kick ended any chance for San Diego to land in the NFL’s record books as the league’s first 0-16 team. Two teams — the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns — since have recorded winless seasons.
Although the Chargers lost the rest of their games in 2000, including a 45-17 drubbing the following week by the 49ers, it gave the franchise primo draft position in 2001. They ultimately swapped their top pick with the Atlanta Falcons and selected a pair of eventual Hall of Famers: LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5 and Drew Brees at No. 32.
“In the locker room, if you compared the victory celebration of that day versus a victory celebration when the Chargers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh to go to the Super Bowl, you couldn’t tell the difference,” Carney said. “So many men — grown men — cheering and crying and smoking cigars because it was such a huge victory. No one wants to have on their resume the first team to go 0-16, and certainly everybody wants to go to the Super Bowl.
“Such celebration, so much relief that the monkey was off our back. That was a very exciting day for all of us even though at the end of the season, we were 1-15.”
Carney retired from the NFL in 2010 at age 46. He remains active in the game, coaching and mentoring young special teams players through Carney Coaching, including some of the best young legs in Southern California.
Like many fans, he’d like to see professional football return to San Diego someday, too.
“I miss the fact that that stadium is not there anymore,” he said. “It’s a sad thing. Hopefully somewhere down the road, professional football comes back to San Diego because I think we have a great fan base here and they’re ready for a professional football team.
“I know we all keep our fingers crossed that somehow, some way maybe the Chargers come back and that would be amazing if that was the case.”