The San Diego Chargers were a charter member of the American Football League and one of their most successful teams. The Chargers won the AFL title in 1963 and reached the AFL playoffs a total of five times.
During the decade of the 1960’s the Chargers were coached by hall of famer Sid Gillman who was renowned for his team’s passing game. The Chargers of the “Gillman Era” featured hall of fame wide receiver Lance Alworth. Throwing to “Bambi,” as Alworth was nicknamed, was quarterback John Hadl.
The AFL merged with the NFL in 1970 and the Chargers were put into the AFC West with their rivals the Oakland Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs, and San Diego Chargers.
The merger was not kind to the Chargers and they immediately fell on hard times. Sure the team acquired legends like Johnny Unitas and Deacon Jones, but they joined the Chargers at the twilight of their careers and could do little to raise the team out of mediocrity. The franchise wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1979.
In 1978, Don Coryell was hired as the Chargers head coach. Coryell had a high octane, high scoring offense known as “Air Coryell.” It featured hall of fame quarterback Dan Fouts, one of the most prolific passers of the modern era, and hall of famer Kellen Winslow, one of the first really athletic tight ends to play in the NFL.
This vaunted offense, along with a fairly stout defense, led the Chargers to three straight West Division crowns in 1979, 1980 and 1981.
This team reached the AFC title game in 1980 but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Oakland Raiders. In the 1981 playoffs, the Chargers defeated the Miami Dolphins in a game now known as the “The Epic in Miami.”
Often categorized as the greatest football game of all-time, the Chargers nipped the Dolphins in overtime, 41-38. Numerous playoff records were established during this marathon game and a depleted Winslow being helped off the field by teammates has become one of the NFL’s most indelible images.
The Chargers would not fare as well in the AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals. While Miami was hot and humid, Cincinnati was extremely cold. With the wind chill factor, the temperature at game time was minus 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Now referred to as the Freezer Bowl, the Bengals grounded the Chargers, 27-7, to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Chargers would be unplugged by the Dolphins in the 1982 playoffs and wouldn’t be relevant again for another decade. In 1992, the franchise’s new director of football operations, Bobby Beathard, hired Bobby Ross to coach the team.
Ross’ ball-control offensive was led by stalwart quarterback Stan Humphries. His stingy defense was anchored by future hall of famer Junior Seau and defensive end Leslie O’Neal. Thanks to both squads, the Chargers captured division crowns in 1992 and 1994.
The 1992 team lost the first four games of the season before rallying to make the playoffs. The 1994 team defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game and advanced to Super Bowl XXIX.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, they ran into a determined San Francisco 49’ers team who scored on their third play from scrimmage. Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the rest of the 49’ers team shorted-out the Chargers, 49-26.
The Chargers added a 1995 playoff appearance before sinking back into obscurity for another nine years. This slump was perpetuated by one of the worst draft picks of all-time. Beathard traded up in the 1998 draft to select quarterback Ryan Leaf.
In every way imaginable, Leaf was a bust and it would take years for the team to recover.
However, the Chargers did and as bad of a draft pick as Leaf was, the franchise made up for it by selecting running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Drew Brees in 2001 and linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo in 2005. The team also signed undrafted tight end Antonio Gates in 2003 and traded for quarterback Philip Rivers in 2004.
In 2003, the Chargers traded Junior Seau to the Miami Dolphins. Seau was named to nine All-Pro teams and invited to 12 Pro Bowls. He was named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team and is widely considered one of the greatest defensive players of his generation.
Meanwhile the Chargers, with Brees quarterbacking in 2004 and Rivers taking over the reins in 2005, won the West Division in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
The 2006 Chargers won a team-record 14 games. However, they lost to the New England Patriots, 24-21, in a crazy game that turned for the Chargers when they fumbled an interception return.
The 2008 team won their division despite being 4-8 after 12 games. Thanks to four straight wins and an awful division leading Broncos team, the Chargers were able comeback in the standings. They punctuated their division crown with a 52-21 victory over Denver, on national television, in the last game of NFL season.
The Chargers play at Qualcomm Stadium. Before that they played at Balboa Stadium and before that they played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The franchise originally started life as the Los Angeles Chargers. They moved to San Diego in 1961 after just one year in the City of Angels.
Originally, the franchise was owned by Barron Hilton, son of Conrad Hilton of the Hilton Hotels fame. He sold his stake in the Chargers in 1996. And since you’re wondering but are much too proud to ask, Barron is Paris’ grandfather.