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Established with seven other American Football League teams in 1959, in 1960, the Chargers began AFL play in Los Angeles. The Chargers' original owner was hotel heir Barron Hilton, son of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton. The Chargers only spent one season in L.A. before moving to San Diego in 1961. The early AFL years of the San Diego Chargers were highlighted by the outstanding play of wide receiver Lance Alworth. In his day, he set the pro football record of consecutive games with a reception.
Their only coach for the ten year life of the AFL was Sid Gillman, a Hall of Famer who forced his competition to try to field as professional a product as the Chargers. With stars such as Lance Alworth, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln and John Hadl, the Chargers' offense struck fear into the hearts of AFL defenders. They also played defense, as indicated by their professional football record 49 pass interceptions in 1961. The Chargers were the originators of the term "Fearsome Foursome" to describe their all-star defensive line, anchored by Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd (the latter also dabbled in professional wrestling). The phrase was later appropriated by various NFL teams. The Chargers franchise appeared in the first two American Football League Championship games and five altogether, winning the AFL title in 1963 with a 51 - 10 thumping of the Boston Patriots. The Chargers of that era were widely acknowledged as having the most striking uniforms in the history of pro football.
In 1970, the San Diego Chargers settled into the AFC West division after the NFL merger with the AFL. But by then, the Chargers fell on hard times, Sid Gillman stepped down in 1971, and many of the Charger greats from the 1960's had already either retired or traded. In 1972, the Chargers got Duane Thomas and Deacon Jones, but they were no help to the team that was struggling. In 1973, the Chargers tried Johnny Unitas, but the legendary quarterback no longer had the magic he once had, and soon he would retire. In 1974, Don Woods came to the team and for a season he shined on a bad Charger team, but one year later his career stalled and he too would leave the Chargers. 1979 marks a positive turning point for the Chargers franchise as quarterback Dan Fouts sets an NFL record with his fourth consecutive 300-yard passing game, in a game in which he threw for 303 yards against the Oakland Raiders. Coached by Don Coryell and also featuring running back Chuck Muncie and tight end Kellen Winslow, San Diego also clinched their first playoff berth in 14 years with a 35-0 victory against the New Orleans Saints. On Dec. 17, 1979, the Chargers defeat the Denver Broncos 17-7 for their first AFC West division title since the merger before a national Monday Night Football television audience and their home crowd. Unfortunately, their playoff time was short as the Houston Oilers sent the Chargers packing with a 17-14 loss in the Divisional Round. The 1980 Chargers managed to carry the previous year's success with an 11-5 record (tops in the AFC West). In the playoffs, they won the Divisional Round 20-14 over the Buffalo Bills. However, they fell one game shy of Super Bowl XV in a 34-27 loss to the eventual-champion Oakland Raiders. The 1981 Chargers managed to beat the Broncos for the AFC West title with their 10-6 season. In the Divisional Round, they managed to outlast the Miami Dolphins 41-38. Unfortunately, the eventual-AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals shredded the 27th-ranked defense, while containing the Chargers' league-leading offense, in a 27-7 loss in the AFC Championship Game.
On January 2, 1982 the Chargers were involved in a memorable overtime playoff game against the Miami Dolphins that became known as The Epic in Miami, ultimately winning 41-38. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts and Dolphins quarterback Don Strock both threw for more than 400 yards, and Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a crucial field goal despite suffering from heat-induced fatigue and cramps. The game began with San Diego building a 24-0 lead and then losing all of it by early in the third quarter.
The Chargers then went from the heat of Miami to the bitter cold of Cincinnati, losing the AFC Championship Game to the Bengals in the Freezer Bowl on January 10, by a score of 27-7. It is considered the coldest game ever played in NFL history.
The Chargers made it back to the playoffs during the strike shortened 1982 season, but after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, they lost to the Miami Dolphins in a rematch from their epic game. That loss began a slide for the Chargers, who from 1983 to 1991 failed to make the playoffs despite great individual performances by Lionel James and Billy Ray Smith. Bobby Ross was then hired as head coach in 1992, but San Diego lost its first four games during the season and many thought the Chargers would miss the playoffs again. However, the Chargers came roaring back and became the first 0-4 team to make the playoffs, as they won 11 of the last 12 games and clinched the AFC West title. Ross was named AFC Coach Of The Year for the Chargers' dramatic turnaround. In the Wild Card Round, they managed to shut out the Kansas City Chiefs 17-0, but they got shut out in the Divisional Round to the Miami Dolphins 31-0. In 1993, the Chargers ended up 8-8 (fourth in their division) and ending an average year on the outside looking in.
In the 1994-95 season, the Chargers made their first and, so far, only Super Bowl appearance against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX in Miami Gardens. They got to the Super Bowl by winning the AFC West Division championship behind a strong defense led by linebacker Junior Seau and an offense keyed by running back Natrone Means, and then gaining upset victories over the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC playoffs. Despite two close victories (22-21 against the Dolphins in the Divisional Round and 17-13 against the Steelers in the AFC Championhip) in the playoffs, the underdog Chargers lost to the 49ers, led by quarterback Steve Young (the game's MVP) and wide receiver Jerry Rice, 49-26. The Chargers follow-up year in 1995 wasn't as good as last year, but they still managed to get into the playoffs with a five-game winning streak to end the season at 9-7. Unfortunately, they got an early exit, courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts 35-20 in the AFC Wild Card. Then, from 1996 to 2003, the Chargers would go on to have eight-straight seasons where they were .500 or worse.
They were the host team for Super Bowls XXII, XXXII, and XXXVII in San Diego, but failed to make the playoffs in any of these seasons. In fact, the Chargers had not made the post-season since 1995, the year after their Super Bowl XXIX appearance, until on December 19, 2004, a year removed from their disastrous 4-12 season of 2003, they finally earned a trip back to the post-season by capturing the AFC West Division Title, winning their eighth straight game while shutting out the Cleveland Browns 21-0. An estimated 1200+ fans waited as long as six hours to greet the team at Chargers Park, their year-round training facility starting in 2005. The Chargers went on to finish the regular season 12-4.
They entered the first round (the Wild Card portion) of the playoffs as a lower seed, but proceeded to be eliminated by opponent New York Jets, who won in overtime over the Chargers 20-17. Rookie placekicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal that would have advanced San Diego into the next round, thus opening the door for a Jets victory.
Despite an abrupt ending to their turnaround season, Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer was named NFL Coach Of The Year for the 2004-2005 season, and quarterback Drew Brees was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
During the 2005 NFL Draft, the Chargers tried to get some key rookies that would help carry the momentum from their mostly successful 2004-05 run. They used their first pick on LB Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman from the University of Maryland. Then, they used their next pick on DT Luis Castillo from Northwestern University. Their other choices were WR Vincent Jackson from Northern Colorado, RB Darren Sproles from Kansas State, OT Wesley Britt from the University of Alabama, OT Wes Sims from the University of Oklahoma, and Center Scott Mruczkowski from Bowling Green State.
The Chargers got off to a rough start on their 2005 campaign, losing a close one to the Dallas Cowboys in their Week 1 home-opener (28-24) and then, they lost on the road to their AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos (20-17). It wasn't until a Week 3 home game on Sunday Night that they got their first win of the season, when Eli Manning and the New York Giants got "shocked to the system" as LaDanian Tomlinson had one of the greatest games of his career. He got 220 total yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, and he threw for a touchdown as he helped the Chargers win 45-23. A week later, they were able to build off of their win by not only winning against the two-time defending champion New England Patriots 41-17, but they also ended the Pats' 21-game winning streak at home. In their Week 5 Monday Night home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chargers wore their throw-back uniforms for the first time of the season. During the game, both sides fought hard and fierce. However, in the end, the Steelers held on to win with a 40-yard field goal by Jeff Reed (24-22). The Chargers would rebound on the road against their division rival Oakland Raiders (27-14). In their Week 7 road trip to Philadelphia, they hoped to build off their win against the Eagles. Late in the game, with the Chargers leading 17-13, the Chargers tried to go for a field goal to put their lead well out of reach, but it got blocked and Eagles DB Matt Ware returned it 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown and the Chargers fourth loss of the season.
After going 3-4, the Chargers managed to turn things around as they began a five-game winning streak. They would win at home against division-rival Kansas City Chiefs (28-20) and on the road against the New York Jets (31-26). Coming off their Week 10 Bye, they went home and wore their throw-back uniforms again. This time, it was a dominating performance as the Chargers man-handled the Buffalo Bills 48-10. Then, they went on the road and won a close match against the Washington Redskins (23-17/OT) and then they would sweep the Oakland Raiders at home by a score of 34-10.
The Chargers were 8-5, coming off a surprising 23-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins. On December 18, the Chargers beat the undefeated Indianapolis Colts 26-17, snapping a 13-0 winning streak. However, despite a record of 9-6, they were officially eliminated from AFC playoff contention in 2005 after a 20-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs the following Saturday. The Chargers lost their final game of the season by a score of 23-7 to the AFC West champion Denver Broncos to finish with a record of 9-7.
Following the '05-'06 season, the Chargers decided not to re-sign Drew Brees (who had torn a labrum in his throwing shoulder in the final game of the season), in favor of Philip Rivers. Brees would sign with the New Orleans Saints.
Beginning in the early 2000's, Chargers ownership claimed that Qualcomm Stadium is inadequate and that they should get a new stadium, much like their former co-tenants, the San Diego Padres, did. In 2006, San Diego city officials stated that the city, reeling from a finance scandal, does not have the money to build a new stadium. Many believe that the Chargers have given up on a new stadium in San Diego and are instead focusing on relocating, most likely to Los Angeles. Others believe that the Chargers may leave the city of San Diego proper, but remain in San Diego County. On May 30, 2006, officials from the Chargers and the City of Chula Vista met to potentially discuss building a new stadium for the team; Chula Vista has a lot of open land in its city limits, possibly enough for a stadium.
In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Chargers used their first pick on Florida St. CB Antonio Cromartie. They then used their next pick on Auburn OT Marcus McNeill. The rest of their picks were used on Clemson QB Charlie Whitehurst, Iowa St. LB Tim Dobbins, Kansas St. OT Jeromey Clary, Virginia Kicker Kurt Smith, North Carolina DT Chase Page, and Virginia Tech OT Jimmy Martin. Expectations for the Chargers are not high for the 2006 season LT's declining skills and Rivers starting at QB is not a good position for this team to be in. Merrimam and Castillo are solid but must prove themselves not to be flukes.
14: Dan Fouts, Quarterback, 1973-87 19: Lance Alworth, Wide receiver, 1962-1970
2006-2007 Season: Ladanian Tomlinson