History of the San Diego Chargers
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AFL era (1959–1969)
The San Diego Chargers were established in 1959 with seven other American Football League teams: the Denver Broncos, Dallas Texans, Oakland Raiders, New York Titans, Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills, and Boston Patriots.
Frank Leahy, former Notre Dame University football coach, was named the team's first general manager. Gerald Courtney of Hollywood won an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico City and Acapulco for submitting "Chargers" in a name-the-team contest. In 1960, the Chargers began AFL play in Los Angeles; hotel heir Barron Hilton, the team's original owner and son of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton, unveiled the Chargers' uniforms which featured blue and gold with lightning bolts on the sides of the helmets and trousers, at a cocktail party at Hilton's Santa Monica residence. Players Jack Kemp and Ron Mix modeled the new uniforms. The Chargers spent only one season in L.A. before moving to San Diego in 1961. From 1961 to 1966 their home field in San Diego was Balboa Stadium in Balboa Park. As of August 1967 they moved to the newly constructed Qualcomm Stadium (then named San Diego Stadium).
They played ten years in the AFL before the merging of the league into the older NFL. During that ten-year span, San Diego reached the playoffs five times and played for the AFL Championship four times. They won their only AFL title in 1963 when they beat the Boston Patriots 51–10 before 30,127 fans at Balboa Stadium in San Diego.
Their only coach for the ten-year life of the AFL was Sid Gillman, former coach of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, who originally signed a three-year contract as head coach. Gillman (87–57–6), who was later voted to the Hall of Fame, was widely recognized as a great offensive innovator. He also took on the dual role of coach and general manager after Frank Leahy resigned because of poor health. The Chargers, with star offensive players Lance Alworth, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln and John Hadl, struck fear into the hearts of defenders. The Chargers overcame a 20–7 deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Dallas 21–20 before 17,724 persons in the L.A. Coliseum in the opening league game. A crowd of 9,928 in the L.A. Coliseum watched the Chargers top Denver 41–33 to clinch the AFL Western Division title. American Broadcasting Company (ABC) held the television rights and televised key games.
On January 1, a crowd of 32,183 in Jeppesen Stadium and a national television audience saw host Houston defeat the Chargers 24–16 in the AFL championship game. For the 1961 season, Hilton moved the team 75 miles south to San Diego. The defense recorded 49 pass interceptions as the A.F.L. played an exciting brand of football featuring strong passing attacks. 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. Houston defeated Chargers 10–3 before 29,556 persons in Balboa Stadium to win the second AFL championship.
The Chargers stumbled to a 4-10 record, by losing eight of their last nine games due to a rash of injuries that derail their high flying team.
Eight Chargers score and Paul Lowe rushes for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries as the Chargers clinch AFL West title with 58-20 victory over Denver; season ended week later than scheduled after AFL postponed games weekend following Nov. 22 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Keith Lincoln accounts for 349 yards of total offense as Chargers win the AFL championship, defeating Boston 51-10, before 30,127 persons in Balboa Stadium, as of 2012, this was the last professional sports championship for the city of San Diego. AFL teams sign a five-year television contract with National Broadcasting Company for a record $36 million; the contract will commence with the 1965 season. The Chargers and New York Jets tied 17-17 before a record AFL crowd of 50,222 fans, 46,828 paid in New York's Shea Stadium . A Balboa Stadium attendance record of 34,865 is set as Buffalo defeats San Diego 27-24 on Thanksgiving Day. The Chargers defeat the Jets 38-3 before 25,753 persons in Balboa Stadium to clinch their fourth AFL West title in five years. Lance Alworth went out of the game with a knee injury and fullback Keith Lincoln gets sidelined in the first quarter with a fractured rib, the Chargers are beaten 20-7 in Buffalo for the AFL championship.
San Diego (9-2-3) wins fifth AFL West title in six years by defeating Houston on December 12 by the score of 37-26. Paul Lowe and Lance Alworth finish 1-2 in balloting by players for AFL player of the year. Buffalo defeats the Chargers 23-0 in front of 30,361 persons in Balboa Stadium for the AFL championship; a new automobile, the "Charger," is introduced by Chrysler officials at halftime.
AFL and National Football League teams announce plans to merge in the 1970 season and Chargers and Los Angeles Rams announce they will play three preseason games in San Diego Stadium, beginning in 1967. Eugene V. Klein of Beverly Hills heads a group of 21 business executives who purchase the Chargers for $10 million, a record transaction in professional football. On the field, San Diego falls the third in the West with a 7-6-1 record
San Diego Stadium is dedicated before a crowd of 45,988; Detroit defeats the Chargers 38-17 in San Diego's first meeting with an NFL team. Leslie "Speedy" Duncan has 203 yards in returns, 35 on a fumble recovery for a touchdown, 68 on four kickoff returns, and 100 for a touchdown on the longest interception return in AFL history as the Chargers defeat Kansas City 45-31 in a game in which the teams combine for 897 yards total offense and 622 in returns. The Chargers are beaten by Oakland 41-21 before the first sellout crowd in the San Diego Stadium, 52,661 persons, and 2,018 persons also watched the game on closed-circuit television in the San Diego Sports Arena. John Hadl wins M.V.P.
The Chargers open the preseason at home and score their first victory over an NFL team, defeating the San Francisco 49ers 30-18 before 39,553 in San Diego Stadium. Leslie (Speedy) Duncan sets an AFL record with a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 37-15 loss to the New York Jets in San Diego Stadium. Team finishes third in the West with a 9-5 record. John Hadl leads the league in pass attempts (440), completions (208), yardage (3,473), touchdown passes (27) and passes intercepted (32).
After opening the season with two losses, the Chargers defeat the defending Super Bowl III champion New York Jets featuring QB Joe Namath before a record San Diego Stadium crowd of 54,042. The team features QB John Hadl and Lance Alworth who sets a professional record with a pass reception in his 96th consecutive game. Three more wins would be followed by four straight losses which ended any hopes of postseason play. The Chargers win their last four games to finish with an 8-6 record capped by a 45-6 victory over Buffalo in the season finale. Offensive backfield coach Charlie Waller is named head coach following the resignation of Sid Gillman nine games into the season from stomach ulcer and chest hernia. Gillman continues as general manager.
In 1970, the San Diego Chargers settled into the AFC West division after the NFL merger with the AFL. The years after the merger were difficult. Charlie Waller took over as head coach, but after finishing 5-6-3, he stepped down and Sid Gillman returned to the job, but he quit halfway through the 1971 season, which ended with six wins and eight losses. In 1972, they got Duane Thomas and Deacon Jones, but they were no help to the struggling team, which had another disappointing season (4-9-1). In 1973, the Chargers acquired legendary Colts QB Johnny Unitas, but he was almost 40 years old and suffering the effects of accumulated injuries over the years. He managed only three games before being benched and replaced by rookie Dan Fouts, but in the meantime the team finished 2-11-1. The 1974 season was Dan Fouts's first as the starting QB and Don Woods came to the team and for that season and ran over 1,000 yards in a 5-9 finish. But the following season, Woods suffered a major sophomore slump and Fouts continued to play poorly as the Chargers ended 2-12.
The Chargers began 1976 with a 3-0 start, but Dan Fouts still struggled on-field and the team ended the year at 6-8. After another strong start to the 1977 season, San Diego lost four out of five games in a row, leading to Fouts being benched. The team ultimately finished 7-7. 1978 was a year of dramatic change as the NFL expanded the regular season to 16 games and altered the rules so that wide receivers could no longer tackle defensive backs more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. In the opening game of the season, the Chargers beat Seattle 24-20, but lost to the Raiders the following match by one point, followed by another loss at Denver in Week 3. Returning home for Week 4, the Chargers faced Green Bay in an interconference match played as a major heat wave was gripping San Diego. With kickoff temperatures around 102 °F (38 °C), it was one of the hottest games in NFL history. Unfortunately, for the Chargers, facing an opponent who's home was in one of the coldest NFL cities did not prove very beneficial as the Packers easily beat them 24-3. After this debacle, head coach Tommy Protho was relieved of his duties. Replacing him was ex-St. Louis Cardinals coach Don Coryell, hired the same day as the city of San Diego was shaken by the crash of a Pacific Southwest Airlines jet into a suburban neighborhood. Coryell's first game as Chargers head coach was a cross-country journey to New England, and although that match was another loss, the team's fortunes would soon turn around. With San Diego still mourning the PSA 182 crash, the Chargers returned home and shut out division rival Denver to "win one for the city". Coryell ushered in his "Air Coryell" offense with Fouts throwing to a trio of receivers featuring Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and tight end Kellen Winslow as they rallied to finish 9–7, just barely missing the playoffs.
The 1979 season was a coming-out party for the Chargers franchise, under its first full year of "Air Coryell" led by Fouts under center. He set an NFL record with fourth consecutive 300-yard passing games, established in a game in which he threw for 303 yards against the Oakland Raiders. Coached by Don Coryell and also featuring Joiner, Jefferson and Winslow, San Diego clinched their first playoff berth in 14 years with a 35–0 victory against the New Orleans Saints. On December 17, 1979, the Chargers defeated 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), boosted by the mid-season acquisition of running back Chuck Muncie from the New Orleans Saints. 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 following season (1981), the Chargers beat the Broncos for the AFC West title with a 10–6 season. Wes Chandler, another mid-season acquisition from the Saints, replaced John Jefferson at wideout and produced 1,142 yards receiving and six touchdowns on 69 receptions, joining fellow 1,000-yard mates Charlie Joiner (70 receptions/1,188 yds/7 td) and Kellen Winslow (88 rec/1,075 yds/10 td). Muncie provided the running game with a lot of bite thanks to his 1,144 rushing yards and NFL-best 19 touchdowns along with rookie James Brooks as a solid contributor as both running back and return man.
In the Divisional Round, they outlasted the Miami Dolphins 41–38 in a game known in NFL lore as "The Epic in Miami". 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. They faced the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game; however the game was held in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium where very cold temperatures (−9 °F, −59 °F wind chill) was known as the Freezer Bowl. The Bengals shredded San Diego's 27th-ranked defense, while containing the Chargers' league-leading offense, for a 27–7 Bengal victory and a ticket to Super Bowl XVI. It is considered[by whom?] 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. Despite two close victories (22–21 against the Dolphins in the Divisional Round and 17–13 against the Steelers in the AFC Championship) 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 the previous year, but they still managed to get into the playoffs with a five-game winning streak to end the season at 9–7. They experienced an early exit, courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts, by the score of 35–20 in the AFC Wild Card game. Then, from 1996 to 2003, the Chargers had 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 those 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, and 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 Alabama University, OT Wes Sims from Oklahoma University, and Center Scott Mruczkowski from Bowling Green State.
The Chargers got off to a rough start in 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 LaDainian Tomlinson had one of the greatest games of his career. He got 220 total yards, had 3 rushing touchdowns, and threw for a touchdown as he helped the Chargers win 45–23.
A week later, they were able to build off their win by not only beating the two-time defending champion New England Patriots 41-17, but also ending 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 during this season (they had also worn them during the 1994 season). The Steelers held on to win with a 40-yard field goal by Jeff Reed (24–22). The Chargers rebounded 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 turned things around as they began a five-game winning streak. They won 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 in OT) and then they swept the Oakland Raiders at home by a score of 34–10.
The Chargers were 8–5, coming off a 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.
The Chargers delivered an impressive performance in 2006, losing only to the Ravens and Chiefs, they finished 14–2 which secured them the #1 AFC seed in the playoffs. However, they lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots in the divisional round. In 2007, they went 11-5, beating the Tennessee Titans and the defending champion Indianapolis Colts to reach the AFC title game. However, they fell to the Patriots for the second year in a row. In 2008, the Chargers dropped to 8–8, but as the AFC West was unusually weak that year, they still managed to win the division title. Defeating the Colts in the wild card round, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.
San Diego began the 2009 2–3. After losing to the Broncos on Monday night, they began an unbroken winning streak for the rest of the season, which included defeating the entire NFC East. In Week 11, they avenged their earlier loss against the Broncos by inflicting a 32–3 rout on them. The next game saw them beat a 1–11 Cleveland Browns squad 30-23, in which LaDainian Tomlinson broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown's rushing record and was congratulated by him afterwards. The Chargers secured another division title, the #2 AFC seed, and looked to be a near shoo-in for the Super Bowl. However, the team's postseason futility continued. Hosting the New York Jets on January 17, 2010, they endured an upset defeat, where, despite an early lead, were unable to overcome the strong Jets' defense. Kicker Nate Kaeding also missed three field goal and PAT attempts, which resulted in the Chargers losing 17–14.
Due to his age, LaDainian Tomlinson was released in March 2010 and almost as quickly found a new home with the Jets. On the season opener, the Chargers lost in Kansas City 21–14 for the first time in four years. Their home opener in Week 2 was an easy rout of the Jaguars, but they failed to sell enough tickets and consequently suffered a blackout for the first time since 2004. They followed this with a trip to Seattle in which they lost 27–20. Returning home for Week 4, the Chargers inflicted a 41–10 rout on the Cardinals, but the game was blacked out again. The following week, they lost to the Raiders for the first time in seven years. The Chargers finished the season at 9–7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. After missing the playoffs for the third straight season in 2012, the Chargers fired general manager A. J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner.
Tom Telesco, former Vice President of Football Operations with the Indianapolis Colts, was hired as the new general manager, while Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy became the new head coach.
With Norv Turner taking a new job as Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy got the team off to an inconsistent 2-3 start, but then won two games in a row, against Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, then against Jacksonville. Following the bye week however, the Chargers lost four of the next five. With postseason hopes looking rather faint, the team managed to pull a proverbial rabbit from a hat as they won all the remaining regular season games and faced a combination of losses from other AFC teams that allowed them to sneak into the wild card playoffs with a 9-7 record.
On the 50th anniversary of the 1963 AFL Championship, the Chargers beat Cincinnati handily at 27-10, but their miracle season at last ended the next week in Denver as their division rival knocked them out 24-17.
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