It's been a while since we've done a position in the spotlight, and it's my fault. Ryan got a little ahead of me in posting these, and he was waiting for me to catch up. Today's position in the spotlight city is San Diego, a city I went on a little vacation to about a month ago (which is when I planned to write this). San Diego might possibly be the most beautiful city in America, and is an awesome place to go for a vacation. It has mountains, beaches, and a perfect climate, so leave it to the sports gods to punish them somewhere. San Diego, despite being such a large city, does not exactly have a rich sports history. They have had the Padres since 1969, who have played in the World Series twice, but have more losing seasons than winning. The Chargers have been in San Diego since 1961. They won the AFL title in 1963 and went to the Super Bowl in 1994, but they too have had their share of disappointing seasons. San Diego actually had the NBA for a little while too when the Buffalo Braves moved to town and became the infamous Clippers. They stayed in San Diego from 1978-1984 before bolting to Los Angeles for a reason that I don't really understand (do they actually have fans, or are they just Lakers fans that can't get tickets?).
So where do we go with our position in the spotlight pick. After walking past Petco Park during a game on a beautiful night in the Gaslamp Quarter and seeing nothing but empty seats, and vaguely remembering the Padres game I went to in 1993 where Benito Santiago got a standing O (from a tiny crowd) after he was picked in the expansion draft by the Marlins, I'm going to rule out baseball. The Chargers have a lot of positions that can be chosen in my mind. They have had their share of great quarterbacks, running backs, linebackers, and coaches over the years. Even though the current Chargers offense revolves around a future hall of fame running back, I'm picking San Diego Chargers Quarterback
The Chargers have more or less had one thing over their 50 year existence that most teams don't, consistency at quarterback. Except for some rough patches in the late 80s and late 90s, the Chargers have pretty much always known that their starter would produce. It all started with their first quarterback, recently deceased and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. Picked up from the NFL scrap heap as the AFL was just getting started, Kemp was perfect for the new league full of high scoring offenses and tons of passing, leading the Chargers to losses in the AFL Championship game in each of their first 2 seasons in existence, 1960 (in Los Angeles) and 1961. After breaking his middle finger in 1962 he was waived by Sid Gillman to free up a roster spot, and he was claimed by the Bills. This left the team to rookie John Hadl, which had disastrous results.
Seeing that Hadl was not yet ready to lead the team, heading into 1963 the Chargers signed veteran Tobin Rote, who had led the Lions to the 1957 NFL title, but had been out of the NFL for a few years, to lead the team. Rote delivered, leading the team to a 11-3 record and their first and only AFL Championship. The championship made Rote the only QB to ever lead a team to both an AFL and NFL title. Rote won the AFL MVP that year as well.
In 1964, Hadl and Rote platooned at QB and led the Chargers to another AFL title game loss. This loss was especially painful because it was to former QB Jack Kemp's Buffalo Bills. In 1965, Hadl took over the starting job full time and lost once again in the AFL title game to Kemp's Bills. Hadl continued to put up huge numbers in the AFL, leading the league in yardage 3 times, touchdowns twice, and unfortunately, interceptions twice during his career with the Chargers. He also made the "pro-bowl" (AFL all-star game in the AFL) 6 times. He was traded to the Rams before the start of the 1973 season to make room for a youngster and a very old man...
The Chargers turned to rookie 3rd round draft pick Dan Fouts in 1973, but also traded for decrepit legend Johnny Unitas to split time with him. The combination of Unitas being completely washed up and Fouts being a youngster was a disaster, leading to a 2-11-1 season. The Chargers entered 1974 with Fouts still splitting time with another rookie and a new head coach. The pair put up pedestrian numbers for some below average teams over the next few seasons, but that was all about to change.
The Chargers brought in "Air" Coryell and his crazy pass-happy offense in 1978 and Fouts flourished, passing just 1 yard short of 3000 yards. The Chargers offense exploded in 1979, with Fouts throwing for over 4000 yards, breaking the single season yardage record, leading the team to a 12-4 record, and making his first pro bowl. In 1980 Fouts shattered his own record, throwing for over 4700 yards and leading the Chargers to an AFC title game loss. In 1981, Fouts did it again, breaking the yardage record for the 3rd year in a row, and losing the AFC title game to the Bengals in the Freezer Bowl. Fouts led the league in passing for a 4th time in strike-shortened 1982, but the Chargers lost once again in the playoffs. Fouts continued to put up big numbers over the next few years, despite some pretty bad seasons by the Chargers. He eventually retired after the 1987 season and was elected to the hall of fame.
After Fouts, the Chargers used a bunch of QBs under head coach Dan Henning from 1988-1991 like Mark Malone, Jim McMahon, Billy Joe Tolliver, and John Friesz. When Friesz got injured before the 1992 season, the Chargers traded for Redskins backup, Stan Humphries. Humphries made an immediate impact, leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Humphries' success continued in 1994 when he led the Chargers to their first and only Super Bowl appearance, which they lost to the 49ers. Humphries was forced to retire after the 1997 season after multiple concussions.
The Chargers horrible 1997 season set them up perfectly to get one of the top QBs in the 1998 draft. Either Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. The Colts had the first pick, so the Chargers were getting whoever the Colts didn't take. Unfortunately for them, the Colts took future hall of famer/super bowl champion/multiple time MVP/record breaker Manning, and the Chargers got interception machine/childish/failure/retired Ryan Leaf. The team struggled mightily without a solid starting QB, resorting to guys like a washed up Jim Harbaugh, future XFLer Craig Whelihan, and an ancient Doug Flutie, but things started to turn around for them after a 1-15 season in 2000.
In the 2001 draft, the Chargers had the #1 pick and seemed to be a lock to draft Michael Vick with that pick. Instead, they traded down and picked LaDainian Tomlinson in the first round and record breaker from Purdue Drew Brees in the 2nd. Brees struggled adjusting to the NFL in his first 3 seasons at QB, and the Chargers were just a bad team with a good RB. The Chargers earned the #1 pick in the draft yet again in 2004 and drafted Eli Manning. When Manning (and his dad) refused to sign with the team, claiming that the franchise had no future, they traded him to the Giants for their first round QB pick, Phillip Rivers. The plan was to have Rivers sit for a while and learn under Brees in 2004, and eventually took over the team. Brees felt the heat of having a young prospect under him and exploded in 2004, throwing for over 3000 yards, 27 TDs and only 7 Ints and leading the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Brees had another solid season in 2005, but was allowed to leave for New Orleans (where he has now become arguably the best QB in the NFL) to make room for Rivers.
Phillip Rivers took the reigns of a talent loaded Chargers team to start the 2006 season and didn't disappoint, throwing for over 3000 yards and leading the Chargers to their best regular season record ever, 14-2. However, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Rivers bounced back in 2007, leading the Chargers to the AFC title game before losing to the 16-0 Patriots. In 2008, he had his finest individual season yet, cracking 4000 yards and tying for the lead league in TD passes with the man he used to back up, Drew Brees, but the season ended in another playoff loss. Rivers has proven he can lead the Chargers and put up huge numbers, but can he be the first QB to lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl title?Honorable MentionChargers linebacker
- The Chargers had Junior Seau as their defensive leader for many, many years, and he has been succeeded by another great player, Shawne Merriman. I could have picked this, but I didn't feel like writing about Tila Tequila.The Gwynn Family
- Tony Gwynn pretty much IS the Padres history, and now his son plays for the team with some big shoes to fillThe UFC
- When I was in San Diego, it was incredibly quiet around Petco Park, but the bars in the Gaslamp Quarter erupted when Anderson Silva knocked out Forrest Griffin. Cage fighting is extremely popular out west, to the point where it is almost as popular as the local teams in not-so-great sports towns.
Labels: Position in the Spotlight, San Diego Chargers