While most of their formative years have been with the city of San Diego, the Chargers have had a long-standing relationship with Southern California. The Los Angeles Chargers have been a charter member of the NFL since 1970. In their 60 year history, they have won one championship while in the AFL and have sent eight men to the Hall of Fame. We’re going to take a look back at the best teams this founding franchise has produced, and some of the players and coaches that made up those teams.
The 5 Greatest Chargers Teams Of All-Time
5. 2018 Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) — AFC Divisional Round, Loss to New England Patriots 41-28
There might be some recency bias here because some people (like myself) thought the 2019 Chargers were Super Bowl bound after a surprising 2018 season. This team came out of nowhere to surprise a lot of people and finish 12-4, their second-best record in team history. This team’s success may have given head coach Anthony Lynn an unnecessarily long leash, but that doesn’t undermine how impressive this squad really was.
The offense was brimming with quality like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Philip Rivers, and Russell Okung. The defense was not too bad either with guys like Derwin James, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Adrian Phillips, and Desmond King locking down receivers and terrorizing QB’s. Much like the 1994 Chargers though, sometimes you just run into a buzzsaw. Brady and Belichick came into town and comfortably wrecked the Chargers, with Brady improving his record to 8-0 over Rivers.
4. 1980 San Diego Chargers (11-5) — AFC Championship Game, Loss to Oakland Raiders 34-27
Made famous for the “Air Coryell” system that would really help push the league to the pass-happy model we see nowadays. People might argue that the ‘79 or ‘81 season teams were better, but I chose the ‘80 team because of the incredible blend of coaching and player talent this team saw, compared to the other two squads.
Head Coach Don Coryell would end up in the Chargers Hall of Fame, and this squad was an offensive juggernaut as Hall of Famer and OC Joe Gibbs led them to the league’s number one offense. Not to mention they had the number six defense in the league as well.
This squad saw quarterback Dan Fouts break his own passing yards record. They would also go on to set an NFL record by having the only team that would record three 1,000 yard receivers in Kellen Winslow, John Jefferson, and Charlie Joiner.
With Fouts, Joiner, Winslow, and Gibbs all getting into the HOF, it’s hard to ignore the impact this Chargers team had on the offensive landscape of the NFL for many years to come.
3. 2006 San Diego Chargers (14-2) — AFC Divisional Round, Loss to New England Patriots 24-21
This team should have won a Super Bowl. This is also by a wide, wide margin the best-assembled roster the Chargers franchise has ever put together. They would go on to send 11 guys to the Pro Bowl that season, the most of any team that year.
Of course, the crown jewel of that season, LaDainian Tomlinson, would go on to be named MVP of the NFL and set the single-season touchdown rushing record.
Rounded out by legendary names like Coach Schottenheimer, Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers, this team would get so close to a Super Bowl before having their hearts broken. If not for an interception that was fumbled and a missed field goal, this team might be on the top of this list, and they might not be another example on a long list of playoff failures by Marty Schottenheimer. LT’s face at the end of the game says it all.
2. 1963 San Diego Chargers (11-3) — AFL Champions, Win against Boston Patriots 10-51
I totally get the argument that this championship might not be as impactful considering it wasn’t played at anything close to the real NFL we saw after the merger. But guess what? A championship is a championship. With that said, this team was absolutely loaded featuring the likes of future Hall of Famers Ron Mix and Lance Alworth.
Head coach Sid Gillman assembled a roster laden with Pro Bowlers to complement Mix and Alworth. Guys like Tobin Rote, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, Earl Faison, and Chuck Allen, this was the original team that kicked off the steroid trend in football.
Gillman assembled the players at the famous Rough Acres Ranch, where he would eventually create the role of a strength coach and work towards integrating the players on his team. This team would also produce legendary coach Chuck Noll who would go on to win four Super Bowls with the Steelers and create the infamous “Steel Curtain”.
The ‘63 Chargers led by Keith Lincoln’s performance in the Super Bowl would go on to DESTROY the then Boston Patriots 51-10, completing the journey that led them to be one of the darling teams of the early days of football.
The Patriots and Chargers have had a long history, where the Pats have dominated the Chargers even before they were a dynasty. At least their relationship started with a championship for the Chargers. Oh, how fate would change for the Chargers after this moment.
1. 1994 San Diego Chargers (11-5) — Super Bowl XXIX, Loss to San Francisco 49ers 49-26
While to some it might seem silly that the best season in franchise history is one that ends with the Chargers losing, I think there is a good reason for this. The season that ended with a championship was only during a small stretch of 10 years when the Chargers were still in the AFL. The 1994 Chargers team was impressive despite their only appearance and a loss in the Super Bowl.
With Coach Bobby Ross at the helm, this team featured Hall of Fame bound Junior Seau. They would also get Pro Bowl seasons from guys like Natrone Means, John Carney, and Leslie O’Neal, and while this team was not always impressive in the air with Stan Humphries under center, they knew their identity. Ground and pound on offense, and let the defense control the rest of the time of possession.
Unfortunately, for a good, but not great Chargers team, their only chance at an NFL Super Bowl would be dashed away fairly quickly by one of the best 49ers teams in league history. Led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice, the Niners made short work of the Chargers with Young throwing six touchdowns passes and Rice garnering 149 yards and three touchdowns.
The Chargers have had the benefit of being one of the original members of the football community starting in Los Angeles in the ’60s as a member of the AFL. Although they have struggled since the NFL merger. With just one Super Bowl appearance, and a bunch of heartbreaking losses at the end of the season (mostly caused by kickers) the Chargers are still looking for that ultimate goal of a Super Bowl victory before they can be one of the true premier franchises in league history.