Figuring out who the Chargers biggest rival is actually quite a bit more contentious than one might believe from the onset. The “gut check” when you ask yourself this question can really go any one of three ways. The Broncos and the Chiefs namely more recently, but if you start digging back a little further you remember that the Raiders and Chargers don’t like each other much either.
The Broncos make sense to me, they mashed with each other competitively through the ’80s and into the modern era. Neither team has really been that successful as of late, they’re kind of just more competitive and heated during bad football games.
I can see how Chargers fans might be upset with the Chiefs, but I imagine that’s mostly because the Chiefs have been beating them up a lot pretty recently. I began to dig into this a little further by watching videos, looking at online polls, and talking to some Chargers fans. Then you take into account the entire SoCal-NorCal dynamic, such as the Giants-Dodgers or the 49ers-Rams rivalries and the picture begins to become a little more clear.
Even though the last twenty or so years haven’t been so kind to either the Chargers or Raiders, let’s take a look back at what makes this rivalry the biggest in Chargers history and one that will last forever.
The Raiders Are The Chargers Biggest Rivals
Sid Gillman is an absolute legend of football. The Hall of Famer would basically create the entire concept of the Super Bowl and put into place the framework for the modern passing offenses we see now. It’s no surprise that under his tutelage that the Chargers were incredibly successful in their formative years. Going to four out of five AFL titles and winning one championship. The Chargers in fact were so successful that future outlandish Raiders owner Al Davis would learn the game from Gillman as his assistant coach for three years.
Davis was not only a Chargers guy that left, but as head coach and owner, would see his Raiders dominate the Chargers for almost 40 years, winning three Super Bowls out of the four they went to. What a way to start off franchise history, the Chargers dominate football for years, and one of their own commits mutiny and seizes power and glory for years. That even includes the infamous 1978 “Holy Roller” play, a fumblerooski trick play that would see the Chargers miss the playoffs as a result, and the NFL change the rules about forward fumbles.
Two years later, the Raiders and Chargers would meet in their ONLY playoff game ever. The 1980 AFC Title game came with Dan Fouts and Jim Plunkett leading two explosive offenses, and the Raiders eventually winning the Super Bowl.
The Chargers and Raiders even duked it out in what is maybe the ugliest game in NFL history. The Chargers and Raiders regular-season games in 1998 set the NFL record for most punts in a game. Gross.
In 1982, the Raiders moved down to LA temporarily, and because of their success, basically held the Chargers off from moving into the market as well for years. Well, the Chargers eventually got the last laugh, in 2015 both teams were vying for one of the two LA market spots with Spanos closing the deal to push the Raiders out of LA once and for all. The Raiders would end up moving to Las Vegas a few years later.
In an incredibly underrated narrative, the Chargers and Raiders rivalry kind of has checked off all the boxes you need to make a great rivalry story. Early success from one team, one of their team members leaves and starts a rivalry. Decisive playoff games with importance, and regular-season games that would go down in history. These franchises have even spent years stopping each other from moving cities.
It definitely isn’t the most high-profile rivalry in the league, and while it may not stand out as the formative contention for the Chargers franchise anymore, without a doubt the long-standing question of who is the Chargers biggest rival only has one answer: the Raiders.