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3 greatest Chargers teams in franchise history

For the Chargers franchise, many coaches, players, and results have left a memorable imprint in both San Diego and Los Angeles. With their new jersey combinations touching on both the present and historical aspects of their franchise, they are able to combine everything many fans know and love about them.

Players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Phillip Rivers, Ryan Leaf, Junior Seau, Mike Tolbert, Darren Sproles, Donnie Edwards, Nate Kaeding, and others all bring recency into the conversation, while the likes of Dan Fouts, Gary Garrison, Ron Mix, Lance Alworth, Kellen Winslow, Leslie O’Neal, John Hadl, and others, help provide that historical aspect that helps the Chargers remain relevant looking back a long while.

Every franchise has those few teams that have truly put it all together in one given season – the undefeated Miami Dolphins back in 1972, the 2007 New England Patriots that ran the table but fell short in the Super Bowl, and the 1962 Green Bay Packers that won the NFL Championship that year all while forcing 50?!? turnovers in 14 regular-season games, all come to mind when talking about greatness.

But for the Chargers, their history has helped give them a very interesting leg to stand on in terms of all-time franchises across the league, and their three best teams of all time have also provided countless memories for the annals of NFL history as well.

Here are the three greatest seasons in Chargers’ franchise history.

2010 Chargers
Record: 9-7
Season Outcome: Missed playoffs

Starting off a list of greatest teams ever in a history of a franchise and including a team that went 9-7 usually does not offer up a ton in terms of a strong history. But for this team, they had everything in place to succeed and make a huge run – except for one area.

Led by head coach Norv Turner, Rivers at quarterback, a three-headed monster in the backfield of Tolbert, Ryan Matthews, and Darren Sproles, offensive weapons like Gates and Malcom Floyd, and led on defense by safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, this team was stacked – on paper.

Their offensive coordinator, Clarence Shelmon, produced the league’s top unit, while defensive coordinator Ron Rivera also helped coach and curate the best defensive unit out of all 30 teams. That alone makes this team special, but their shortcomings, focused mainly on the lack of special teams production, were their downfall, leading to missing the playoffs all together.

Gates and Rivers were Pro Bowl selections on offense, while Phillips was the lone rep from the defense, and while their 9-7 record (2nd in the AFC West) was such a misrepresentation of the roster’s talent, this was one of the better teams that the Chargers have ever had at their disposal – it it just very unfortunate that they were not able to take advantage of the talent that they had and turn it into something meaningful.

To produce two top units in the entire league and miss out on the postseason just is a ludicrous thought for a football team, yet the Chargers were forced to deal with that reality in 2010.

1994 Chargers
Record: 11-5
Season Outcome: Lost in Super Bowl XXIX

Regarded as a ‘Cinderella’ team back in 1994, the Chargers, which were led by coach Bobby Ross at the time, came into this season with no real high expectations for the team, which seemed to have played perfectly into what they were about to do.

They were the lone team that season to win their first six regular-season contests, and at the halfway mark of the year, they boasted a 7-1 record, finally earning some much-deserved attention and appreciation from the media and their league peers.

While their 4-4 end to the regular season was not nearly strong enough to lock in the top seed in the AFC for the playoffs, their second seed ended up placing them against the Miami Dolphins in the Divisional Round, squeaking by 22-21. The following week, they again won a close game, this time by a score of 17-13 over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Chargers ended up earning the AFC bid to the Super Bowl even after having trailed going into halftime of both of their postseason games, which showed that their roster was built to withstand some adversity (more on this later).

While they were eventually thrashed in the Super Bowl by the San Francisco 49ers and Steve Young, 49-26, the team’s first and only Super Bowl appearance up to this point was a real turning point for the franchise in terms of their expectations.

Their roster only boasted one Pro Bowl player on offense (running back Natrone Means) and two on defense (Seau and O’Neill, with Seau also earning a 1st-Team honor), but was filled with solid role players on both sides of the ball, helping make up for their lack of perceived talent.

They came into the season facing +7500 odds for winning the Super Bowl, and their 11-5 season resulted in the best season under Ross that the Chargers experienced in his five-year coaching career for the Bolts.

Success aside, this team actually has faced a lot of tragedy ever since that season, starting as soon as the following June. A total of eight players and one equipment manager has passed away since 1995 for that team (no players were older than 44 at their time of passing), unfortunately giving this team the ‘cursed’ label of sorts.

LB David Griggs, RB Rodney Culver, LB Doug Miller, equipment manager Sidney ‘Doc’ Brooks, C Curtis Whitley, DE Chris Mims, DE Shawn Lee, LB Lewis Bush, and maybe most notably, LB Junior Seau, all passed away in a window from June 19, 1995, to May 2, 2012, casting a very dark cloud around what was a very joyous time for the franchise.

1979 Chargers
Record: 12-4
Season Outcome: Lost in AFC Divisional Round

In the first full season under the helm of head coach Don Coryell, the Chargers decided to light the NFL on fire with the ‘Air Coryell’ offensive scheme, which relied heavily on passing the ball and resulted in the breakouts of QB Dan Fouts, WR Charlie Joiner, and TE Kellen Winslow. All three players went on to earn Hall of Fame inductions, and their HOF availability can be tied directly back to the year 1979.

Coryell had taken over four games into the 1978 season for the Chargers, and while they produced a very solid 8-4 record under him, they were unable to get out from underneath the 1-3 hole that former head coach Tommy Prothro had left the team in. Regardless, Coryell took over and instilled his pass-heavy offensive scheme, which worked excellently and helped propel the Chargers back into AFC relevancy.

The Chargers led the lead for six consecutive seasons in passing yards, throwing for over 24,000 yards from 1978-1983. Fouts became the first QB in NFL history to produce three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, and ‘79 was the first full year of the Air Coryell system, paving the way for future success for the Chargers.

While they did fall to the Houston Oilers in the AFC Divisional Round, the Chargers’ ‘79 season started a string of three-consecutive AFC West divisional titles, and this was also the year that Coryell earned his lone AFC Coach of the Year award as well.

Besides the three offensive superstars, other notable names on this team include OC Joe Gibbs, WR coach Ernie Zampese, DC Jackie Simpson, WR John Jefferson (Pro Bowl and 1st-Team All-Pro in ‘79), FB Clarence Williams, DE Fred Dean (Pro Bowl), and DT Gary Johnson (Pro Bowl), among others.

While the Air Coryell offensive scheme is not directly used in the NFL anymore, it walked so the likes of the West Coast offense and other high-powered offensive elements could run and thrive in today’s NFL, which helped make the league as fun and enjoyable as it is today.