The Greatest Charger: A Title Fit For Three

Michael ScarrContributor IJuly 29, 2009

28 Sep 1986:  Quarterback Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers passes the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  The Raiders won the game, 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell  /Allsport


Muhammad Ali is the greatest and Saturday, Chargers fans will get to weigh in on the issue.


No, they won't argue the merits of Ali over Dempsey, Louis or Marciano but they will get to apply the concept of greatest to create an all-star Chargers squad, and possibly include the likes of Ernie Ladd who spent his second career in the ring as a pro wrestler.


In recognition of the Chargers' 50th season, fans are extended the opportunity to select their choice for the 50 greatest players in franchise history filling each position at least two deep while including a head coach and return men.


A similar roster was floated in this space last month, one that picked all starters.


Fans will also get the chance to pick the greatest moments in team history with balloting to take place on and Brigantine Restaurants.


But who would win the title of greatest Charger of them all?


Plenty of worthy candidates have taken the field for the Chargers since its inception in 1960 with names like Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, Paul Lowe and Junior Seau dotting the landscape.


Handling the job of truly carrying the mantle of greatest in franchise history, though, would fall to one of the triumvirate of Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts and LaDainian Tomlinson.


Any of the three would be fine representatives.


Alworth's credentials are exemplary. He was the perfect complement to a league that was looking to brand a new style of football, one that was wide open, high-scoring, unafraid of the pass and not your father's NFL.


Drafted in 1962 by both the Niners (first round) and Raiders (second round), Alworth made his way to San Diego when the Raiders traded his rights to the Chargers and he opted for the upstart AFL over the NFL.


Sent packing for Oakland in that deal? Running back and flanker Bo Roberson, quarterback Hunter Enis and offensive lineman Gene Selawski. Only Roberson logged significant time with the Raiders, scoring 10 touchdowns over parts of four seasons.


Alworth eclipsed that in 1963, his second season with the Chargers and first full campaign which also began a string of six-straight All-AFL nods and seven straight appearances in the league's all-star game.


Three times each did Alworth lead the league in TDs, receiving yards and receptions, and scored 70 touchdowns from 1963-68. He also had at least 1,000 yards receiving with no fewer than 61 receptions in each season from 1963-69.


A trade to Dallas before the 1971 season added a Super Bowl ring to the AFL Championship he won with the Chargers in 1963 but he was utilized more as a blocker on the Cowboys' predominant ground game. Alworth's crowning achievement came with his election to Pro Football's Hall of Fame in 1978, the first AFL player to be named.


Fouts, another Hall of Famer, helped restore glory to the franchise and revitalized the Chargers' image as an offensive powerhouse.


A third-round draft choice out of Oregon in 1973, Fouts first competed for the starting QB job with the likes of Johnny Unitas and Jesse Freitas, and struggled through his first five seasons. Never once in those years did he throw more touchdowns than interceptions.


Of course, those were woeful years for a team that also did not post a winning record. But his fortunes changed in 1978 when head coach Tommy Prothro was replaced by Don Coryell four games into the season.


Prothro had essentially built the team with his strong eye for talent during his four plus years, but it was Coryell's design of a high-octane offense that eventually propelled the team to three straight AFC West titles, a pair of AFC Championship appearances and four straight trips to the playoffs.


It was largely possible because of Fouts, however, who had the obscene luxury of throwing to John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, Winslow, and Joiner while also supported in the backfield by Chuck Muncie.


From 1979-82, Fouts led the league in passing yards and through 1983 he also led in yards per game average. Those four playoff appearances did not produce a Super Bowl, though, a run that included the thrilling overtime victory in Miami followed quickly by the Ice Bowl loss in the AFC title game in Cincinnati after the 1981 season.


Possibly the greatest disappointment of the Fouts era was 1979, a year in which they were 12-4 and earned their first division title as members of the NFL. But Fouts threw five interceptions and no touchdown passes in a 17-14 second-round playoff loss at home to the Oilers.


A victory would have produced an AFC Championship in San Diego against the Steelers and a possible Super Bowl berth up the road at the Rose Bowl against the Rams. Earlier in that '79 season, the Chargers dismantled the Steelers at home, 35-7, as the Chargers intercepted Terry Bradshaw five times. The Chargers had also defeated the Rams that year.


Still in progress, of course, is LT and the point may be moot when his tenure with the Chargers is complete.


No doubt is he the greatest running back in franchise history and he has a chance at becoming the NFL's career rushing TD champ with Emmitt Smith's 164 in sight; Tomlinson trails by 38.


Before LT, only Paul Lowe had multiple 1,000-yard rushing campaigns and he had a pair. Tomlinson has eight and counting, including twice leading the NFL in rushing yards and three times leading in rushing touchdowns. He also set the NFL scoring and touchdown records during his 2006 MVP, with 186 and 31 respectively.


Like Fouts, though, LT has not delivered a title -- a claim that only Alworth can make as a Charger.


So the question of who is the greatest Charger is open to debate and possibly leads to a better question: does it really matter?