The Best San Diego Chargers Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Defense)

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The Best San Diego Chargers Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Defense)
Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd

When the American Football League began to take shape in 1959, Barron Hilton decided to give the AFL a franchise in Los Angeles. The Chargers were one of the top teams right away, making it to the very first AFL title game ever.

The city of Los Angeles was Rams country since 1946. Legendary sports journalist Jerry Magee got in Hilton's ear during the 1960 season to espouse the wonders of the unchartered San Diego area.

After less than 10,000 watched the Chargers clinch their division, as opposed to 18,000 on opening day, Hilton decided to move the team.

The team kept up their excellent play. They had one of the best offenses and defenses during this time and Hall of Fame head coach Sid Gillman was designing plays that made the Chargers more exciting than any other professional football team.

Gillman, who is often called the "Father of the Modern Day Offense," led the Chargers to five division titles. When his Chargers won the 1963 crown, the only championship in franchise history, he challenged NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to a game against the NFL champion Chicago Bears.

Though Rozelle declined, the seeds were sown and the champions of both leagues would meet after the 1966 season. Gillman would stay with the Chargers their entire time in the AFL, a feat only Hall of Famer Hank Stram of the Kansas City Chiefs also accomplished.

The beginning of the NFL was rough on the Chargers, but things started to change in 1975 when the team had probably the best single draft in franchise history. They grabbed Hall of Famer Fred Dean along with Pro Bowlers Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Louie Kelcher to make up one of the best defensive lines in the league.

They also drafted Mike Williams and Mike Fuller, who would excel in their defensive secondary and special teams for many years.

Billy Shields, Rickey Young and Ralph Perretta, also drafted in 1975 by San Diego, would contribute mightily to the offense for several years as well.

Then San Diego brought Don Coryell in as head coach early in the 1978 season. "Air Coryell" was soon born, an offense some consider the most exciting in NFL history. Coryell also had ties to Gillman, having sat in on several Chargers practices while he coached at nearby San Diego State University.

Though Coryell put together some great teams, the frugality of ownership quickly destroyed it and several players went on to win with other teams. Yet Coryell kept winning until his team started to age in 1986, when he was fired.

After the team took a few years and head coaches to rebuild, Bobby Ross took over in 1992 and began to win instantly. He stayed just five years before leaving, but Ross directed the Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1994.

Since Ross left, Chargers fans have been back on a roller coaster of a journey. Marty Schottenheimer was hired as head coach in 2002 and quickly built a winner. The 2006 team won a franchise record 14 games, but Schottenheimer often clashed with the front office.

Norv Turner replaced him in 2007 and has won the AFC West three times. The team is rebuilding right now as they try to stay competitive enough to hopefully bring the Chargers their first championship since 1963.

The Chargers have fielded some of the more exciting teams in football history, especially on offense. Of the seven people their franchise has in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, five played on offense.

Fred Dean is the only one on defense, though Junior Seau will change that soon. Many think there should be several more Chargers enshrined into Canton. Coryell should be joining Gillman because of all he has done for offensive schemes teams still run today.

This is a team of the best Chargers who are not, and may be never will be, members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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