No team has lived by the passing game the way the San Diego Chargers have throughout their nearly 50-year history. Original coach Sid Gillman set the standard in the 1960s with quarterbacks Jack Kemp and John Hadl airing the ball out to Lance Alworth, Dave Kocourek and Gary Garrison. The tradition continued under coach Don 'Air' Coryell during the late '70s and into the '80s. Pass-happy quarterback Dan Fouts threw his way into the Hall of Fame with the help of such reliable receivers as John Jefferson, Wes Chandler and fellow Hall-of-Famers Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow. During the '90s, under coach Bobby Ross and behind the leadership of unheralded quarterback Stan Humphries, the Chargers made their only Super Bowl appearance, a lopsided 49-26 loss to the dominant San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. Since then, after some lean years, the Chargers have clawed their way back into the realm of the AFC elite with superstar players like Ladainian Tomlinson, Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Shawne Merriman leading the charge.
As is the case with any 'all-time' list, there is room for arguement and discussion. My personal biases lean toward longevity (number of years played with team), quality of performance (number of starts at position, Pro-Bowl or All-Pro selections), and lastly, fan appreciation (Keith Lincoln comes to mind). That being said, current players such as Merriman and Cromartie will not be considered as starters due to their lack of tenure -- they may, however, be included under 'honorable mention'. Current players who have logged a suitable number of years with the Chargers, such as Tomlinson or Jamal Williams, will be considered for starting positions. So enough talk already -- let's get to it!!!
Dan Fouts (1973-87). The only reasonable choice. The bearded gunslinger threw for over 43,000 yards with 254 TD tosses and made six trips to the Pro Bowl en route to a Hall of Fame induction in 1993.
John Hadl (1962-72). Hadl is one of the best passers not to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Threw for nearly 27,000 yards as a Charger while making the Pro Bowl five times. Led the league in passing yardage three times.
Stan Humphries (1992-97). Was a backup in Washington before coming to the Chargers and leading them to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season. Ranks third in team history with 16,085 passing yards.
Philip Rivers (2004-current). The Chargers put their hopes on his shoulders when they dealt Drew Brees to New Orleans in 2006, and they haven't looked back. The young gun should rack up some huge numbers before he's through.
Ladainian Tomlinson (2001-current). Who else?? Through the 2008 season, he has rushed for nearly 12,000 yards and made over 500 pass receptions. A shoo-in for the Pro Bowl nearly each year he's played, the incomparable Tomlinson will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Paul Lowe (1960-68). An original Charger, Lowe amassed nearly 5,000 rushing yards and was a two-time All-Pro during his years with the team. Named to the AFL all-time squad.
Chuck Muncie (1980-84). Big (6-3, 227) back gave Air Coryell a balanced attack during the early '80s. Best season was 1981 Pro Bowl year, in which he rushed for 1,144 yards and made 43 receptions, while leading the NFL with 19 rushing TDs.
Keith Lincoln (1961-66). Played both halfback and fullback during his career, gaining 2,698 rushing yards and making 123 receptions. Played in four Pro Bowls as a Charger, but is best known for his incredible all-purpose performance in the 1963 AFL Championship victory over Boston.
Marion Butts (1989-93). Bruising back gained 4,297 rushing yards as a Charger, making the Pro Bowl twice. Best season was 1990, when he gained 1,225 yards with eight TDs.
Ronnie Harmon (1990-95). Never the featured running back with the Chargers, Harmon was the team's 3rd down specialist. Averaged nearly five yards per rushing attempt and made 378 receptions, averaging over ten yards per grab.
Natrone Means (1993-95, '98-'99). Burly back was the team's workhorse during 1994 Super Bowl year. He gained 1,350 yards rushing with 12 TDs and 39 receptions for the season, earning a Pro Bowl invitation. In five years with the Chargers, he rushed for 3,885 yards and 34 TDs.
Lance Alworth (1962-70). The acrobatic Alworth was a seven-time Pro-Bowler and six-time All-Pro during his Charger career. Amassed 493 receptions for 9,584 yards and 81 TDs while becoming the first player to record seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. The best receiver of the 1960s, he was also the first AFL regular elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Charlie Joiner (1976-86). The reliable Joiner caught 586 passes for 9,203 yards and 47 TDs as a Charger, making three trips to the Pro Bowl. Fearless and possessing an uncanny ability to find openings in the defense, Joiner was enshrined in Canton in 1996.
Gary Garrison (1966-76). The lanky Garrison quietly caught 404 passes for 7,533 yards and 58 TDs during his years with the team. One of the top deep threats of his era, he made four Pro-Bowl appearances.
Wes Chandler (1981-87). Like Chuck Muncie, the fleet-footed Chandler came over from New Orleans, quickly establishing himself as Dan Fouts' favorite target. Grabbed 373 passes for 6,132 yards and 41 TDs during his Charger career. Gained over 1,000 yards in just eight games during strike-shortened 1982 season.
John Jefferson (1978-80). To this day, no one knows why the Chargers dealt the goggle-wearing phenom to Green Bay prior to the 1981 season. In his three season with San Diego, Jefferson made the Pro Bowl each year, was twice voted All-Pro, topped 1,000 yards each season, and made 36 TD catches. Then he went to Green Bay and played second fiddle to James Lofton for a couple of years before fading into oblivion.
Anthony Miller (1988-93). The sure-handed Miller was the best receiver on some pretty weak Charger teams. Racked up 374 catches for 5,582 yards and 37 TDs during his six Charger seasons, making the Pro Bowl four times.
Tony Martin (1994-97). In just four seasons with San Diego, Martin pulled in 288 receptions for 4,184 yards and 33 TDs. He made the Pro Bowl following the 1996 season, in which he led the NFL with 14 TD grabs.
Kellen Winslow (1979-87). Arguably the top receiving tight end of his era, the athletic Winslow put up some astonishing numbers from 1980-83. Overall, his 541 receptions for 6,741 yards and 45 TDs earned him five Pro Bowl berths, three All-Pro selections and a spot in Canton, Ohio.
Antonio Gates (2003-current). One of the elite receiving TEs in the game today, Gates could possibly overtake Winslow for the top position with a few more solid seasons. A virtual lock for the Pro Bowl since 2004.
Dave Kocourek (1960-65). An original LA Charger, Kocourek started as a wideout and switched to TE in his third year. Made four Pro Bowls with the Chargers, catching 218 passes for 3,720 yards and 21 TDs. Became the first Charger to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season during 1961 campaign.
Jacque MacKinnon (1961-69). Spent early career as reserve FB and TE, and became starter following Kocourek's departure. Made the Pro Bowl following the '66 and '68 seasons.
Don Macek (1976-89). Switched from G in his third year, and started at center for a decade. Never made the Pro Bowl, but played in 162 regular season contests, starting 150.
Courtney Hall (1989-96). Strong, smart player started 118 games for the Chargers. Played RG during 1990 season.
Sam Gruneisen (1962-72). Began career as a guard, converted to center in 1965 and was the starter through 1972.
Ron Mix (1960-69). One of the finest tackles in pro history, Mix was selected All-Pro in all but his final year with the Chargers. An easy pick for the AFL All-time team, Mix made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, one year after Alworth.
Russ Washington (1968-82). Spent first two seasons at DT before moving over to the other side of the ball, where he earned five trips to the Pro Bowl. Played in 200 games for the Chargers, starting every game from '71-'79.
Ernie Wright (1960-67, '72). An original LA Charger, Wright was a starter every season with the team, earning three Pro-Bowl invitations.
Terry Owens (1966-75). Manned the left tacktle position for ten solid seasons, playing in 132 games.
Billy Shields (1975-83). The 6'8" Shields replaced Owens at left tackle and was a steady starter for eight seasons.
Vaughn Parker (1994-2003). Played both left and right tackle during his ten-year stint with the Chargers. Had three seasons shortened by injury, but still played in 121 games.
Doug Wilkerson (1971-84). Reliable guard started every game he played with the Chargers. Made three Pro Bowls and was AFC All-Pro in 1982 at age 35.
Walt Sweeney (1963-1973). Along with Mix, Wright and Gruneisen, formed one of the best offensive lines in the AFL. Sweeney made nine consecutive Pro Bowls ('64-'72), and was All-Pro in '67 and '68.
Ed White (1978-85). White arrived in San Diego after seven strong seasons in Minnesota. Not missing a beat, he started all but two of 119 games with the Chargers and made the Pro Bowl in 1979.
Gary Johnson (1975-84). A four-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Johnson was the team's best pass rusher during the Air Coryell years. Recorded an unofficial 67 sacks with the Chargers.
Jamal Williams (1998-current). A huge load at 6'3", 345, Williams constantly draws double-team blocking and is an expert run stuffer. Moved from left tackle to nose tackle in 2004, and has been dominant since, making three Pro Bowls and earning two All-Pro selections.
Louie Kelcher (1975-83). Another big (6-5, 290) lineman who tied up blockers and used deceptive quickness to wrap up ball-carriers. Kelcher made the Pro Bowl three times and was one of the Chargers' most popular players during his tenure.
Ernie Ladd (1961-65). One of the biggest big men in league history, the 6'9", 290 lb. Ladd dominated his position during his brief career, making four Pro Bowls and earining All-Pro honors three times.
Fred Dean (1975-81). At 6'3", 230, Dean was smaller than many of the linebackers of his era, but his incredible strength and quickness allowed him to over-power blockers. His pass-rushing skills earned him two Pro Bowl invitations as a Charger before he went on to win two Super Bowl rings with San Francisco. Was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.
Leslie O'Neal (1986, '88-95). The best pass rusher in team history, O'Neal started as a linebacker, then moved to DE and his sack totals exploded. In nine seasons with the Chargers, he reached double-digits in sacks seven times and was elected to six Pro Bowls. Holds team record with 105.5 sacks, with a personal best of 17 in 1992.
Lee Williams (1984-90). Teamed with O'Neal to form the most lethal pass-rushing duo in the NFL in the late '80s. Williams recorded 65.5 sacks in his seven seasons with the Chargers, and earned Pro Bowl spots in '88 and '89.
Earl Faison (1961-66). Like Ernie Ladd, Faison dominated his position on those early Charger squads, making the Pro Bowl in each of his five full seasons and earning All-Pro honors on four occasions. Also returned two of his five career INTs for touchdowns.
Leroy Jones (1976-83). Teamed with Kelcher, Dean and Gary Johnson to form 'The Bruise Brothers'. Never a Pro-Bowler, the 6'8", 265 lb. Jones was a solid starter who spent his entire career with the Chargers.
Junior Seau (1990-2002). The ageless Seau was one of the most complete linebackers in the game during his Charger career, equally good against the run and the pass. In 200 games, he tallied 47 sacks, 15 INTs, 16 fumble recoveries and over 1,400 tackles. He made the Pro Bowl in all but his rookie year, and was All-Pro six times. A plaque in Canton awaits.
Woodrow Lowe (1976-86). The versatile Lowe spent his entire career with the Chargers, starting 151 games. Had above-average coverage skills for a LB, tallying 21 INTs and returning four of them for scores.
Billy Ray Smith (1983-92). Like Lowe, a solid, well-rounded player who never seemed to get the recognition he deserved. Smith was a great tackler who picked off 15 passes and made 14 fumble recoveries during his career. Totalled a career-high 11 sacks in 1986.
Chuck Allen (1961-69). Allen was the heart of the Charger defense throughout the '60s. He made the Pro Bowl following the '63 and '64 seasons and made 20 INTs from his middle-backer position, returing one for a TD during his rookie year.
Gary Plummer (1986-93). Plummer came to the Chargers in 1986 after beginning his career in the doomed USFL, and immediately established himself as an expert run-stopper. He registered nearly 500 tackles from '88-'91, with a personal high of 146 in '89.
Rick Redman (1965-73). Another versatile performer, Redman played every linebacker position during his career, making the Pro Bowl in 1967.
Shawne Merriman (2005-current). Not since Lawrence Taylor has a linebacker had such an immediate impact as Merriman. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, collecting 39.5 sacks and generally wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. If he can return to full form from the injury that side-lined him for the 2008 season, he may very well earn a spot at the top of this list.
Gill Byrd (1983-92). One of the better cover corners of his era, Byrd didn't receive much recognition until he was invited to the Pro Bowl after each of his final two seasons. His 42 career picks are by far the most in team history, and he returned two of them for TDs in his second season.
Leslie 'Speedy' Duncan (1964-70). Excellent coverage man snared 21 passes and made three Pro Bowls during his Charger career. Also one of the most dangerous kick-returners in team history.
Joe Beauchamp (1966-75). Dual-purpose DB alternated between safety and corner throughout ten-year career. Made 23 INTs with three TD returns.
Mike Williams (1975-82). Reliable corner was a starter for all eight of his seasons in San Diego, totalling 24 INTs.
Dick Harris (1960-65). Ball-hawking original Charger held the team mark with 29 career INTs until Gill Byrd surpassed him over 20 years later. Harris made All-Pro each of his first two seasons and shares team record of five INT return TDs with Kenny Graham.
Rodney Harrison (1994-2002). One of the hardest hitting safeties in history, Harrison was almost like an extra LB on the field. With the Charges he made 26 INTs (two TDS), tallied 21.5 sacks and was usually among the team leaders in tackles.
Kenny Graham (1964-69). Intimmidating safety made four Pro Bowls and got one All-Pro nod during his six seasons with the Chargers. He picked off 25 passes with a team record five TD returns.
John Carney (1990-2000) Steady kicker holds team records with 261 FGs (81.6% accuracy) and 1076 points scored. Named All-Pro for 1994 after leading the NFL with 34 FGs and 135 points.
Rolf Benirschke (1977-86). The lean Benirschke overcame ulcerative colitis early in his career and made the Pro Bowl following the 1982 season. When he retired he held nearly all Chargers place-kicking records, which have since been surpassed by Carney. Scored 766 points for the Chargers.
Darren Bennett (1995-2003). Former Australian football star made the Pro Bowl as a 30-year-old rookie. He never averaged less than 43.9 yards per punt in any of his first six seasons, leading the league with a 46.2 average in 2000 and earning his second Pro Bowl berth. Holds team records with 771 punts for 33,776 yards (43.8 average).
Speedy Duncan (1964-70). Nifty corner was one the league's most dangerous return men. Made 138 punt returns with a terrific 12.0 average and four TDs and averaged 25.3 yards on 134 kickoff returns.
Andre Coleman (1994-96). Reserve wideout made big impact as a return man during his brief stint in San Diego. In three seasons he returned kickoffs for almost 4,000 yards and four TDs. 1995 was his only season of punt return duty, gaining 326 yards on 28 returns with an 88-yard TD.
Darren Sproles (2005-current). The diminutive Sproles has been a remarkable all-purpose player for the Chargers, but his greatest assett has been his kick-return ability. Through 2008 season he has compiled nearly 4,000 yards on kickoff returns with two TDs and also has a punt-return TD to his credit.
Mike Fuller (1975-80). Fuller was a decent safety, making 15 INTs in his five years playing that position, and he was the Chargers' regular punt returner all six of his seasons with the team. Holds team records with 212 returns and 2,388 yards ( a very good 11.3 average) with two TDs.
Special teams performer:
Hank Bauer (1977-82). Fullback Bauer was the Chargers' short-yardage and goal-line specialist in the late '70s, but his true calling was as a special teams kamikazee. He was several times named the team's special teams MVP and set a record with 52 special teams tackles in 1981.