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Charge!

  • Mar 1, 2012
Rating:
+1
Sports fans like myself who are bred in the city of Buffalo, New York learn quickly about heartbreak and futility. The city has two mainstream league sports teams, provided you count the NHL (it's perfectly reasonable not to). The sports calamities of Buffalo are well-documented and almost without equal:
-When the football team took a long-term break from losing all the damn time, it went to the Super Bowl a record-setting four years in a row. It also equaled the record of Super Bowl futility by losing all four times.
-That first Super Bowl: "Wide Right."
-During the bad old days, the football team at least entertained by fielding one of the NFL's true, unequivocal all-time great running backs. He was a nationally revered pitchman who went on to movie stardom, and he never had a bad word to say about Buffalo. And in 1994, he killed his wife and his lawyer got him off by playing the race card.
-Buffalo has gotten so small now that trying to keep and maintain the football team is extremely detrimental to the city's prospects for a long-term turnaround. This bugs me about them more than anything, and I'm quite public with the fact that my loyalties will soon no longer be with the Buffalo Bills.
-The Toronto series.
-"No Goal."
-The dynasty that wasn't: The hockey team being the best team in the league two years in a row and losing in the Conference Championship both times.
-Clint Malarchuck's neck wound. One of the all-time worst sports injuries. It frequently gets mentioned alongside Theismann's tibia and fibula.
-Buffalo lost the Braves, an eight-year-old NBA team, in the 70's.

Yeah, despite the protesting of Cleveland, I'm not about to give them any ground for their recent hard luck; The old Rams title counts, and all those Browns and Indians titles also count. Plus the Cavaliers enjoyed some awesome runs with LeBron James, although he deserves their wrath. I'm not willing to budge on quite a large number of so-called losers, actually. But I am willing to cede ground to the city of San Diego. Sure it's sunny and 80 there every day, but that's merely a distraction to the sports fans. In the modern era, San Diego's championship record is 0-3 between two Padres appearances in the World Series and one Super Bowl for the Chargers. The Chargers won their only football title in 1963, the pre-Super Bowl era. They returned to the AFL Championship in 1964 and 1965 only to get beat by.... Buffalo. Both times. And while San Diego's small measure of revenge for those football losses was to steal the Braves from Buffalo, that turned into a downhill loss too; the Braves had risen to prominence pretty quickly during their short stint in Buffalo and were considered a serious challenger. When they moved to San Diego, they took on a new identity as the Clippers, and I don't think I need to go into a lot of detail about how that turned out.

The San Diego Chargers are the big team that couldn't. They've had ten Hall of Famers play for them, an impressive number for an AFL team, including Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, Deacon Jones, John Mackey, Johnny Unitas (who, to be fair, was dodging retirement by the time he was traded to San Diego), and Kellen Winslow. They've had two legendary head coaches, Sid Gillman and Don Coryell, both of whom revolutionized the way offense is played in the NFL. More recently, they've played linebacker Junior Seau, running back LaDanian Tomlinson, and tight end Antonio Gates. This all-world talent has culminated in a single Super Bowl appearance, in 1994, a very ugly loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Chargers can claim the distinction of having actress Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) as a cheerleader at one time, but that's a pretty soft list of accomplishments. Also, they had the misfortune to draft Ryan Leaf in 1998. Although there is currently debate about whether JaMarcus Russell's drafting by the Oakland Raiders is worse than the Leaf bust, Leaf is still the unquestioned poster boy of a draft going as wrong as it could possibly go.

The Chargers were formed as the Los Angeles Chargers in 1959, as one of the original AFL teams. They spent only one season in Los Angles before heading to San Diego, where they immediately said "Hi!" to the rest of the AFL under coach Sid Gillman, who took them to the playoffs five times, the Championship four times, and a title in 1963 over the Boston Patriots. In 1973, the team acquired the past-his-prime Unitas, but he was soon relegated to backup duties in favor of a rookie by the name of Dan Fouts. The team had a few bad season in the beginning of the 70's, but in 1978 they hired Don Coryell as their coach, whose offensive techniques got him the nickname "Air Coryell." The Chargers finished 9-7 that year, and the next season gave the NFL public a bunch of breakout performances as Fouts set a record with four consecutive 300-yard passing games while becoming only the second quarterback to throw for a 4000 yard season.

The Chargers won a couple of division titles in the late 70's and early 80's, but they missed the playoffs every year from 1983 to 1991. In 1992 they hired Bobby Ross as head coach, and the 1992 season was written off when the Chargers began 0-4. But they fought back and became the first - and so far the only - team to make the playoffs after starting the season with a record like that. They won eleven of their next twelve games, won the AFC West title, and shut out the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round before Miami finally toppled them in the Divisional. In 1994, the team gelled. Quarterback Stan Humphries, running back Natrone Means, and a powerful defense led by Junior Seau won the AFC West again, took two close playoff games, and went to the first - and so far only - Super Bowl in team history. The Cinderella story ended there as San Diego lost a blowout Super Bowl to their Northern California NFC cousins, the San Francisco 49ers. They returned to the playoffs the next season, then disappeared for the next eight years.

The Chargers started rebuilding in 2004. They had offensive keystones in quarterback Drew Brees and running back LaDanian Tomlinson, and in 2005 they drafted linebacker Shawn Merriman. In 2004 they drafted Eli Manning with the first pick in the draft. Eli threw a hissy fit, so the Chargers granted his wish and traded him to the New York Giants for the quarterback the Giants drafted in the first round of that very same draft, Phillip Rivers. Eli won two Super Bowls for the Giants. Rivers hasn't been able to get there yet. But with a TD-INT ratio of 160-77, 23,000 passing yards, and a quarterback rating of 95.2 so far for his career, that's hardly his fault. In nearly every respect, both teams benefitted very abundantly from that trade. Under Rivers, the Chargers haven't had a losing season, and they've played in a couple of AFC Championships. He's led them to a couple of 14-2 records as well. Granted, his accomplishments aren't as nice as the Lombardi trophies won by his fellow draftmates Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh or Manning or Drew Brees in New Orleans, whom Rivers displaced. But he has nothing to be ashamed of.

You can't really call the Chargers one of the traditional powers of the AFC. They haven't had nearly enough big game success. But they do play in the same division as two of the AFC's traditional powers, the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos. They have a hard rivalry with the Raiders, like every other team in the league. They've won the division more, but Oakland won the three Super Bowls, which is what really counts.

Offense made the name for San Diego. It says something that even though they only won one Conference Championship, they still managed to play a lot of exciting, innovative offensive schemes. Gillman is known for offense. Coryell is also known for offense. Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Lance Alworth, LaDainian Tomlinson. It's ironic that their one Super Bowl appearance was rode in on the backs of a name defense while the forgettable Stan Humphries and Natrone Means commanded the offense in 1994.

The unusual name of the chargers, contrary to the popular myth that it comes from the lightning bolt logo, was actually because owner Barron Hilton liked the name after it was suggested to him by his GM, Frank Leahy. Leahy liked the sound of it because of how he kept hearing the word "charge!" shouted by spectators while the bugle sounded at Dodgers games and USC games. The team's outfit has been seen in many shades of blue, from the classic, cool powder, to royal, to the navy they wear now.

Despite the choking and San Diego's terrible sports reputation, I'm pretty confident that the Chargers will one day get that Lombardi trophy. San Diego is too large a market to ignore, and it's a popular place with a great climate where people want to go. But as I'll allow the place a free pass to say it's had worse sports luck than freaking Buffalo, just know that Chargers fans are potentially signing up for a world of heartbreak and unfulfilled expectations.

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The San Diego Chargers participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in San Diego, California. San Diego plays its games in the West of the AFC. The San Diego Chargers, founded in 1960, play home games at Qualcomm Stadium and have won one NFL Titles (1963).
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