Ranking the Top Five Chargers of All-Time

The Los Angeles Chargers, formerly known as the San Diego Chargers are yet to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as a franchise. Regardless, many NFL legends have worn the Bolts’ powder blue jerseys since being founded in 1960.

Here is my attempt to narrow down the long list of Charger greats to only five.

No. 5 | Phillip Rivers, Quarterback (2004-2019)

Many Chargers fans have mixed emotions about Phillip Rivers. He was an exceptional player and leader throughout his 16 years with the franchise but struggled to perform well in the big games.

Back in 2004, the Chargers selected Rivers with the fourth pick in the draft. He entered as a rookie alongside Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger who together were labeled as one of the greatest quarterback classes in NFL Draft History. Manning and Roethlisberger would go on to win two Super Bowls each, while Rivers failed to even make it to one. 

On a more positive note, Rivers finished his career with the Chargers with over 59,000 passing yards, best for the franchise and sixth-best in the history of the league. He would accumulate 32 game-winning drives and a 55% win percentage throughout his career, and from 2006 until 2019, Rivers did not miss a single game, which shows how durable he was. 

If not for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Rivers may have gone on to win a Super Bowl. His best chance was back in 2006 when he led the Bolts to a 14-2 record and the first seed in the AFC, only to lose to Brady in the second round.

Despite his lack of hardware, Phillip Rivers was a great quarterback for the Chargers and deserves to be on the top five list of Charger greats. 

No. 4 | Dan Fouts, Quarterback (1973-1987)

Dan Fouts is arguably the most forgotten quarterback from the 1980s. He was drafted by the Chargers in 1973 and was able to start six games as a rookie. Despite losing five of those games, Fouts was able to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, Johnny Unitas.

It took Fouts several seasons to get comfortable as a starter, but once he did, he began to dominate the league. Four straight seasons, from 1979-1982, Fouts led the NFL in passing yards and brought the Chargers to the playoffs.

Fouts participated in one of the greatest NFL games ever played back in the 1981-82 playoffs. The Chargers squared off against the Miami Dolphins in what was known as the “Epic In Miami”. The Bolts jumped out to a massive 24-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Miami fought back and knotted the game at 38. With under a minute to go, the Dolphins attempted a game-winning field goal. Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, blocked the kick and sent it into overtime. Fouts led the Bolts 74 yards down the field to set up a game-winning field goal. Fouts finished the game with 433 yards and three touchdowns on 33 completions. He broke the record for most passing yards, completions, and attempts in a playoff game.

Fouts was selected to the Pro Bowl on six occasions. He took home the 1982 Offensive Player of the Year Award, and was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1993. Similarly to Rivers, he was never able to make it to a Super Bowl, however, his talents and contributions to the Chargers put him at number four on this list.

No. 3 | Antonio Gates, Tight End (2003-2018)

Antonio Gates had an interesting journey to the NFL. After playing both basketball and football in high school, Gates attempted to do so again at Michigan State University. Gates then transferred to Kent State University where he played two seasons of college basketball and led them to an Elite Eight appearance in 2002. 

Surprisingly, the 20 points per game scorer was not drafted into the NBA which would lead him to return to football. The Chargers signed Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He quickly became one of the deadliest weapons in the league. At 260 pounds and with unusual speed, Gates dominated defenses. In his third season with the Chargers, he tallied 1,101 receiving yards and ten touchdowns. 

Gates went on to play 16 seasons with the Bolts. Despite retiring from the NFL in 2018, he remains the franchise’s career leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions. Gates ended his career with 116 touchdown catches, which is the most for a tight end and 14th most out of wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs.

Gates will be a Hall of Famer someday and deserves to be on the top five list of the greatest Chargers ever.

No. 2 | Junior Seau, Linebacker (1990-2002)

Junior Seau makes this list because he is the best defensive player the Chargers have ever had. The Chargers selected Seau fifth overall in the 1990 Draft. He quickly established himself as one of the strongest open-field tacklers in NFL history. Seau is currently tied for seventh on the NFL’s All-Time list for most tackles with 1,077. 

If you take away his rookie season, Seau made the Pro-Bowl every season he played with the Chargers. Throughout 13 seasons with the Bolts, Seau contributed 842 tackles, 15 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, and 47 sacks. Over this span, he only missed eight games, which, despite playing extremely aggressive, shows how durable he was. 

The 250-pound linebacker, who was born in San Diego, played in his home town for 13 seasons before taking his talents to Miami and New England. Age became a factor for Seau after leaving the Chargers. He couldn’t produce the same and was frequently sidelined due to nagging injuries.

In 2015, Seau was selected to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, three years prior, Seau took his own life at the age of 43. He was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that was connected to other deceased former NFL players.

If you look only at Seau’s time with the Bolts, he clearly deserves a spot on the greatest Chargers of all-time list. 

No. 1 | LaDainian Tomlinson, Runningback (2001-2009)

Choosing LaDainian Tomlinson as the greatest Charger of all-time should come as no surprise. The running back known to most football fans as just “L.T.” put on a show each time he stepped on the field.

The Chargers selected Tomlinson fifth overall back in 2001. From that point on, he was nothing short of exceptional. In his rookie season, Tomlinson led the league in total touches with 398 and was over 1,000 yards rushing. Two years later in 2003, Tomlinson had a league-best, 2,370 yards from scrimmage. 

While these stats are impressive, nothing compares to his campaign in 2006. In the sixteen games that season, Tomlinson led the league with 1,815 rushing yards and broke the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 28. He would go on to win the MVP Award, becoming the first Chargers player to do so. 

Tomlinson defined consistency. He put together eight straight seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, and 50 receptions. Although Tomlinson’s career with the Bolts lasted only nine seasons, he is the franchise’s leading rusher. Tomlinson became a member of the Hall of Fame in 2017. L.T. should be considered the greatest Charger of all-time by football fans around the world.

Honorable Mentions

Kellen Winslow, Tight End (1979-1987)

Lance Alworth, Wide Receiver (1962-1970)

Doug Wilkerson, Left Guard (1971-1984)

Charlie Joiner, Wide Receiver (1976-1986)

John Hadl, Quarterback (1962-1972)

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