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Chargers By The (Jersey) Numbers: #19

Everyone knows right where this one is going, but we're not leaving the other nominees out.  Five Chargers players have worn #19, including four quarterbacks and a very graceful wide receiver.  Two of those players are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, each one having the #19 retired for them but by separate franchises.  Do you know who they are yet?  If not, you certainly must be curious.  If you do know, relive your memories and look through the statistics after the jump.

The Nobodies:

  • Bobby Clatterbuck - Clatterbuck spent about six seasons in the NFL as a backup QB with the New York Giants before signing on to be Jack Kemp's backup on the 1960 Los Angeles Chargers.  He started two games that season, leading the team to a 1-1 record and throwing 1 interception against 1 touchdown. 
  • Neal Jeffrey - In 1976, Jeffrey became the second Chargers player to sport the #19 jersey after it had been made legendary by a certain wideout.  The football gods didn't give Jeffrey much of a chance.  In his one season as a backup QB with San Diego, Jeffrey started zero games but did complete his only two pass attempts.  He never threw a touchdown or an interception, but on his one and only rushing attempt he fumbled the ball away.  I think he should've picked a different number.
  • Bill Munson - Munson apparently thought he had a better chance at wearing the #19 jersey, because the journeyman QB wore it the very next year as a backup behind Dan Fouts and James Harris.  Like Jeffrey, he never got a shot at starting a game, but he did complete 20 of his 31 pass attempts for 1 TD and 1 interception.  Munson also fumbled the ball away twice during his limited time on the field.  The next year he found himself a backup on the Buffalo Bills, and promptly switched his jersey number to 9.

The Runner-Up:



Johnny Unitas, QB.  Quite possibly the greatest quarterback who ever lived, Unitas revolutionized the game of football by himself.  Most teams still adhered to the philosophy that football was won with the running game, and the QB's job was as a secondary runner and to occasionally throw downfield just to spread the defense out.  Unitas was so smart and accurate that the Baltimore Colts teams he was on began passing just as much as they were running, and that eventually lead to the team drawing up more complicated passing plays and becoming the most dynamic offense in football for a long time. 

Almost from the first time he stepped foot on a football field, "Johnny U" was the best QB in the league.  Don't believe me?  In 1957, his first season as the Colts full-time starter at quarterback, Unitas finished first in the NFL in passing yards (2,550) and touchdown passes (24) as he helped lead the Colts to a 7-5 record, the first winning record in franchise history. At season's end, Unitas was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.  Now imagine a rookie QB coming into today's NFL and winning the MVP award in their first season.  In his second season Unitas led the Colts to the NFL Championship, prevailing over the New York Giants in the "greatest game ever played."  In his third season, Unitas again won the MVP and led the Colts to a repeat Championship.  This is beyond what even Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have accomplished.

After a rough run of injuries and poor coaching in the early 1960s, Unitas returned himself and the Colts to prominence in 1964.  That season brought Unitas his third MVP Award, but ended on a disappointing note with Baltimore losing to the Cleveland Browns in the Championship Game.  1967 saw Unitas win his fourth MVP Award (his third from the AP) at the age of 34.  Unfortunately, the Colts lost a division tiebreaker game with the Los Angeles Rams and were shut out from the playoffs that season.  At this point in his career, the constant battering he took was starting to catch up to him in the form of nagging injuries.  IHe missed most of the 1968 season and his replacement, Earl Morrall won the MVP Award.  However, in a desperation move during Super Bowl III, Unitas was brought in in the fourth quarter and finished the game with more passing yards that Morrall.  In 1970 Unitas stayed relatively healthy, leading the Colts to Super Bowl V but leaving the game with an injury after throwing the eventual game-winning 75 yard TD pass.  In 1971, Unitas led the Colts to the Championship Game for a seventh time in fifteen seasons but lost to a powerful Miami Dolphins team 21-0.

In 1973, at 40 years of age and after seventeen seasons of being battered, Johnny Unitas was traded to the San Diego Chargers.  This was not the same Johnny U that was known for dominating games, as he led the team to a 1-3 record in the four games he started.  He completed only 44.7% of his passes (his career average is 54.6%) and threw 3 TDs against 7 interceptions.  Johnny's body eventually told him that he couldn't do the things he once did and he hung 'em up for good.  So while he was an unspectacular Chargers player, the mark he left on the game of football is almost enough to win him any award he's nominated for.

The Winner:



Lance Alworth, WR.  In 1962, Alworth was coming out of the University of Arkansas as the nation's leading punt returner.  He was drafted 8th overall in the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and 9th overall in the AFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders then quickly traded away Alworth's rights to the Chargers for Bo Roberson, Hunter Enis and Gene Selawski.  Lucky for the Chargers, an assistant coach by the name of Al Davis (yes, THAT Al Davis) helped to sign Alworth after a bidding war with the 49ers.  The rest, as they say, is history.  From Alworth's Wikipedia page:

Alworth was an AFL Western Division All-Star in seven consecutive seasons, from 1963 through 1969, and was an AFL All-League flanker the same seven seasons, selected by his peers from 1963-1966, and by newspaper wire services from 1967-1964. Alworth was the UPI's 1969 AFL Most Valuable Player and is a member of the AFL All-Time Team. He scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass in the Chargers' 1963 AFL Championship Game victory over the Boston Patriots. In Alworth's 8 AFL seasons, he led the league in receiving yards and receptions 3 times. He also set a Chargers record with 83 touchdowns.

He held records for the most consecutive games with a reception (96), and still holds the record for the most games with 200+ yards receiving,(5) and was the only receiver to average more than 100 yards a game in three consecutive seasons (1964–1966). Alworth formed a formidable tandem along with Chargers quarterback John Hadl, and is considered by many to be the best wide receiver in all professional football during the 1960s. He was one of the few American Football League stars to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (SI), which like other media of the 1960s, showed a distinct bias for the NFL. SI even went so far in 1969 as to declare Alworth "Pro Football's Top Receiver", this, a year before the AFL-NFL merger, and two years before the Common Draft, before which many claimed the AFL had inferior players.

At the age of 31, and coming off two seasons with diminished statistics, Alworth was traded to the Dallas Cowboys.  He made two very big catches in Super Bowl VI as a Cowboy, including catching one touchdown, and helped Dallas win the Super Bowl.  Bambi retired with a great nickname, great statistics and a championship in both the NFL and AFL.  You really can't ask for better than that. 

In 1978, Alworth became the first Chargers player and the first AFL player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He was presented and introduced by Al Davis.  Alworth's #19 was the second jersey number retired by the San Diego Chargers.  If the guy's number is retired by the Chargers, there's no way in hell he's not winning the number here.  It also helps that Alworth is the center of one of my favorite pictures:



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