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Chargers By The (Jersey) Numbers: #20

Holy crap there are a lot of players who like the #20.  It seems whenever the number becomes available it's immediately snatched up by somebody, anybody.  More than fifteen players have worn the #20 jersey for the San Diego Chargers, including five cornerbacks, two safeties and eight running backs.  This one is going to have a lot of nominees to go through, and the winner is not at all guaranteed.  Get ready for some statistical fun after the jump.

Defensive Backs:

  • Antoine Cason - The current #20 and a player that flashed a ton of potential in his rookie season.  His ceiling is high enough that this could one day be his number, but for right now he can't compete.
  • Marlon McCree - Marlon played a decent FS in his two seasons with the Chargers, collecting 4 interceptions, 1 sack and 1 touchdown to go with his 126 tackles.  Unfortunately, McCree's most famous play as a Charger was a critical fumble after intercepting Tom Brady during a 2007 playoff game that kept the Patriots in a game that they eventually won.  He was released one year later to free up playing time for Eric Weddle.
  • Wayne Davis - Davis was drafted in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.  He then had six-year career in the NFL and played for the Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.  In his professional career, he totaled five interceptions in 73 games (14 starts).
  • Miller Farr - Miller played a season and a half with the Chargers in 1965 and 1966, but even during that short span he showed a knack for intercepting the ball.  In 1967 he signed with the Houston Oilers and caught 10 interceptions for 3 touchdowns in his first season there.  He finished his nine-year career with 35 interceptions for six touchdowns.  He was a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro.
  • Reuben Henderson - Henderson had a good rookie campaign with the Chicago Bears, starting all 16 games while intercepting the opposing QB 4 times and recovering 1 fumble.  However, after that he became a backup for the Bears for three seasons before playing that same role on the 1984 Chargers.  His stat-line with the Chargers is horrendous: 0 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 anything really.  He did, however, return 1 punt that he then fumbled away.
  • Jesse Thomas - Jesse's career as a Charger was only slightly better than Henderson's, because he did not have a fumble.  In his one-year as a Los Angeles Charger, Thomas collected no stats as a backup cornerback.  Previous to that season he had three fairly-successful seasons with the Baltimore Colts, including scoring a defensive touchdown in 1956.
  • Jerry Wilson - After bouncing around the league as a backup safety and corner for seven seasons, a 30-year-old Jerry Wilson found a home as the starting Free Safety for the San Diego Chargers in 2003.  In his two seasons as starter, he caught 4 interceptions and forced 4 fumbles as well.  Over three and a half seasons in San Diego, Wilson tackled 177 opposing players.

Running Backs:

  • Fred Ford - A 22 year old out of Cal-Poly Pomona, Fred was a backup RB and a return specialist on the 1960 Los Angeles Chargers.  In six games with the team, before being shipped to Buffalo, Fred ran the ball 20 times for 154 yards (7.7 YPC) and 2 touchdowns.  He also had a respectable kick return average of 22.6 yards.
  • Mike Garrett - Mike Garrett is a former two-time All American and Heisman Trophy winner as the running back at USC.  He spent four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1966-1970 before being traded to the San Diego Chargers.  In a little over three seasons with the team, Garrett racked up 2,235 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs to go with 779 receiving yards and 6 receing TDs.  Garrett may be most famous as the first in a long line of successful USC tailbacks.  He is currently the athletic director of that school.
  • Gerry McDougall - Gerry made some noise in the Canadian Football League in the late 1950s, making the CFL Eastern All-Star team in 1957 and 1958, before signing with the Chargers in 1962.  He played three seasons as a backup running back in San Diego, collecting 104 career rushing attempts for 469 yards and 6 touchdowns.  He also completed his only pass attempt, an 11 yard pass for a touchdown, to give him a perfect QB rating of 152.1.
  • Darrin Nelson - Nelson was traded from the Vikings to the Cowboys as part of the infamous Herschel Walker Trade in 1989.  However, after refusing to report to Dallas, he was subsequently flipped to the Chargers.  In 23 games with the Bolts, Nelson ran the ball 39 times for 211 yards and caught it 35 times for 357 yards.  When his contract was up with the Chargers, Nelson immediately went back to the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Barry Redden - Coming out of Richmond, as the 14th pick in the 1982 draft, Barry Redden expected to get some carries.  The problem for him was that he was drafted by the Rams, and he was stuck behind a future Hall of Famer named Eric Dickerson.  After five years with the Rams, Redden signed with the Chargers in hopes of getting more carries.  Nope.  This was a passing offense that liked to mix up the running game.  In his first season with the Chargers, Redden wound up touching the ball only 18 times (11 rushing attempts).  In his second season, he touched the ball 30 times but still carried in less than 20 times.  After that he moved on to become a backup RB and return specialist with the Cleveland Browns.
  • Chris Samuels - In 1991, Samuels was a 12th round pick by the San Diego Chargers.  In his one season in the NFL, he rushed the ball twice for 10 yards and caught in twice for 33 receiving yards. 
  • Russ Smith - The Chargers drafted Smith with the 40th overall pick in the 1966 AFL Draft.  He spent four seasons with the Chargers, but was never a major part of the offense.  His final statline: 213 carries, 915 yards and 10 touchdowns.  He also returned a handful of punts and kicks, but was never the number one option there.

Missed Opportunity:



Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers, WR-RB-KR-PR

Probably the greatest kick returner in the history of college football, Rodgers won the 1972 Heisman Trophy.  He did more than just return kicks though.  To realize the full-effect of how Rodgers effected each game he played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, you simply had to look at what he did during the 1971 Orange Bowl against Norte Dame.  In the one game, Rodgers ran for three touchdowns, caught a 50-yard pass for another touchdown and threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to a teammate. He did all this before leaving the game with 21 minutes still to play.  As they say, speed kills.

The Jet was drafted by the Chargers in the first round of 1973 Draft, but was signed away by a lucrative deal to play in the CFL.  Always a fan favorite there, he won the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie Award in 1973. In his four years with the Montreal Alouettes, Rodgers won the Jeff Russel Memorial Trophy twice (Eastern division MVP and CFL runner-up) and "All-Canadian" all star honors and helped lead his team to a Grey Cup championship in 1974.

In 1977 he finally took his shot at the NFL, signing with the Chargers.  Hamstring injuries kept him out of the game for most of his first NFL season and the following year a freak knee injury sustained during team practice ended his career after only 17 NFL games.  As good as he was in college and the CFL, the world will never know how impactful Rodgers could've been in the NFL.

The Winner:



Natrone Means, RB

Let's start with the stats.  Five seasons with the Chargers, 3,885 rushing yards, 34 rushing TDs, 631 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs.  One Pro Bowl selection, garnered while leading the 1994 San Diego team to the AFC Championship and a Super Bowl appearance.  That season alone is ridiculous: 16 starts, 343 carries, 1,350 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.  Where Stan Humphries has to be given credit as the leader of the offense on that team, Natrone has to be given credit for carrying that team on his back for nearly every game they played.  That's why he got the SI cover.

What makes Natrone special is not the stats though, and it's not even his rise to NFL stardom after coming out of North Carolina, but how much the fans loved him.  Everyone seems to have their favorite Natrone Means moment (and their favorite nickname for him).  He was a big, tough running back who gave 110% every single game.  That stands as a fact that made him a good player and also probably played  ahand in shortening his career, and he struggled with injuries after that 1994 season.  It doesn't matter though, Natrone is a pillar in the history of the relationship between Chargers players and Chargers fans.  More than any other winner of a jersey number, Natrone demands some good moments from you guys in the comments.  What's your favorite Natrone game?