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Chargers By The (Jersey) Numbers: #21

You think this one is going to be easy, don't you?  Don't be so sure about that.  All in all, ten players have worn the #21 for the San Diego Chargers.  Eight of them don't stand a chance and the other two will compete for the right to represent the #21 for the Bolts after the jump.

They Didn't Stand A Chance:

  • Glen Bonner - Bonner was a running back for the Chargers in the mid 1970s.  For two seasons he served as a backup, totaling 94 carries for 319 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.  He also added in 13 receptions for 103 yards and 1 receiving TD.  After those two seasons he disappeared from the NFL.
  • James Brooks - Although the Chargers of the 1980s were heralded for the "Air Coryell" passing game, they did a fine job of bringing in talented running backs and spreading the load around to several different guys.  In 1981 they used their 1st round draft pick on James Brooks, who was coming out of Auburn as a good running back and even better kick returner.  In three seasons as a backup RB in San Diego, Brooks carried the ball 323 times for 1,471 yards (4.6 ypc) and 12 TDs.  He also did a good job with kick and punt returns.  After leaving San Diego for Cincinnatti, Brooks went on to four Pro-Bowls as a starting running back.
  • Clarence Duren - While doing this I occasionally come across players like Duren that confuse me.  After spending four years as a decent Free Safety with the St. Louis Cardinals, Duren came to the Chargers at the age of 27 and posted highs in interceptions (4) and fumble recoveries (3).  Then he simply disappeared.  Did he get hurt in some career-ending way?  I have no idea.  I can't seem to find a single record of what happened to the guy, but in his one season with the Chargers he showed a ton of potential.
  • Darrien Gordon - How quickly Gordon has been forgotten.  Darrien was drafted in the 1st round of the 1993 draft by the Chargers after not being invited to the scouting combine.  That's ridiculous.  What he did with his career is even more ridiculous.  Gordon assisted the Chargers to a championship appearance in Super Bowl XXIX. He started all 16 games in each of his three seasosn in San Diego, and excelled both on defense and as a punt returner on special teams.  His best season with San Diego was in their Super Bowl year of 1994, when he recorded 4 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries on defense, while gaining 475 yards on punt returns and scoring 2 punt return touchdowns, the most by any player that season.  Darrien went on to win two championships with the Denver Broncos, playing a big part in both Super Bowl victories.  He retired after making the Super Bowl for a fourth time with the Oakland Raiders against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.
  • Phil McConkey - McConkey was a kick return specialist.  He returned punts for the San Diego Chargers in 1989 for half of the season before he was traded away to the Phoenix Cardinals.  His stint with the Chargers was unspectacular.
  • Buford McGee - McGee was a backup RB and kick returner for the Chargers in the mid-80s.  In three seasons with the Bolts he carried the ball 172 times for 594 yards and 14 touchdowns.  1986 was his best year with the team, as he scored 7 TDs on the ground in only 9 games and with only 63 carries.  After that season he went over to the Rams, who turned him into a pass-catching fullback.  He was able to play for nine seasons in the NFL, but never showed anything besides potential.
  • Eric Metcalf - What a player.  Unfortunately, he joined the Chargers right at the time when Stan Humphries was breaking down physically.  Year in and year out, Metcalf was the best returner in the league and a heck of a weapon on offense as a wide receiver.  In his one season with the Chargers, on a team that went 4-12, Metcalf had his best season and made the Pro Bowl for a second time.  His stats for that season: 3 punt return TDs, 1,415 total yards and 2 receiving TDs.  At the end of the season he was traded along with two first round picks and a second round pick so that the Chargers could move from 3 to 2 in the 1998 draft. 
  • Scott Turner - Scott was mostly a special teams player, but occasionally saw the field as a dime cornerback or filling in for an injured player.  In four seasons with the Chargers, Turner collected 1 sack, 2 interceptions (1 TD), 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 25 tackles.  In 2006, Turner ran for a vacant California congressional seat but came in eight in the voting.




John Hadl, QB

Ready to be blown away?  Let's start in college.  Hadl was the first KU player to be picked twice for All-America (1960 and 1961) honors for his skills as a quarterback and half back.  Hadl also excelled as a defensive back, punt returner and punter - he led the country with a 45.6-yard punting average in 1959.  Hadl's No. 21 jersey is one of only three KU has retired.  John, who was picked for the all-conference team for three seasons, wound up with 1,281 yards passing and 1,016 yard rushing.  He still holds two KU records: Longest interception return, a 98-yard run against TCU; and longest punt, 94 yards vs. Oklahoma.

Now, like a lot of recent winners on this list, Chargers fans had the pleasure of watching John Hadl quarterback their team for a long time because he made the decision to.  In the 1962 NFL Draft, Hadl was drafted in the 1st round (10th overall) by the Detroit Lions.  It was widely believed he would sign with them, but on a whim the Chargers used their 3rd round pick (24th overall) in the 1962 AFL Draft on Hadl and were able to sign him.

In total, Hadl spent eleven seasons in San Diego and was the starting quarterback for ten of those seasons.  He made the Pro Bowl five times as a Charger, and once after being traded to the Los Angeles Rams.  While he never led the Chargers to more than 9 wins in any season, he did lead them to a 9-2-3 season in 1965.  Although he stats may not mean much in comparison to Fouts and Rivers, who were in better passing systems, they are still impressive.

Games Started Team Rec Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs
124 59-55-9 50.1 26,938 201


Also, and this is a big plus, Hadl was the last regular starting quarterback to wear a uniform number greater than #19 before the NFL adopted a rigid uniform numbering system in 1973.




LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

Honestly, one of the most interesting thing about going through the record books for this thing is seeing how the face masks change so dramatically and quickly.  LT takes it to a whole new level.  But that's neither here nor there.

What is there left to say about Tomlinson?  I feel like any discussion about him leaves something out.  In eight seasons with the Chargers, he's never missed a single regular season game.  He's never had less than 1,110 yards or less than 10 TDs in any season.  In 2004 2006, he broke the record for the most non-passing touchdowns in a single season....and he broke the record in 13 games.  He also broke a 46-year old record for the most points scored in a single season.  He won just about every award imaginable that season, including the league's MVP award.  Tomlinson led the league in rushing with a total of 1,474 rushing yards in 2007, becoming the first player since Edgerrin James in 2000, to win back-to-back rushing titles.

You know what, I think the only way I'm going to feel complete with a post about LT is to show the records the man holds:

  • Holds the all-time NFL record for single season touchdowns (31). (The previous record was 28, it was set in 2005 by Shaun Alexander.)
  • Holds the all-time NFL record for single season rushing touchdowns (28). (The previous record was 27, in 2003 by Priest Holmes and in 2005 by Shaun Alexander.)
  • Holds the all-time NFL record for the most points scored in a single season (186). (The previous record was 176. It was set in 1960 by Paul Hornung.)
  • Holds the all-time NFL record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (18). (The Previous record was 13, it was set in 1983 by John Riggins)
  • Holds the NFL record for most consecutive multi-touchdown games (8). (The previous record was 7, it was set in 1983 by John Riggins.)
  • Tied the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown score with Hall of Fame fullback Lenny Moore (18).
  • Tied for third place for most career 200-yard (180 m) rushing games with several other players (4).
  • Holds the all-time San Diego Chargers record for most career rushing yards (11,760). (The previous record was 4,972, it was set in 1968 by Paul Lowe.)
  • Holds the all-time San Diego Chargers record for most career touchdowns (141). (The previous record was 83, it was set in 1970 by Lance Alworth.)
  • Holds the all-time NFL record for fewest games needed to achieve 100 touchdowns, with his 100th career touchdown (90 rushing, 10 receiving) in his 89th game (breaking the previous record of achieving the mark in the 93rd game of a career, which was done by both Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith).
  • Second place on the list of NFL all-time rushing touchdown leaders -- behind Emmitt Smith.
  • In 2006 Tomlinson became the second player in NFL history to score 4 touchdowns in 2 straight games (Marshall Faulk is the other).
  • Holds the record for most touchdowns scored in a five game span with 16 TDs (14 rushing, 2 receiving), breaking his own record of 15 that he had set two weeks earlier. Prior to that, the record was held by Jim Brown with 14.
  • Became the only player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards (910 m) and receive 100 passes in a single season.
  • Second player in NFL history with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in one season.
  • LaDainian joins Emmitt Smith, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, and Marshall Faulk as the only running backs to record consecutive seasons of 20 or more touchdowns

WOW.  I knew all of those and it STILL amazes me to see them.  There's no question who your winner is.  LT might just be the greatest Chargers player ever.  If he can come back to his old form for a few more seasons, he may end up as the greatest NFL player ever.  Period.  Your winner, and the guy who will one day get this number retired by the Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson.