The Chargers announced today that on Sunday, Oct. 19 at halftime of the Chargers’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs, former defensive end Leslie O'Neal will be formally inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. It has been a long time coming for the franchise's all time sack leader (105.5).
From the Team's Press Release:
O’Neal was the Chargers’ first selection and the eighth overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft after an All-America career at Oklahoma State University. He wasted little time making an impression on Chargers fans as he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 12.5 sacks in ’86, including a team-record five on Nov. 16 against the Dallas Cowboys. O’Neal most likely would have topped that total had his season not ended prematurely due to a devastating knee injury in a game against Indianapolis on Nov. 30.
O’Neal’s knee injury was thought at the time to be potentially career-ending. It forced him to miss nearly two full seasons of football as he did not return to the gridiron until Oct. 16, 1988.
After laboring through the 1988 season, O’Neal returned to form in 1989. He started all 16 games and earned the first of his six Pro Bowl selections with the Chargers after logging another 12.5-sack season. O’Neal earned a host of additional accolades in ’89, including being named NFL Comeback Player of the Year by NFL Films.
O’Neal enjoyed perhaps the finest of his 10 seasons with the Chargers in 1992, when he led the Chargers and the AFC with a career-high 17 sacks while helping to guide the Bolts to their first AFC West title since 1981. The ’92 campaign started a run of four-straight Pro Bowl seasons for O’Neal, including the 1994 season, which culminated with the Chargers’ appearance in Super Bowl XXIX.
O’Neal concluded his Chargers career in 1995 with 105.5 sacks, 595 tackles and 18 forced fumbles. He was the Chargers’ single-season sacks leader every year from 1990-95. At the conclusion of the 1995 season, O’Neal’s sack total was the ninth-highest in NFL history.
Reaction From Coaches and Peers
"Leslie is very much deserving of this honor," said former Chargers Head Coach Bobby Ross. "He is one of the real premier pass rushers of the National Football League. He was generally going up against people who always had a weight advantage of maybe 50-60 pounds on him, but he had a knack for rushing the passer. He also was a very good run player too and he played the run well. He had a knack of getting off on the blocks and making a play. He was just a very good football player."
"Leslie O’Neal was one of the most underrated football players of the last 20 or so years," said former Chargers offensive tackle Harry Swayne, who practiced daily against O’Neal. "He wasn’t just a technician when it came to getting to the quarterback – something we all know about him, but he was just as adept at playing football, whether it was against the run or the pass. He was a consummate professional who gave great effort at practice and in games, and it’s because of his approach that I had so much success when it came time to block the game’s greats. San Diego and its football history are better for having had Leslie O’Neal."
What About Canton?
Over 13 NFL seasons, including two in St. Louis and his final two in Kansas City, O’Neal notched 132.5 career sacks, the same number as Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor.Yes, he is also overdue for a gold jacket, in my opinion.