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Greatest Chargers teams to never win a championship

Read this at your own caution, Chargers fans.

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As a part of SB Nation’s theme week, all 32 NFL sites are looking back on their respctive franchise’s history and highlighting the greatest teams to never win a championship. The Chargers, who boast a single AFL Championship from way back in 1963, have since had plenty of teams to come and go who possessed immense talent and had plenty of on-field success.

That 1963 AFL Championship game was a 51-10 rout over the Boston Patriots led by fullback Keith Lincoln. Lincoln did just about everything for the Chargers in that game, including rushing for 206 yards on 13 carries, recording 123 receiving yards, and even threw a 20-yard pass. He was rightfully named the game’s MVP.

In 1979, the Chargers boasted a phenomenal passing game led by quarterback Dan Fouts. Fouts had the privilege of throwing to the likes of Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson. In that season, Fouts went over the 4,000-yard passing mark while Joiner and Jefferson both cracked 1,000 yards receiving. That team unsurprisingly made the playoffs but all their offensive success came fell flat against a Houston Oilers team that was missing running back Earl Campbell and their starting quarterback. They lost that game 17-14 after Fouts threw five interceptions and zero touchdowns. Even with eight All-Pro selections and a 12-4 record, it just wasn’t meant to be.

During the 1994 season, the Bolts made their lone appearance in a Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers. That year, the Chargers went 11-5 during the regular season on the backs of Natrone Means, Junior Seau, and Leslie O’Neal. Means was essentially run into the ground as he rushed for 1,350 yards while averaging only 3.9 yards per carry and a season-long run of just 25 yards. Seau was a First-Team All-Pro after posting a career-high 154 total tackles and 5.5 sacks. O’Neal was named to the Second-Team All-Pro team after racking up 12.5 sacks. The Niners went on to win handedly, 49-26, behind quarterback Steve Young’s six touchdown passes, three of which went to wide receiver Jerry Rice.

From 2006-09, the Chargers won four-straight AFC West crowns with the legendary trio of quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and tight end Antonio Gates. That 2006 season was especially special for Tomlinson who set the all-time NFL record for total touchdowns in a season with 31 (28 rushing, 3 receiving). That number doesn’t count the two touchdowns he threw, either. Even after a historic 13-3 season, Tomlinson’s efforts weren’t enough to overcome four turnovers, three of which were turned into Patriots scores. This was also the game that included the infamous Marlon McCree interception play that went sideways.

Tomlinson finished with 123 yards on the ground, 64 yards through the air, and scored a pair of touchdowns but it all wasn’t enough as they fell to the Pats 24-21.

The thing about these last three teams I highlighted is that they all were incredibly productive and successful while also seeing their hard work pay off in the form of a playoff appearance and/or postseason victories. But it was a much more recent team that saw a spectacular amount of success on the field and yet didn’t earn much in the way of regular season accolades nor post-season crowns.

The 2010 San Diego Chargers team is widely-regarded as one of the best, most-complete teams of this century that failed to even make the post-season. In this season, the Chargers were ranked first in total yards of offense and first in yards allowed on defense. Offensively, their success was probably a huge surprise as the team moved on from a 30-year old Tomlinson before the season. Although Ryan Mathews started the majority of the games, their backfield was led by fullback (yep) Mike Tolbert who rushed for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns. Rivers pushed the ball downfield early and often that year, posting 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in one of the best iterations of the Bolts’ vertical passing game they’ve come to be known for.

One of the more eye-popping stats from that year was that Rivers had 10 different receivers catch at least 20 passes from him. That group included two running backs, two fullbacks, two tight ends, and four wide receivers. It was the epitome of “sharing the wealth.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers were led by safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Antoine Cason, outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Kevin Burnett, and defensive tackle Antonio Garay.

Weddle and Burnett tied for the team-lead in tackles with 96 with Cason coming in third with 67 total stops. Weddle and Cason locked down opposing passing games as they combined for six interceptions and 27 pass breakups. Phillips led the team with 11 sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss and also had a pick-6. The crazy thing about the defense, similarly to the offense, is that there’s a lack of big names outside of Weddle and Phillips.

The 2010 season was a perfect storm of good-but-not-great players all performing at their highest level and everything clicking at the same time. The offense was missing LT and wide receiver Vincent Jackson (he played in just five games) and the defense didn’t have outside linebacker Shawne Merriman for most of the year as he only suited up for three contests, himself.

(Graph is from Alex Rubenstein and Jon Bois’ excellent video highlighting the history of this team from last year)

So what on God’s green earth could have done-in this historical squad?

Special Teams.

In their first seven games of the season, the Chargers went 2-5 even though they completely dominated the competition in front of them on a total yards basis. At this point, the Bolts had out-gained six of their seven opponents by at least 125 yards, making them the only team in the post-merger era to accomplish this feat.

In week one against the Chiefs, they allowed three long punt returns and a touchdown to Dexter McCluster, eventually losing 14-21.

In week three, the Chargers allowed Seattle to return two kickoffs for touchdowns before losing by one score, 20-27.

In week five, the Raiders blocked two punts on back-to-back drives. Those were turned into nine points for Oakland and they ended-up winning by eight, 27-35. Of the 10 total blocked punts during the 2010 season, four of them were against the Chargers.

The very next week, the Chargers allowed an early long punt return by the RamsDanny Amendola which turned into a St. Louis field goal. Later in the fourth quarter, Nate Kaeding slipped on a FG attempt and it was blocked. Rams won 23-20.

The Chargers would go on to win seven of their next nine games with the majority of them being blowout victories. In week 14, the Chargers welcomed the Chiefs into Qualcomm and put a historical a**-whooping on them with Brodie Croyle leading the KC offense. They won 31-0, finishing the game without allowing the Chiefs to score a single point or total more than 100 yards. The Chargers also didn’t need to force a turnover to make this happen. This performance put San Diego into a rare group as only five teams since 1940 have ever held their opponents to those figures. What’s even more impressive is that those other games were all either 0-0 or 6-0 finals with the closest score to the Chargers being 13-0.

By the end of the season, the Chargers out-gained their opponents by almost 2,000 total yards. Only two teams in NFL history - the 1976 Steelers and 2001 Rams - had better yardage differentials during the regular reason. Both teams also ended their seasons in the Super Bowl. Not even the 16-0 Patriots, who were one spot behind the 2010 team on this list, had a better differential. The only other team to have a differential over 1,400 yards and NOT make the playoffs were the ‘74 Cowboys.

One key decision made that off-season has been pointed to as one of the more likely reason for special teams regression. In 2006, ‘07, and ‘09, Kassim Osgood was the AFC Special Teams selection for the Pro Bowl. Prior to 2010, the Chargers let Osgood walk in free agency and he went ahead and signed with Jacksonville.

Lastly, that Chargers team still holds the the worst mark for average yards allowed per punt return since the AFL-NFL merger in NFL history with 18.9. The 1977 Browns are the next closest at 18.

I know this article was likely extremely difficult to get threw without feeling some sort of pit in your stomach or feeling your blood pressure rise, but this was honestly the truest and best answer for this week’s theme. This Chargers team was special in so many ways, it’s just unfortunate that one of those ways happened to unfathomably bad.

Let’s turn this over to you all. Was the 2010 season the best team to never win a championship? If not, who was?


Who was the best Chargers team to never win a championship?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    1979 (12-4)
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    1980 (11-5)
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    1992 (11-5)
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    1994 (11-5)
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    2004 (12-4)
    (6 votes)
  • 71%
    2006 (14-2)
    (229 votes)
  • 5%
    2009 (13-3)
    (17 votes)
  • 7%
    2010 (9-7)
    (25 votes)
320 votes total Vote Now