Best moments in Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers history

LaDainian Tomlinson had a record-setting season in 2006, which proved enough to be one of the greatest moments in franchise history. (Getty)
LaDainian Tomlinson had a record-setting season in 2006, which proved enough to be one of the greatest moments in franchise history. (Getty)

What are the best moments for each NFL franchise? Yahoo Sports provides our opinion, which you are free to disagree with (and we’re sure you will).

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5. Air Coryell

If you like today’s passing-heavy NFL, you can thank former Chargers head coach Don Coryell and the “Air Coryell” offense. With a focus on putting players in motion to put pressure on the opposing defense and stretching the field, San Diego led the league in passing yards from 1978 to 1983, behind quarterback Dan Fouts and weapons John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, Charlie Joyner and Kellen Winslow. Fouts nearly tripled his passing yards in a season (1,732 yards in 1974 pre-Coryell compared to a career-high 4,802 yards in 1981 under Coryell) during the height of his career in San Diego. While the change in philosophy led to future Hall of Fame inductions for Fouts, Joyner and Winslow, it didn’t necessarily translate to playoff success. The Chargers won their division three-straight years from 1979-81 and failed to make the Super Bowl.

4. 1963 AFL championship

Fans in Cleveland and Washington D.C. often lament about how long their favorite professional sports team has gone since winning a championship, but the city of San Diego lays claim to only one major sports title and it happened more than five decades ago. That’s when the San Diego Chargers defeated the Boston Patriots 51-10 in the 1963 American Football League championship game. The Chargers had regular season success in the AFL, as they made the title game five times in the span of six seasons from 1960-65, but it was the ‘63 squad that actually got the job done thanks to the league’s top-ranked offense and defense. The star in the blowout of the Patriots was running back Keith Lincoln, who put up a stat line that would go down as one of the greatest performances in playoff history if it occurred in the NFL: 329 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

3. Epic in Miami

If you’re up 24-0 in the first quarter of a playoff game, you would feel pretty good about your team’s chances (unless you’re a Falcons fan) of winning. That was the scenario for the San Diego Chargers in a 1982 AFC divisional playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. Things were going so poorly for the Dolphins that head coach Don Shula replaced his starting quarterback, David Woodley, for backup Don Strock. He sparked a furious Miami rally, aided by a Dan Fouts turnover, a 55-yard missed field goal attempt and capped off by a beautiful hook and lateral to Tony Nathan to cut San Diego’s lead to 24-17 at the half. Strock’s success continued in the third quarter as Miami tied things at 24 before the Chargers’ offense came back to life. Tight end Kellen Winslow caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Fouts to regain the lead and what was already a great game started ramping up to be an “Epic Game.” Both the Dolphins and Chargers traded touchdowns like two heavyweight boxers trading punches. Tied at 38, the game went into overtime where both teams were exhausted from a back-and-forth affair. San Diego had a chance to win but kicker Rolf Benirschke missed a 27-yard field goal attempt following a bad snap. Benirschke would get a chance to redeem himself after the Dolphins’ Von Schamann had his game-winning field goal attempt blocked. After four hours, three minutes of football, Benirschke nailed a 29-yard field goal to give the Chargers a 41-38 win. Chargers running back Hank Bauer described it best: “The locker-room celebration was more low key than other locker rooms I’d been in. It was more of ‘Thank God that’s over. Thank God we got out alive.’ ”

2. 1994 AFC championship

San Diego’s improbable run to its first and still only Super Bowl included two hard-fought playoff games. The Chargers survived at home against the Miami Dolphins in a 22-21, thrilling AFC division contest that saw Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich miss a 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt with seconds remaining. A week later in Pittsburgh, the Chargers were the underdogs on the road against a Steelers defense that kept San Diego’s offense in-check during the first half. Midway in the third quarter, San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries tossed a 43-yard touchdown to a wide-open Alfred Pupunu to cut the deficit to 13-10. But the dagger would come in the fourth quarter with five minutes remaining in the game. On third-and-14 and with the Chargers attempting to drive into field goal range, Humphries went deep to wide receiver Tony Martin who beat cornerback Tim McKyer in man-to-man coverage for a 43-yard touchdown to take the lead, 17-13. Pittsburgh had a chance to win with a first-and-goal with two minutes remaining. But Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who passed for 349 yards in part because the Chargers defense shut down the run game, had his fourth-down pass broken up in the end zone by linebacker Dennis Gibson. The Chargers were on to Super Bowl XXIX. If you want to see how that game went, check the worst moments in Chargers history.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson’s monster season

Running back Shaun Alexander had all of one year to celebrate his record of most rushing touchdowns in a season. LaDainian Tomlinson took the title in 2006. It was just one of 10 NFL records set by L.T. after rushing for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns, catching 56 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns and, for good measure, passing for 20 yards and two touchdowns. With three games remaining in the 2006 season, Tomlinson tied Alexander’s mark of 28 total touchdowns. Two players later, the Chargers were back on offense on their own 7-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Tomlinson ran wide left, avoided the Denver Broncos’ defenders and scampered into the end zone for his record-setting 29th touchdown of the season. Tomlinson would go on to score 31 total touchdowns – still a record – win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year and tossed his name in the hat as one of the greatest running backs of all time.

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