( Photo Credit: Ginet Casido )
Recently my long-time friend, and fellow Inland Empire resident, said that he was becoming a Chargers fan…until a team moves to Los Angeles. While that is perhaps not the optimal way to become a fan of a team, that’s okay, we’ll take him. Like I said in my last post (Clash of the Chargers….Fans), we need all the fans we can get, so welcome friend, the more the merrier.
Now, my friend is a long-time, successful high school football coach, so he knows football. His knowledge will not be a problem while trying to enjoy our team. He will understand that not every play will be a touchdown. He will get that the other team is trying to win too. He will not lose his mind when we punt on fourth and two, at our 45 yard line, when we are trailing by a touchdown, with nine minutes to go. He’ll be fine with all of those things and more! But, will he fully appreciate how it will feel if and when our beloved Chargers finally win an NFL Championship? I’m not so sure.
With that in mind, I asked myself, what does a Chargers fan need to understand to truly appreciate winning it all, or even a regular game on Sunday? Of course, nothing will take the place of going through years of the cheers and tears that come with following a team. That being said, a little knowledge can go a long way toward helping someone grow attached. Here is what I came up with.
History: The Bolts have never won an NFL championship. Of this, we are all painfully aware. BUT, they did win an AFL Championship in 1963! Back in the day, the Charges were animals. They had an offense that struck fear in teams throughout the league. In fact, they were so intimidating that after winning their ring, Chargers management gave the NFL Champion Bears a call and threw down the gauntlet. The Bears received the challenge and were quick to decline. No one wanted to face the San Diego Chargers.
I won’t take the time to list all of the great players in Chargers history, but there have been many. Their high-flying offense has impressed crowds across the league for decades. This year’s team should be no exception. Look for Philip Rivers and company to be among the league’s highest scoring offenses!
Over the years, the defense has been a bit up and down. There have been some great individual players and even a few seasons where the defense was the high point of the team. Unfortunately, the defense and offense have never really peaked at the same time. I guess the closest was our one Super Bowl season in 1994. Even then, we went into the Super Bowl as heavy underdogs to the powerful Niners and got throttled by Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and company.
Past Charger Greats You Must Know: Don Coryell, Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, Rolf Benirschke, LaDainian Tomlinson, and most importantly Junior Seau. Oh, I suppose you need to know Nate Kaeding and Marlon McCree as well. Their names will come up. Kaeding was a great kicker, but he happened to miss a couple of big kicks that Chargers fans will be talking about forever. McCree tried to be a hero and cost the Chargers another shot at the Super Bowl. Anyway, if you are not familiar with these names, look them up and get familiar. You will not be able to hold an intelligent conversation regarding the Chargers without prior knowledge of these players. There are many more big names in Chargers history, but these names are must-know material. They will be on the final!
Current Chargers You Must Know: The 2014 edition of the Chargers will be a fun team to watch. Last season, the Bolts were known for an excellent passing game lead by Philip Rivers and the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen. Complementing the passing game was the rushing attack and overall outstanding backfield play of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. This season, the Chargers look to turn the offense up a few more volts. Mathews and Woodhead will be joined by ex-Lion Donald Brown. If Brown can repeat, or even improve upon, what he did last season, he will be a very exciting part of the three-headed monster in the backfield. On the outside, the return of injured Malcolm Floyd should give the Bolts another down field threat and allow Allen to avoid the sophomore slump that so many second year players go through. Let’s not forget Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green at Tight End. Gates is a Chargers legend who has become the crafty veteran that can still be looked for in clutch situations. Green is the up and coming young stud who ranked as the fastest player on the 2013 squad. Look for him to break out this season, if the coaches believe enough in his blocking abilities.
The defense did not impress much last season. Lack of pressure on the quarterback, poor coverage, and giving up around five yards per carry, didn’t help in the “W” column as much as fans would have liked. This season, the Bolts turn to players like Donald Butler, Manti Te’o, and Dwight Freeney to get healthy and make an impact. A young secondary has been bolstered by former Chiefs Pro Bowl cornerback, Brandon Flowers, and is still led by veteran Safety Eric Weddle.
Rivalries: You can talk all you want about the Jets and Patriots, the main rivals of the Chargers are the teams that make up the AFC West; the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos, and the hated Oakland Raiders. Let’s take a look at why these teams are such big rivals.
The Chiefs: This rivalry started back in the old AFL. Since September of 1960, these two teams have competed twice a year, every year. Thanks to a recent run of 11-2, the Chargers lead the overall series 55-52-1. Anytime you play a team 108 times, you will have a fierce rivalry. Nickname: Chefs.
The Broncos: This rivalry also goes back to the AFL and 1960. These two exciting teams have clashed 109 times with the current record favoring the Broncos at 59-49-1. The Chargers have actually outscored the Broncos, but have still lost more games. This rivalry matchup has seen incredible aerial attacks over the years. Quarterbacks like Dan Fouts, Stan Humphries, and Philip Rivers for the Bolts vs Denver greats like Craig Morton, John Elway, and now Peyton Manning have made Chargers vs Broncos games a must see game for fans across the country. Nickname: Donkeys
The Raiders: How can I describe what Chargers fans feel about the Oakland Raiders? Despise would not be too strong, I can assure of that. Despite having won 17 of the last 21 matchups, the Raiders lead the series 59-48-2. Record may explain the rivalry, but not the hatred. The hatred comes from history on and off the field. Just a few highlights would be that the former owner, aka The Crypt Keeper, Al Davis was once a Chargers coach! After leaving the Chargers, he went up the coast, finagled a deal to buy the Raiders and began creating his evil empire. Now, no one could blame Davis for wanting to own a team and the Chargers were not for sale, so we’ll let that go.
How about the fan base? Yes, that is a problem. Raiders fans seem to think that they own the place, wherever they are. They call Qualcomm, “Oakland South” when the two team play in San Diego. Their fans swarm the stadium and harass the home crowd. It was worse when the Raiders were in Los Angeles, but their numbers are still large and loud. Again, I can’t solely blame their fans. If we would buy and use our Chargers tickets, rather than selling them online, there wouldn’t be so many Raider fans in the crowd. Just sayin’.
Then there is the, “Just win baby” motto of the Raiders. Al Davis made it clear in the seventies and eighties that he didn’t need choir boys on his team. He needed guys who won championships. Despite a cast of characters worthy of staring in the HBO series “OZ”, they managed to bring home three rings for their fans. Three rings that they will never let any of us forget, no matter how old the rings may be.
Finally, the thing that sums it all up for me as the one moment that took this matchup from a friendly rivalry to a true hatred…..The Holy Roller…AKA The Immaculate Deception. Do me a favor and look it up. It’s too painful to go over again. Let’s just sum it up as obvious cheating by the Raiders, a non-call that made the “Hochuli call” look like the best call in NFL history, and the broken hearts of thousands of Chargers fans, including myself at age 12. Nickname: Too many to mention and most are not appropriate for this site. You’ll learn them soon enough.
January 2, 1982: I guess this is arguable, but you would be hard pressed to find a better game than when the Bolts marched into Miami, in the playoffs, and took down the high-flying Dolphins. Not only was it the best Chargers game of all time, but some say it was the best game in NFL history! This game had everything, except a bunch of defense. The Chargers got out to a huge lead, only to blow the lead by halftime on a perfectly executed hook and lateral play by Miami. The game went back and forth with Miami blocking a San Diego field goal and the Chargers returning the favor by blocking two would be game winning kicks. The game ended in overtime with a successful Rolf Benirschke field goal and victory for our Bolts, 41-38. This game will be forever known as, “The Epic in Miami”.
Biggest Win in Team History: In my humble opinion, there is only one choice for the biggest win in team history. January 16, 1995, AFC Championship game between the San Diego Chargers and the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were so heavily favored to win and go onto the Super Bowl, they actually took some time off during the week prior to the game to go shoot their Super Bowl video, reminiscent of the 1985 Bears, “Super Bowl Shuffle”. Now that is confident! Well, that didn’t sit well with our Bolts. In fact, the soft, California team went in to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers a heart breaking 17-13 loss, capped off by a tremendous play by Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson, knocking down a pass in the end zone to seal the deal.
Well, there you have it. A crash course on many of the most important things you need to know if you want to really feel like a true Chargers fan. For you longtime, hardcore fans who are screaming about the details I left out and the great names I left off of my list, remember, we don’t want to overwhelm the newbies during their first season. If they catch on, they will study on their own and get more of the history of this proud franchise. This was more of the abridged version of Chargers football history.
If you are new to Chargers Nation, welcome! I think I speak for the majority of Chargers fans when I say that I wish you an enjoyable time, a positive experience, and the sheer ecstasy that you will feel one day when you look and see a San Diego Charger holding up the Lombardi Trophy. I can’t wait! Bring on the season!!!
(By the way, I know I should have mentioned “those whom will not be named,” but I just couldn’t do it.)