When scanning the debates on Chargers related social media outlets, one topic that always brings heated discussion is: Who is the best Chargers quarterback (QB) of all time? As you can imagine, this argument goes back and forth and at times borders on the ridiculous! Let us take a look at this question and see if there is one definitive answer, or if it is truly open to interpretation.
First or all, in order to answer the question, one must understand the guidelines set forth by the question. We are deciding the best “Chargers” quarterback of all time. Not the best quarterback who ever played for the Chargers. If we were looking to find the best quarterback who ever played for the Chargers, the answer would arguably be Johnny Unitas. Unitas played one season with the Chargers before hanging up his high-top cleats. He only started four games and had a record of 1-3 with San Diego. But his lifetime record of 118-64-4 puts him far past his nearest competitor, not to mention his Super Bowl championship in 1970 against Dallas. Although Unitas was undeniably brilliant as a quarterback in the league, he did almost all of his damage for the Baltimore Colts, not the San Diego Chargers. Therefore, he is not a viable candidate for best Chargers QB in history.
In this reporter’s humble opinion, there are only four quarterbacks in Chargers history who would even garner a vote; Dan Fouts, Stan Humphries, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers. Honestly, I only put Brees on this list because he is still loved in San Diego and many have still not gotten over the Chargers letting him go. In fact, Brees would give Unitas a run for his money when it comes to the best QB to every don the lightning bolts. Let’s take a look at these four QBs and see who has the most legitimate argument for being named the best Chargers quarterback of all time.
Dan Fouts: Fouts played his entire career for the Chargers. He came up as a rookie in 1973 and retired as a soon to be Hall of Fame inductee in 1987. He started 171 games for the Bolts, with a career record of 86-84-1. His career record may surprise you. Most would not honor the work of a QB who barely had better than a .500 record. Well, the fact is that the defense in those days carries a lot of the blame for the Chargers losses. Fouts put the points up, but the defense gave them right back. Fouts also led the Chargers to the post-season on four occasions with a career post-season record of 3-4.
He had a three year span (1979-1981) where his offense, masterminded by legendary coach Don Coryell, was unstoppable. He amassed 13,599 yards in those three seasons with a record of 33-15. Yardage numbers like Fouts was running up were unheard of at that time. In his career, Fouts totaled 43,040 passing yards. Many would argue that Coryell and Fouts laid a blueprint for the future of the NFL and what offenses have become today. Although his touchdown to interception ratio is not that impressive (254:242), one could argue that the wide open style of offense that “Air Coryell” offered was so risky that interceptions were destined to happen and not that big of a deal. The payoff would simply have to come on the next drive.
Stan Humphries: Humphries played six of his eight NFL seasons with San Diego. He played his first two seasons with the Redskins and then was brought to the Chargers in 1992. Good things were starting to happen in San Diego with a stout defense and solid running game needing one key ingredient; a quality starting quarterback. Since Fouts stepped down, the Bolts went through nine quarterbacks in just four seasons, before finding Humphries. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Humphries came in and was effective right away. He led the Bolts to an 11-4 record in his first season at the helm of the offense. In fact, his record was over .500 for his first five seasons with the Chargers. His only blemish was a 3-5 record in his injury shortened and final season in 1997. Statistically, many may argue that Humphries does not belong on this list. He only threw for 16,085 yards with a touchdown to interception ratio of 85:73. But stats do not include everything when it comes to judging a leader. The fact that Stan Humphries is the only quarterback in Chargers history to go to a Super Bowl makes him number one in some fans eyes.
Drew Brees: Brees is the lightning rod in this debate. Some would argue that it was preposterous that Brees was let go after receiving a career threatening shoulder injury on the last game of his expiring contract in 2005. Others would argue it was too big of a risk to keep a QB with an injured shoulder when you had Philip Rivers under contract and ready to start. Still others would argue that the injury had nothing to do with the dismissal of Brees. In fact, it was simply a power-play by then General Manager A.J. Smith to get Rivers on the field after he paid him $40 million to hold a clipboard for two seasons. Honestly, in regards to this question, why Brees left in irrelevant. The fact is that his numbers as a Charger were rather pedestrian compared to some others. Not to say that he would not have led the Bolts to glory as he did the Saints! We will never know what would have transpired if he had stayed. All we know for sure is that he didn’t stay and when considering whether he was the best Chargers quarterback in history, none of his Saints stats should be considered.
Taking a look at Brees’ stats with the Chargers you see that he had a record of 30-28 along with a touchdown to interception ratio of 80:53. Brees also accumulated 12,348 passing yards in his time with San Diego. Respectable numbers, but still not stellar. Brees did lead the Chargers to the post-season one time when he and the Chargers were upset by the underdog Jets. By most, Brees was given a pass on that loss due to a missed field goal by rookie kicker, Nate Kaeding.
Philip Rivers: Rivers, like Fouts is another lifetime Charger. He joined the team in 2004 and is still leading the offense today. In fact, he has not missed a start since he took over the reins from Brees in 2006. His numbers are undeniable. In his tenure with the Bolts, Rivers has amassed 36,655 yards passing with a 252:152 touchdown to interception ratio. His won/loss record with the Charges is a respectable 88-56. He has led the Chargers into the post-season on five different occasions with a record of 4-5.
In his younger days, Rivers was believed to be the chosen one who would finally lead the Bolts to the Promised Land. So far, that has not been the case and Chargers fans are growing impatient. Adding heat to the fire is the recent talk that Rivers will let his contract run out after the 2015 season and test free agency. Some call it leverage, other a smoke screen, still others say it is his way of saying, ‘If the Chargers are going to Los Angeles, I’m not going with them.’ Time will tell on that issue, but the fact is that current controversy aside, his numbers speak for themselves.
Well there you have it! Now who do you think the best Chargers QB in history is? Make your voice heard by answering the poll below.
Thanks for reading and participating! Go Chargers!