Well, this is certainly a difficult challenge!
Try naming just five of YOUR favorite men to suit up in lightning bolts! Can you do it?!
Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes one say “Yeah, I like him!” Does it matter if it is an “old school” guy where they played more smashmouth football? Or one from the “new” era where it seems like statistics seem to be the norm?
Either way, we all have our favorites for whatever reason. Maybe it’s how they seemingly just fly down the field as if on wings. Perhaps it’s how that one guy is just ALWAYS busting through the offensive line. Could it be the brashness or confidence that reaches us? You all know what you appreciate about the players you can’t wait to see take the field.
Here’s my list of my top five “old school” Chargers, though there were many choices!
Punter for the Chargers from 1994 to 2003, Bennett was formerly an Australian Rules football player. One always knew two things about him: he had the BIGGEST kicking leg and he did not shy away from hitting an opponent if need be. You just knew that Bennett was going to give his team the best field position possible! It was something to see when that ball left his foot and caught air!
Lionel “Little Train” James:
Gosh, this guy was special! He was only in the league for five short years, but he left his mark! Small in stature at 5’6″ and 171 pounds, James was THE smallest running back when he came into the NFL in 1984. His best season was in 1985 when he established three records for a running back.
James led the AFC with 86 receptions and set the bar at 2,583 all-purpose yards including 1,027 receiving yards. I remember watching him squirt through holes and run along the sideline. He had so much power in those legs and he was quick; defenders had difficulty stopping him. Sadly, his stellar career ended due to a degenerative hip injury.
Ha, gotcha on this one! Who could forget the Tongan TE who literally was responsible for scoring the go-ahead touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers to get the Bolts into the 1994 playoffs?! Yes, I know that Dennis Gibson broke up a Neil O’Donnell pass with mere seconds on the clock.
Pupunu had two stints in San Diego (1992-97, 1999). One of the other reasons I and other fans liked him was because of his touchdown celebration: he would pretend that he was opening a coconut and then hoisted it skyward as if drinking from it. I’d venture to say that some folks might have thought he was opening and drinking a beer!
Undoubtedly, the BEST nose tackle to ever suit up for the Blue and Gold. “Ja-mal” was a big, hulking man at 6’3′ and 348 pounds. He was a tackling machine and one of my favorite guys to watch on defense not named Junior Seau. Eleven seasons in San Diego saw the huge but quick man wreak havoc against opposing offenses by collecting 240 tackles, defend 18 passes, force three fumbles plus a lone touchdown and interception apiece.
He was not only an outstanding defensive lineman for the Chargers, he was also considered one of the most elite nose tackles in the NFL in his day. I would always get a kick out of watching that huge body shove it’s way into the middle. Jamal meant business!
As a defensive end, O’Neal was another adept tackler for the Bolts. Voted Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1986 he racked up 12.5 sacks prior to losing almost two years due to a knee injury. It was week seven of the ’88 season before he took the field again. His stats weren’t great that year (four sacks/28 tackles) but he was on his way. His performance that season made it possible for him to make his first Pro Bowl appearance.
By the time his career in San Diego was completed, per Pro Football Reference his numbers were: six Pro Bowl selections, 572 tackles, 105.5 sacks which made him the team leader in that category; forced 18 fumbles while recovering nine, two interceptions and a touchdown. O’ Neal is currently tied with Lawrence Taylor at 13th all-time as they both have 132.5 sacks in their careers. Yet another great defenseman for the Chargers.
Gill Byrd – Safety 1983-1992; played every position in the secondary (LCB/SS/FS/RCB), 42 INTs (4x in Top 10)
Stan Humphries – Quarterback 1992-1997; only QB to lead team to Super Bowl (’94), he also guided them to 10 fourth quarter comebacks to go with 12 game-winning drives. He retired as a result of sustaining four concussions in 22 months.
Charlie Joiner – Wide Receiver 1976-1986; aged 39 when he hung up his cleats, Joiner was one of Fouts’ favorite targets to the tune of 586 receptions, 9,203 yards and 47 TDs.
Kellen Winslow – Tight End 1979-1987; in addition to his memorable “Epic in Miami” performance, Winslow was a five-time Pro Bowler. He also placed in the Top 10 in these categories: receptions (4x), receiver (3x), and receiving TDs (4x). He had some gaudy numbers for a guy who only played in 109 games: 6,741 yards on 541 catches with 45 of those being TDs. After just eight years in the NFL, he, too, was forced to retire due to injury.
Keep an eye out for a list of my current players!
Thank you for reading!
Twenty years have gone by since our beloved Chargers played in their one and only Super Bowl. Let that sink in….20 years. Where were you on January 29th, 1995? Were you born yet? Were you entering middle school? Or were you old enough to be overcome with awesome disbelief as you watched your Cinderella Chargers defeat Miami and Pittsburgh in order to play in their first ever Super Bowl?
Many of you that are old enough to remember know exactly where you were and who you were with when you sat down to watch Super Bowl XXIX. San Diego was not expected to enter the playoffs let alone play in the NFL title game during the 1994 season; a solid 9-7 was what most “experts” expected out of America’s finest city.
Now that I have you going back in time, do you wonder what those players from the ‘94 season are up to? Let’s take a look at a few players on this special team that defied all odds.
Head Coach – Bobby Ross came to San Diego in 1992 after taking the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to an 11-0-1 record and winning the ACC Championship. Coach Ross would lead the Bolts to three playoffs, two division titles and one illustrious Super Bowl during his 5 years. After his departure, Ross went on to coach the Detroit Lions for 4 year before retiring. After four years of retirement, with the encouragement of his wife, he came back from retirement to coach Army’s football team. Three years later he retired again and has not coached since 2006. He currently resides where he was born 78 years ago – in Richmond, VA. He is active in his community and speaks often at schools and banquets.
Offensive Coordinator – Ralph Friedgen was 47 when he was the OC for San Diego. Prior to the NFL, he was the OC for Georgia Tech under Bobby Ross and both left the college game in 1992. In 1996 Coach Friedgen was released and went back to Georgia Tech where he was the OC for four years. He then moved on to be the Head Coach for the Maryland Terps for 10 years. Last season, Ralph moved on to Rutgers University where he is currently the OC.
Defensive Coordinator – Bill Arnsparger, 88 years of age, coached for many years in the NFL. After leaving the Dolphins in 1983, he became the Head Coach at LSU until he left in 1986 to become the AD at the University of Florida. Bill walked into major issues in Florida where both the football and basketball programs were put on probation. He was able to come out of that mess by hiring Steve Spurrier to coach the Gator football program. Coach Arnsparger became the DC for San Diego the same year as Ross and Friedgen, 1992. Shortly after the Super Bowl loss, Coach Arnsparger retired for good, stating it had to do with the prostate cancer surgery he had the previous year. In 1998 his book “Coaching Defensive Football” was published where it received good reviews from readers.
Quarterback – Stan Humphries Is known for leading our Bolts to the first ever Super Bowl in franchise history. In 1992 he is lead the Chargers to their first playoff appearance in over a decade, while starting 0-4 to begin the season – currently the only NFL team to ever start 0-4 and make the playoffs. Stan was inducted to the San Diego Chargers Hall Of Fame in 2002. Currently Stan, at the age of 49, is the assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at his alma mater University of Louisiana of Monroe. He has been coaching women’s basketball going on 12 years and was brought to ULM last season.
Running back – Natrone Means had his best year in the NFL with San Diego in 1994. He ran for 1,350 yards with 12 touchdowns and at the time, became the youngest NFL running back to score a TD in a Super Bowl. Means was released before the 1996 season where he then landed in Jacksonville for two seasons. As an unrestricted free agent, Natrone was back in America’s finest city where he played for two more seasons. In 2000 he did sign with Carolina, however he did not have one rush attempt and retired after the season. He coached at Livingston College, first as a Running Backs Coach and then as the Offensive Coordinator. Natrone, 42, currently is the Running Backs coach for Winston-Salem State University and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Wide Receiver – Mark Seay’s story is one of tragedy, inspiration and fortitude. Before playing college football in 1988, he attended his sister’s Halloween party where gun shots were fired outside the home. When he heard the gunfire, he quickly used his body to shield his 2 yr old niece; subsequently a bullet hit him through the pelvis, hip and lung and blowing out one of his kidneys. The bullet was on its way to his heart but it stopped prior, and remains in his body to this day. After filing a lawsuit when Cal State Long Beach refused to bring him on the team, CSLB coach George Allen was able to bring him on board while appeasing everyone with Mark wearing extra protection and taking a urine test after each game. Mark came to San Diego from San Francisco in 1993. His most memorable play was the game winning catch against Miami in the 1994 AFC Divisional playoff game. Mark only played 3 more years in the NFL after the Super Bowl run, one with the Chargers and two with the Eagles, ending his NFL career after the 1997 season. In 2003, Mark’s older brother was shot in San Bernardino, later passing away after being in an 11-month coma. In 2006 his younger brother was shot to death in the family’s backyard by two assailants – this happened while Mark was in the middle of a 48 week police academy course. He currently tours the country as a motivational speaker. Here is a video:
Wide Receiver – Tony Martin played four seasons in Miami before making the cross-country trip to San Diego in 1994. Tony was the main target of Stan Humphries and even recorded a 99 yard touchdown reception. Martin caught 9 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the ‘94 playoff games. Tony played 3 more seasons with the Chargers as the #1 WR until he left for Atlanta in 1998. Tony was charged with money laundering after his Falcons lost in the Super Bowl. He was later acquitted while under contract with the team that drafted him, the Miami Dolphins, where he played two more seasons before heading back to Atlanta for his final NFL season in 2001. There is not much information on Tony and his life after football.
Tight End – Alfred Pupunu played with the Chargers from ‘92-97 before he went to Kansas City, NY Giants, back with San Diego and finishing his career with Detroit in 2000. Although he didn’t score many touchdown in his career, albeit he scored against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, his famous dance after those scores was a famous one. After a brief time being a volunteer assistant with the University of Utah from 2005-2007, he then became the RB/TE coach for Southern Utah University. Since 2010, he has been on the coaching staff for the University of Idaho.
Kicker – John Carney played in the NFL for 23 years on teams of Tampa Bay, LA Rams, San Diego, New Orleans, Kansas City, NY Giants and ending his career back in New Orleans. Currently he still owns the Chargers record for all time leading scorer. John currently runs a pre-season kicking training camp called “The Launching Pad.”
Inside linebacker – Dennis Gibson played 7 seasons with Detroit before coming to San Diego for 2 season before retiring. Of course Charger historians will know his name for the 4th down pass deflection in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh that sent San Diego to it’s first Super Bowl. Currently, Dennis owns and operates Encore Pizza Company out of Johnston, Iowa; a suburb of De Moines.
Defensive End – Leslie O’Neil played a long career in the NFL from 1986-1999. Leslie was the first Charger to ever be bestowed with the Defensive Rookie Player of the Year in 1986. His career accolades include 6 Pro Bowls, leading the Chargers in sacks from 1990-1995 and is currently tied for 11th in career sacks with 132.5. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers HOF in 2014, but has not yet been voted into Canton
There have been 8 players from this 1994 squad whom have passed away tragically and far too young, in this writer’s opinion.
David Griggs – Linebacker
David played 6 seasons, five with Miami and one with San Diego. Five months after playing in the Super Bowl as a Charger, he died in a fatal car accident when his car slid off the ramp on the Florida Turnpike near Fort Lauderdale – he was 28 years of age.
Rodney Culver – Running back
Rodney didn’t carry the ball much during the Super Bowl run but made an appearance with the holdout and injury to Natrone Means in 1995. After that season, in May of 1996, he and his wife boarded ValueJet Flight 592 which crashed into the Florida Everglades killing every passenger – he was 26 years of age.
Doug Miller – Linebacker
Doug was a member of the Charger for two seasons; recording no stats. He was struck by lightning twice during a camping trip in Colorado in July of 1998 – he was 29 years old.
Curtis Whitley – Center
Curtis played in 30 games from 1992-1994 with San Diego. After which he played in 42 games for the Panthers from 1995-1997. A day after his birthday in May of 2008, local Sheriff deputies located Whitley dead from a drug overdose in his trailer home in Fort Stockton, TX. – he was 39 years of age.
Chris Mims – Defensive End
Chris was drafted in the first round by the Chargers in 1992 where he played until 1996. After a short stint with Washington, he returned to San Diego for two more seasons. His best season was in 1994 where he recorded 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 35 tackles. In October of 2008, Los Angeles Police officers were doing a welfare check on Chris when they found him dead. The cause of death was cardiac arrest as his heart was enlarged. At the time of death, Chris weighed 456 pounds – he was 38 years young
Shawn Lee – Left Defensive Tackle
Shawn played his first four years in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Miami. He came to San Diego in 1992 and played through the 1997 season. During the SB run, he recorded 6.5 sacks with 30 tackles and one forced fumble. The last few years of his life, Shawn was struggling with diabetes. In February of 2011, after suffering through double pneumonia, he died from a cardiac arrest – he was 44 years old.
Lewis Bush – LInebacker
Lewis was drafted by San Diego in the fourth round of the 1993 draft. He played for the Chargers from ‘93-99 and then ended his career with three season in Kansas City. Lewis recorded 3 tackles during the SB run. As he began to start in more games beginning in 1995, he showed a big improvement. In December of 2011, less than a week after his birthday, he was found dead of heart attack – he was 42 years old.
Junior Seau – Linebacker
Junior is probably one of the best players to ever put on a San Diego Charger uniform. There is much I can say about this remarkable man and football player. His intensity, leadership and drive to make everyone around him better on and off the field, just tips the iceberg on this Hall of Fame player. In May of 2012, his girlfriend found him in his home with a fatal gunshot wound to the chest – he was 43 years old.
Well I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane with me. During this writing, I was overcome with excitement and then overshadowed with sad emotions. What a team……what a ride.
Thanks for reading.