The professional American football team now known as the Los Angeles Chargers previously played in San Diego, California as the San Diego Chargers from 1961 to 2017 before relocating back to Los Angeles where the team played their inaugural season. The Chargers franchise relocated from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961. The Chargers' first home game in San Diego was at Balboa Stadium against the Oakland Raiders on September 17, 1961. Their last game as a San Diego-based club was played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on January 1, 2017 against the Kansas City Chiefs, who defeated the host Chargers, 37-27.
AFL era (1961 – 1970)
The Chargers played in four of the first five AFL national championship games (1961, 1963, 1964, 1965) -- winning once (1963).
In the early years, the wide receiver, Lance Alworth made 543 receptions for 10,266 yards in his career of eleven AFL and NFL seasons. He made a record at ninety-six consecutive games with a reception. With players such as Alworth, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln and John Hadl, the Chargers reached the AFL championship game four times and won it once.
In 1959, the team began as the "Los Angeles Chargers" when they entered the American Football League (AFL), joining seven other teams: the Denver Broncos, Dallas Texans, Oakland Raiders, New York Titans, Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills, and Boston Patriots. The Chargers' first owner was Barron Hilton, the son of Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels corporation. Lamar Hunt, who was instrumental in organizing the AFL, said that he had asked Gene Mako for a suggestion for somebody to start a team in Los Angeles and he recommended Hilton. Hunt said that he visited Hilton for less than an hour and Hilton immediately agreed to start a team.
Barron Hilton held a contest to find a name for his team. The prize was a trip to Mexico. A man from Hollywood named Gerald Courtney submitted the name "Chargers" and won.   Conrad Hilton said, "I liked [the name] because they were yelling "charge" and sounding the bugle at Dodger Stadium and at USC games". Hunt said he thought Hilton picked the team name from the first batch of letters as publicity for his new charge account business Carte Blanche.
The team's first general manager was Frank Leahy, a former University of Notre Dame football coach. The team's first head coach was Sid Gillman from the Los Angeles Rams. His strength lay in offense innovation and he was later honoured in the Hall of Fame. Gillman (87-57-6) signed a contract with the team for three years. When Frank Leahy resigned due to poor health, Gillman became the general manager in addition to his coaching role.
The Chargers planned to play at the Rose Bowl, but instead signed a lease to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Chargers were to host the first ever AFL national championship game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1961 (for the 1960 season). However, as its attendance for home games was falling below 10,000 league and ABC television officials fearing that showing empty seats in the 100,000+ seat Coliseum might jeopardize the entire league persuaded the Chargers to give up the advantage and move the game to Houston (where they lost).
In December 1960, reports surfaced that Chargers were considering relocation offers from San Diego, Atlanta and Seattle. Greg Gregston of the San Diego Union reported that the Chargers "have learned in one season that Los Angeles has been saturated beyond sensible proportions with sports." In January 1961, the team announced the move to Balboa Stadium in Balboa Park, San Diego. Hilton was reported to have lost $900,000 in the first season. San Diego would spend $250,000 to increase stadium seating from 22,000 to 30,000; adding back rests for reserved seats; raising the scoreboard; upgrading the locker rooms; moving the football field closer to the stands and reseeding it; and improving security measures. The Junior Chamber Commerce reported that there were 10,000 firm commitments for season tickets. Seating was increased even more in May 1961 with upper deck bring the total capacity to 34,000; both Atlanta and Seattle would later get NFL teams of their own, when the Falcons were enfranchised in 1966, and the Seahawks began play in 1976, respectively.
By then, Detroit native George Pernicano (1917–2016) had become a minor shareholder in the team.
In the 1961 season, their first in San Diego, the team's defense made forty-nine pass interceptions. The term, "Fearsome Foursome" described the 1961 Chargers' defensive players' lineup. The anchoring players were Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd. The "Fearsome Foursome" phrase was later used by other NFL teams. In 1961, the Chargers lost the championship to Houston by ten points to three with 29,556 patrons attending the game at Balboa Stadium.
In 1962, the team won four games and lost ten, including eight of the final nine games of the season. This was mostly due to injuries.
In the 1963 season, eight Charger players scored in the final week. Paul Lowe rushed over 183 yards, scoring 2 touchdowns on 17 carries. In the championship game, the Chargers beat Denver 58 points to 20 and became the AFL West champions. The season ended a week late due to a postponement of games after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The Chargers won the 1963 AFL title when they defeated the Boston Patriots 51 points to 10. Spectators numbering 30,127 attended the game at Balboa Stadium. Keith Lincoln's effort made up 349 yards of the total offense.
In 1964, the Chargers played the New York Jets resulting in 17 points each. 50,222 spectators attended the game at Shea Stadium, New York. The game earned $46,828 in entrance fees. On Thanksgiving Day, Buffalo defeated the Chargers 27-24 at Balboa Stadium. The attendance was 34,865 spectators. The Chargers won their fourth AFL West title by defeating the Jets 38-3 before 25,753 spectators at Balboa Stadium. Lance Alworth left the game with a knee injury, and the fullback, Keith Lincoln was sidelined in the first quarter with a fractured rib. At the 1964 championship game in Buffalo, the Chargers were beaten 20-7. The AFL teams signed a five-year television contract with the National Broadcasting Company for $36 million to commence in 1965.
On December 12, 1965, San Diego (9-2-3) won their fifth AFL West title by defeating Houston 37-26. Lowe came first and Alworth second in the player chosen for AFL Player of the Year honors. Buffalo shut out the Chargers 23-0 in front of 30,361 spectators at Balboa Stadium for the AFL championship. At half time, a new automobile, the "Charger," was introduced by Chrysler officials. It would enter production made by Dodge the following year.
In 1966, Hilton sold the Chargers to a 21-member group of business executives for $10 million. The leading investors were Eugene V. Klein and Sam Schulman. The Chargers finished third in the AFL West that season, 7-6-1. During the sale process, a then-23 year old Jerry Jones (who would go on to become the owner of the Dallas Cowboys) offered $5.8 million for the team, but backed off after his father disapproved of his plans.
In 1967, the Chargers and the Rams played three preseason games at the new San Diego Stadium. The AFL and the NFL announced plans to merge for the 1970 season.
In August 1967, the Chargers moved to the newly-completed San Diego Stadium (now SDCCU Stadium). In 1967, the Chargers played the NFL's Detroit Lions in a pre-season game with 45,988 spectators in attendance. Detroit defeated the Chargers 38-17. In the fifth week of the season, Leslie "Speedy" Duncan had 203 yards in returns, 35 yards on a fumble recovery for a touchdown, 68 yards on four kickoff returns, and 100 yards for a touchdown. In the Charger's game against Kansas City, the team won 45-31. In this game, the team's combined effort was 897 yards offense and 622 yards in returns. In the eleventh week, the Chargers were defeated by Oakland 41-21 with 52,661 spectators at the game. In addition, 2,018 viewers watched the game on closed-circuit television in the San Diego Sports Arena.
In 1968, the Chargers played a first pre-season game at the San Diego Stadium against the NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. The Chargers won 30-18, before 39,553 spectators. "Speedy" Duncan set an AFL record with a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown in a game where the Chargers were defeated by the New York Jets 37-15. The Chargers came third in the West Division, with a 9-5 record. Quarterback John Hadl led the AFL that year with 440 pass attempts, 208 completions, 3,473 yards taken and 27 touchdown passes. He also led in passes intercepted, with 32.
In the 1969 season, the Chargers lost their first two games. They then defeated the Jets in an at home game with 54,042 spectators. Joe Namath played for the Jets. Hadl and Alworth played for the Chargers. Hadl made a professional record with a pass reception in his ninety-sixth consecutive game. The Chargers won the next three games and then lost four. Their last game was against Buffalo where they won 45-6. The team finished with an 8-6 record and out of the playoffs. Charlie Waller, the offensive backfield coach was named head coach. Gillman had resigned after the season's ninth game due to illness but continued as the team's general manager.
In 1970, the San Diego Chargers settled into the AFC West division following the NFL merger with the AFL. The years after the merger were difficult for the Chargers. Charlie Waller took over as the head coach, but after finishing 5-6-3, he stepped down, and Gillman returned to the job. Gillman resigned midway through the 1971 season, which ended with six wins and eight losses.
In 1972, Duane Thomas and Deacon Jones joined the team, which finished with a 4-9-1 record. In 1973, veteran quarterback Johnny Unitas, formerly from the Baltimore Colts joined the Chargers. Unitas was almost 40 and had chronic injuries. He played three games and then was replaced by the rookie Dan Fouts. The Chargers finished with a 2-11-1 record.
In the 1974 season, Fouts was named the new the starting quarterback. Don Woods also joined the team. Woods ran for over 1,000 yards but the team had a 5-9 record. However, in 1975, Woods and Fouts underperformed and the team finished 2-12.
In 1976, the Chargers began with a three-game win streak but finished with a 6-8 record. In 1977, the Chargers again began strongly. However, the team lost four out of five games. Fouts in a contract dispute did not report to training camp; and held out until it was resolved when he rejoined his team for The 11th week. They went 2-2,losing to the powerhouse Steelers and Broncos by a combined total of 9 points. The team finished 7-7.
Air Coryell era (1978 – 1986)
San Diego hired head coach Don Coryell in 1978, who would coach the team until 1986. Coryell developed a pass-heavy offensive scheme and philosophy known as Air Coryell, also known as the "Coryell offense" or the "vertical offense". With Dan Fouts as quarterback, the San Diego Chargers' offense was among the greatest and most exciting passing offenses in National Football League history, setting league and individual offensive records. The Chargers led the league in passing yards an NFL record six consecutive years from 1978 to 1983 and again in 1985. They also led the league in total yards in offense 1978–83 and 1985. Under the tutelage of Coryell, Dan Fouts, wide receiver Charlie Joiner, and tight end Kellen Winslow blossomed on the field and would all be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Chargers earned four consecutive playoff appearances (1979–82) during the Air Coryell era, including three AFC West division championships (1979–81).
In 1978, the NFL increased the season schedule to sixteen games. The rules were changed so that defensive backs could no longer block wide receivers more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
In the opening game of the season, the Chargers beat Seattle 24-20. On September 10, 1978, the second game was played against the Oakland Raiders at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. The game became known as the "Holy Roller" game, or, the "Immaculate Deception" because the Raiders made a game-winning play. With 10 seconds left in the game, the Raiders had possession of the ball at the Chargers' 14-yard line. The Chargers were ahead 20-14. The Raiders quarterback, Ken Stabler, took the snap but was about to be sacked by the Chargers' line-backer, Woodrow Lowe on the 24-yard line. Stabler fumbled the ball forward, and it rolled forward towards the San Diego goal line. Running back, Pete Banaszak, tried to recover the ball on the 12-yard line, but could not keep his footing, and the ball was pushed even closer to the end zone. The Raiders' tight end, Dave Casper, was the next player to reach the ball but he also could not get a hand on it. He batted and kicked the ball into the end zone, where he fell on it for the game-tying touchdown as time ran out. With the ensuing extra point by kicker, Errol Mann, the Raiders won 21-20.
The Chargers' fans saw the fumble as an incomplete pass or an intentional grounding. In the remaining minutes of the game, the teams battled for the ball towards the end zone where the Raiders ultimately recovered it for a touchdown .
The Chargers lost their third game to Denver then in week four, the Chargers played the Green Bay Packers in an interconference match in San Diego. At the kickoff, the temperature was around 102 °F (38 °C). The Packers won 24-3. After this loss, the Chargers' head coach, Tommy Prothro was dismissed. He was replaced by Don Coryell of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In New England, the Chargers won their first game under Coryell's coaching. When they returned, San Diego was still recovering from the recent PSA Flight 182. The Chargers' defeating Denver in San Diego was morale boosting for the city. Coryell coached the team in his "Air Coryell" offense: Fouts threw to a trio of receivers (Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and tight end Kellen Winslow). The Chargers won nine games and lost seven, thus missing the playoffs.
In 1979, The Sporting News named the Chargers' team general manager, John Sanders, the NFL Executive of the Year. Fouts set an NFL record by playing four consecutive 300-yard passing games. His achievement was established in a game in which he threw over 303 yards against the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers defeated the New Orleans Saints 35 points to nil and proceeded to the playoffs, the first time in fourteen years. On December 17, 1979, the Chargers won their first AFC West division title by defeating the Denver Broncos 17-7 before a national Monday Night Football television audience and their home crowd. In the divisional round, the Houston Oilers defeated the Chargers 17-14. Ron Mix became the second AFL player and second Charger to be nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The announcement was made during the half-time of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl.
In 1980, running back Chuck Muncie was traded to the team from the New Orleans Saints. Fouts set a club record with 444 yards passing in the Chargers' 44-7 defeat of the New York Giants. Kellen Winslow caught 10 passes for 171 yards. The Chargers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-17, winning their second straight AFC West title. They finished the season with 11-5 losses, a record for the team.
Jefferson (1,340), Winslow (1,290), and Joiner (1,132) became the first three players on the same team to have 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The Chargers' defense led the NFL in sacks (60). The defensive front line included the 1975 Chargers' draftees Fred Dean, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Louie Kelcher. Together with Leroy Jones, these players were known as the "Bruise Brothers".
In the playoffs, the Chargers defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-14. However, their season ended in the AFC Championship Game at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders 34-27.
In 1981, the Chargers won their third straight AFC West title with a 10-6 record. After the division titles of the 1979 and 1980 seasons, contract disputes arose. Klein, the team owner, refused to renegotiate players' contracts. The Chargers' owner traded the wide receiver, John Jefferson, to the Green Bay Packers after a salary raise could not be agreed upon. Jefferson was replaced by Wes Chandler. Defensive end, Dean was traded to the 49ers again after a pay dispute. Dean said his wage was similar to that of his brother, a truck driver. After playing eleven games of the season, Dean went on to become the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year. In 1980 and 1981, without Jefferson, the Chargers no longer had the most passing yards in the NFL.
"I can't say how much it [Dean's leaving] affected us, because we did make it to the AFC championship game", said Johnson on the loss of fellow lineman Dean. "But I could say if we had more pass rush from the corner, it might've been different."
In the 1981 playoffs divisional round, the Chargers defeated the Miami Dolphins 41-38 at the Miami Orange Bowl where the temperature on the humid day was 85 °F (29.4 °C). The game became known as "The Epic in Miami". ESPN journalists named the epic the best game in NFL history. Both teams showed strong offense. The Chargers were led by Fouts  who made an NFL single season record of 4,802 yards and 33 touchdowns.
This game set records for the most points scored in a playoff game (79 points); the greatest total yards by both teams (1,036 yards); and the most passing yards by both teams (809 yards).
The Chargers placekicker, Rolf Benirschke kicked the winning 29-yard field goal after 13 minutes and 52 seconds overtime. The tight end, Kellen Winslow, made 13 receptions for 166 yards, a touchdown and one blocked field goal. He became exhausted and was assisted from the field by his teammates. The win sent the Chargers to their second consecutive AFC Championship Game.
At the championship game in Cincinnati, the Bengals defeated the Chargers 27 -7. The game became known as the "Freezer Bowl". The temperature was a record low −9° with a wind-chill factor of −59°.
During the strike-shortened 1982 season, Fouts averaged 320 yards passing per game. At that time, that average was a record. The Chargers defeated San Francisco 41 points to 37 and Cincinnati 50 points to 34. In each game, Fouts threw for over 400 yards. In the game against Cincinnati on December 20, 1982, the Chargers' made 501 yards passing and 175 yards rushing. Chandler set a record of 129 yards receiving per game. The Chargers reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year, finishing 5th in the AFC (divisional standings were disregarded due to the abbreviated schedule). The team upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh 31-28, but the Dolphins would exact revenge from their loss the previous year the next week 34-17.
In 1984, Klein decreased salaries in preparation for the team's sale. The defensive linemen, Johnson and Kelcher, left for San Francisco. On August 1, 1984, Alex Spanos purchased a majority interest in the Chargers. Benirschke was named "Miller Man of the Year". Joiner set an NFL record with his 650th pass reception in the fourth quarter of the game at Pittsburgh.
In 1985 offensive guard Ed White set an NFL record by playing in 241 NFL games. Lionel "Little Train" James, a 5'6", 171 pound running back, set an NFL record of 2,535 all-purpose yards and of 1,027 receiving yards by a running back.
Changing head coaches (1986 – 1993)
During the 1986 San Diego Chargers season, following the resignation of Coryell, Al Saunders was named head coach.
In 1987, Joiner retired to become the Chargers' receivers' coach. The team finished the season 8-7, including a 3-0 record by the "replacement" team during the player's strike. The only other team to go undefeated during that time was the Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. In 1988 Fouts retired after a 15-year career. He set seven NFL records and 42 club records, and became the NFL's second most prolific passer of all time with 43,040 yards. Fouts's jersey, the number 14, was retired at halftime at the "Dan Fouts Day" game in San Diego.
In the 1989 season, Dan Henning, a former Chargers' quarterback, Washington Redskins assistant, and Atlanta Falcons head coach, became the Chargers' head coach. A first year running back, Marion Butts, set a club record with 39 carries and a team rookie record of 176 yards in the Chargers' 20 points to 13 win against Kansas City. Steve Ortmayer, the director of football operations for the past three years, left and was replaced by Bobby Beathard. The team would post double-digit losses between 1988 and 1991.
In the 1992 season, Bobby Ross became the Chargers' head coach. The quarterback, Stan Humphries was obtained in a trade with the Washington Redskins. The Chargers finished the season 11-5 and won the AFC West title, making their first playoff appearance in a decade. Ross was named AFC Coach of the Year. In the Wild Card Round, the Chargers shut out the Kansas City Chiefs 17-0. Then, they were shut out by the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round, 31-0.
In 1993, the Chargers finished 8-8, finishing fourth in the division.
1994 – 2005
In the 1994 season, the Chargers won 11-5. Quarterback Stan Humphries and wide receiver Tony Martin, worked together to make a 99-yard touchdown completion. The players contributing to the Chargers' 1994 AFC West Division championship included linebacker, Junior Seau, defensive tackles Reuben Davis and Shawn Lee and defensive end, Leslie O'Neal, and running back Natrone Means, Humphries and Martin who made offensive moves. In the playoffs, the Chargers unexpectedly defeated the Dolphins 22-21 in the divisional round and the Steelers 17-13 in the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers were defeated by the 49ers 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX.
Despite the Super Bowl loss, Beathard, who was responsible for the team line-up and the choice of coach, was named the "NFL's Smartest Man" by Sports Illustrated.
The Chargers' 1995 season was less successful. The team reached the playoffs with a 9-7 record then were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts 35-20.
During the 1996 season, running back Rodney Culver was killed in the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades. Linebacker David Griggs had been killed in a single motor vehicle accident in Davie, Florida, eleven months earlier.
In the 1997 season, Beathard dismissed Ross. Kevin Gilbride became the Chargers' new head coach. Gilbride encouraged a more open passing attack, a major change in offensive style. Humphries suffered several concussions due to a lack of pass protection and retired. After trades of players and draft choices to the Arizona Cardinals, Beathard selected quarterback Ryan Leaf with his second pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
In the 1998 season, the Chargers went 5-11. Rodney Harrison said, "If I had to go through another year like that, I'd probably quit playing." When Gilbride left, he was replaced by an interim head coach, June Jones, a member of the Chargers' staff. Jones left the team at the end of the 1998 season to coach at the University of Hawaii. The Chargers' new head coach was Mike Riley from the Oregon State University. Due to his poor play and attitude, Leaf was released after the 2000 season. Jim Harbaugh, who was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional draft choice in 2000, became the Chargers' starting quarterback.
Beathard retired in April 2000 and was replaced in January 2001 by John Butler, former general manager of the Bills. From 1996 to 2003, the Chargers had eight consecutive seasons where they finished with just as many, if not more losses than wins.
In 2001, Riley chose Norv Turner, the former head coach of the Redskins, as his offensive coordinator. Turner coached an offense method which he had employed at the Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers signed the former Bills' quarterback, Doug Flutie. They also traded the team's first overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft to the Atlanta Falcons in return for the first-round selection (fifth overall) and third-round selection in the same draft. In addition the Chargers obtained the wide receiver-kick returner, Tim Dwight, and the Falcons' second-round draft selection in the 2002 NFL Draft. The Chargers used those selections in the 2001 draft to select the Texas Christian University running back LaDainian Tomlinson and the Purdue University quarterback Drew Brees.
For the 2002 season, Marty Schottenheimer replaced Riley. Under Schottenheimer, the Chargers won their first four games. Butler would succumb to cancer after a nine-month struggle in April 2003. Butler was replaced by A. J. Smith, who was named the Executive Vice President and General Manager.
In 2003, the Chargers traded Seau to the Dolphins for a draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Before he left, Seau's teammates awarded him the Emil Karas Award for the team's Most Inspirational Player. Tomlinson accumulated 195 total yards from scrimmage in a late season game against the Packers to raise his season total to 2,011. He became the first Chargers player and the eighth player in NFL history to record consecutive 2,000-yard seasons. Tomlinson also became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in the same season. The Chargers were the host team for the Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXVII.
The 2004 season saw the Chargers win their first divisional title since 1994 with 12-4 record. They quickly were eliminated by the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs, 20-17 in overtime.
During the 2005 NFL Draft, the Chargers drafted key rookies who would help carry the momentum from the team's 2004 season. The Chargers used their first pick to gain Shawne Merriman from the University of Maryland. Their next picks included Luis Castillo from Northwestern University, Vincent Jackson from Northern Colorado, Darren Sproles from Kansas State, Wesley Britt from Alabama University, Wes Sims from Oklahoma University, and the center, Scott Mruczkowski from Bowling Green State.
The Chargers lost their first game of the 2005 season to the Dallas Cowboys at home 28-24, and their second game 20-17 in Denver against the Broncos. Through Tomlinson's efforts, the Chargers won their third game, which was a home game against the New York Giants. Tomlinson took 220 yards in total, 3 rushing touchdowns, and threw for a touchdown helping the team to win 45-23. The Chargers then defeated the defending Super Bowl Champions New England Patriots 41-17. At their fifth game, which was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chargers wore their throwback uniforms. The Steelers defeated the Chargers 24-22 after Jeff Reed made a 40-yard field goal. The Chargers won the sixth game against the Oakland Raiders, 27-14. In the seventh game, against the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Chargers were leading 17-13 until late in the game. Then, the Chargers' field goal was blocked and returned 65 yards by Matt Ware. This led to the game winning touchdown for the Eagles 20-17.
After winning three games and losing four, the Chargers won the following five games. These included an at home game against the Kansas City Chiefs won 28-20 and an away game against the New York Jets 31-26. The tenth week was a bye. Next, the Chargers won at home in their throwback uniforms against the Buffalo Bills, 48-10. Then, the team won against the Washington Redskins, 23-17 in overtime and the next week against the Oakland Raiders at home, 34-10.
The Chargers were defeated 23-21 by the Miami Dolphins. On December 18, 2005, the Chargers defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 26-17 who had won their previous 13 games. The Kansas City Chiefs then defeated the Chargers 20-7, and the team was officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Chargers lost their final game of the season 23-7 to the Denver Broncos. The Chargers completed the 2005 season with a 9-7 record.
2006–2012: Rise of Philip Rivers
In the 2006 season, the Chargers finished the season 14-2, their best record ever. Their only losses came against the Ravens and Chiefs. The team lost Drew Brees in free agency to the New Orleans Saints, setting the stage for 2004 draft pick Philip Rivers to take over at quarterback. They were seeded first in the AFC playoffs. In the divisional round, the Chargers were defeated by the Patriots 24-21. After the season, Schottenheimer left and Norv Turner became the head coach.
In the 2007 season, the Chargers went 11-5. In the playoffs, the Chargers defeated the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts. In the AFC championship game, the Chargers were defeated by the Patriots.
In the 2008 season, the Chargers posted an 8-8 record. Despite that, they won the AFC West title over a weak field. The Chargers defeated the Colts in the wild card round then lost their game against the Steelers in the divisional round.
In the 2009 season the Chargers first won two games and lost three. For the rest of the season the Chargers won each game, including those against the NFC East teams. Having lost a game against the Broncos, the Chargers defeated them in the eleventh week, 32-3. In the twelfth week, the Chargers defeated the Cleveland Browns 30-23. In this game, LaDainian Tomlinson broke Jim Brown's rushing record and was congratulated by him. The Chargers secured another division title and became the AFC second seed. The Chargers then played and lost 17-14 to the Jets at home on January 17, 2010.
Prior to the 2010 season Tomlinson departed. He was aging and an expensive contract. The Chargers lost the first game to Kansas City, 21-14. The second game was at home was a win against the Jaguars. However, low ticket sales resulted in a blackout. The third game, an away game, was a 27-20 loss against Seattle. The fourth game was a win for the Chargers against the Cardinals, 41-10 at home. There was blackout during the game. Then in the next game, after many wins against the Raiders, the Chargers were defeated by them. The Chargers won the next four games then again were defeated by the Raiders at home, 28 points to 13. After a game where they tied with the Raiders, the Chargers were defeated by the Bengals 34-20 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Chargers defeated Denver and ended the season with a 9-7 record.
The Chargers finished the season as the eighth team in NFL history to rank first in overall offense (395.6 yards/game), and overall defense (271.6 yards/game). Despite these statistics, the team did not make the playoffs, a situation only shared with the 1953 Eagles team. The Chargers ended the season second to the Colts in passing yards per game (282.4), second to the Patriots in points scored per game (27.6), first in passing yards allowed per game (177.8), fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (93.8), and tied for second in sacks (47). In contrast, the Chargers gave up the most punt return yards per game (18.9) and gave 29 turnovers. Rivers had a career highlight of 4,710 yards, 294 yards passing per game, 66 percent completion; 30 TDs, 13 INTs and a 101.8 passer rating. Tolbert made 11 rushing TDs and Gates made 10 receiving TDs. Phillips made 11 sacks.
The Chargers started the 2011 season 4-1 before losing to the Patriots. They went on to lose to the Jets, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, the Bears and Broncos. The team was fraught with injuries. On December 5, 2011, the Chargers defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars. Three wins followed including a solid defeat of the Ravens. The Chargers were then defeated 38-10 by the Detroit Lions. After a 38-26 win against the Raiders in the seventeenth week, the Chargers finished the season with an 8-8 record. The Chargers, Broncos and Raiders all finished 8-8, but the Broncos won the AFC West by virtue of tiebreakers.
During a game on October 21, 2012, a line judge saw what he thought was a suspicious substance, such as a banned adhesive, on hand towels used by the Charger's players. However, on November 7, the NFL announced that the Chargers did not cheat. Even so, the team was fined $20,000. After the 2012 season where the Chargers again failed to reach the playoffs, Smith and Turner were dismissed.
Final Years in San Diego (2013 – 2016)
On January 9, 2013, the Chargers announced that Tom Telesco, former Vice President of Football Operations for the Indianapolis Colts, would become the Chargers' General Manager. On January 15, 2013, Broncos offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, was hired as the Chargers' new head coach and Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. D. J. Fluker, Manti Te'o, and Keenan Allen were selected in the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Under McCoy, the Chargers won two and lost three games. The team then defeated Indianapolis in the Monday Night Football and then Jacksonville. After a bye, the Chargers won four of the next five games. They then won all the remaining regular season games. The team finished 9-7, and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. On the 50th anniversary of the 1963 AFL Championship, the Chargers beat Cincinnati 27-10. In the wild card playoff, Denver defeated the Chargers 24-17.
On January 13, 2014, Ken Whisenhunt left the team to join the Titans. On January 14, 2014, the Chargers announced Frank Reich, the quarterback coach, would replace Whisenhunt as the team's offensive coordinator. The Chargers also brought back Donald Butler, Chad Rinehart, and Darrell Stuckey; dismissed Derek Cox; and engaged the running back Donald Brown. The Chargers selected Jason Verrett, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Chris Watt in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft.
In September and October 2014, the Chargers won five games after losing their first game of the season and then lost a further three games. Some players sustained injuries and the team finished the season with nine wins and seven losses. The Chargers did not qualify to enter the playoffs. In three of their last four games, and five of their last eight, the Chargers did not score more than one touchdown. Compared to 2013, the offense dropped in points (from 12th in the league to 17th), yards (5th to 18th), first downs (3rd to 15th), net yards per pass (2nd to 8th), rushing yards (13th to 30th) and yards per rush (21st to 31st). It was the second time in three years the team had finished second-to-last in yards per carry. In the AFC West division the Chargers finished the season with two wins and four losses.
In the 2015 NFL draft, the Chargers selected Melvin Gordon, Denzel Perryman, and Craig Mager in the first three rounds. The season started off with a win against the Detroit Lions at home. The Chargers lost to the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings in away games before defeating the Cleveland Browns on a last second field goal. Following their 2 wins and two losses, the Chargers lost their next six games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, the Chicago Bears, and the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers then won against the Jaguars in an away game and week 14, defeated the Miami Dolphins, 30-14. The Chargers finished the season in last place in the AFC West and third-last ahead of the Titans and the Browns in the American Football Conference with a 4-12 record.
The Chargers drafted defensive end Joey Bosa in the third overall pick of the 2016 draft. Other selections included Hunter Henry, Max Tuerk, Joshua Perry, Jatavis Brown, Drew Kaser, Derek Watt, and Donavon Clark.
The Chargers started their 2016 season in Kansas City, playing against the Chiefs and at half time, held a lead of 21-3. The Chiefs rallied in the second half, defeating the Chargers 33-27. In San Diego, the Chargers defeated the Jaguars 38-14. Running back Danny Woodhead did not play due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury. The Chargers then lost to the Colts, the Saints and the Raiders before winning against the Broncos 21-13 and the Falcons, 22 points to 30. There were further losses including to the Dolphins, 31-24; to Kansas City, 37-27 in San Diego; and to the Browns in week 16.
Return to Los Angeles
The owner of the Chargers, Dean Spanos advocated for many years for the city of San Diego to build a new stadium. With no success, the Chargers, in association with the Raiders, planned to construct a new stadium in Carson, California.
Immediately after the conclusion of the 2015 season, the Chargers, Rams, and Raiders all filed applications to relocate to Los Angeles. On January 12, 2016, the NFL owners voted 30-2 to allow the Rams to return to Los Angeles, approving their Inglewood stadium project. The Chargers, however, were given an approval to relocate in one year's time, under the condition they negotiate a lease or partnership agreement with the Rams. The Chargers registered the trademark, "Los Angeles Chargers". They submitted to the City of Santa Ana the grading and landscape plans for a five-acre parcel of land which would serve as an interim headquarters and training facility. The Chargers and Rams came to an agreement in principle on sharing the planned City of Champions Stadium to commence on January 29, 2016. The Chargers would contribute a $200 million stadium loan from the NFL and personal seat license fees to the construction costs, and they would pay $1 per year in rent to the Rams.
The NFL then encouraged the Chargers to stay in San Diego by offering the team $100 million if they were to enter into an agreement with the city of San Diego. On January 29, 2016, Spanos, the Chargers' chief executive officer, announced that the team would remain in San Diego for the season. The Chargers continued to seek public approval of a new stadium in San Diego. On February 23, 2016, the Chargers announced that their preferred location for a new stadium was the East Village, in Downtown San Diego. The funds for the stadium would come from the team, the NFL and the City of San Diego. Even though it was a more economical proposal, the Chargers dismissed the City's alternative plan for a stadium in Mission Valley. Between April 21 and June 10, 2016, the Chargers collected 110,786 signatures in support of a new Downtown stadium.
On July 9, 2016, the San Diego city clerk received the signatures and on July 18, 2016, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to put the Downtown Stadium plan to a public ballot. On July 28, 2016, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce announced its support of the Chargers' Downtown stadium proposal, and on October 3, 2016, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his support. However, on November 8, 2016, the proposal (Measure C) failed to receive support at public ballot (57 percent against and 43 percent for).
In December 2016, the NFL owners approved the terms of a lease agreement between the Chargers and the Rams and the Chargers debt ceiling. On December 23, 2016, the Chargers leased a property of approximately 3 acres in Costa Mesa for offices, practice fields, and training facilities.
On January 12, 2017, Spanos announced the Chargers would move back to Los Angeles for the 2017 season. The team would play in Dignity Health Sports Park (known as the StubHub Center until 2019) in Carson, California, and eventually, be tenants of the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
In 2017, when the Chargers moved their practice facility to Orange County, the Chargers removed all references to the city of San Diego from their website and merchandise.
- A As a result of the AFL–NFL merger, the league was broken into two conferences; the AFL teams moved into the American Football Conference.
- B This season included the Holy Roller game.
- C The Chargers finished ahead of Oakland in the AFC West based on better net points in division games.
- D The Chargers finished ahead of the Denver Broncos based on better divisional record.
- E This game is known as The Epic in Miami.
- F This game was known as the Freezer Bowl.
- G The 1982 season was shortened by a strike, so the league was divided up into two conferences instead of its normal divisional alignment.
- H The strike of 1987 reduced the regular season schedule from 16 to 15 games.
() Indicates Player or Coach began his tenure in Los Angeles
The San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame was founded in 1976. The members of the Hall of Fame are honored at the Chargers' "Ring of Honor", founded in 2000. Eligible candidates must have been retired for at least four seasons. Selections for admission to the Hall of Fame are made by a five-member committee chaired by Spanos. The Chargers in 2012 allowed fans to vote for the newest member.
in 2009, the Chargers announced their 50th Anniversary Team. It honored the top players and coaches in the team's history. The team included 53 players and coaches selected from 103 nominees. Online voting accounted for fifty percent (400,000 votes) of the results. The remainder were from members of the Chargers Hall of Fame and five members of the local media. Dan Fouts and LaDainian Tomlinson were the most popular players. The resulting team included seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and eleven players from the 2009 Chargers' team.
The San Diego Hall of Champions includes Lance Alworth, Ron Mix, John Hadl, Charlie Joiner, Don Coryell, Sid Gillman, Gary Garrison, Dan Fouts, Ed White, Kellen Winslow, Earl Faison, Rolf Benirschke, Keith Lincoln, Russ Washington, Stan Humphries, Ernie Ladd, and Doug Wilkerson. The Hall of Champions admits athletes from the San Diego area as well as those who have played for San Diego-based professional and collegiate teams.
∗ = minimum 15 attempts, # = min. 100 attempts, + = min. 500 attempts
∗ = minimum 15 attempts, # = min. 100 attempts, + = min. 500 attempts
∗ = minimum 4 receptions, # = min. 20 receptions, + = min. 200 receptions
∗ = minimum 20; # = min. 5; + = min. 3