Illustration by Mike Meredith

Let me be up front about this. I may be biased on this one.

When the Baltimore Colts were stolen in 1984, I became a San Diego Chargers fan. In full disclose, with Robert Irsay assembling some of the worst football teams known to man in 1981-82, and with him at war with the city and Colts fans and games blacked out locally far too often, I was already captured by Air Coryell the moment I really started watching games closely as a first-grader in 1980. No one was doing what they were doing with the deep ball (OK, maybe the Raiders a little still), and no team was more fun to watch.'s Franchise Five series dives into five most impactful people in each NFL's team history. Our rules here allow us to pick one head coach, one quarterback and three non-quarterback players.  

My biggest challenge was at the head coach spot. Sid Gillman led the Chargers to great exploits in the 1960s, won the only title in franchise history (1963 AFL championship) and espoused the kind of downfield football that was ahead of its time. I went back and forth with him and Don Coryell for this distinction. In the end, it's my list, and it's probably the fan in me remembering all the hard-luck losses of the late '70s, early '80s Chargers that swung it. Sneaking halfway down the upstairs steps and watching them on "Monday Night Football" from afar, a good 20 feet from the living room, well after my bedtime, hoping my dad didn't hear any creaks or cheers -- Coryell's team was probably most responsible for me falling in love with this sport. If nothing else, I am a sentimental sucker, I guess.

Also, I am still fighting myself for not finding a way to get Kellen Winslow, my favorite player as a kid, on this team. I just couldn't justify it in the end. You will note, however, that this fledgling period of L.A. Chargers football gets no love. It's not personal, it's just that you could only really try to make the case for one guy (Philip Rivers), and I'm sorry but Dan Fouts is the QB of my youth (sorry, Mike Pagel; sorry, Will Brinson) and he was going to be on this team.

Here are my picks for the Chargers' Franchise Five.

Coach Don Coryell

One of the greatest innovators the league has ever seen, how Don Coryell is not in the Hall of Fame is beyond me. 

Coaching at a time when quarterbacks were not protected and receivers were target practice for linebackers and defensive backs, when you could maul people all over the field -- and having to face historically significant defenses in Oakland and Pittsburgh, among others, to get through the postseason -- Coryell devised a downfield attack that was beyond entertaining.

It wasn't just Fouts and Winslow and Charlie Joiner; check out some clips of John Jefferson, Bobby Duckworth, Wes Chandler. Go see what Coryell was doing with James Brooks or Lionel "Little Train" James. Had Coryell's Chargers not faced the Bengals in extreme cold -- on any other day -- Coryell would have been in the Super Bowl. You could make the case for Bobby Ross -- who did get there -- but my fascination with Coryell's football mind began around age 6, and for good reason.

QB Dan Fouts

When he retired, few had ever put up the numbers Fouts had. In an era where first down was a running down and second down was a running down, and, in some cities, third down was a running down, guys like Fouts and Dan Marino stood out. Bombs away.

Fouts would hang in there to take a massive hit to make a play. His deep ball was a thing of beauty and had he been able to enjoy the kind of protection and rule changes that Rivers enjoyed for basically his entire career, heaven knows how many 5,000-yard seasons he would have. Fouts took over for a broken down Johnny Unitas as a rookie in 1974 and never looked back.

Like Rivers, he was not very mobile and not very athletic. Like Rivers, super tough. Like Rivers, he did a ton of damage with a future Hall of Fame tight end. But unlike Rivers, he gets the nod here.

Illustration by Mike Meredith

LB Junior Seau

A transformation linebacker who helped bring the franchise back to prominence with his heart, intensity, engaging personality and willingness to lead, Seau made plays all over the field and willed his teams to be better than they were. He was the central nervous system of some of the best defenses in franchise history who remained an icon and influence in the San Diego area after his playing days were over.

Seau's suicide was a blow to that franchise unlike anything before or since and a turning point in how teams, fans and the media began to think about concussions and CTE. It is simply impossible for me to consider a Chargers Franchise Five without this giant on it.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson

For a period of time, Tomlinson was simply unstoppable. In the run game. In the pass game. Running over you. Running past you. He was a touchdown machine.

Tomlinson made six All-Pro teams, won consecutive rushing titles in 2006 and 2007 and won the MVP in 2006. He was also named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2006. How about that trifecta? He retired as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history and third in total touchdowns and made an All-Decade team.

Again, others are worthy of consideration -- Joiner and Winslow among them -- but LT was an incredible force for the better part of a decade and needs to be on this team.

WR Lance Alworth

When you envision the AFL and those beautiful, iconic, powder blue uniforms, Alworth is the person under the helmet. He is the poster boy for that era of football.

Alworth was incredibly nimble and played with a grace that earned him the nickname "Bambi." That era is massive for the history of the game and of this franchise, and Alworth was a superstar in those AFL days. Six times a first-team All-AFL player, Alworth was the first player in history with back-to-back seasons averaging 100 receiving yards per game. He was the face of the franchise for a long time and needs to be recognized here.