The Best Chargers Quarterbacks Of All Time

Written By

on

philip rivers

Some kind of way the Chargers have had arguably the best quarterbacks of their era twice in franchise history, yet still have only one Super Bowl appearance to their credit.

Born the Los Angeles Chargers, then shifted to San Diego, and now back to LA, the Chargers have also had superstar quarterbacks who left the team and prospered, and superstar quarterback who never matched what they did before they wore Bolts on their helmets.

The Chargers had their fair share of quarterback duds, anyone remember the Craig Whelihan experience? Jim McMahaon? Dick Wood in 1962?

Plus, the immortal Ryan Leaf?

Here are the 10 greatest quarterbacks in Chargers history, each with a great story of their time in powder blue.

10. Tobin Rote

Rote is completely forgotten by NFL historians, but he won an NFL title in 1957 with the Detroit Lions and he is the only person on this list to win a title with the Chargers. San Diego won the AFL (American Football League) title in 1963 with Rote at the helm killing the Boston Patriots 51-10.

Rote, considered a cerebral player for his time (think Trent Dilfer), went to Rice. He was drafted by the Packers and then went to Detroit, then San Diego.

9. Johnny Unitas

The year is 1973, the Chargers have traded John Hadl away and bring in the 40-year-old Unitas. He is named the starter while the team grooms hotshot rookie Dan Fouts.

Unitas is an NFL legend by this point. The hero of the Baltimore Colts, winner of the Greatest Game Ever Played.

Unfortunately, his elbow is mush. His nerves are shot.

Unitas starts the first four games, and the Chargers are 1-3. He gets replaced by Fouts in Week 4 during a 38-21 butt-kicking by the Steelers. He threw one more pass in his NFL career.

Unitas makes this list, because he may be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but his days as a Charger are forgettable.

8. Doug Flutie

Signed at age 39 by the Chargers, Flutie held on to a back-up job and part-time starter for four years winning eight games and throwing for 4,901 yards.

By the time Flutie was a Charger, his athleticism which made him special had started to fade, but he still found ways to use his skills to win. He also is credited by Drew Brees for helping mentor him.

7. Justin Herbert

I mean, how high do we want to make Herbert here? We all see the potential. The Chargers current starter is in his third year and has already thrown for over 11,000 yards and 81 touchdowns.

He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, the epitome of a new breed of big, strong quarterbacks who can make every throw and run the ball.

But he’s yet to even appear in a playoff game yet. Yes, Herbert is good. He’s the future, but the future isn’t promised to anyone.

6. John Hadl

Hadl wore No. 21 which made him stand out on all the old football cards of his era. He won 59 games with the Chargers from 1962-1972 and made six Pro Bowls.

Hadl led the AFL in passing yards three times. He took the Chargers to the AFL title game in 1964 and 1965, but they lost each time to the Buffalo Bills, who featured a former Charger QB (we will get to him in a moment).

His 26,938 yards rank third in Chargers franchise history. Hadl was traded in 1973 to the Rams and had one good year there.

5. Drew Brees

It’s literally a play that changed the NFL.

The last game of the 2005 regular season against the Broncos, Drew Brees gets smushed in the end zone reaching for a fumble. He suffers a seriously separately shoulder (down, not up) and a torn labrum.

The Chargers are like, ‘we have Philip Rivers, we good’ and they let Brees walk. Brees goes to New Orleans, wins a Super Bowl, and throws for the second most yards in NFL history.

With the Chargers, Brees was good, he took them to the playoffs in 2004. Were there glimpses he would be that good? We will never know.

4. Jack Kemp

Kemp is the Chargers first quarterback when the franchise started in 1960. He took them to the AFL title game in 1960 and 1961, both losses to Houston.

In 1962, he breaks a finger. The Chargers put him on waivers to save the roster spot or something (dumbest move ever). This would be like putting Herbert on waivers and expecting no one to sniff. The Bills are like, ‘we’ll take him!’

Kemp wins AFL titles with the Bills in 1964 and 1965, beating the Chargers both times.

Great move. Kemp eventually left football and became a powerful politician.

3. Stan Humphries

The only quarterback on this list to play in a Super Bowl, Humphries was traded to the Chargers from the Washington (then) Redskins when John Friesz got hurt.

In 1992, the Chargers started 0-4 with Humphries, then rallied to become the only NFL team to ever make the playoffs after starting with four losses.

Humphries 1994 season was magic. He led the Chargers past the Dolphins in the playoffs, then a stunning 17-13 upset of the Steelers in the 1994 AFC title game.

Probably the less said about the Super Bowl the better (49ers romped).

Humphries won 47 games with the Chargers and threw for 16,085 yards. He had to retire after multiple concussions.

2. Philip Rivers

Remember, after Brees gets hurt, the Chargers said ‘we good.’

They were.

Rivers with his unusual throwing style and 27 kids won 123 games as Chargers starter and is sixth all-time in passing yards with 59,271. He made eight Pro Bowls.

The bad news was the Chargers could never get over the playoff hump. Rivers took the Chargers to the playoffs six times, and they never reached the Super Bowl. A guy named Tom Brady kept getting in the way, or the Jets…somehow the Jets.

As time passes though, Rivers accomplishments will only grow.

1. Dan Fouts

It’s so funny, Herbert may not even be the best Charger quarterback to come out of Oregon.

That distinction belongs to Fouts, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993.

The NFL was still a boring run-first, defensive league when Fouts played, but the Chargers threw the ball all over the field. Fouts was the triggerman. Big, strong and fearless, Fouts led the NFL in passing yards four years in a row 1979-1982. He ranks second all-time on the Chargers list in passing yards 43,040 and 254 touchdowns.

But oh, the playoff pain. Fouts and the Chargers were probably the best team in the NFL in 1979 and 1981 but lost to the Oilers in 1979 and the Bengals in the Freezer Bowl in 1981.

Fouts never reached a Super Bowl, but he was super.