Updated: Mar 10
The Chargers have appeared in only one Super Bowl: XXIII in 1995. That Chargers team (commonly referred to as the 94' team) was an overachieving bunch led by former US Army tank commander Bobby Ross. The squad featured Junior Seau, Natrone Means, Leslie O'Neal, David Binn and Eric Bienemy. Rodney Harrison was also on the team, but was a rookie and played few snaps.
The 1994 Chargers that year had a strong run game, dynamic special teams and an outstanding run defense. During the playoffs of that year, they were advertised as the "big-play Chargers," but that isn't how this squad would be remembered.
The Chargers were not considered contenders, despite their 7th ranked rushing offense and respectable 11th-ranked overall offense. The run game, led by the bruising Natrone Means was at times great. Their passing offense was a mediocre 13th, however. These Chargers were not expected to make the playoffs, much less make a run for the whole thing.
On defense, the '94 Chargers were not great, either: they finished the season with the 14th-ranked overall defense. Their passing defense was near the bottom of the league at 22nd (although the eventual champion 49ers were only slightly better at 17th in this category).
That the Super Bowl Champions, the dynasty that was the San Francisco 49ers could go so far while being so bad on pass defense reflects the offensive trends of the times: most teams used the run to set up the pass, and the 49ers could prevent the rest of the league from ever implementing that game plan. A modern, pass-first offense might have fared better against them.
How exactly did this Charger team get there?
The 1994 Chargers' strength was their run defense, which was ranked a stout 5th. That alone put them in position to win against most teams that year.
What really worked for the '94 Chargers was luck. Their special teams was 3rd best at kickoff returns with 2 TDs. They were even better at punt returns, ranked 2nd and also scoring 2 touchdowns while averaging 13.19 yards per return.
A few individual Chargers finished the season amongst the league leaders:
Points Scored - 1st - John Carney (135)
Rushing Yards - 4th - Natrone Means (1,350)
Total Touchdowns - 5th - Natrone Means (12) -- NOTE: the league TD leader that year was Emmitt Smith, who nearly lapped Means with 22.
Pro Bowlers from the Chargers that year were John Carney, Natrone Means, Junior Seau and Leslie O'Neal.
The Regular Season: Chargering to Glory
The "Super Bowl year" Chargers achieved a regular season record of 11–5, and were crowned AFC West Champions. They had been 8-8 just the season before, but managed to overcome plenty of typical Charger drama to take the AFC Championship.
Week 4 vs. the LA Raiders: the Chargers let a twenty point lead slip and QB Stan Humphries injured his knee throwing a pick-six. Humphries was nothing if not tough, and remained in the game. He converted a critical 4th down pass to set up the game winning field goal, a 33-yarder from John Carney with two seconds remaining.
Humphries suffered further injuries in both weeks 8 (ankle) and 9 (dislocated left elbow)--injuries serious enough that he could not finish either game.
The Bolts split the two games, with backup QB Gale Gilbert seemingly figuring it out with a win in week 6 vs. Seattle.
Week 10 was the only game Humphries missed all season, and his understudy Gilbert was unable to summon any more backup QB magic. The Chargers had only one drive past midfield on the day, resulting in a missed 47-yard field goal by John Carney.
Natrone Means set a Chargers record on the day, rushing for 102 yards and marking his fifth straight 100-yard game.
Week 11 saw the Chargers' starting QB back on the field, but he was clearly not up to the matchup against the Chiefs.
The opening kickoff was fumbled by Andre Coleman, and fumbles by Means and Humphries in later drives put them in a four-turnover hole by halftime.
The Chargers somehow won the game, thanks in part to a critical clock management error by Joe Montana which robbed KC of a final field goal attempt.
Week 12 was a loss to the Patriots 17-23, who had the top passing offense in the league. Andre Coleman hit an 80-yard kickoff return touchdown. The rest of the Chargers scoring was in garbage time.
Week 13, the Chargers defense and special teams pounded the Rams at Jack Murphy Stadium. The final score was 17-31 San Diego.
Week 14 vs. the LA Raiders. The Chargers defense took the game off, and the normally sure-handed players couldn't hold the damn ball. Humphries was injured yet again, but so was Jeff Hostetler, the Raiders' starting QB. All four quarterbacks threw touchdowns in this game. Natrone Means fumbled the ball after failing