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49 Interceptions?

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jul 1, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    By P.S. Hamilton (Boltbaby)

    <a class="imagelink" title="Antonio Cromartie" href="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/CromartieSm.jpg"><img align="left" title="Antonio Cromartie" id="image2439" alt="Antonio Cromartie" src="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/CromartieSm.jpg" /></a>I love this time of year. The draft is over and the upcoming season holds so much promise. Training camp starts this month and we'll finally get a good look at our million-dollar men.

    The 2005 San Diego Chargers ranked 28th in pass defense and had just 10 interceptions. While the team's front-seven appear to be turning into an elite unit, the secondary is still full of question marks. To address that issue, cornerback Antonio Cromartie from Florida State was selected 19th overall in the 2006 draft.

    The choice of Cromartie caused jubilation among some fans, consternation for others.

    The Chargers have spent seven draft picks on cornerbacks and safeties since 2000 with very little to show for it. Cromartie makes it eight. Most agree that Cromartie was a very risky pick. He sustained a knee injury in July of 2005 and sat out his entire junior year. When finances got tight due to family medical issues, the talented cornerback declared early for the draft and skipped his senior year of college.

    Cromartie's athleticism is undeniable. His combination of speed, size, agility and instincts are very rare. He has incredible flexibility and footwork, and his size will allow him to match up one-on-one with any receiver in the game.

    The addition of Cromartie and stellar play by Quentin Jammer in mini-camp has fans day-dreaming that this team could eventually become the best Charger defensive unit of all time.

    They will have big shoes to fill. The Chargers have had the number one defense overall three times, in 1961, 1965 and 1998.

    In 1998 the Chargers were ranked first in overall defense and number one against the run. That team fielded Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Marco Coleman, William Fuller, and Jamal Williams. Unfortunately, that team finished the year with a lousy 5-11 record under coach Kevin Gilbride. Quarterbacks that season were the notorious Ryan Leaf and forgettable Craig Whelihan.

    The 1965 season was statistically the team's best year. The Chargers led the AFL in total offense, total defense, passing, rushing, run-stopping and pass defense. They still managed to get shut out in the AFL Championship game though, losing 0-23 to the Buffalo Bills. John Hadl (QB), Lance Alworth (WR), Frank Buncom (LB), Speedy Duncan and Kenny Graham (DBs), Keith Lincoln (RB), Ron Mix and Walt Sweeney (OL) were all voted to the Pro-Bowl for their performances.

    In 1961, the Los Angeles Chargers moved to San Diego to make their home in Balboa Stadium. They were barely settled before the team started setting records.

    The Charger's smothering defense robbed teams for a staggering 49 interceptions. No team in the modern era has even come close to breaking that record. Surprisingly, 12 different players had interceptions on that team. Linebackers, defensive backs, defensive ends -- even tackle Bill Hudson ran one back for a touchdown.

    The defensive line was huge. Ernie "Giant Cat" Ladd was a 6' 9", 321-pound defensive tackle. The front four were known as the "Fearsome Foursome" and pre-dated the Rams front four known by the same name. The "Fearsome Foursome" consisted of Ladd, Earl Faison, 6'5" 260 pounds (defensive end), Ron Nery, 6' 6", 247 pounds (defensive end) and Bill Hudson, 6' 4", 270 pounds (tackle). It isn't hard to imagine why they got so many interceptions with that line-up.

    The Chargers gained 929 yards on interceptions alone that year. That is more than Keenan McCardell or Eric Parker got in receiving yardage last season. That total was etched into the record book. The only modern-day team to approach that yardage was the 2004 Baltimore Ravens with 700.

    Of the forty-nine interceptions, nine were returned for touchdowns. That record has yet to fall, but Seattle took a pretty good swing at it in 1998 when they returned eight interceptions for touchdowns.

    The Chargers won the AFL Western Division that year with a 12-2 record, but lost in the Championship game to the Houston Oilers 3-10 in a smash-mouth battle at the line.

    The current Charger roster boasts a number of young, Pro-Bowl caliber players and tough lunch-pail guys that bring it every game. Last year the Chargers were ranked first against the run and all indications are they will be there again in 2006.

    Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo now have a full season under their belt and linebacker Steve Foley is healthy. Three-year man Shaun Phillips is arguably the team's best pass-rusher. Randall Godfrey is back and excited about playing one more season. On the bench, San Diego's linebacker corp is packed with talent and depth.

    The secondary is still unsettled, but the signing of Marlon McCree from the Panthers at safety is a step in the right direction. Quentin Jammer looked great at the end of last season and stole the show during mini-camp. The possible upset at free safety by underdog Clinton Hart would be a real feel-good story if he can pull it off. Finally, addition of Antonio Cromartie should bring excitement and respectability to the team's downtrodden secondary.
    My dream is that the Chargers now have the last building block for a defensive dynasty that will someday give that 1961 team a run for their money.

    In July, anything is possible.

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