Friday, April 27, 2018

San Diego's 10 Greatest Teams

This weekend, the Mets play a series in San Diego against the Padres, the city's last remaining major league team. For the moment: While they're not in danger of moving, there could eventually be a replacement team in another sport.

San Diego's 10 Greatest Teams

Honorable Mention to the San Diego Sockers. The city's former pro soccer team had a dumb name, but frequently had smart play. They won division titles in 1978, 1981 and 1984, the last season of the old North American Soccer League. But they truly excelled in the hybrid game of indoor soccer, winning the title in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) 10 times in 11 years from 1981 to 1992, missing only in 1987.

10. 1968-69 San Diego Rockets. The city's 1st NBA team lasted only 4 seasons before moving to Houston in 1971, never had a winning record, and only made the Playoffs in their 2nd. They did, however, take the Atlanta Hawks to 6 games in their series. They needed another 6 years to get back to the Playoffs, and it wasn't for San Diego.

The Buffalo Braves moved to become the San Diego Clippers in 1978, but lasted only 6 seasons, and never made the Playoffs. In a reverse of the Rockets, they did have a winning season, their 1st, 1978-79, but missed the Playoffs. In 1984, they moved up the Coast, and became the Los Angeles Clippers.

9. 1972-74 San Diego Conquistadors. "The Q's" lasted just 4 seasons in the American Basketball Association, the last as the San Diego Sails. They made the Playoffs in their 1st season, 1972-73, but got swept by the Utah Stars. Then they signed Wilt Chamberlain as player-coach, but an injunction prevented him from playing for them, ruling that he was still under contract to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. He got them to the 1974 ABA Playoffs, but they lost to the Stars again.

Wilt then retired, and never held another job with an NBA team, not that he needed it. The locals never really took to this team. Two more seasons without the Playoffs, and it was over.

8. 1974-77 San Diego Mariners. Show me another team that made the Playoffs in every season of its existence. Most didn't make it 3 years, but the Mariners did. Formerly the New York Raiders and the Jersey Knights, Padres owner and McDonald's boss Ray Kroc bought them in 1974 and moved them to San Diego.

In 1975 they beat the Toronto Toros in the World Hockey Association Quarterfinals, then lost to the Houston Aeros in the Semifinals. In 1976, they beat the Phoenix Roadrunners, before losing to the Aeros again. In 1977, they made it, but lost to the Winnipeg Jets. They were 119-106-14 all-time, above .500.

But the San Diego Sports Arena (now the Valley View Casino Center) was far from downtown, wasn't very good, and they couldn't fill it any more than did the Rockets or the Conquistadors -- or, as it turned out, the Clippers.

Unable to get a new arena, Kroc made a tentative deal to sell them to a guy who wanted to move them to Miami, but the deal for a lease on an arena there failed, negating the sale. Kroc tried this 3 times, but none of the prospective Miami buyers could get it done. So they just plain folded. San Diego has had minor-league teams since, but never an NHL team.

7. 2004-09 San Diego Chargers. They won 5 AFC Western Division titles in 6 years, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was a hard-fought loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

6. 1984 San Diego Padres. They won 92 games to take the franchise's 1st National League Western Division title, then came back from a 2-0 deficit in the NL Championship Series to beat the Chicago Cubs in 5 games. But the "Cub-busters" lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers, in a Series whose Game 2 remains the only Series game they've ever won. They were unable to follow it up.

5. 2005-07 San Diego Padres. The team's only back-to-back postseason years, and it was 3 straight, sort of. They won the NL West in both 2005 and '06, but lost the NL Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals both times. In 2007, they finished in a tie for the NL Wild Card, but lost to the Colorado Rockies on a controversial game-ending play at the plate. They've only had 1 winning season since, 2010, winning 90 games but missing the Playoffs.

4. 1992-95 San Diego Chargers. They made 3 Playoffs in 4 seasons, and in 1994 won the team's only AFC Championship since the 1970 merger, beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the title game. But they got throttled by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX.

3. 1979-82 San Diego Chargers. Coach Don Coryell's "Air Coryell" attack was exciting, but not well-balanced enough to get over the hump. They won 3 straight AFC Western Division titles and made the Playoffs 4 straight seasons. They won thrilling Playoff games against the Buffalo Bills in the 1980-81 season, the Dolphins in "The Epic in Miami" in 1981-82, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1982-83.

But they lost AFC Championship Games to the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chargers were used to heat at home, but not humidity like in Miami, and overcame that only to go into "The Freezer Bowl" in Cincinnati.

2. 1996-98 San Diego Padres. They won the Division in 1996, but got swept in the NLDS by the Cardinals. They tailed off in 1997, but won 98 in 1998, still a franchise record. They beat the Houston Astros and then the Atlanta Braves to take their 2nd Pennant. They got swept by the Yankees in the World Series, although only Game 2 was a blowout. Then, as in '84, they fell apart thereafter.

But that 1998 season saved the city as a major league outpost: Had they not won the Pennant, Proposition C, which provided money for building Petco Park, would not have passed, and, today, San Diego might have no major league teams, unless the threat of that had convinced the city government to cave in to the Chargers' demands. But with the Padres in San Diego for the near future, the city told Dean Spanos to get lost, and he did.

1. 1960-65 San Diego Chargers. Okay, the 1st of those seasons was in Los Angeles. But the Bolts won the AFL Western Division, and made the AFL Championship Game, in 5 of the League's 1st 6 seasons, missing only in 1962.

They lost the title game to the Houston Oilers in 1960 and '61, and to the Buffalo Bills in '64 and '65. Imagine that: Losing a championship game to the Bills. And the Oilers. And then, in each case, doing it again the next year!

Now, imagine beating the Patriots in a championship game. The Philadelphia Eagles just did it . The New York Giants did it twice in 5 years. In 1963 -- or, more accurately, on January 5, 1964, at Balboa Stadium, in Balboa Park just outside downtown San Diego -- the Chargers walloped the team then known as the Boston Patriots, 51-10. It was the most points scored in either an NFL or an AFL Championship Game, under any name, between the 1957 and 1989 seasons. The Pats were so badly beaten, they didn't make the Playoffs again for 13 years.
Paul Lowe and Tobin Rote

But the Chargers of the early and mid-'60s were not only a championship team, they were also an exciting team. With a great passing attack designed by head coach Sid Gillman, a good running game, and the AFL's 1st great defense -- their line was known as the Fearsome Foursome before that of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams was -- they were the 1st AFL team that could be taken seriously.

Indeed, of the 6 AFL Champions that didn't get the chance to play the NFL Champions in the Super Bowl, the Chargers probably stood the best chance of beating the older league's titlists, as that season's Chicago Bears, while excellent, were not overwhelming like the decade's Green Bay Packers.

The 1963 Chargers remain the only San Diego major league team, in any sport, to go as far as the rules of the time allowed them to go. It wasn't a "World Championship," but it's the best they've ever done. And it was sustained excellence for a few years. So, unless the Padres go on a good run in the 2020s, or the city gets a team in another sport that can do so, this is the greatest San Diego team of them all.

No comments: