Best Chargers Team Ever: 2006

Notable players: QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, K Nate Kaeding, LB Shawne Merriman, DT Jamal Williams, C Nick Hardwick, FB Lorenzo Neal, ST Kassim Osgood, TE Antonio Gates, LT Marcus McNeill, CB Quentin Jammer.

Analysis: Unlike the other three teams in the AFC West, the memory of San Diego’s greatest team doesn’t bring back happy thoughts for Chargers fans.

The memories are tough and raw. Oh, what could have been.

San Diego has never won a Super Bowl. This team was its best chance. The 2006 San Diego Chargers were loaded.

Then they went out and blew it in the playoffs.

I was in San Diego for the team’s AFC divisional playoff game against New England and the town was buzzing all weekend. The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. San Diego was unbeaten at home in the regular season. Marty Schottenheimer’s team was expected to go to, and probably win, the Super Bowl.

Then came the fourth quarter of the New England game. The Patriots stunned San Diego by scoring 11 points in a little more than seven minutes to knock off the Chargers, 24-21.

The dream season was over and the Chargers were never the same again. Schottenheimer, who didn’t get along with general manager A.J. Smith anyway, was sent packing and was replaced by Norv Turner.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the NFL MVP after an incredible season in which he ran for 1,815 yards and scored an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns. Philip Rivers took over for the departed Drew Brees after sitting for two years and played well right away. The defense was suffocating and opportunistic.

The 2006 Chargers were good enough to win a Super Bowl. They just couldn’t get it done.

Most impressive win: A 23-13 victory over visiting Pittsburgh. The Chargers bounced back from a tough loss in Baltimore to handle the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 5. They made a statement in that game.

Rocky times: The Chargers had some off-field issues in 2006. Linebacker Steve Foley was shot after a confrontation with an off-duty police officer days before the start of the season, creating a major distraction. Shaun Phillips stepped in and played very well in Foley’s absence.

Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested at the team’s facility during the season for possession of controlled substances. Kiel, who didn’t play for San Diego after 2006, was killed in an auto accident in July 2008.

Honorable mention:

1963: The Chargers won the AFL title after an 11-3 season. They were dominant, fielding the best offense and defense in the league.

1980: They lost to the AFC championship game to Oakland. This was an offensive juggernaut (418 points, 26.1 ppg).

1994: This team has a special place in San Diego fans’ hearts. It’s the only time the Chargers made the Super Bowl.