SAN DIEGO — The Chargers this season mark their 25th year in San Diego, which seems a perfect time to select the club's best 25 players ever.
The high attrition rate of pro football makes for a lot of oldies but goodies. The average career being about four years, it's easy to become a blast from the past.
In a quarter century, there have been enough all-stars to please the most demanding of critics. So the championships have been in short supply. Walk into any Mission Valley tavern and pose the question, Who is the greatest receiver the Chargers ever had? Kellen Winslow or Lance Alworth? How about John Jefferson? Be ready to spend an hour or more in a hot debate.
And you could move right down the list, position by position, without reaching a consensus, except perhaps at quarterback.
Herewith, a 25-man team of all-stars.
The team was selected by The Times in consultation with former coach Tommy Prothro, retired San Diego sports writer Bob Ortman, and Charger publicist Rick Smith.
There were some noteworthy names omitted from the team, including offensive guard Ed White, center Sam Gruneisen, flanker Gary Garrison, quarterbacks Jack Kemp, John Hadl and Tobin Rote, running back Chuck Muncie and defensive lineman Louie Kelcher. Any or all could have been selected without weakening the lineup.
White, one of the National Football League's greatest linemen, was not named simply because the bulk of his career was spent with the Minnesota Vikings.
Gruneisen was rated almost dead-even with Don Macek, and Garrison was omitted only because of Charlie Joiner's overwhelming statistical edge.
Muncie, as Coach Don Coryell has said, could have become one of the NFL's greatest backs if he had more self-discipline. But this is not an exercise in what-if. We're dealing with the reality of what players accomplished.
Though the Chargers have counted some illustrious quarterbacks, none have had the longevity or list of records compiled by Dan Fouts, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Johnny Unitas, who spent the last season of his career in San Diego, was not considered for the all-time team because his record-breaking years came as a Baltimore Colt.
From the standpoint of popularity, few players could challenge Kelcher or Jefferson, heroes of the 1979-81 AFC West championship teams.
The All-Time Chargers Team:
OFFENSE Tight end
Kellen Winslow . . . until injured midway through the 1984 season, he was perhaps the most dominant player in pro football . . . his greatest year was 1981 . . . caught 13 passes and scored 5 touchdowns in game against Raiders . . . had 13 catches for 166 yards against Miami in playoffs and blocked a field goal with :04 remaining to send game into overtime . . . career now in jeopardy as result of last season's knee injury.
Charlie Joiner . . . the leading receiver in pro football history with 657 receptions . . . called by Bill Walsh the most intelligent runner of patterns the game has ever seen . . . called by Dan Fouts "my security blanket." . . . when it's third down and intermediate yardage, Fouts automatically looks for Joiner . . . will be 38 on Oct. 14 and this may be his final season.
Lance Alworth . . . nicknamed Bambi for his effortless, gliding stride . . . fearless in going for the ball and a great threat after he made the catch . . . probably the team's biggest hero of the first decade . . . fragile-looking but tough . . . caught 493 passes for Chargers and 542 overall.
Russ Washington . . . after being drafted as a defensive tackle, became an all-pro on offense for more than a decade . . . set a club record by appearing in 178 consecutive games and making 148 consecutive starts . . . massive size and an equal amount of ability.
Ron Mix . . . a perfectionist . . . called for only one holding penalty in his career . . . not a great natural athlete and had to work hard to maintain his weight . . . was nicknamed "The Intellectual Assassin," a name he didn't particularly like . . . considered AFL's top offensive lineman.
Walt Sweeney . . . described as the Dan Fouts of the offensive line because of his ultra-competitive nature . . . fast and brutally strong . . . it was common for him to miss practice during the week and play on Sunday . . . had some classic battles against Merlin Olsen of the Rams . . . played 154 consecutive games . . . Coach Sid Gillman said he was as good a first-round draft pick as the club would ever have, a statement that stood until Kellen Winslow was picked in 1979
Doug Wilkerson . . . retired this summer after 15 superlative, but somewhat unsung seasons . . . one of the best conditioned athletes in Charger history . . . his speed made him a great lead blocker on sweeps . . . was the third oldest NFL player, behind Jan Stenerud and Jeff Van Note, when he retired last month.