The Worst Teams of All Time, Part 19: The 1972-1973 Chargers

This is a post in an ongoing series, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field.

The Chargers started 5-0 this season and are now 6-4, on the verge of alarm bells ringing on their season screaming “collapse”. No matter how bad they finish, I still think they won’t be as bad as the 2000 squad…or the 1972-1973 squads.

Harland Svare

After unsuccessful seasons, Harland Svare was hired as head coach for the Chargers in 1970. Immediately, Svare initiated a blizzard of trades, switching out OT Walt Sweeney and QB John Hadl for Deacon Jones and Johnny Unitas. Svare wanted to copy the Redskins with their “Over the Hill Gang” strategy, signing voluble veteran players. Svare’s tenure from 1971-1973 only took the Chargers to 11 wins.

Right off the bat, the Chargers were smoked 34-3 by the 49ers in 1972. They started 2-1-1, but finished the season with a final record of 4-9-1.

John Hadl

John Hadl was still around in San Diego, and he had an awful season. He completed only 51.4% of his passes for 2,449 yards, 15 touchdowns and 26 interceptions for a rating of 56.7. After the season, Hadl was traded.

Some guy named Wayne Clark also appeared in 13 games for San Diego, completing 2 of 6 passes for no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Mike Garrett had a very good season, becoming the first man to rush for 1,000 yards in both the AFL and NFL. He carried the ball 272 times for 1,031 yards and 6 touchdowns, but fumbled 8 times.

There isn’t much to say about the 1972 team, other than the fact that they became the 33rd team in league history to score only a safety in a game, in a Week 16 matchup against Pittsburgh. Only the 1980 Bills, 1983 Vikings and 1993 Bengals have done it since then.

Johnny Unitas

1973 came around, and Johnny Unitas was acquired from the Colts. It was a terrible trade, as the 40-year old Unitas truly had nothing left. It certainly showed. In 4 starts, Unitas completed only 44.7% of his passes for 471 yards, 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a rating of exactly 40. He went 1-3 as a starting quarterback.

That Wayne Clarke guy also started at QB, going 1-3 as well. Astoundingly, he threw no touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Rookie Dan Fouts also started at quarterback, unfortunately going 0-5-1 as a starter, throwing 6 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The passing game threw 9 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in total and only threw for 129.1 yards-per-game.

Mike Garrett had a poor season, gaining only 467 yards. The rushing attack netted a fairly regular 129.5 yards-per-game and only 9 touchdowns, but the passing game was so weak, it couldn’t hold up the offense.

In all, the offense only scored 188 points, the second-fewest in the league and fewer points than the 1-13 Oilers. The average of 13.4 per game and 51 turnovers was only enough to beat 2 opponents, the Saints and Bills.

The defense wasn’t much better, giving up 27.6 points per game and 23 rushing touchdowns, with veterans like Deacon Jones and Tim Rossovich unable to stop opponents. Do the math, and the Chargers lost by two touchdowns per game. Their -198 point differential was second-to-last in the league.

Harland Svare was fired after a 1-6-1 start, and Ron Waller was brought in, guiding the team to a 1-5 record.

That concludes this fairly short Worst Teams article, the Chargers won’t be a horrible veteran team with no coaching or talent like they were in 1972 and 1973 anytime soon. However, they may finish 8-8 after a 5-0 start, which is just as embarrassing.


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