Doug Wilkerson, a Chargers offensive guard from 1971-84, is being inducted into the Breitbard Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame on Feb. 22 at the Town and Country Hotel. The Hall-of-Fame induction is part of the 59th annual Salute to Champions dinner. For ticket information, call 619-234-2544.
By Tom Shanahan, San Diego Hall of Champions
Ask Doug Wilkerson to name the fondest memory of his playing career, and the offensive lineman whose teammates called him “Moosie” skips over special games or coveted awards. Foremost, he explains, was his time with teammates.
When Wilkerson is inducted into the Breitbard Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame on Feb. 22 at the Town and Country Hotel, he is reunited with seven teammates and his head coach from the Chargers’ Air Coryell years who previously have been inducted into the Breitbard Hall at the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. The Hall of Fame induction is part of the 59th annual Salute to Champions dinner.
“The opportunity to play on those teams in that era is what I’m fondest of,” Wilkerson said. “We were the ‘San Diego Super Chargers.’ That song was fast and electric, and so were we. We started something special. We had the most prolific offense in football and a quarterback who threw for 4,000 yards. Another thing I liked is we had an identification as a “Town Team.” I think you saw that again this year with the team and our fans.”
The Breitbard Hall of Fame in Balboa Park has become to the Air Coryell Chargers on a local level what the NFL Hall of Fame is to the nine Pittsburgh Steelers enshrined in Canton, Ohio, for that franchise’s four Super Bowl championship teams. In the Breitbard Hall, Wilkerson is the ninth inductee, joining wide receiver Charlie Joiner (1986), head coach Don Coryell (1987), quarterback Dan Fouts (1989), offensive lineman Ed White (1991), cornerback Willie Buchanon (1994), tight end Kellen Winslow (1995), kicker Rolf Benirschke (1999) and offensive tackle Russ Washington (2002).
Wilkerson played 14 years for the Chargers (1971-84), arriving from the Houston Oilers in a 1971 trade. The transaction may have gone largely unnoticed at the time, since the Oilers weren’t even sure how to use the kid out of North Carolina Central. He had played on both offensive and defensive lines in college, and the Oilers couldn’t decide what to do with him. Wilkerson was sometimes forced to learn both the offensive and defensive game plans during the week of a game.
But the trade sending him to San Diego created a home on the offensive line as a guard with the Chargers. He was one of the building blocks in place when Coryell arrived to take over the Chargers five games into the 1978 season, which became the franchise’s first winning season in eight years. Wilkerson helped the Chargers to three straight AFC West titles (1979-81) and a fourth playoff trip as a wild-card entry in 1982. He was an anchor of a stable offense with Wilkerson and Ed White at guard, Donnie Macek at center and Russ Washington and Billy Shields at tackle.
“Doug was the ultimate offensive guard,” said Buchanon, who played against Wilkerson in his time with the Green Bay Packers and later with Wilkerson on the Chargers from 1979-82. “He had size, speed and quickness. With him and Ed White as pulling guards, they made it easy for running backs to get behind those mules and gain all those yards. Doug was one of the smarter and more sophisticated guards in the league.”
NFL recognition started coming Wilkerson’s way once the Chargers made the playoffs, and he was named to three straight Pro Bowls following the 1980, 1981 and 1982 seasons. But insiders around the league already knew of Wilkerson’s talent in those years he labored in anonymity on losing teams.
Wilkerson was named the Chargers’ Lineman of the Year four straight years, from 1974 to 1977, when the team’s combined record was 20-36. He would receive the award again in both good days and bad as the Chargers’ Lineman of the Year in 1981 and 1982, playoff seasons, and Co-Lineman of the Year with White in 1984, a 7-9 season.
The Breitbard induction is Wilkerson’s fourth Hall of Fame. In addition to the Chargers Hall of Fame in 2000, he was named to Halls at North Carolina Central and in his hometown, Fayetteville, N.C. But San Diego has become his adopted hometown, where he has remained and is now working in marketing and consulting.
“This is a great honor to join them in the Breitbard Hall of Fame,” Wilkerson said. “The Breitbard Hall of Fame has all the higher-echelon athletes from San Diego – the ones who played on teams here and ones who grew up here.”
Many people in football believe there might be more Chargers in the NFL Hall of Fame other than Fouts, Joiner and Winslow if the Air Coryell Chargers had made it to a Super Bowl or won football’s Lombardi Trophy. The Chargers played in two AFC Championship games, but they lost at home to the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 season and to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1981 season in what became known as the “Ice Bowl” that was played in minus-59-degree wind-chill conditions.
“You can have a great individual career, but we all know team success is more important than anything else,” Wilkerson said. “It’s very gratifying to have individual success, but what you’re remembered for most of all is team success. I had a great career and great teammates, but when I look back on my career there is still one piece missing. I wish I would have had one more opportunity.”
He won’t get that opportunity, but Tuesday night he makes one more Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside some treasured Air Coryell teammates. Cue up the music to “San Diego Super Chargers.”