SAN DIEGO – In the early 2000s, the Chargers enjoyed some of the best moments in franchise history, winning four straight division titles and five in a span of six years.
One in the men in the middle of all of that was middle linebacker Stephen Cooper.
Having only crossed the Mississippi River once prior to signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2003, Cooper relished the opportunity to play professional football in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium.
“For me coming from the University of Maine (and) a small town, seeing people wearing 54 jerseys with my name on the back of it, that was one of my goals as a child to see those things,” he said. “To be part of the San Diego Chargers, to be going to the historical Qualcomm Stadium — every time I drive by there, I always remember those times walking down that long, scary tunnel getting ready to go play a football game.”
Cooper, 41, played all nine of his NFL seasons with the Chargers, recording 503 combined tackles including 9.5 sacks. He also tallied eight interceptions and forced eight fumbles on teams coached by the late Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner.
“I know to the day I die, I remember a lot of great memories with my teammates, the fans,” he said. “Watching LT run for all of those touchdowns. Watching Shawne Merriman doing the ‘Lights Out’ dance. I get chills just thinking about it now.”
Reflecting on the era, Cooper said it was most important to him that the team’s defense was a cohesive unit in order to compete for the AFC West title each year.
“That was one of my biggest personal goals is to be a great defensive collectively and just winning as many games as we could for the city of San Diego,” he said.