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Ten greatest athletes in San Diego sports history

Yahoo Contributor Network
Junior Seau among San Diego's greatest

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The memory of former Chargers great Junior Seau lives on. (USA TOAY Sports)

Editor's note: YCN contributor Michael C. Jones has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for San Diego. Tony Gwynn easily won the No 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.

[Vote for No. 1: Baltimore | New York | Philadelphia | Pittsburgh | Complete series]

San Diego may be a relative youngster in the landscape of American professional sports without a national championship in any major sport, but that hasn't kept America's Finest City from producing some of the greatest athletes.

It's fun to figure out who the best of all time are, and it almost always sparks a spirited debate. When it comes to San Diego, the athletes eligible for the "best athlete" title weren't just great on the field, but they embedded themselves in the community.

Who do you think is the best on and off the playing surface and most deserving to be anointed No. 1? The proverbial ball is in your court, and here are the nominees in alphabetical order:

Lance Alworth (Chargers, 1962-70)
"Bambi" was the first AFL player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for good reason. He helped define the identity that was the Chargers of the 1960s. With a passing attack that was before its time under head coach Sid Gillman, the Bolts played in five of the AFL's 10 championship games.

Alworth averaged a monstrous 23.2 yards per catch in 1965, the most in Chargers' history and finished his career as the Bolts' all-time leading receiver with 9,584 yards.

Dan Fouts (Chargers, 1973-87)
Another great innovator at his position, Fouts could sling it with the best signal-callers of all time. He led the league in passing yards for four consecutive years (1979-82), but never led the Bolts to a Super Bowl appearance, despite having talent on both sides of the ball.

Fouts was the conductor of the "Air Coryell" deep-passing attack led by head coach Don Coryell, and also saw his game blossom under legendary coach Bill Walsh, who was then the offensive coordinator for the Chargers.

Antonio Gates (Chargers, 2003-12)
Gates is the only active player on this list, but his resume is plenty long enough to warrant already being regarded one of the greatest pro athletes ever to play in San Diego. He's made eight Pro Bowls, and much like Kellen Winslow before him, he revolutionized the tight end position, pioneering a new breed of dynamic athlete that could line up all over the field and use basketball-like moves to out-jump opposing defenders. He's still an effective player and the Bolts' most reliable target.

Tony Gwynn (Padres, 1982-2001)

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Tony Gwynn waives during a pregame ceremony to honor the members of the Padres' 1998 National League Championship …

Gwynn is a Southern California native and the indisputable greatest player in Padres history. When he became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2007, he received 97.6 percent of the votes, the seventh highest of all time.

He spent 20 consecutive seasons in San Diego, and won eight batting titles, seven Silver Slugger awards and was the seven-time season leader in hits. Among all the accolades, all of it came with the graciousness of a player entrenched in the community.

Trevor Hoffman (Padres, 1993-2008)
When Gwynn retired, Hoffman took the reigns as the heir apparent face of the Padres. Just like Gwynn's chances of collecting multiple hits, Hoffman was a near-lock to record the save when he entered the game. He won MLB's top relief pitcher award on two separate occasions (1998, 2006) and was a six-time All-Star.

His greatest accomplishment, however, may be the single-season record for saves with 53. Even though he's not Hall of Fame eligible until 2016, the Padres did the right thing and retired his number almost immediately after he hung up his cleats.

Charlie Joiner (Chargers, 1976-86)
For Fouts to be as successful as he was under Coryell's high-octane offense, Fouts needed lots of capable targets, and Joiner was much more than that. He finished his storied career with three Pro Bowl appearances, 750 career receptions and was a first-team All-Pro in 1980.

His numbers don't do his impact with the Bolts justice at times, because he drew double coverage and freed things up for his teammates. When his number was called, however, he rose to the occasion and made the Chargers dangerous.

Junior Seau (Chargers, 1990-2002)
In 13 years in San Diego, Seau reached beyond the football field and touched the hearts of an entire community -- one he called home as a San Diego County native. After a strong collegiate career at nearby USC, he had more than 100 tackles in seven of those seasons.

In 1994, he won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and when the Bolts played in their lone Super Bowl, he was the face of the team. After his playing days and before his untimely death, he was an important part of the greater San Diego community.

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LaDainian Tomlinson is in discussion as one of the best RBs of the past decade. (USA TODAY Sports).

 LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers, 2001-09)
"LT" wasn't just a staple in the Chargers' powerful offense in the mid '00s, but was one of the faces of the league during that same period. In nine years with the Chargers, he made five Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro.

Beyond that, he did everything the right way on the field. He was humble, soft-spoken and made a name for himself by quietly going to work without all of the extracurricular behavior that some of his counterparts became famous for. In a league that was becoming increasingly flamboyant, Tomlinson was the poster child for humility.

Dave Winfield (Padres, 1973-80)
Winfield could have been an NBA or NFL player -- he is one of three athletes to be drafted in three professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA), but he chose the diamond to make his mark in athletics, where he joined the Padres immediately after being their No. 4 selection in 1973.

He was the team MVP in 1979 and 1980 and went into the Hall of Fame ain 2001. He still holds several team records.

Kellen Winslow (Chargers, 1979-87)
Before Gates could become the player he is today, Winslow paved the way by revolutionizing the tight end position as a key member of the Air Coryell passing attack. He and Joiner were the two key cogs that made it work and put the Chargers of the '80s on the national radar.

He finished his career as a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro before injuries forced him into retirement. Tight ends today with big contracts have him to thank for creating the monster that is the versatile tight end.

Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and the 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the editor of Sports Out West and contributes regularly to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports.

Did the author miss something? Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.

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Yahoo! Sports video of Trevor Hoffman's take on San Diego's No. 1 athlete:

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