DE O'Neal headed to Chargers Hall of Fame

SAN DIEGO -- He played during the height of the best pass-rushers in the game, a list that includes Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Lawrence Taylor, so it's fitting that former San Diego Chargers defensive end Leslie O'Neal will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame.

"To play alongside some of those great guys, and my stats compare to some of those, it's just amazing," O'Neal said.

O'Neal, who finished as the Chargers' all-time leader in sacks with 105.5, becomes the 37th person inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. O'Neal is tied with Taylor for 10th on the league's all-time sack list with 132.5.

He joins fellow teammates in the Chargers Hall of Fame that include Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow Sr. and Junior Seau, along with Don Coryell and Bobby Ross, both coaches he played for while with the Chargers.

"I remember my rookie year, the great Dan Fouts called me aside and said, ‘Rookie, don't ever knock down any of my passes in practice,'" O'Neal said, smiling. "And that was one of the first conversations I had. But he's in the Hall of Fame, and I guess he needed to work on his stuff and I was getting in the way."

O'Neal was honored during a ceremony at Chargers Park on Tuesday. He'll be inducted officially into the Chargers Hall of Fame on Oct. 19 at halftime of the Kansas City game. The ceremony included a highlight tape of the Oklahoma State product wreaking havoc on quarterbacks during his time with the Chargers.

"Watching those highlights, I guess I was pretty good, huh?" joked O'Neal afterward, coaxing a few chuckles from the crowd."

An All-American at Oklahoma State, O'Neal was selected No. 8 overall in the 1986 draft by the Chargers. He earned defensive rookie of the year honors after finishing with 12.5 sacks, including a team-record five against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 16. However, O'Neal's rookie season ended early with a serious knee injury the forced him to miss almost two seasons.

O'Neal worked his way back to the field on Oct. 16, 1988, but returned to his dominating self the following season, starting all 16 games and earning his first of six Pro Bowl selections with another 12.5-sack season.

That performance earned O'Neal NFL Comeback Player of the Year by NFL Films in 1989.

"Most of my career -- basically all of it -- was after I tore my knee up," O'Neal said. "A lot of people thought I would never play the game again. So all of this is post injury. And it's just a great honor that I was able to play at a level that everyone around felt like I deserved to be in your Hall of Fame."

O'Neal finished his career in San Diego in 1995 with 105.5 career sacks, 595 tackles and 18 forced fumbles. He was the Chargers' single-season sacks leader every year from 1990-95. He played his final four NFL seasons in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Amongst the highlights of his career, O'Neal points to holding up the AFC championship trophy and reaching the Super Bowl at the culmination of the 1994 season, and notching his 100th sack against NFL legend Joe Montana.

O'Neal, 50, spends his time between San Diego and his native Arkansas. He has three kids and just had his first grandson, who he hopes will someday follow in his footsteps and play football. O'Neal said he spends his spare time on the golf course.