large, framed team photo given to team members and office
On January 5, 1964, the San Diego Chargers defeated the Boston
Patriots by a score of 51-10 in the 1963 American Football
League championship game. Chargers running back Keith Lincoln
cemented his name in the annals of football history by amassing
349 yards of total offense, and scoring on a 67-yard run and a
25-yard pass reception. In these days pre-merger, Chargers head
coach, Sid Gillman, offered to play the NFL champion Chicago
Bears in a game to determine the true champions of professional
football. When Bears' owner, George Halas, refused Gillman's
offer, the Chargers coach had "World Champions" engraved on his
team's championship rings.
The 1963 Chargers were the first AFL team to be
featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Much has been said and written about that 1963 Chargers team in
the years that have passed. Sid Gillman protege, Ron Jaworski,
did a masterful job of breaking down the Chargers success and
Gillman's game plan for that legendary victory in his book,
The Games that Changed the Game (Random House, 2010). A
mythical championship game between the offensively-gifted
Chargers and defensively-dominant Bears has been hotly debated
by historians. Lance Alworth, Sid Gillman, Ron Mix, and
then-defensive backfield coach Chuck Noll, have since been
inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame. ESPN's Chris Berman
has even jumped into the fray by declaring the AFL Chargers to
have the best uniforms in all of pro football history.
Perhaps the fact that this remains San Diego's only major sports
championship contributes to the recollections of the 1963 team.
But I think that the team itself is the cause for its own
popularity. Coming off an injury-riddled 4-10 season in 1962,
Sid Gillman sequestered his team in the hills of Boulevard,
California. Gillman's idea was to get his team away from the
temptations of city life, and force them to focus on football
and bond together as a team. And so the Chargers spent their
1963 training camp at a dilapidated facility called the Rough
Acres Ranch. What the "Ranch" lacked in air-conditioning and
comfort, it made up for with rattlesnakes and grassless practice
fields. But when the Chargers finally came down off the hill,
they were primed and ready to play.
They ripped through the regular season with an 11-3 record, and
secured the AFL Western Division title with a 58-20 victory over
the Denver Broncos in a December 22nd game at Balboa Stadium.
Two weeks later, behind a game plan that Gillman himself named
"Feast or Famine," the Chargers decimated the Patriots.
Gillman's plan, which was heavy on motion, deception, and the
use of his tight end, consistently trapped the blitzing Patriots
linebacker out of position, and resulted in many plays that went
for long yardage and six points. Tom Addison, the Patriots
all-star linebacker, was quoted in Jeff Miller's AFL classic,
, as saying, "I've never been on my knees so
much in my life. I got knocked down on every Goddamn play."
That kind of domination is rare, especially in a championship
game, and in fact it led many people to begin questioning
the supposed dominance of the NFL. Noted football personalities
came out on both sides of the issue, some supporting the
Chargers while others backed the Bears. Sadly, that game never
came to be, and now, 48 years later, we have nothing but game
films and statistics to back up our own beliefs of what might
have been in the lightning bolt-clad Chargers had played the
Monsters of the Midway... Oh, and those Chargers rings that
already say, "World Champions."
Gillman's Team-Signed 1963 AFL Championship Game Ball
Post-Game Locker Room Celebration
Gillman's 1963 AFL Championship Tie Clip
Gillman's 1963 AFL Championship Bracelet
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