<strong>July 14, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/07/14/news/columnists/steve_scholfield/21_40_297_13_05.txt">North County Times</a>
It is long overdue, but the Chargers are going to retire Lance Alworth's jersey this season.
No one defined the free-wheeling American Football League more than Alworth, the first AFL superstar inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Chargers will announce today that they will retire Alworth's No. 19 at halftime of their Nov. 20 game against Buffalo.
"I'm just very happy the team is giving me this opportunity," said Alworth, a Del Mar resident. "To me, it lets me know they enjoyed watching me play."
Oh, could he play!
He was the Jerry Rice of his time, only better. Rice is a great athlete and no one should take away from any of his accomplishments. But the more stringent rules against defensive backs these days ---- no contact after five yards ---- made it a lot easier for Rice to get open.
Alworth played from 1962 to 1972, when defensive backs could hit a receiver all the way down the field and do anything short of a felony to separate them from the football.
Through it all, he managed 542 career receptions for 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns. You wonder how well Alworth would do if he were playing today.
"I would not know what to do," said Alworth, laughing. "It seems to me the receiver already has enough of an advantage. I'm going forward, and the defensive back is going backward. I know where I'm going, and he doesn't."
His quarterback, John Hadl, offered his own assessment of Alworth's talent.
"If he were playing under the rules today, he would have double the numbers," Hadl said by phone from his home in Lawrence, Kan. "In my opinion, he was the best ever. He had a great desire to catch the football and was a tough guy. Not many people know it, but he was one of the best blocking wide receivers in the game as well."
The fans certainly haven't forgotten him. Alworth estimates he receives eight to 10 letters a day requesting autographs.
You have seen Alworth's powder-blue jersey worn by fans many times around Qualcomm Stadium. It says something about Alworth's 11-year legacy as the most entertaining receiver of his time.
So why did it take so long for the Chargers to retire his number?
Simply put, retiring numbers is something the franchise has rarely done. The Chargers might have cooled to the idea after Ron Mix had his No. 74 retired by the team. When Mix came out of retirement and signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1971, ownership un-retired his number.
Currently, the only other number retired by the Chargers is Dan Fouts' No. 14.
Ironically, Chargers fans can thank Raiders owner Al Davis for luring Alworth to San Diego.
"I was the No. 1 draft pick of San Francisco, and they had John Brodie," Alworth recalled. "But they wanted me as a defensive back."
A running back at Arkansas, Alworth didn't want to play defensive back and was ready to sit out the year and go to law school. That was before Davis, then an assistant coach on the staff of Chargers coach Sid Gillman, came into his life.
"Al Davis just sold me on Al Davis and the Chargers," Alworth said. "I have the utmost respect for him."
San Diego has been Alworth's home since he retired after nine years with the Chargers and two with the Dallas Cowboys. It's also where he became a highly successful businessman by building and maintaining storage units from Hawaii to Florida.
On Aug. 3, Alworth will turn 65 ---- which ought to make some of us feel just a little older. But he has never been happier. He and his wife, Laura, have been together for 28 years. They have three children and four grandchildren.
"Yes, I spoil them all the time," he said of his grandkids.
All will be on hand for his special day with the Chargers.
Does Alworth have a special moment or game that he remembers? Not really.
"I don't remember the good times or the bad times. I remember the whole thing," he said. "You can have a five-touchdown day on Sunday, but you have to forget about it on Monday because there is another game to get ready for. I had to mentally put it out of my mind."
Alworth has a strong belief system. To him, his skills as an athlete are a gift from God, as is his family.
"I keep enjoying what He gives me," Alworth said.
We now have two No. 19 jerseys retired in this city ---- for Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, and Alworth.
The honor may be coming late for Alworth, but it works for me. It gives us a chance to thank him again for his remarkable career.