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THE AFL'S FIRST SUPER TEAM

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Thumper, May 27, 2007.

  1. Thumper

    Thumper WHS

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    THE AFL'S FIRST SUPER TEAM

    Pro football insiders debate whether the AFL champion Chargers could have beaten the Bears in a 1963 Super Bowl

    By Ed Gruver

    It's an impossible question, but one that continues to intrigue members of the 1963 AFL champion San Diego Chargers.

    If the Super Bowl had started with the 1963 season instead of 1966, could the Chargers have beaten the NFL champion Chicago Bears?

    "I've argued that for years and years," says Sid Gillman, who coached the 1963 Chargers. "We had one of the great teams in pro football history, and I think we would have matched up pretty well with the NFL. We had great speed and talent, and I think at that time, the NFL really underestimated the talent we had."

    Paul Lowe, a game-breaking halfback who led the Chargers with 1,101 yards rushing in 1963, is even more confident than Gillman that the Chargers could have beaten the Bears in a 1963 Super Bowl. "Of course we would've won," says Lowe. "With our defense, our offense, our bench strength, we had no weaknesses. We knew we had a better team (than the Bears)."

    "I wish we could've played the Bears in 1963," says Keith Lincoln, the Chargers' starting fullback in 1963 who led the league with a 6.5 yards-per-carry average. "We had a great team that year."

    Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, the 6-9, 321-pound anchor of San Diego's defense, pro football's original "Fearsome Foursome," believes the Chargers could have matched up well with the Bears. "I thought we could play with anybody in 1963," Ladd says. "We had the horses."

    Jack Faulkner, Administrator of Football Operations for the Rams and a member of Sid Gillman's staff in 1960-61, echoes Ladd's sentiments. "The thing with San Diego is that they had good players," Faulkner notes. "In '63, I think the Chargers could've competed with the NFL. How they would've done, who knows?"

    Who indeed, but Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films, has viewed extensive film footage of every great pro football team, and it is his considered opinion that the a 1963 Super Bowl would have been an intriguing matchup to say the least. "I think Gillman's Chargers would've done very well against the NFL champion Bears," Sabol says. "I think that (Charger) team could've won. It would've been a very interesting matchup between a space-age offense and a stone-age defense."

    Pro football record books show that when the Super Bowl began in January 1967, the AFL had to withstand two years of humiliating defeats to the NFL on the field and public ridicule off it. It wasn't until January 12, 1969, when Joe Namath quarterbacked the upstart New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 victory over the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, that the AFL earned its first championship game win over the NFL. Even so, it wasn't until Len Dawson led the Kansas City Chiefs to a similar win one year later over the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth and final Super Bowl between the AFL and NFL that the AFL finally got its share of respect from both the NFL and football fans.

    Those who know the AFL however, believe that the 163 Chargers, rather than the '68 Jets, might have gone down in history as the first AFL team to win a Super Bowl.

    Larry Grantham, a member of the '68 Jets, played against the '63 Chargers and recalls the near-perfect blend of strategy and skill San Diego exhibited. "Sid Gillman was one of the great innovators in pro football history," Grantham says. "With players like Alworth, Lowe, Mix, he could've shown (the NFL) some things."

    The late Jerry Mays was a starting defensive end on Kansas City's two AFL Super Bowl teams, and played opposite the Chargers in '63. Mays agreed with Grantham that the Chargers would have beaten the Bears. "I believe with all my heart," Mays stated, "that San Diego would have beaten the Bears in 1963. They would have beaten them in an eye-blink. San Diego was the best team in football that year. They won the AFL title over Boston and they looked awesome. It was frightening how good they were."

    Lou Saban, who coached the Buffalo Bills to consecutive AFL title game victories over the Chargers in 1964-65, thinks the AFL was ready to compete with the NFL by the mid-1960s. "I believe that," Saban says. "We had four years to grow in the AFL, and we were getting some top-notch draft choices."

    Hank Stram, who split two Super Bowl decisions with the NFL as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, agrees with Saban. "Sid's team in 1963 could have competed with anyone," Stram says. "San Diego was like the 49ers (of the 1980s). Everybody talked about their offense, but they had a great defense too."

    Larry Felser, a sportswriter for the Buffalo Evening News, covered the AFL beginning with its charter year, 1960. It is Felser's opinion that had the Super Bowl begun with the 1963 season, the AFL might have increased its number of Super Bowl victories by at least two. Felser called the Chargers a "rousing offensive team that included at least two future pro football Hall of Famers, wide receiver Lance Alworth and tackle Ron Mix, plus a pair of superb running backs in Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe, and a skilled quarterback in Tobin Rote.

    "The Bears were strictly a defensive team. It was a good defense, but it didn't have Dick Butkus yet. The offense was far from top-quality, and the quarterback was journeyman Bill Wade. Gale Sayers hand't arrived yet, either."

    The Other Side

    Members of the NFL old guard however, disregard the notion that the junior league had, in just four years, risen to a parwith the established NFL.

    Tex Maule, formerly a pro football writer for Sports Illustrated, scoffed at the idea that the Chargers could've competed with the Bears. "San Diego and Buffalo (the AFL's 1964-65 champions)," Maule wrote, "were still in the league in the years subsequent to 1964, but they were beaten by Kansas City and Oakland, who, in turn, were demolished by the Green Bay Packers."

    It was Maule's opinion that the Chargers looked good only because the rest of the AFL was so weak, as Green Bay proved in winning the first two Super Bowls.

    Weeb Ewbank is the only coach to win league titles in both the old NFL and AFL. Ewbank won consecutive world championships in 1958-59 as head coach of the Baltimore Colts, and won an AFL and Super Bowl title with the 1968 Jets. Ewbank was fired by theColts after the '62 season, and joined the Jets the next year, losing twice to the Chargers in '63.

    Says Ewbank, "I don't think those AFL teams (San Diego and Buffalo) could've beaten the NFL at that time. But I thought the AFL was ready to compete against the NFL by the time of the first Super Bowl."

    Dave Whitsell, who started at right cornerback for the Bears in 1963, said that the Chicago defense was a physical matchup for any team. "When you came to play the Bears," Whitsell said, "and you had to go up against guys like Doug Atkins, Stan Jones, Ed O'Bradovich, Bill George, Richie Pettibon, and Larry Morris, and you had some of those gorillas looking at you, come hell or highwater, the Bears were going to put a physical beating on you. You were going to be in the damndest football game of your life."

    "That championship year of 1963, two years before I got there, they came up with some characters who were tough son-of-guns," said Dick Butkus. "They played the game the way it's supposed to be played."

    Said O'Bradovich, who started at left defensive end for the '63 Bears, "(We) went out on the football field and knocked the hell out of people."

    Matchups

    How the Chargers and Bears would have matched up is an impossible question to be sure. One thing however, is certain. A Super Bowl game played in January, 1964 between the Chargers and Bears would have offered some interesting matchups of great players, and these "games within a game" some interesting questions.

    When San Diego had the ball, how would all-pro tackle Ron Mix have done against Bears' defensive end Ed O'Bradovich? Nicknamed "The Intellectual Assassin," Mix was an intelligent player who played in seven AFL All-Star games and was called for holding just once in 10 years. O'Bradovich, called "OB" by teammates, was a fierce pass rusher who symbolized the Bears' brutal defensive style.

    Could Charger receivers Alworth, Don Norton and Dave Kocourek, who combined for 17 TDs in '63, find the holes in a Bears' double-zone defense which led the NFL in interceptions?

    How would Tobin Rote, the top-ranked quarterback in the AFL, have fared trying to throw deep against Chicago safeties Richie Pettibon and Roosevelt Taylor, both of whom made all-pro in '63?

    And could San Diego backs Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe, the celebrated "L and L Boys" of the AFL's best rushing attack, find running room against a Bears' front seven that listed all-pros in end Doug Atkins and linebackers Bill George and Joe Fortunato?

    When the Bears had the ball, could their conservative rushinggame have mounted a consistent attack against the Chargers' great defensive front?

    And how would Bears' QB Bill Wade, all-pro tight end Mike Ditka and speedy wideout Johnny Morris fare against San Diego's ball-hawking secondary, headed by Dick Harris and Charlie McNeil, who combined for 12 interceptions in 1963?

    Finally, there was the matchup of coaches themselves, San Diego's Sid Gillman, "El Sid," against the "Papa Bear", George Halas.

    There's more - CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE
     
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  2. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    Good freaking read !!! :tup:

    I got to see the 1965 version of the Chargers but I agree with the assessment. The Chargers could have beaten the Bears.

    The passing trees of Sid Gilman and the timing routes were history making. Don Coryell just tweaked it along with every swinging dick since.

    The AFL was also the bastard step child in an era of racism overboiling in the 60's so it was not easy to get respect from anyone let alone the NFL.

    The Chargers were mavericks. They cut a in-roads with a new philosophy that the quickest way to the endzone is to throw the ball on just about every freaking down. The "alley-opp" was just a hail mary or a long TD pass on a post pattern.

    The Chargers took football to a new level and for that the rest of the league can kiss our sack. :bolt: :bolt2: :helm1: :icon_toast:
     
  3. SDRaiderH8er

    SDRaiderH8er Well-Known Member

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    It doesnt mention that the Chargers did ask the Bears to play them, and the Bears declined.

    The Super Bowl was born after that.
     
  4. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    Those were strange days for fans of the AFL. We were essentially a semi-pro league to the NFL. I always resented the fact those assssholes looked down upon our brand of football. Alworth becoming the FIRST AFL player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was biiitchin'
     
  5. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

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    The Bears didn't have much of an offense...Billy Wade was a Rams cast off, and throwing to the TE wasn't the art form it is today.

    But they did have kick-***, take names D. I think it woulda come down to how the Charger O Line, anchored by Ron Mix, protected Tobin Rote, a former Lions QB. If he had the time, I think Alworth woulda had a field day.

    The Chargers running game back then featured Lowe at half back and Lincoln at FB, but they were both running backs, and Lincoln caught abuncha passes outta the backfield.

    I think the Chargers D Line was every bit as good as the Bears, with the Chargers' version of the Fearsome Foursome in Gramps' siggy.

    We'll never know, but I think it woulda been a helluva match up :yes: :tup:
     
  6. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

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    As far as being the red headed step-child of pro football, y'all gotta remember that the AFL was the brainchild of abuncha rich guys who couldn't get an NFL team away from the Halas's, Mara's, Rooney's and Ford's, so they decided to start their own league. The players were NFL rejects; no other way to say it. If they woulda been good enuff, they'da been onna NFL roster.

    Probably the biggest "name" player they got was George Blanda, a Bears QB who couldn't beat out Ed Brown, who gave way to Billy Wade. The Titans, who morphed into the Jets, had a QB named Al Darrow :icon_shrug: :icon_huh:, Boston's Patriots QB was Babe Parilli, and I can't even remember what NFL team didn't want Jack Kemp. Oakland's first QB was Cotton Davidson, I think, and the Chief's (nee Dallas Texans) QB was Len Dawson.

    Nobody knew/wanted these guys, never mind their backups.

    Where the AFL got well is thru the draft...they threw fantastic (for the times) amounts of $$$ at college all stars-the first big coup was Billy Cannon, half back outta LSU, who signed with the Houston Oilers, before the NFL even woke up that day. The AFL would shang-hai players, hide them away in hotel rooms and sign'em before the NFL moguls had their first cuppa coffee.

    I think the Chargers first big signing was Steve Tensi, QB, Florida; he never panned out too well, but the next one was Bambi, outta Arkansas, I think.

    This tactic didn't sit too well with the older NFL, and the name-calling go tworser. :yes:
     
  7. reddenedbeard

    reddenedbeard Well-Known Member

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    Obviously .. talk is talk but every interview I've heard from players was that they could have beaten any team during that time. The feeling during the interview was that there was no way they could keep up with that offense. And the defense was lights out as well .. Very unfortunate there was mo SB back then.
     
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  8. Thumper

    Thumper WHS

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    I agree Tony. It is a great read. Especially for those that weren't around back then to see how good we were.

    The Chargers played an important role in the development of professional football, yet we often hear that we haven't won any championships by ignorant fans of other teams. Well we have, and if the NFL had merged a bit earlier, that championship would have been a super bowl championship.

    It's also an especially timely read. Since that championship, San Diego has been in a drought and not won another championship in any major professional sport. I'm not forgeting about the Gulls or the Soccers, but those aren't majors. This year I believe the drought is going to end. Chargers are gonna win it all. It's a nice read to remember the last time the Chargers were league champions.
     
  9. Alpenbolt

    Alpenbolt BoltTalker

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    Now that is some journalism I can get on board with. Nice long read with great analysis.

    I would have loved to see Bambi do his magic on those slow Chicago defenders. I didn't realize Big Cat was that big. 6'9" damn.

    44 years later we will get our championship. Rolling Rock has their 33. We need 44 to be our lucky number.
     
  10. HEXEDBOLT

    HEXEDBOLT Don't like it, lump it!!!

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    I don't remember the early Charger teams that well, but I do remember the first Super Bowl. We went over to some friends of the parent's to watch it, they had a color TV.:bolt2:
     
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  11. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    My brother and I could get into those games for a buck. Just walk up to a guy and asked if he would be our dad for five minutes. Worked like a charm.\\:abq2:
     
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  12. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    The great Vince Lombardi once declared that the AFL (and thus AFC) would never be as good as the NFL (NFC).

    If he were alive today, I'd be interested in seeing him backtrack from that comment, based on the last ten Super Bowls, since the AFC has won eight of them.
     
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  13. Shamrock

    Shamrock Well-Known Member

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    Lombardi was alive to see the AFL win a few SB's, starting with the Jets in SB III.
     
  14. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

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    The Chargers had a Kid's Club where post cards were mailed to kids...if one had onea those cards (every kid in my neighbor hood did!!), you could get in for free with an adult general admission ticket, so we jes walk in with any adult...good ****!! :yes: :tup:
     
  15. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    Junior Chargers Rule!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    :abq1: :abq1: :abq1: :abq1: :abq1: :abq1:
     
  16. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

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    Yup!! :tup:
     
  17. HEXEDBOLT

    HEXEDBOLT Don't like it, lump it!!!

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    I met Speedy Duncan at an assembly in the second grade, damn good PR work if you ask me. Get the kids wanting to go and Mom and Dad wont have no peace until the trip has been made.:bolt2:
     
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  18. AnteaterCharger

    AnteaterCharger Calibrating Bolttalk, Podcast by Podcast Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    who was teh QB for the Chargers back then?
     
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  19. LV Bolt Fan

    LV Bolt Fan Well-Known Member

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    Tobin Rote ?
     
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  20. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    Yes. Tobin Rote took over after the departure of Jack Kemp for Buffalo. The dropping of Kemp was not a terribly popular decision, especially after he emerged as a bonafide starter for the Bills. Then came John Hadl. Then a cast of thousands until Fouts.
     
  21. SDRaiderH8er

    SDRaiderH8er Well-Known Member

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    Johnny Unitas was in that cast of thousands. And it was Johnny Unitas under center while Dan Fouts roamed the sidelines, holding that clipboard.
     
  22. AnteaterCharger

    AnteaterCharger Calibrating Bolttalk, Podcast by Podcast Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    Unitas was a legend you had to let him play
    Its almost like if Brett Favre wanted to play a few games with teh Chargers and then retire, you'd be hard pressed not to let him QB
    not to mention fouts wasn't proven then
     
  23. SDRaiderH8er

    SDRaiderH8er Well-Known Member

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    And Fouts was a rookie.

    So for that 1 year, they brought Johnny Unitas in.

    I think Dan learned a few things from him.
     
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  24. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    Unitas had to have been brought in for the gate. There were other, more servicable quarterbacks around. I remember the buzz about watching the legend play. Once he showed up at camp, the nearly total deterioration of his knees was obvious. Gotta give him props for going out there, even if it was for the money, knowing he was going get creamed. Fouts acknowledged learning from Unitas.
     
  25. Shamrock

    Shamrock Well-Known Member

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    That's exactly why.

    The Chargers had Gilman's clumsy departure .... "lifetime contract" ... then the Harland Svare mess and in the year Unitas was here, SD had the drug scandal. It was a REAL ugly time for Chargers fans.

    But, I was a 10 year old kid who was just awestruck to shake Johnny U's hand at Chargers Day at Camp. Something I'll never forget.
     
  26. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    Dan learned how to suck by watching Johnny Unitas. Johhny U was a favorite of mine growing up. So was Joe Namath and all his hoes.

    Dan Fouts was horrible in his first few years. I did not think that dude had the tools to be worthy until Coryell stepped into the scene. Fouts had to earn my respect because for the first three or four years in the league, he sucked. Bad.

    Dan was the first QB to post back to back 4,000 yard seasons. I am not sure if it has been done since ?

    Anyway he did enough to get his number (14) along with Alworth's number (17) as the only two Chargers numbers to be retired.
     
  27. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    Fouts had nothing around hilm. Fouts was probably the best pure passer in NFL history, but he was anything but mobile outside the pocket. Corryell not only brought in a system that exploited his talents, but the team brought in the talent to exploit the system. It's a team game. Fouts merely had the same teething problems that nearly every quarterback has their first season or three. Elway sucked early as well. Brees sucked early. Leaf tanked after what looked like a good start. Such is life in the world of adult football.
     
  28. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    In the early days true Dan had no help. Coaching was a disaster and so were the players but Dan made horrible throws and made some poor poor choices with the ball. It took me witnessing several beatings and watching Dan get back up after getting creamed which started to win me over. His long ball fluttered like a duck but Dan pushed it down the field.

    It was the remarkable catching talents of Joiner, Jefferson, Winslow, Holohan, Sievers, Chandler which made Dan look soooo good.

    D-Coordinators ******** themselves because of Coryell helped Dan look larger than life in a sense. Not to take anything away because Dan earned it. I remember the game he got his nose broken and came back barking like a rabid animal. I think it was against the Browns or Raiders......
     
  29. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    I do not remember Elway or any of the other "greats" sucking for 4 years or so. Fouts came on board in '73 if I remember correctly. It may have been '74 but he did not blossom until '78.

    I remember Elway lining up under the guard instead of the center and the guard swatting Elways hand (because Elway was caressing the guard's ***) :lol: That was Elways first year.
     
  30. Shamrock

    Shamrock Well-Known Member

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    I'm with Trumpy on this one. Fouts did suck for his first 3-4 years. Also, Fouts was an absolute jerk-off as a person and towards fans.
     

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