>48 Years Ago Today – 1963 AFL Championship Game

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This large, framed team photo given to team members and office staff
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, Going Long, 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.”

Lance Alworth

Keith Lincoln

Tobin Rote

Sid Gillman’s Team-Signed 1963 AFL Championship Game Ball

Sid Gillman

Post-Game Locker Room Celebration

Sid Gillman’s 1963 AFL Championship Tie Clip

Sid Gillman’s 1963 AFL Championship Bracelet
Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.


5 Responses to >48 Years Ago Today – 1963 AFL Championship Game

  1. Tom says:

    One would think that any of the three 1956 Southern California football prepsters Jack Kemp Fairfax, Keith Lincoln Monrovia or Billy Kilmer Citrus would have been the most popular athletes of their class, but they weren’t even close. As LA Times sports writer Ross Newhan writes in his 2006, 50 year anniversay article: “In 1956, You Had To Be There, And So Many Prep Fans Were”. It was Mickey Flynn of Anaheim and Randy Meadows of Downey– Southland legends in a time and place that will never be duplicated amid Southern Californias booming population growth, Cold War unease and dramatic and sweeping changes in both physical landscape and ethnic and cultural composition. Newhan goes on to write “In 1956 there was an almost mythical, iconic dimension to Flynn and Meadows”, and I will add that surpassed famed USC running back Jon Arnett. “It was the last bit of grid iron glory for the pair as neither went on to showcase their breakaway talents in college”.

    An idea of just how popular California High School football was in 1956 The North South Shrine California High School All Star Game held that summer in the LA Memorial Coliseum drew nearly 86,000 fans. I wonder if Kemp, Kilmer or Lincoln attended as neither of the three were selected to play.

  2. […] – I feel the San Diego Chargers presented the most challenge for us.  We had a tough time beating them.  I probably had my best […]

  3. […] training camp was brutal. The Chargers endured sweltering heat on grassless practice fields. They also had to fight off the occasional rattlesnake or tarantula. Dust storms would also fill […]

  4. Tim Miller says:

    i was at that 1963 Championship game. I only missed 1 home game home that year. What a memorable experience that season was. The Chargers were electric that day. They would have beat the Bears had they showed up instead of the Pats. Balboa Stadium was a really special place as well. Its a shame only 27k showed up. I have a hard time believing its been nearly 50 years. Keith Lincoln was ridiculous that day. Sid knew offense, no doubt about it.

  5. […] training camp was brutal. The Chargers endured sweltering heat on grassless practice fields. They also had to fight off the occasional rattlesnake or tarantula. Dust storms would also fill […]

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