Interview with Speedy Duncan

Leslie "Speedy" Duncan

Leslie “Speedy” Duncan

I had an opportunity this week to sit down with a legend of the San Diego Chargers and the American Football League.  In addition to having one of the truly great football names in the AFL, Leslie “Speedy” Duncan was a defensive back and potent special teams weapon for Sid Gillman’s San Diego Chargers.  Like a 1960s Devin Hester, Duncan made his name in professional football as a lethal punt and kick returner.

Speedy Duncan made his professional football debut in 1964, but a broken jaw limited his opportunities to play.  He became a regular in the Chargers secondary the following year, and immediately won the admiration of San Diego fans with two punt return touchdowns in his first full season.  A four-time AFL All-Star/NFL Pro Bowler with the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins, Duncan excelled in the defensive backfield as well.  He recorded 24 interceptions  during his career.  He returned three of them for touchdowns, including a 100-yard pick and return against the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.

Today, Speedy Duncan is still fit and trim at nearly 73 years old.  He lacks his once-spry step, as he is building his body back up after suffering the effects of a staph infection last year.  But Duncan is doing well, and looks back fondly over his time in the American Football League.  We recorded the following 30-minute interview.  Enjoy!

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.

2 Responses to Interview with Speedy Duncan

  1. Kenny G says:

    What a great interview. I remember Speedy Duncan as a player. But I had no idea he was such a class act.

  2. afl says:

    Speedy Duncan broke my heart in 1967 when he intercepted QB Len Dawson’s short pass just past the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a td. What should have been a 6 yard td pass became an AFL record interception return.

    I’d bet money that the picture above that is included with this article is Speedy running that interception back for the touchdown; Duncan earlier in this game had also returned a Mike Garrett fumble 35 yards for a td. A KC td would’ve made it 17-14 Chargers; instead it became 24-7 and eventually 45-17 before 2 late Chief tds made it appear a closer game than it really was.

    The 45-31 final led Chiefs Coach Hank Stram to say the Chargers were “fantastically fast” and “no one has ever beaten us that badly.” Lance Alworth & rookie Dick Post left Chiefs defenders grasping at air too, combining for 2 more long td scores. I hated Speedy Duncan so much that I wished he were a Chief 🙂

    From AFL Champions to 3rd place the West Division, the Chiefs gave that 1967 season away – their own silly mistakes more so than opposition dominance more often than not. ’67 still bugs me… it probably bugs the Chargers too: undefeated 5-0-1 aft 6 games, they went 3-5 rest of the way. 1966, almost the samee story: a 4-0 start, then ended 3-6-1. Their first loss in 1967 came to the Raiders who lost 1 game that regular season, winning 11 straight including the AFL Championship before venerable Green Bay prevailed in Superbowl II.

    1967 was also interesting in the NFL: both the Rams and Colts lost only 1 game each that season, BALT not losing until the final week when the Rams beat them, and in the process eliminated BALT from post season. Imagine a team losing only one game in today’s NFL and not making post season. Course, the Packers then beat the 1 loss Rams in post season and went on to take a second consecutive Superbowl.

    OAK 13-1-0, LA 11-1-2, BALT 11-1-2, GB 9-4-1, SD 8-5-1, KC 9-5-0…what a strange season it was, 1967. Back to where we began, what a sensational player Speedy Duncan was. Along with the Chiefs Noland ‘Supergnat’ Smith that year, the most exciting ‘little men’ in the AFL, my opine (with apologies Dick Post, Mike Garrett and other football lilliputians.)

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