The Los Angeles Chargers are founded by hotel magnate Barron Hilton as one of the original six teams of the American Football League, August 14. The Chargers are scheduled to play their games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which also is the home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Frank Leahy, former coach at the Boston College and Notre Dame, becomes general manager, October 14. Gerald Courtney of Hollywood wins a trip to Mexico after submitting the name Chargers in a name-the-team contest. Hilton likes the name because it has three different implications—an electrical charge (later indicated by lightning bolts on the Chargers’ helmets and pants), a horse charging (which was the symbol on the club’s stationery), and the new Hilton Carte Blanche charge card. At the first AFL draft, on November 22, the Chargers’ first selection is Notre Dame end Monte Stickles.
Sid Gillman, who had coached the Rams for five years, is signed to a three-year contract as the first coach of the Chargers, January 7. A special tryout camp is conducted in Burbank, and 207 candidates show up, April 9. Frank Leahy resigns due to ill health, July 1. Gillman takes over the additional duties of general manager, July 9. The team’s first training camp opens at Chapman College in Orange, 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. In the team’s first preseason game, Paul Lowe, who had called the club and offered his services, returns the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, August 6. The Chargers win the game 27-7 over the New York Titans, before 27,778 in the Coliseum. On September 10, the Chargers come back from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to edge the Dallas Texans, 21-20, in the AFL regular-season opener for both teams. With Gillman choreographing a flashy offense featuring Lowe, NFL castoff Jack Kemp at quarterback, and ends Dave Kocourek and Ralph Anderson (who dies of a diabetic reaction following the Oakland Raiders game, November 26), the Chargers win the AFL Western Division, though only 9,928 people show up to watch them defeat Denver, 41-33, to clinch the title, December 10. In the first AFL Championship Game, the Chargers are beaten, 24-16, by the Houston Oilers, January 1.
Five days after the first AFL Championship Game, the Greater San Diego Sports Association is formed to attract major sports—namely the Chargers—to San Diego. On February 10, Barron Hilton, who had lost more than $900,000 in 1960, is given approval by the AFL to move his franchise to San Diego, where it will play in an enlarged, 34,000-seat Balboa Stadium. On a 93-degree August afternoon, the Chargers make their debut in their new home, beating Houston, 27-14, before 12,304. They continue to celebrate their new home by winning 11 games in a row. Three defensive rookies—end Earl Faison, tackle Ernie Ladd, and linebackers Chuck Allen—join the Chargers’ offensive stars to make the race for the Western Division title a runaway. The fans begin to appreciate the team more as it wins more. A crowd of 33,788 turns out to see the Chargers defeat the Dallas Texans, 24-14, to run their record to 11-0, before a late-season slump drops their final mark to 12-2. The slump continues in the AFL Championship Game, when the offense cannot generate many points, and the Chargers lose their rematch with the Houston Oilers,10-3, before 29,556 in Balboa Stadium.
Perhaps the most important draft in the history of the franchise brings in two players who will have a profound effect on this team, flanker Lance Alworth from Arkansas and quarterback John Hadl from Kansas. The season degenerates into a series of losses as the Chargers suffer one injury after another. Paul Lowe misses the entire season with a broken arm, linebacker Bob Laraba is killed in an offseason automobile accident, and 11 starters miss at least half the season, including Alworth, Chuck Allen, center Wayne Frazier, and defensive back Charley McNeil. The hardest loss to take occurrs when Jack Kemp suffers a broken hand in the preseason and Sid Gillman tries to slip him through waivers into the reserve list. Buffalo claims him for the $100 waiver fee. In the absence of established stars, Hadl and second-year fullback Keith Lincoln both make impressive starting debuts.
Sid Gillman convinces Tobin Rote, the former quarterback with Green Bay and Detroit, to sign with the Chargers after he quits Toronto of the Canadian Football League. Barron Hilton and his father, Conrad, decide to sell one-third interest in the team to San Diego businessmen John Mabee, George Pernicano, Kenneth Swanson, and James Copley and M.L. Bengston of Los Angeles. Gillman moves the club’s training camp to Rough Acres, a desert outpost 40 miles out of San Diego. The Chargers come out of that camp fit and healthy, and, with Rote leading the league in passing, Alworth averaging 20 yards per reception, and Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln sporting the best two averages per carry in the league, the Chargers show the best offense in the AFL. San Diego runs up an 11-3 record, clinching the Western Division title the last day of the season with a 58-20 victory over Denver. The Chargers climax the best season in their history by burying Boston, 51-10, before 30,127 in Balboa Stadium to win the AFL championship, January 5. Lincoln rushes for 206 yards on 13 carries, catches seven passes for 123 yards, completes a 20-yard pass, and scores two touchdowns. He is voted the player of the game. Aftwerward, Otto Graham, the former Cleveland Browns’ star and NFL coach, says, “If the Chargers could play the best in the NFL, I’d have to pick the Chargers.”
The Chargers open the regular season by beating Houston, then lose two of three. Tobin Rote has a sore arm, so Sid Gillman moves John Hadl in to start his first game in Boston. Hadl responds by completing 17 of 29 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-17 victory. The club establishes a San Diego attendance record when 34,865 see the Chargers lose to Buffalo, 27-24, November 26. A 38-3 rout of the New York Jets makes it eight wins for the year and clinches a fourth Western Division championship. Alworth, already considered the best pass receiver in pro football, is injured and misses the AFL title game in Buffalo. And after he sparks the first San Diego scoring drive in that game, Keith Lincoln also goes down. Without two of their most potent weapons, the Chargers are beaten, 20-7, by the Bills at War Memorial Stadium, December 26.
Sid Gillman suddenly begins to have troubles at the bargaining table. Keith Lincoln and linebacker Frank Buncom become stubborn holdouts. Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd both announce their intentions to play out their options. Ladd is fined, suspended, and finally reinstated. Construction of a $28 million San Diego Stadium in the heart of Mission Valley is authorized by a 73 percent vote in a special municipal election. Paul Lowe and Lance Alworth both have big years finishing one-two in the balloting by AFL players for player of the year. Lowe sets a league record with 1,121 rushing yards. Alworth catches 69 passes for a1,602 yards, an incredible 23.2- yard average, and 14 touchdowns. Seemingly unnoticed in comparison are John Hadl, who leads the league in passing, and two of the best linemen in the league, Ron Mix and Walt Sweeney. The Chargers lead the division from opening day, although Oakland and Kansas City make it interesting. With a 9-2-3 record, San Diego again wins the West. Buffalo is there to spoil things again in the AFL title game, this time 23-0 at Balboa Stadium, December 26.
A group of 21 business executives, headed by Eugene Klein and Sam Schulman of Beverly Hills, purchase the Chargers for $10 million. Klein and Schulman become general partners with Klein replacing Barron Hilton as club president and Schulman taking over as chairman of the board. Barron and Conrad Hilton retain a substantial interest in the team. James Copley and George Pernicano retain limited interests. Sid Gillman is signed to a new five-year contract as coach and general manager. John Hadl has his best season, passing for 2,846 yards and 23 touchdowns, and Lance Alworth makes 73 receptions for 1,383 yards and 13 scores. The defense falls apart, however, and the Chargers finish 7-6-1, failing to win the Western Division for the first time since 1962.
San Diego Stadium is dedicated as 45,988 fans looked on, August 20. Playing their first NFL opponent that night, the Chargers are beaten 38-17 by Detroit in a preseason game. A week later, in their first confrontation with their southern California rivals, the Rams, the Chargers are whipped, 50-7. San Diego opens the regular season with a flourish, however, going 5-0-1 and eventually running its record to 8-1-1. But four straight losses drop the Chargers to third place for the second year in a row. John Hadl and Lance Alworth have their usual phenomenal seasons, and Gary Garrison emerges as one of the league’s best receivers on the side opposite Alworth. But the team’s real story is a pair of rookies who finish in the top five in the league in rushing—halfback Dickie Post and fullback Brad Hubbert.
In a memorable preseason game, the Chargers beat the Rams 35-13 behind John Hadl’s two touchdown passes and 302 yards, August 24. Getting off to another fast start, San Diego upsets Oakland, the defending AFL champion, 23-14. Lance Alworth catches nine passes for 182 yards to hand the Raiders their first loss at home in three years. Once again, an 8-2 start is spoiled by three losses in the final four games as the Chargers finish third in the AFL Western Divison. Hadl leads the league in passing (3,473) and touchdowns (27), Alworth in receiving (68 for 1,312 yards), Dickie Post in average per carry (5.0) and Garrison has 52 catches for 1,103 yards, but the defense begins to crumble.
The club moves its training camp facilities from Escondido to Cal-Irvine, 40 miles north of San Diego. The Chargers open the regular season with two losses, but when they return home a record crowd of 54,042 is in San Diego Stadium to see them play the New York Jets. The Chargers win, 34-27, as Garrison catches 10 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Sid Gillman announces his retirement from coaching because of a stomach ulcer and chest hernia, November 10. He continues as general manager. Assistant Charlie Waller is appointed head coach and the team finishes 8-6 and in third place for the fourth consecutive year. In the final week against Buffalo, Lance Alworth catches a pass in his ninety-sixth consecutive game to break the pro record of Don Hutson. Alworth leads the AFL in pass receptions with 64, and Dickie Post leads the league in rushing with 873 yards.