Bambi was talking about a snake and you sure this column is heading toward football?
“This rattler was six, seven feet long,’’ Bambi said.
Bambi, of course, is Chargers legend Lance Alworth. The finest player to run pattens in lightning bolts was talking about animals and tumble weeds, and you’re positive we’re pointed in the right direction?
The tale’s backdrop is the unforgiving landscape of Boulevard, where the 1963 Chargers held training camp. It was as desolate as it was dry, with the desert critters regularly converging on the Chargers’ oasis of a grid iron.
“We had to quit watering the field at night because all the animals would come to get water,’’ Alworth said. “It was the only place within 10 miles.’’
So snakes were plentiful, and we’re not talking about the Raiders’ Kenny Stabler. The players, being players, would teased each other with the sidewinders, which produced the high jinks about which every camp revolves around.
But coach Sid Gillman’s patience with the shenanigans was reached. When the fellas were huddled around the camp’s largest snake — which had been ran over, killed and slung around — Gillman blew a fuse.
“He was really mad and angry,’’ Alworth said.
“Who did this?’’ Sir Sid yelled, looking for a guilty party to discipline.
“We all said, ‘Tobin Rote,’’’ Alworth said.
“Oh, well Tobin that is a really big snake,’’ Gillman purred.
“He totally dismissed everything because it was Tobin,’’ Alworth said, laughing again how the iconic coach reversed field.
Memories were plentiful when the Chargers announced that 1963 AFL championship team will be inducted into their ring of honor on Dec. 1. Starting then, Chargers home games will include a banner saluting the only squad in franchise history to win a league title.
Rote was the standout quarterback, which made Gillman look the other way regarding the snake. Rote was among the players whose names roll off Chargers fans tongues, each coming with a visualization of excellence:
Hall of Fame tackle Ron Mix, running backs Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln, linebacker Chuck Allen, and Alworth, another Bolt with a bust in Canton, Ohio.
“The receiving was average,’’ Alworth dead-panned in his Southern drawl. “But we had a great football team.’’
The Chargers rolled to a 11-3 mark. They advanced to the AFL title game against the Boston Patriots, but it came with pain. In 1960 and ‘61, the Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers at a similar juncture.
Not this time before 30,127 at Balboa Stadium as the Patriots were crushed, 51-10, and we can still smell minority owner George Pernicano’s victory cigar.
“I didn’t realize until I had played for eight, nine years and was on the (Super Bowl VI) championship team in Dallas how talented this team was,’’ said Alworth, 73, a longtime Del Mar resident. ”We had one of the best teams that was ever assembled and I just feel very privileged to be part of it.’’
The NFL champion Chicago Bears wanted no part of the Chargers. At least that’s how the story goes about them declining an invitation to play.
“I’m sorry there wasn’t a Super Bowl,’’ Alworth said. “We might have brought one of those home.’’
What those ‘63 memories do bring up are misty eyes and halting voices. Alworth became emotional reflecting on his dear pals, some living, some not.
“It’s just a great thing for everybody,’’ Alworth said in anticipating the halftime ceremony. “We’ll all have a little nostalgia and maybe shed a few tears, which is what I almost do when I think about them because they were all good guys.
“Some of them, they went early. Or maybe I’m staying late.’’
Fifty years is a long time. But it doesn’t diminish the accomplishment and what that team meant to a fledging league and a skeptical San Diego.
“At the time the Chargers were not as large a part of the city as they are now,’’ Alworth said. “We were just beginning to be accepted and that really helped us. They were trying to build a new stadium so that generated a lot of publicity and good feeling.’’
My how the times haven’t changed. A stadium push, huh?
”That is so funny,’’ Alworth said, “and true.’’
Just like those snake stories from Boulevard.
Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on 1090 AM on Monday and Friday mornings. He’s also the Wednesday morning co-host of “Hacksaw and Company.” He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports