We were stuck on the prairie of southwest Minnesota in the 1950s with one option for watching pro football: The boring Chicago Bears, with the nap-inducing announcing tandem of Red Grange and George Conner, on Sunday afternoons.

The American Football League arrived in 1960 and it became a wonderful alternative. A year later, the Vikings appeared in Bloomington, but it was more eventful news for me that the Los Angeles Chargers had moved to San Diego for the 1961 season.

The Chargers’ new home of Balboa Stadium might have been a glorified high school venue in reality, but from Fulda, Minn., with those panoramic shots of the Pacific Ocean, it looked like football paradise.

By the fall of 1962, our family had relocated to Prior Lake, with more TV options. The Chargers were going through a disappointing 4-10 season as coach Sid Gillman (a pal of Sid Hartman’s from north Minneapolis) was not able to take advantage of rookie receiver Lance Alworth.

Then came 1963. Those 3 p.m. Central kickoffs from Balboa Stadium were the best pro football had to offer.

The San Diego Chargers won the AFL championship (it will stand as their lone title) with a 51-10 kicking of the Boston Patriots in Balboa Stadium. They were also in the AFL title games in 1964 and 1965, losing to Buffalo and Jack Kemp, the Chargers quarterback in the franchise’s first two seasons.

In 14-game seasons, Alworth had 61 catches for 1,205 yards (19.8 per catch) in 1963, 61 catches for 1,235 yards (20.2) in 1964 and 69 catches for 1,602 yards (23.2) in 1965. In seven seasons from 1963 to 1969, Alworth had 448 catches for 8,750 yards, 19.5 yards per reception, and 74 touchdowns.

You watch today’s repetitive dinking of passes and can only weep for the days of Alworth flying deep, sun beating down on the customers and glistening off the Pacific, lightning bolt flashing off the helmet … the greatest sight in football.

The nickname was a bit off-putting, “Bambi,” but Alworth’s glory years (1963-66) in Balboa made me more of a pro football fan than before or since.

PATRICK'S PLUS THREE

Teams a kid from Fulda still roots for:

St. Louis Cardinals: The broadcasts on KMOX with Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck did this to me. And Bob Gibson, of course.

LSU Tigers (football): Booming radio signal from Baton Rouge on Saturday nights. 1958: Billy Cannon, the Chinese Bandits, the din from the crowd and a national title.

San Francisco Giants: This is tied to Al Worthington being married to my cousin Shirley, and Al breaking in with the Giants. And Willie Mays.

 

Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at preusse@startribune.com.

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