The inhabitants of San Diego are in the habit of reminding visitors that their city is a depressed area, but after the San Diego Chargers overwhelmed the Boston Patriots 51-10 for the American Football League championship last Sunday in Balboa Stadium, there was little to support this contention, particularly in the uproarious Charger dressing room.
"They may be the champions of the world," boomed Defensive End Earl Faison, referring to the Chicago Bears of the other league, "but we are the champions of the un-i-verse."
"Sixty-four's a good year," said End Dave Kocourek, appraising the label on a bottle of California champagne. "You know, this stuff may be 20 minutes old, at that."
And, inevitably, George Pernicano, a San Diego restaurateur who has a small piece of the team and an enormous mustache that is insured (against what? fire? theft?) for $50,000 by Lloyd's of London, was dragged under a shower.
Inevitably, too, the game proved quite a contrast to the National Football League championship contest the week before, which took place in meat-locker weather. For a starter, the temperature in San Diego was 71°, the sun was brightly shining and the explanation of the officials' signals in the game program was acted out by a southern California cupcake in short shorts. The NFL game was a grinding and ponderous clash that was characterized as a defensive struggle, but because of the 11° cold was just as much a show of offensive ineptitude. (Incidentally, both team presidents at the AFL playoff, Bill Sullivan of the Patriots and Barron Hilton of the Chargers, are in favor of playing the AFL title game in a neutral southern city if it turns out that it would otherwise occur in the frozen North.)
Lacking the dramatic virtues of the NFL title game, the AFL's was a brilliant exhibition of professional football as it should be performed—by the winning team. Although Fullback Keith Lincoln, the virtually unanimous choice for the game's most valuable player—he gained a record 206 yards in 13 rushes, caught seven passes for 123 yards, completed his only pass for a 20-yard gain and scored two touchdowns—played wonderfully well, San Diego's victory was, in truth, a result of first-rate planning by Coach Sid Gillman and near-perfect execution by the entire team, from Quarterback Tobin Rote all the way down the line.
The championship game was billed as a battle between the Patriots' league-leading defense and the Chargers' league-leading offense. The heart of Boston's defense, which in two games threw opposing quarterbacks for more than 100 yards in losses while they were attempting to pass, is a tough and resourceful rush. Defensive End Larry Eisenhauer calls it Ban the Bomb. Boston has, at last count, 65 different rushes. It attempts to use 25 or 30 for each game. These range from what are called "weak cats," when only one linebacker may go in, to "mad dog," to "total blitz," an awesome stampede by eight men, including a safety who has cheated up to the line. After one total blitz a prostrate AFL quarterback said, "I swear there was a guy wearing a cocked hat riding a horse come in and nearly trampled me."
Gillman and his offensive line coach, Joe Madro, had to find a way to neutralize Boston's formidable rushes and to confuse whatever pass defenders remained. But the rush leads to either feast or famine. If it does not succeed, the opposition can break away on a long run or pass, and it is goodby, Katy. It is an axiom of football that you cannot defense the entire field.
The two major tricks that Gillman had in his meticulous three-page game plan were the East formation and a man in motion. The man in motion, who was usually Paul Lowe, the running halfback, wreaked havoc with the Boston defense as early as the second play from scrimmage. With the ball on the San Diego 40, Lowe went in motion for the first time; not a step and jog, but a quick motion. The Patriots were in dogging formation and Lowe's unexpected maneuver pulled End Bob Dee offside. Dee jumped back, but the Patriot linebackers practically fell down trying to regain their balance. Lincoln surged through the disorganized Boston line, running 56 yards before he was hauled down. San Diego scored the first of its seven touchdowns two plays later.
The Boston defense was further disrupted by the East formation. Normally, Lance Alworth, the flanker back, plays outside Tight End Kocourek on the strong side of the line, while Split End Don Norton is, well, split out to the other side. In the East formation, however, Kocourek became, in effect, a weak-side tight end on one extremity of the offensive line, while Alworth and Norton were split out together on the opposite end. As Kocourek said: "The purpose was to try to get the strong-side safety, Ross O'Hanley, who normally plays me, on either Alworth or Norton. [Unbeknownst to the Chargers, the Patriots were not playing man-to-man but trying to hide a zone defense; and thus do ignorant armies clash by night.] O'Hanley is a good tackier but he is used to covering the slower, big men. This and the man in motion was planned to bring what Gillman calls Boston's 'old ladies' up to the line as defensive ends. They are old ladies because, though they're good cover men, they're too light to play defensive end." Indeed, on several occasions, Boston wound up with two old ladies—Dick Felt and Bob Suci—on the line.
The defense also came up with a new wrinkle for Boston. "We shifted a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker to the weak side where they could stunt," said Linebacker Paul Maguire. "Boston never did adjust to it. They tried to go over the line with their check-off passes, but we were reading their checks pretty good."
Indeed, the San Diego red-dogging stole the show from Boston's famed and manifold rush. Babe Parilli, the harried Patriot quarterback, lost 42 yards attempting to pass. In two successive instances in the second quarter, Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison hit Parilli for losses of 11 and 10 yards respectively, and gave him the experience of being sat on by 573 pounds of lineman as well.
"It's asking our defense a lot to keep San Diego as low as we did in the regular season [17-13 and 7-6]," said Boston Coach Mike Holovak before the game. "For us to win we have to score quite a bit, if that's possible." It wasn't. Parilli passed creditably enough, but the Boston running game was pathetic. Its longest gainer was sub Quarterback Tom Yewcic's 14-yard dash for his life. This lack of running can be explained, however, by the loss of Fullback Larry Garron, Boston's leading ground-gainer, who suffered a slight concussion in the second quarter and appeared for only one play thereafter. His running mate, Ron Burton, who had been out the entire season after major surgery for a ruptured disc, was, perhaps, a step and a half slower than he used to be and never got away. Maybe Burton, who doubles as a stockbroker, made his best move of the weekend when he advised: "Now is the time to buy good solid issues. I am recommending life-insurance stocks." He did not say anything about the stock of the American League Professional Football Team of Boston, Inc., hereinafter known as the Patriots, whose nonvoting stock is publicly held. Good thing. The value of that stock—about $5 a share—has no bearing on the firm's financial standing, but fluctuates according to wins and losses.
To all purposes, the game was over early in the first period when Boston showed it was unable to solve either the San Diego offense or defense. On San Diego's second series of plays the remarkable Lincoln got off a 67-yard run on a pitchout from Tobin Rote, the ancient vagabond (Rice, Green Bay, Detroit, Toronto, San Diego), who has what Gillman calls "a beautiful feeling for the game." This was another play from the East formation, and O'Hanley was lured away from the flow of the play by Kocourek. The Patriots made a game of it briefly when, following a 49-yard pass from Parilli to Gino Cappelletti, a direct descendant of the Capulets, who played the Montagues in the Verona Bowl, Garron went in from seven yards out. But the Chargers retaliated on a lovely sweep by Paul Lowe on which erudite All-League Tackle Ron Mix, who got the only most valuable player vote that Lincoln did not, made three blocks. "I think," Mix explained, rather shamefacedly, "two were on the same man." Lowe's run, on which he went around his right end and then weaved up the middle of the field, was for 58 yards and was a good example of the difference in running styles between him and Lincoln. Lincoln, who weighs nearer 190 than his program weight of 212, is a brutal, one-speed runner along the lines of Green Bay's Jim Taylor, while Lowe artfully glides hither and yon at various speeds.
Lincoln attributes a great deal of his success this season to the isometric exercises of Alvin Roy (SI, Sept. 16), San Diego's strength coach. According to Roy, "The Chargers may not be the best football team to ever step on the gridiron, but they're the strongest." Roy, who has also helped Green Bay's Taylor, says that Lincoln has Jim's speed and moves but is two years behind him in strength development, especially in the legs. He adds, however, that Lincoln is 60% stronger than he was last year.
Although the Patriots scored again in the second quarter on a 15-yard field goal by Cappelletti, the Chargers dominated the rest of the game in such compelling fashion that Lance Alworth was nonchalantly taking home movies from the sidelines during the waning moments.
Thus ended the AFL season. The slow, light Patriots scrambled into their first title game, and the Chargers, who had a dismal season in 1962 after suffering a slew of injuries, won their first championship game in three tries.
It was, on the whole, a successful year for the league, its fourth in business. Attendance was up 10% to 12%, and gate receipts, with a higher scale at Boston and Kansas City, rose some 30%. Next year, with a new stadium in New York and 7,600 additional sideline seats in Buffalo, promises to be even better. Looking ahead to 1965, Houston gets the world's first indoor football field (air conditioned, yet), and by 1966 Oakland's new stadium could be completed.
Indeed, the only team that may not be playing on a big-league field in the foreseeable future is the Chargers. In a way, perhaps, San Diego does not deserve its champions. There were only about 27,000 in the 34,500-capacity Balboa Stadium for the title game, although 30,127 was announced. But there are mitigating circumstances. Aside from that problem of being a depressed area where people think about the $8 and $5 cost of seats, half the town could see the game on TV from Los Angeles, there are only 14,000 seats between the goal lines, and 49-year-old Balboa Stadium is called the rock pile—the patrons sit on concrete steps.
There is talk about a new stadium for San Diego, but President Hilton does not sound too hopeful. He talks, instead, about a new TV contract putting his still unprofitable enterprise into the black. A championship team that can put on the kind of dazzling show that Lincoln and company did on Sunday deserves to be in the black.