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Advent Calendar - Dec. 20: 1961—a banner year for the Chargers

An advertisement plugging the Chargers Vs. the New York Titans at Balboa Stadium

This is a great time of year to be thankful for what we have, where we have been, and what the future holds. Although the Chargers have lost their way a bit in recent years, the month of December still holds such incredible promise! This advent calendar is an attempt to hearken back to these days of December joy. Each day will bring a new advent from the Bolts’ history that makes it wonderful to be a Chargers fan.

Dec. 20: 1961—A Banner Year for the Chargers

The 1961 San Diego Chargers season was the team’s second in the American Football League. The team was only a year old at this point, having just finished their inaugural season in Los Angeles.

The 1960 season was very good for a brand new team (and brand new league!), with the Chargers going 10-4 and advancing to the AFC Championship game against the Houston Oilers (these two had split the regular season 1-1). It was a season of what-ifs, however, as the Chargers had the right to host the first ever AFL national championship game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. However, as its attendance for home games was falling below 10,000, league and television officials feared showing empty seats in the 100,000+ seat Coliseum and persuaded the Chargers to give up the advantage and move the game to Houston.

The Chargers lost that game 24-16. There was good reason to think that home field advantage was the difference maker.

In 1961, Barron Hilton had had enough with Los Angeles and (after a scrappy grassroots campaign by local sports writers, namely Jack Murphy) decided to move the team south to San Diego.

This was the Chargers’ first season in San Diego, the first of a 56-year run. The Chargers won their first eleven games and clinched the Western Division by mid-November, but only managed one victory in December.

Much like the previous season, 1961 ended with an AFL Championship game between the Chargers and the Houston Oilers. This time, however, Hilton was insistent that San Diego kept the home advantage, and the game was played at Balboa Stadium. The season ended much like the previous season as well, with Houston spoiling their aspirations with a 10-3 victory.

Significance

1961 was significant for a number of reasons, not simply because the Chargers relocated and nearly ran the board in the young league.

  • The 1961 Chargers set a modern-era pro football record with 66 takeaways, most in AFL or NFL history.
  • The Chargers also recorded the most interceptions returned for a touchdown in both league histories with 9
  • The Chargerts made a total of 49 interceptions for 929 yards, both NFL records.
  • Their TD differential Vs. opponents was 52:27, almost a perfect 2-to-1 ratio.
  • The Chargers won their first 11 games straight, a record that stood until the 1972 Dolphins (the 1964 Baltimore Colts also went 11 straight, but after dropping their first game).
  • The Chargers would not match this win streak until 2010’s campaign

Untitled

Week Date Opponent Result Attendance
Week Date Opponent Result Attendance
1 September 10, 1961 at Dallas Texans W 26–10 24,500
2 September 17, 1961 Oakland Raiders W 44–0 20,216
3 September 24, 1961 Houston Oilers W 34–24 29,210
4 September 30, 1961 at Buffalo Bills W 19–11 20,742
5 October 7, 1961 at Boston Patriots W 38–27 17,748
6 October 15, 1961 at New York Titans W 25–10 12,014
7 October 22, 1961 at Oakland Raiders W 41–10 12,014
8 October 29, 1961 Denver Broncos W 37–0 32,584
9 November 5, 1961 New York Titans W 48–13 33,391
10 November 12, 1961 at Denver Broncos W 19–16 7,859
11 November 19, 1961 Dallas Texans W 24–14 33,788
12 Bye
13 December 3, 1961 at Houston Oilers L 33–13 37,845
14 December 10, 1961 Buffalo Bills W 28–10 24,486
15 December 17, 1961 Boston Patriots L 41–0 21,339
Week Date Opponent Result Attendance
Championship December 24, 1961 Houston Oilers L 10–3 29,556
1961

Conclusions

If you wanted to build a team that could last in a new market, winning like the 1961 Chargers show the best way to go about it. After the first four forgettable games of his tenure, coach Anthony Lynn’s 2017/2018 Chargers group is well on their way, going 20-6 since that stumble.

It also shows how a powerhouse team can still be vulnerable to a foe that just has their number. If history is at all inclined to repeat itself, the Chargers would do well to avoid the Chiefs in the playoffs. This current iteration of Houston, however? That’s a game I’d take.

-Jason “Also, the Beach Boys started” Michaels