San Diego, California - The San Diego Chargers will honor the greatest players in the team’s storied history when more than 20 members of the Chargers Hall of Fame will be recognized at halftime of their game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, November 6.
Among the Hall of Famers in attendance will be Lance Alworth, the first player inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame and the first American Football League player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other members of both the Chargers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in attendance include Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and Fred Dean. Other memorable Hall of Fame performers on the field at halftime will be Paul Lowe, Wes Chandler, Rolf Benirschke along with the three most recent inductees: Darren Bennett, Leslie O’Neal and LaDainian Tomlinson.
These players are sure to rekindle memories among Chargers faithful, but this weekend has also elicited a host of memories from the players themselves. What follows are favorite memories from the following men: Gary Garrison, Rolf Benirschke, Stan Humphries, Bobby Ross, Doug Wilkerson, Ron Mix and Chuck Allen. Some are more detailed than others, but all will no doubt ring nostalgic among Chargers fans.
(Humphries quarterbacked the Chargers from 1992-97, including San Diego’s Super Bowl season in 1994. He was inducted with Head Coach Bobby Ross in 2002.)
“One memory I will never forget would be riding back from Pittsburgh from AFC Championship Game to arrive in San Diego to thousands and thousands of people in the stadium at two in the morning.
“Another would be all of the Thursday after practice burgers and beers at the Longhorn down the street from the stadium with my teammates.
“Also dressing out in full uniform and having to get in my car and drive across the parking lot to get to practice.
“We were able to have training camp in La Jolla where our fans could come and watch daily.
“One of my favorite memories was being able to experience the Super Bowl as a San Diego Charger and see the city excited and come together."
(After playing collegiately at San Diego State, Garrison stayed in San Diego to play wide receiver for the Chargers from 1966-76. He was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame in 1985.)
“I am looking forward to returning to San Diego. When I first came to San Diego I was recruited by Don Coryell to play at San Diego State. The town, the people, and the location gave me a home-like feeling. When I graduated from college I was again fortunate and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. My first playing year was at Balboa Stadium. The following offseason the Chargers gave me a job. It was to introduce the new stadium to fans and potential season ticket holders. I drove those loyal fans around the stadium in a van and introduced them to the new beautiful stadium. It was very exciting to show off the new home of the San Diego Chargers.
“Now is a new era for San Diego and its fans. The city, fans and organization are very deserving of this new beautiful stadium. This would be a great asset for the great city of San Diego. It is such a great destination city for rival fans to visit and enjoy this beautiful
“One of my fondest memories was playing in a Monday night game against the New York Jets. It was a real thrill to be on the field on Monday night.
“Having played my college years in San Diego and then being fortunate enough to be drafted and play for the Chargers was especially good for me. The college fans were also Charger fans which was like once again being home.”
(Wilkerson played guard for the Chargers in 1971-84 and was a fixture on the great lines during four straight playoff seasons in 1979-82.)
“There are so many special memories of great games and great athletes that I’ve had the distinct honor of playing in and with. However, the extremes of the 1982 playoffs certainly stand out. The ‘Epic in Miami’ game played in those hot and humid conditions that culminated in that dramatic OT win, which can still be viewed on ESPN Classics. Followed up the very next week with the ‘Freezer Bowl’ game played in those cold and windy conditions in Cincinnati, the wind-chill factor – minus-59 below zero – making it the coldest game in NFL history. Those are two for the record books.
“My NFL career began as a first-round draft pick by the Houston Oilers, and then as fate would have it, I was part of a trade the next year that brought me to San Diego. I feel quite fortunate having played out my football career with the San Diego Chargers, in this beautiful city, in front of such great fans. Our town/team identity is a very powerful phenomenon, and has always been a big part of my life. I made San Diego my home, raised my family here, participated in all that San Diego has to offer, and continually try to give back to this great community. It’s been a few years since I suited up and stepped out on the field as a San Diego Charger, but a San Diego Charger I will always be. Thank you San Diego.”
(Benirschke was the Chargers’ kicker from 1977-86 and was inducted in 1997.)
“I have a lot (of great memories), but the few that stick out are being claimed from the Raiders by San Diego and showing up on the Wednesday, just a few days before opening the season back up in Oakland. I knew nobody in San Diego; had earned nothing in the players’ eyes; was replacing a popular kicker, AND came from the hated Raiders. To go back up there a few days later where I knew everybody on their side of the field, and only a few guys on our side of the field, was surreal. I kicked the opening kickoff and that was it. We never got into field goal position and were shut out 24-0.
“I remember the Holy Roller game because I had missed an extra point and a short field goal after slipping on the dirt infield. That was the first week of my illness and, of course, they came back and won on a last minute TD, but it was the missed extra point that was the difference. Few remember that detail; most talk about the blown calls the refs missed. But I will always know it was my misses that caused us to lose.
“Of course the Miami game … but leading up to it we had to beat Tampa Bay in the second to last game of the season to have a chance to get into the playoffs. We were trailing with seven minutes to go when our defense caused a fumble and we recovered. We then had to march the length of the field to get into field-goal position to win; having to convert two fourth downs to do it. We did and then I had to kick the game-winner knowing what was at stake. We then had to beat the Steelers on Monday night to get into the playoffs in a wild game that I kicked four field goals; special night in front of our home fans.
“The Miami game was obviously a huge game I will never forget, but for more than just kicking the game-winner. It was so much like my life, was such a parallel: being given a second chance to live, a second chance to play again and, ultimately, a second chance to kick in OT. That just never happens.
“The Freezer Bowl (AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati on Jan. 10, 1982) … and then returning to huge crowds after both these games. People waiting in the parking lot and then in the stadium caught us all by surprise and had a huge impact on all of us. What a special time that was.
“People waiting in line at the stadium club to give blood and watching it on TV, having just returned home from the hospital, and asking my dad if he would take me down there…hardly able to walk…to thank them.
“The Pittsburgh game when I was asked back to watch the game and then (former public relations director) Rick Smith inviting me down to the locker room, Louie (Kelcher) and Coach Coryell making me co-captain and Doc putting my jersey on … and then walking out for the coin toss. Hard to top that memory … still get teary-eyed thinking about the kindness of our fans and teammates.
“I will never forget the fans from the very beginning: turning the stadium yellow with their t-shirts; coming out to watch us at UCSD by the thousands at training camp; showing up at the stadium after wins AND tough losses, often late at night or early into the morning. The way they supported me during my illness; the thousands of letters, flowers and prayers that were offered up for me. The blood drive and how, year after year, they show up and remember the beginning and keep coming. Walking on the field before the coin toss when I was made co-captain and hearing their spontaneous reaction to my name and feeling the love from them was amazingly touching.”
(Ross was the Head Coach of the Chargers in 1992-96 and led the team to Super Bowl XXIX in Miami in January, 1995. He was inducted with Stan Humphries in 2002.)
“The first year, we started out 0-4. Believe it or not, I wasn’t nervous. I know people were after us and questioning our abilities as a coaching staff and as a playing team. I remember we used to have a luncheon called the Charger Backers and our play-by-play guy was Hacksaw Hamilton. Hacksaw introduced me on that luncheon as the director of the Laurel and Hardy show. It didn’t really affect me. I thought it would, my wife was upset, but I really wasn’t that affected. Then we started to win and we were the first team to have four losses to start a season then come back and make it to the second round of the playoffs. We had one more loss and that was to Kansas City in Kansas City. I remember in the Kansas City locker room talking to the guys and talking about the loss which I think put us at 4-5 but after that we didn’t lose another game. The two highlights of that season were getting the two wins we had in the playoffs.
“In 1994, it was obviously a highlight to go to the Super Bowl, but I think that in that season the real highlight were the first two playoff games that we had. There were two things in that particular year. One was in Miami against the Dolphins with Dan Marino and Coach (Don) Shula. Marino was so hot the first half, we couldn’t do a thing to stop him and we were down by halftime. We were talking about how to come back and we knew we had to take the ball out of Marino’s hands. We either had to force a fumble or an interception or just not give him the ball by going into a ball-control mode and that is what we did. I don’t think they had more than 13 plays in the second half. We had a really fine offensive line who were very tough and run-oriented although they did a good job of protecting the passer too.
“The second was the win at Pittsburgh. We got to Pittsburgh a day early and we practiced there on Saturday. We had gotten word that they had already reserved a banquet room for a celebration of their win and the conference title. Junior Seau always wanted to know if he could to talk to the team from time to time and he came up to me when we found that out and asked if he could speak to them. I told him to go ahead and he told them about how the Steelers had written us off. There was fire in his eyes, as there was with most of our players at that time. We were able to win that game, although it was a cliffhanger. We were able to hang on until the very end. We were fortunate enough to win 17-13. I remember Dennis Gibson knocking the pass down in the end zone which is probably one of the biggest plays that has ever existed in the history of San Diego Charger football. It was an exciting a time as I ever had.
“I will never forget at the end of the game how happy and hollering and yelling (the players were). Once the locker room cleared out and I was the last one in there, Mr. Rooney came into our dressing room and he walked all the way down there to congratulate me and our team on our win. I had always heard what a good man he was, and that solidified it. That was a pretty special moment.
“To that season, the Super Bowl was a tough game to absorb. The thing that I remember the most about that season, was when we came back from Pittsburgh, our stadium was more than packed. We had no idea that this was going to happen – it was completely unsolicited. The fans came to the stadium and filled the stadium up. I have a picture of that in my house because it was such a special moment. The whole city came out. I have always said this and felt that a good football program can rally a school, or a city, or a country. I think we proved that for San Diego that night. We were the rallying point for that town and it was a really special time in the lives of all of us, not only myself, but in all of the players and the coaches as well. It is a very special city and I love the fans there. I really did. I felt attached to them and I really enjoyed the people. They were good, down-to-earth people and of course that proved it when we came out like we did after the game, got off the bus and there was the stadium filled with probably 75,000 people.”
(Allen was the first great linebacker for the Chargers, playing during the 1961-69 seasons. He was inducted in 1984.)
“The Chargers drafted me in the 28th round. Shortly thereafter I loaded up a U-Haul trailer and headed for the Chargers training camp at the University of San Diego. I knocked on Sid Gillman’s door and he said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said I was Chuck Allen and here to play football. Sid yelled to a back room: ‘Hey Joe (Madro), do we have a player named Chuck Allen?’ That was my start with the Chargers.
“We developed comradery and appreciated each other’s talents. In the 2-3 years at (training camp in) Rough Acres, we filled whatever free time we had playing ping pong while we endured the heat, snakes, spikers, bats and loss of friends who got sent home. It’s too bad we all didn’t keep notes of the many great things that we experienced. They really made us all mentally tougher.”
(Mix played offensive tackle for the Chargers, 1960-69, and is member of both the Chargers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)
“The overall memory of having been a professional football player and participating in this great game is dominant.
“The team played its first year in Los Angeles and the reception by Los Angeles Rams fans was predictable with Charger game attendance ranging from 9,000 to 20,000. I will tell you who did show up, however: us players. For those media types who say a large noisy crowd helps to stimulate players to higher performances, ignore them. Turn us loose on a vacant lot with no one watching and you will see the same effort. Nonetheless, as players, we were anonymous in Los Angeles. The contrast was illustrated when, after the team re-located to San Diego, I drove to San Diego to report to training camp and stopped at a San Diego gas station and the gas station attendant said “Welcome to San Diego, Ron.” That was the first time I had been recognized by a member of the public since I signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. The publicity that the team had been receiving since the notice of the move had been so extensive, so supporting, that a gas station attendant recognized an offensive lineman.
“The relationship between the fans and the players in the 60’s was something that will never be duplicated again. The reason was because players became an intimate part of the community. Because player salaries were depressed at that time, most players either worked in the off-season at jobs in San Diego or furthered their education. In working at jobs in the community, players met hundreds of fans. I attended law school at night at the University of San Diego and met hundreds of students. And then there were the scores of other fans met by players when they went to restaurants and bars without being separated from them by VIP Sections. In the early 60’s, the team played at Balboa Stadium, built to seat 33,000. I do not think it an exaggeration to estimate that we, as a group of players, had probably met half the fans that showed up each week. When the fans said the Chargers are ‘our team,’ they literally meant it.
“The more current fans and players have no idea what a special group of players populated the team of the 60’s: Lance Alworth, John Hadl, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison to name just a few. Ernie was 6’9” and 340 pounds. His eyes weighed a pound apiece. Earl was 6’5” and 275 pounds. For a four-year period, before they were each crippled by injuries, they played their defensive line positions as well as anyone has ever played those positions, and I mean up to the present day. Had they been able to stay healthy, they would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln were uniquely special running backs. Our quarterback, John Hadl, had to distribute the ball to so many instant touchdown threats that none received the ball enough. Although Paul and Keith put up great numbers, if either of them had obtained another 3-4 carries a game, they would be in the Hall of Fame. The high regard we held for Lance Alworth is best illustrated by this story: we were returning from an Eastern road trip and the plane hit horrific weather causing the plane to shake beyond belief, to fall and rise to such an extent that I was convinced we were going to crash and die. And then I remembered that Lance was on board and I relaxed, actually thinking ‘God would not kill Lance.’
“There was a mutually-appreciative relationship between owners and players. Barron Hilton made certain that the football operation was first class in every aspect including training and travel and lodging and hiring an exceptional coach in Sid Gillman. The local San Diego ownership were more fans than owners, one of whom was George Pernicano who recently died at age 98. As every reader knows, George and his family-operated pizza restaurants throughout San Diego County. George also operated his personal restaurant, Casa di Baffi, in Hillcrest, a restaurant that had no equal as a steak and chop house. George went to every game, including away games. For away games, he would bring veal cutlet sandwiches for all players. When he first opened Casa di Baffi, he announced that Charger players could eat there for half price for a year. Jack Kemp and I owned an apartment house near the restaurant and I lived in one of the units. I ate at the restaurant 3-4 times a week as did many of the Chargers. Not sure that was George’s best business decision.
“The 1963 Championship game will always stand out in my memory. There are times when every athlete has a moment when they do something spectacularly. On that Championship day, every Charger player, every member of the coaching staff, had more than a moment, we had a game of perfection in beating the Patriots 51-10. Our offense exploded all over the field. Keith Lincoln had 329 total yards in rushing and receiving. Paul Lowe and Lance Alworth each had over 100 yards. The defense crushed the Patriot offense. For a unique moment in time, we each had the game of our lives. It can only be described as magic.”