The Los Angeles Chargers – the first year

The Los Angeles Chargers – the first year

As 99Yards continues its look at the 2018 International Series teams we last took a glimpse at the Houston Oilers who were founder members of the American Football League before morphing into the Tennessee Titans. When the Titans take to the Wembley turf on October 21 they will face the Los Angeles Chargers who were also part of the original AFL loop.

The creation of a new league to rival the established NFL was never going to be easy, but the AFL owners had the money to support their objective of bringing pro football to more fans.

Barron Hilton gained his wealth from his father’s hotel chain of the same name and attended the AFL inaugural meeting on August 14, 1959 when the new league was announced with teams in six cities. Hilton held the franchise in Los Angeles.

With an expected start date for the new league of Autumn the following year there was a lot of work to be done to put an organisation together, let alone one that could compete at a high level, but this Hilton manged to do.

His first move was to hire Frank Leahy as the team’s general manager. Leahy brought with him many years of success and experience as a player and head coach of Boston College and the University of Notre Dame.

The naming of a team is another important part of any new franchise, so a competition was held and as a result the team became the Los Angeles Chargers. The name presented an electrifying image of a quick-strike team while the owner also liked the idea of having a white charger ridden by a white knight as the team’s mascot.

Hilton chose lightning bolts for the logo because he associated the “Charge” of lightning with a lightning bolt. He also liked the bolts that were on the helmets of the Air Force Academy football team but wanting something slightly different, he had the “Chargers Bolt” designed to be different and placed on the uniforms.

The final part of building a team was selecting the players and in the AFL’s first draft the Chargers chose offensive end Monty Stickles with their number one pick. He was also selected by San Francisco in the NFL’s draft and they won the battle for his rights and he went on to play eight years with the 49ers.

As the team entered 1960, there was no coach in place. Former Notre Dame coach Bob McBride had earlier been named to that position, but he changed his mind. Some suggested McBride was worried about having Leahy looking over his shoulder all the time.

The Chargers’ NFL rival in Los Angeles was the Rams. After Sid Gillman coached the Rams to a 2-10 record in 1959 they showed him the exit door. A week later, the door opened for him in the Chargers offices and he found himself as the Chargers head coach.

Gillman signed two significant assistants to help him with the coaching. Former Cleveland Browns lineman Chuck Noll was giving the first opportunity in his coaching career when he was hired as the offensive line coach. Al Davis was given the backfield coaching position.

One of the smartest player moves Hilton made was to sign Jack Kemp. The journeyman Kemp was advised by his family to get on with his life after being cut by five pro football teams, but Gillman saw some potential in the quarterback. His faith was rewarded when Kemp led the team to the first two AFL Championship games.

Uniquely the Chargers shared the Coliseum with the Rams for their home games. They scheduled those games for when the Rams were out of town and also played them late on Sundays to avoid conflicting with the Rams telecasts.

Playing in the shadow of their across town rivals saw Hilton decide to accept an invitation to move the team in 1961 to San Diego where he hoped they would build a bigger fan base. Having played their first season in Los Angeles, after nearly six decades the Chargers are now back in the city where they were born.

Los Angeles uniform and logo images courtesy the Chargers media guide.

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