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Chargers’ Last AFL Game Meant Record Setting Moment, Memorabilia for Alworth

On December 14, 1969, the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers met beneath a 66-degree Southern California sky to play their final game as members of the old American Football League.  A merger between the AFL & NFL, which had been agreed to four years prior, would take full effect the next season, and the new American and National Football Conferences would take the field under the banner of the National Football League.

By this point in the 1969 season, both the Bills and Chargers were out of post season contention.  Aside from pride and the ability to say that they had had won their final AFL contest, Buffalo had little to play for with their 4-9 record.  At 7-6, the Chargers were not in much better shape.   The game was notable, however, to two legendary San Diego Chargers players, Lance Alworth and Ron Mix.

Chargers-Bills ticket 1969Topps 1969 Lance AlworthRon Mix, the Chargers longtime offensive tackle, had announced that he would retire after the 1969 season.  Having attended the University of San Diego Law School over several off-seasons, Mix was ready to move onto the next chapter in his life.  A ceremony had been planned for halftime, when the Chargers would retire Mix’s #74.  (As a point of fact, Chargers owner Gene Klein “unretired” Mix’s number two years later, when the tackle was coaxed out of retirement by his former college and early Chargers assistant coach, Al Davis, to play for the Oakland Raiders.  Klein hated Al Davis, and took personal offense to Mix joining the silver and black).

For the Chargers star receiver Lance Alworth, the December 14 game had special meaning as well.  The week previously, Alworth had tied a 24-year-old record held by Green Bay Packers great, Don Hutson, for having at least one reception in 95 consecutive games.  Hutson had traveled to San Diego for the Buffalo game to watch Alworth attempt to break his longstanding record.

The game began with the Chargers kicking off to the Bills, who promptly went three-and-out, after moving the ball only two yards on an O.J. Simpson run.  The Chargers responded with a Hadl-to-Gary Garrison pass for a 41-yard touchdown on their first play from scrimmage.

The Bills got the ball back after the extra point and ensuing kickoff, but their offense again stalled, and they were forced to punt after moving the ball just 16 yards on 14 plays from scrimmage.

On a first-and-10, from the Chargers 37-yard-line, John Hadl fired a nine-yard pass to Alworth, who made a leaping catch over the Bills’ Booker Edgerson, and thus shattered Don Hutson’s record.  The game was stopped, and Hutson walked out on the field to congratulate Alworth on his accomplishment, one which firmly placed the Chargers star among the top receivers in history.

1969 Lance Alworth Chargers wire photo

Surprisingly, memorabilia related to this historic football game can be found rather easily, and is typically priced well-within the reach of most collectors.  The most common pieces tied directly to the game are programs.  The Chargers announced 47,582 fans in attendance that day.  It seems that most of them purchased programs, and eventually put them on eBay.  There is almost always an example available for purchase (here’s what’s available on eBay).

1969 Chargers-Bills program

There are often photos of Alworth’s catch available for sale as well, though they are not always labeled as such, and collectors have to know what to look for.  I have managed to purchase a few different views of the catch, as well as a handful of Alworth and Hutson standing together on the sidelines.  These photos are really attractive, and can usually be purchased for less than $20.

Perhaps the rarest collectables directly pertaining to this game are ticket stubs, and full, unused tickets.  However, as with the photos and programs, sellers often do not realize the importance of these particular tickets, and they often get listed simply as Bills vs. Chargers stubs from 1969.

1969 ticket Chargers Bills Alworth record game

Lastly, though not a direct connection, a 1969 Topps Lance Alworth card is quite affordable, and a clean, unslabbed copy can usually be found for less than $10.  A Ron Mix card will likely be even cheaper.

Of course, Jerry Rice holds the all-time record now with an astonishing  274 from 1985-2004 but this moment in history provides collectors with the opportunity to assemble a meaningful, yet inexpensive collection.  For a bit of searching and less than $100, football fans can put together a group of memorabilia that recognizes not only two of the greatest receivers in history, but also a Hall of Fame tackle, and the last game of a historic league.  How can you possibly beat that?

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