Nicknamed Bambi for his leaping and catching abilities, Lance Alworth was one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of college and professional football. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was the first player from the American Football League (AFL) inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Born in Houston, Texas, on 3 August 1940, Lance Dwight Alworth moved with his family to Lincoln County, Mississippi, as a child, and grew up in Hog Chain, which he once described as having “about 80 people.” There, he was befriended by an older boy, Harold Lofton, who wore football jersey number 19 at Brookhaven High School. Alworth often visited Lofton at his family’s dry goods store and later wore the number 19 with the San Diego Chargers of the AFL.
Alworth played football, baseball, and basketball and ran track in high school and teamed with future University of Mississippi star Ralph “Catfish” Smith to help Brookhaven win the Big Eight Basketball Tournament. He almost ended up with Smith at the University of Mississippi, but the university had a policy against recruiting married football players, and Alworth was already married to his high school sweetheart. “Ole Miss actually offered me a baseball scholarship with the idea that I would come out for football, too,” said Alworth, “but I didn’t want to be the first player to get around the policy that way.”
Instead, Alworth went to the University of Arkansas, where he led the Razorbacks to three straight Southwest Conference football championships from 1959 to 1961. Although he did not catch many passes in college, Alworth’s sprinter speed, athletic grace, and tremendous leaping ability caught the attention of professional scouts. He signed with the Chargers immediately after his last college game in 1962.
Alworth and the Chargers made the fledgling AFL entertaining and fun to watch. According to Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, Alworth “made it look like a wide-open game because he always was wide open.” In his eight AFL seasons, Alworth led the league in receiving yards and catches three times and was named to the all-AFL team seven straight years. He was the league’s most valuable player in 1963 as the Chargers won the AFL Championship. After a trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1971, Alworth helped the team to a victory in Super Bowl VI, scoring the first touchdown. Alworth played two seasons for Dallas and retired after the 1972 season.
Alworth caught 543 passes over his professional career, recording 87 touchdowns and 10,266 yards. He led the league in pass receiving three times and still holds the record for most games (five) with more than 200 yards receiving. At one point he owned the league record for most games (96) with at least one pass reception. Alworth also showed the versatility he had first displayed at Brookhaven High School, rushing for 129 yards, returning 29 punts for 309 yards, and gaining 216 yards on 10 kickoff returns.
In addition to the college and professional football halls of fame, Alworth is a member of the AFL all-time team, the NFL seventy-fifth anniversary team, and the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame. The Chargers retired his number 19 jersey in 2005.
- Grant Hall, Northwest Arkansas Morning News (24 December 2006)
- Jerry Magee, Pro Football Weekly (24 November 2006)
- Pro Football Reference website, http://www.pro-football-reference.com