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The 1961 San Diego Chargers season was the team's second in the American Football League. It was the Chargers' first season in San Diego, where the team remained until 2017. The Chargers won their first eleven games and clinched the Western Division by mid-November, but only managed one victory in December. Like the previous season, the Chargers' season ended with a loss to the Houston Oilers in the AFL championship game, this time 10–3 at Balboa Stadium in San Diego. San Diego retained many of their offensive stars from the previous season. Jack Kemp was again ranked second in the league for passing yardage (2,686), but his completion percentage fell below 50%, and he threw only 15 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. Only 4 of these interceptions came in the first seven games of the season, against 18 in the next seven; he threw a further 4 picks in the AFL title game. While Paul Lowe didn't quite match his explosive impact of the previous season, he still ranked 4th in the league for rushing yards (767), and joint first for rushing touchdowns (nine). Flanker Dave Kocourek became the club's first 1,000 yard receiver with 55 catches for 1,055 yards, while Don Norton added 47 catches and 816 yards. On defense, 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 nine, with the team recording a total of 49 interceptions for 929 yards, both NFL records. Charlie McNeil led the team with nine interceptions, which stood as a club record until Antonio Cromartie broke it 46 years later. Bob Zeman had eight picks and Dick Harris had seven, returning three for touchdowns (still a club record). For contrast, only one Charger managed more than six in a season throughout the entire 1970s (Bryant Salter, 1972). The defensive line saw an overhaul, with rookies Earl Faison, Bill Hudson and Ernie Ladd starting every game. Middle linebacker Chuck Allen and cornerback Claude Gibson, also rookies, saw significant action. Kicker George Blair's field goal conversion percentage slipped below 50% (he made 13 of 27), but was still third best in the league. Linebacker Bob Laraba had five interceptions and scored three touchdowns, including one on offense. He tragically died shortly after the season ended, at the age of just 28.https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1310&dat=19620217&id=fvtVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3OIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3581,2801524&hl=en

AFL draft



Roster



Regular Season



Schedule

Note: Intra-division opponents are in bold text.

Game summaries



Week 1

Six takeaways and a pair of long runs were the key as San Diego dismissed their closest divisional rivals from the previous season. Following an exchange of punts, Paul Lowe benefited from a key Ron Mix block as he broke away for an 87-yard touchdown. It set a club record for longest run that has since been tied, but not surpassed. New kicker George Blair missed the extra point, but kicked a pair of field goals in the first half, while Chuck Allen, Earl Faison and Charlie McNeil each intercepted Dallas QB Cotton Davidson. The Texans managed to pull three points back early in the 4th quarter; they then recovered a Kemp fumble in Charger territory, but Claude Gibson ended the threat with an interception. On the next Texans possession, Emil Karas recovered a fumble at the Dallas 14. Linebacker and occasional quarterback Bob Laraba then lined up under center, running it himself on four of the next six plays, and scoring from the one yard line. Bo Roberson broke away for a 53-yard touchdown run late in the game, and the lone Dallas touchdown came too late to make a difference. Lowe had no further breakaways after his touchdown run, but still finished with 100 yards from 13 carries.

Week 2

The Chargers' first game in their new city proved a success, as they dominated their Californian rivals on both sides of the ball. Oakland had lost their opener 55-0, and fared only slightly better here; on the third play of the game, Dick Harris picked off a Tom Flores pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders' best chance to score came on their next drive, when they reached the Charger 26 but missed a field goal. San Diego drove 80 yards the other way, Paul Lowe swept around left end for a 2-yard score, and the rout was on. Bo Roberson and Charlie Flowers rushed for two touchdowns each, giving San Diego a total of five for the game, a franchise record since tied but not surpassed. Five different players had interceptions, and the Chargers comfortably won in terms of both the turnover battle (6-0) and total yardage (386-106). The Raiders only crossed midfield twice in 12 total possessions.

Week 3

Charlie McNeil had a record-breaking performance as the Charger avenged their defeat in the 1960 AFL Championship Game. Houston were threatening to break a 3-3 tie in the 2nd quarter when McNeil intercepted a George Blanda pass at his own seven yard line, and returned it for 76 yards up the right sideline. Kemp then converted a 4th and inches with a sneak, before hitting Dave Kocourek for a 7-yard touchdown. Blanda's next pass was picked off at the line by Earl Faison, and Lowe scored within three plays to double the lead. Next, McNeil took another interception all the way back for a 76-yard touchdown, before Blanda was picked off for the fourth time, by Charlie McNeil, and Luther Hayes had a 37-yard scoring catch to make it 31-3 at the break. Houston tried backup QB Jacky Lee after the break. He managed three touchdowns, but also threw two further interceptions and lost a fumble - the Chargers had little difficulty in keeping Houston at bay. One of the interceptions was by McNeil, who finished the game with 177 interception return yards, still an AFL/NFL record. San Diego had intercepted 15 passes from 6 different quarterbacks in the first three weeks. This continuing defensive excellence covered up an indifferent offensive display, which saw the Chargers gain 158 yards and earn just seven first downs.

Week 4

In contrast to the recent glut of takeaways, the Chargers only had two in this game, but both were significant. Only three plays into the game, Harris had his second pick six of the season, this one covering 56 yards and putting the Chargers ahead to stay. Later in the opening quarter, Kemp was sacked to bring up a 3rd and 14, but responded with a 16-yard scramble to keep the drive going. Lowe broke off a 30-yard touchdown run three plays later, and it was 13-0. Buffalo responded with field goal attempts on their next three drives, though only the first of these was successful. Kemp made a mistake on the stroke of halftime, throwing an interception on 1st and 10. The Bills scored a play later, and added a two point conversion: 13-11 at the break. San Diego controlled the clock in the third quarter, running 23 plays to the Bills' three, and scoring through Blair field goals on both their drives. After Buffalo missed a field goal, the Bills' offense had one more chance, starting at their own eight yard line. The picked up three first down and reached a 3rd and 11 near midfield, before Faison recovered a fumble to end the threat. Lowe then picked up a first down, and San Diego ran out the clock. The running back carried 22 times on the day, for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Week 5

Jack Kemp threw three touchdowns and ran for another as the Chargers kept their unbeaten start going. He led the Chargers on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the game's opening drive, converting two third downs with passes and one with a scramble. Hayes finished the drive with a 12-yard scoring catch. Boston tied the scores, and were soon looking to pin San Diego deep in their own territory, punting from the Charger 45. The kick was blocked, picked up by Bob Zeman, and run back 35 yards for the touchdown that put San Diego ahead to stay. A 35-yard catch by Don Norton later set up a Blair field goal, before the Patriots scored a special teams touchdown of their own, scoring when Lowe fumbled a punt return. Kemp responded immediately with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Kocourek. On the next play, Harris claimed an interception; on the play after that, Kemp appeared to have thrown another touchdown, to Norton. The score was nullified by an illegal motion penalty, but the same pair combined for a 30-yard touchdown only three plays later, and it was 31-14 at the break. After Boston pulled seven points back in the 3rd quarter, Kemp put the game away in the 4th, finding Kocourek for what turned into a 65-yard catch and run, before rolling right and scoring himself on a 3rd and goal from the four. Kemp completed 12 passes from 24 attempts, for 315 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, with Kocourek posting 160 yards and a touchdown from just 3 receptions. Zeman had an interception to go with his special teams touchdown.

Week 6

In a game where both teams committed five turnovers, San Diego used big passing plays to win. Zeman made the first of four interceptions of Al Dorow in the first quarter, and Kemp completed passes of 31 and 32 yards to backs Flowers and Lowe, before sneaking in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead. Later, Lowe fumbled in Titan territory, and Dorow made amends by leading a 76-yard touchdown in which he completed six passes, the final one for a touchdown. Completions of 26 and 28 yards by Kemp set up Blair for a 20-yard field goal to restore the lead. Later in the 2nd quarter, Harris intercepted a long throw by Dorow and returned the ball to the Charger 22. On the ensuing drive, Kemp found Norton for 52 yards up the left sideline, before again sneaking in for a one-yard touchdown. The Titans turned a Kemp interception into a field goal late in the third quarter, and trailed by only seven points as the teams exchanged punts on the next four possessions. San Diego then put the game away with back-to-back big plays: Kemp found Norton along the left sideline again, this time for 33 yards, and Lowe followed his blockers around right end for 25 yards and a touchdown. Claude Gibson then ran in a two point conversion, the first scored by the Chargers. Kemp became the first AFL passer to post two consecutive 300-yard games - he was 15 of 38 for 302 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Norton had 5 receptions for 121 yards.

Week 7

San Diego overcame an early deficit to thrash the Raiders a second time. Lowe fumbled an early punt, and Tom Flores capitalised with a touchdown pass four plays later. Oakland then appeared to have forced a punt, but were penalised for roughing the kicker, giving the Chargers a fresh set of downs. Lowe made amends three plays later, shaking off two would-be tacklers on a 35-yard touchdown run. After the Raiders went three-and-out, Lowe immediately scored again, leaving the defense behind with a burst of speed for a 46-yard touchdown. Raider turnovers led to further touchdowns for Norton, Flowers and Kemp, and it was already 34-7 by halftime. Backup quarterback Hunter Ennis came on in the second half and led a 19-play, 86-yard drive in which the Chargers converted five 3rd downs and one 4th down, Ennis himself running in the game's final touchdown. As they had in the first game against the Raiders, San Diego rushed for five touchdowns. Lowe carried 11 times for 106 yards and two scores. The Charger defense turned in a dominant performance, with six takeaways, including four interceptions - Gibson had two of them. San Diego allowed only 58 yards of total offense and 2 rushing yards, both still club records. Through four games against Oakland, the Chargers had won each game, by a combined 178-55.

Week 8

Seven takeaways by the Charger defense were more than enough to overcome five turnovers from the offense, as San Diego blanked the Broncos. Denver weren't short of scoring opportunities, especially in the first half, when six of their seven possessions featured snaps in Charger territory. These drives ended in two missed field goals, two turnovers on downs and, most damagingly, two pick sixes on back-to-back drives, with Bob Laraba and Chuck Allen returning their interceptions 57 and 58 yards respectively. Kemp had a particularly rough day with four interceptions, but did manage a 33-yard touchdown to Norton in the 3rd quarter as San Diego pulled away. Keith Lincoln scored his first touchdown as a professional on a 34-yard pass from Enis, to complete the scoring. Allen added a pair of fumble recoveries to his interception return touchdown. Norton caught 5 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.

Week 9

Amidst the now-familiar glut of turnovers, San Diego won another blowout, though they had to overcome a bad start to do it. Kemp threw interceptions on consecutive attempts in the first half, while New York had two long touchdown drives, converting a 4th down in each. Down 13-0, the Chargers responded with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, a Kemp keeper getting them back in the game 56 seconds before halftime. It was the first of seven unanswered touchdowns for San Diego. Gibson's 40-yard punt return set up another one-yard Kemp run, then Zemen's interception was followed immediately by Lowe's 67-yard breakaway for another score. Norton added a 13-yard touchdown on the next Charger drive, before Charlie McNeil completed a 28-point 3rd quarter with an interception of Al Dorow, and 41-yard touchdown return. With New York continuing to give the ball away in the 4th quarter, Enis came in and rushed for one score before finding Hayes for another. Lowe had 9 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. Allen continued his good form, snagging two of the Chargers' five picks. With their nearest rivals, the Dallas Texans, standing at 3-5, San Diego needed only one win from five to repeat as division champions.

Week 10

The Chargers edged past Denver on the day they won the AFL West. The Broncos outgained San Diego 157-32 in the first half, scoring on 4th and goal from inside the one, and getting a bonus two points when Laraba put a long snap over punter Maguire's head for a safety. Kemp threw an end zone interception to end the Chargers' best chance before the break. Two big plays turned the game in the 3rd quarter. On 3rd and 15 from the Charger 9, Lincoln took a Kemp pass 91 yards to set a new Charger record for longest touchdown from scrimmage - this record would stand for 33 years. Bronco's QB Frank Tripucka threw his third interception three plays later - Dick Harris was the beneficiary, returning the ball 30 yards for his third such touchdown of the season. One extra point attempt was foiled by a bad snap, and the other was missed by Laraba, leaving the score at 12-9. Tripucka managed a long touchdown pass of his own early in the 4th quarter, an 87-yarder to restore Denver's lead. Kemp dropped back to pass on every play of the Chargers' response, getting sacked once but completing 5 of 7 for 74 yards and a touchdown to Bob Scarpitto. A Zeman interception stopped the next Denver drive; the Broncos were then pinned on their own 1, and forced to punt from there after three incompletions. A 20-yard punt return by Gibson set the Chargers up at the Denver 15, but Kocourek's touchdown catch was ruled out by penalty before Kemp threw an interception on 4th down. Starting at their own five with 2:04 on the clock and two timeouts, the Broncos made slow going of it, converting a 4th down to stay alive but only getting as far as their 47 yard line, from where Tripucka threw incomplete as time expired. Denver finished with a 358-209 yardage advantage. They had two 100-yard receivers (Al Frazier and Lionel Taylor) but Tripucka was intercepted by five different Chargers. Lincoln rushed 4 times for 36 yards, and caught 3 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Week 11

Jack Kemp had completed several long passes as the Chargers won their 15th consecutive regular season game, still a club record. After Blair missed from 39 yards on the game's opening possession, Norton's 34 yard catch set up for another chance, which he converted. One play after the Texans went three-and-out, Kocourek took a screen pass 61 yards for a touchdown, benefitting from Sherman Plunkett's key downfield tackle. Later in the quarter, Laraba picked off a Cotton Davidson pass and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown and 17-0 lead. It was San Diego's fourth consecutive game with at least one interception return touchdown. Davidson scored on a keeper to start the second half. Kemp found Norton for 42 yards in response, but fumbled on the next play, and Dallas recovered. The Chargers had turnovers on their next two drives as well, but the defense kept Dallas from converting the errors into points. A Zeman interception early in the 4th quarter was followed three plays later by Scarpitto's 53-yard touchdown catch, and the Chargers weren't troubled again. Kemp was 15 of 27 for 357 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Kocourek caught 7 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown, while Norton had 6 catches for 120 yards.

Week 13

San Diego came out of their bye week looking to complete an unbeaten season, but the Oilers were on a winning streak of their own (six in a row), and needed the win to stay a game clear in the AFL East; inspired by George Blanda, Houston won easily. Bill Hudson got San Diego off to a good start - he recovered a fumble at the Oiler 12, and Norton scored two plays later. The Charger offense sputtered from there, only crossing midfield twice in their next ten possessions, while Blanda took charge. The Oilers' kicker/quarterback threw two touchdowns in the 1st quarter and two more in the 3rd. In between, he made a pair of field goals, including a 55-yarder - this would stand as the longest in the ten-season run of the AFL. By the time Kemp and Norton combined for another score, the game had long since gone. Norton caught 6 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns, but was overshadowed by Oiler receiver Charley Hennigan, whose 10 catches for 214 yards and three scores made him the first player to post a 200-yard game against the Chargers. Blanda was 20 of 33 for 351 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. The solitary interception marked the only time all season the Chargers failed to claim two or more.

Week 14

The Chargers' 10th and 11th return touchdowns of the season saw them win despite gaining only seven first downs. Buffalo's defense accounted for the game's first touchdown, a Kemp fumble being returned 24 yards for an early 10-0 lead. San Diego struck back at the start of the 2nd quarter when Keith Lincoln raced 57 yards down the right sideline for the first punt return touchdown in franchise history. Shortly before halftime, Earl Faison deflected a pass for Bill Hudson to intercept and return 5 yards, putting the Chargers ahead to stay. In the second half, Lowe's short run and Kocourek's long reception completed the scoring. Buffalo reached the Charger one yard line twice in the final quarter, but turned the ball over on downs each time. Kocourek finished with 175 yards and a touchdown from just 3 catches.

Week 15

Most of San Diego's starters played a major part in this game, but they were nonetheless routed at home by a Boston side who had started the day still competing for a place in the AFL title game (in the event, Houston's win in Oakland kept them out). The Chargers crossed midfield only three times in fifteen possessions, with their best penetration being the Boston 31; they already trailed 24-0 at that point, and it was terminated by one of Kemp's four interceptions. Don Webb scored with both an interception return and a blocked punt return, and the Patriots exceeded the margin of their previous road win over the Chargers. Hayes caught 3 passes for 100 yards, while Harris and Zeman added to San Diego's record-setting interceptions haul, but the Chargers would take little momentum into their second AFL Championship Game.

Standings



Playoffs



Game summaries



AFL Championship Game: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Oilers

Houston repeated as AFL Champions, edging a defensive battle that saw a combined 13 turnovers.

References

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