In it’s vast history, the NFL has had a slew of colorful player nicknames.
Depending on the opponent, these names may have elicited fear, foreboding, anxiety and apprehension.
However, it might be a stretch for an opponent to become overly stressed when preparing for “Bambi.”
This was the moniker given to former Chargers and Cowboys receiver Lance Alworth.
For 11 NFL seasons, Alworth outran, out jumped, and outfoxed his opponents to become one of the best receiving targets in league history.
The nickname belied Alworth’s grit and determination that he brought to the game.
This is the story of Lance Alworth.
— Goat Jerseys (@GoatJerseys) October 16, 2019
Athletic family and high school stud
Lance Dwight Alworth was born on August 3, 1940 in Houston, Texas.
He was part of an athletic family that included his sister, Ann.
Like her brother, Ann Alworth was a speed demon.
She competed in the 50 and 75-yard dashes in track and was good enough to be invited to the Olympic Trials.
Ann would decline the invitation, however.
When Alworth was just a boy, his family moved to Brookhaven, Mississippi.
He was a scholastic dynamo, racking up no less than 15 athletic letters at Brookhaven High School.
His best sports were football and baseball.
In 1957, Alworth was recognized as a scholastic All-American.
By the time he graduated from Brookhaven, Alworth had several college football scholarship opportunities.
He was also offered baseball contracts by the New York Yankees as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Alworth would spurn pro baseball and continue playing football and run track in college.
Just before he graduated high school, Alworth married his girlfriend, Betty Jean.
Because he got married, the University of Mississippi withdrew its scholarship offer to him.
At the time, the school had a policy against recruiting married football players.
“There must have been fifteen married couples in my graduating class. It seemed like the thing to do at the time,” Alworth said years later.
Mississippi’s loss was Arkansas’ gain.
Alworth and his new bride chose to head to Fayetteville, Arkansas so he could be a part of coach Frank Broyles’ team.
Broyles put Alworth at running back and had him return punts for the Razorbacks.
In 1959, Alworth had 85 rushing attempts, gained 366 yards and scored two touchdowns.
He also caught seven passes for 82 yards and another score.
In Broyles’ second year as head coach of the program, Arkansas went 9-2 and defeated Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl 14-7.
The following season, the Razorbacks went 8-3 and lost to Duke by one in the Cotton Bowl.
Arkansas’ lone touchdown of the game was a 49-yard punt return by Alworth.
The PAT was blocked and proved to be the winning margin for the Blue Devils.
Although his team lost the game, Alworth was voted MVP.
That same year, Alworth saw an uptick in carries and yards with 106 attempts and 375 yards.
He snagged a dozen balls for 243 yards and two scores.
He also led the nation in punt return yardage.
Lance Alworth of Arkansas featured on this 1961 "Texas Football" magazine. pic.twitter.com/LSrmrumrcI
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) June 14, 2015
In 1961, Alworth gained 531 yards from scrimmage on 110 carries and scored two touchdowns.
His receptions increased to 18 for 320 yards and three more scores.
For the second year in a row, Alworth led the nation in punt return yardage.
Meanwhile, Arkansas finished the ‘61 season 8-3 and faced Alabama in the 1962 Sugar Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks and Alworth, they came up short for the second bowl in a row, losing 10-3.
During Alworth’s time in Fayetteville he didn’t just partake in football.
He was a star on the track, competing in the long jump and running the 100 and 220 yards dashes.
His best times in the latter events were 9.6 and 21.2 seconds, respectively.
Alworth was also a three-time Academic All-American.
He graduated with a degree in marketing and also spent a semester in law school.
Drafted twice in 1962
By the time Alworth was leaving Arkansas, the NFL wasn’t quite like we know it today.
Until they merged in 1970, the NFL and the American Football League (AFL) were rivals.
They didn’t just compete for football supremacy, they also competed for talent.
That’s where Alworth found himself before the 1962 draft.
Both leagues were ready to pay him for his services.
January 1, 1962 … After the Sugar Bowl game versus the Crimson Tide then Chargers assistant coach AL DAVIS had Arkansas Razorbacks HB Lance Alworth sign on with the AFL Chargers. The NFL San Francisco 49ers had interest in Lance Alworth. pic.twitter.com/1ORWXhoFm5
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) January 1, 2019
In the span of only a couple days in early December of 1961, both leagues drafted Alworth.
First, the Oakland Raiders selected him with the ninth overall pick of the AFL Draft and then traded his rights to the San Diego Chargers.
Two days later, San Francisco selected Alworth eighth overall in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Alworth chose to become a member of the Chargers.
After all, coach Sid Gillman had something special brewing in San Diego and Alworth wanted to be a part of it.
Rookie year, birth of a nickname and league MVP in 1963
Gillman had been a football coach for years and has long been considered one of the game’s offensive innovators.
His passion for the game dated back to the 1930s and Gillman’s presence in San Diego portended success.
When Alworth arrived in San Diego, Gillman already had a plan for him.
He moved the speedy, lanky kid from Arkansas to receiver and watched him thrive.
In his rookie season, Alworth improved each week as he learned the nuances of the position.
Because of a torn thigh muscle, he collected only 10 catches in four starts, yet three of them were for touchdowns.
1963 was the official coming out party for Alworth.
That season he set Chargers records for receptions with 61, yards with 1,205 and touchdowns with 11.
He was named the UPI’s AFL MVP after the year.
San Diego thrived under Gillman’s leadership and Alworth’s heady play.
His teammates loved to tease Alworth about his boyish appearance and ability to shake most defenders.
Alworth’s game reminded some of the cartoon character Bambi and a nickname was born.
“You’re Bambi” said former teammate Charlie Flowers.
“What for?” asked Alworth.
“For your big brown eyes and the way you move.” answered Flowers.
The Chargers went 11-3 that year and destroyed the Patriots 51-10 in the AFL Championship game.
During the contest, Alworth collected four receptions for 77 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown.
Alworth was selected as an AFL Western Division All-Star for the first of seven consecutive seasons and also received an AFL All-flanker award for the first of six seasons.
For the next three years, Alworth consistently showed why he was one of the best (if not the best) receivers in the AFL.
His 1964 receptions total matched his total from the year before.
In addition to 61 catches, Alworth had 1,235 receiving yards and led the league with 13 touchdown receptions.
He also ran the ball three times for 60 yards and two more scores.
The Chargers quarterbacks for the 1963 and ‘64 seasons were Tobin Rote and John Hadl.
The two split starts, but Hadl would receive the lion’s share of the snaps.
Hadl would also prove to be an effective one-two punch with Alworth.
San Diego posted an 8-5-1 record in 1964 and lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFL Championship game 20-7.
In 1965, Hadl was the lone starter for the season and connected with Alworth 69 times for a league-leading 1,602 yards and an AFL best 14 touchdowns.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 3, 2017
The Chargers returned to the AFL Championship game after a 9-2-3 season.
However, they were defeated again by the Bills 23-0.
San Diego struggled in 1966 to a 7-6-1 record and failed to make the postseason.
Alworth did just fine, though.
That year he caught a career-best 73 receptions for 1,383 yards and 13 touchdowns.
All three marks led the AFL (he would lead the AFL in five categories that season).
At the same time the Chargers were consistently at the top of the AFL, they were also known for their use of anabolic steroids.
Before the league banned the substances that enhanced performance and competitive advantage, Gillman and strength coach Alvin Roy made daily doses of the drug Dianabol mandatory for a five-week period during training camp.
By the time the players became aware of the potential side-effects of steroids, the “program” was relaxed to only a voluntary one-week period.
For the rest of the 1960s, San Diego never finished above third place in their division.
During the 1969 season, Gillman resigned due to poor health and Charlie Waller took his place.
Despite the team’s struggles, Alworth performed well each year.
After a 52 catch, 1,010 yards and nine touchdown season in 1967, he continued his assault as the league’s best receiver in 1968 and 1969.
1968 was Alworth’s year to shine as he led the AFL in receptions with 68 and yards with 1,312.
He also scored ten touchdowns.
Alworth led the league in receptions in 1969 with 64.
He had 1,003 receiving yards that season which made seven consecutive years with over 1,000 yards receiving.
That record has since been broken by Jerry Rice.
Best receiver of the 60s? My vote goes to Lance Alworth… pic.twitter.com/ronfrk5UH7
— Sports Days Past (@SportsDaysPast) October 26, 2017
In 1970, Alworth’s production dipped considerably.
That year he caught only 35 passes for 608 yards and four scores.
After eight years in the league, it looked like Alworth’s stature as the AFL’s best receiver was at an end.
Trade to the Cowboys
Given his surprising 1970 numbers, Alworth was traded to Dallas on May 19, 1971.
The Cowboys were coming off a 10-4 season and a loss to the Colts in Super Bowl V.
Alworth was viewed as a player that could get Dallas back to the Super Bowl and win it.
He was added to a roster that already had stars such as quarterback Roger Staubach, running back Calvin Hill, tight end Mike Ditka and receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes among others.
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) February 17, 2019
Staubach would prove to be an upgrade for Alworth.
In 1971, Alworth contributed 34 receptions, 487 yards and two touchdowns for Dallas.
The Cowboys finished the year 11-3 and returned to the playoffs.
In consecutive weeks, the team dispatched the Vikings in the Divisional round and San Francisco in the NFC Championship game.
Alworth and Dallas then faced the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
Leading 3-0 in the second quarter, the Cowboys went on a sustained drive to try and increase their lead.
With just a little over six minutes remaining in the half, Staubach found Alworth for a 21 yard gain.
Not long after, Staubach again found Alworth for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
It was the first touchdown of the game and put the Cowboys ahead 10-0.
Dallas dominated the game and eventually won their first world championship 24-3.
Alworth would call his two receptions during the Super Bowl the most important catches of his career.
44 years ago today, Lance Alworth and the Cowboys defeated the Dolphins to win Super Bowl VI pic.twitter.com/L6z0aykAiJ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2016
1972 and retirement
The year after his first NFL championship, Alworth had some of the lowest totals of his career.
His 14 catches were the fewest since his rookie year and his 195 receiving yards and two scores spelled the end of his effectiveness.
Dallas took a 10-4 record into the postseason and Alworth helped the team beat the 49ers in the Divisional round.
With the Cowboys down 21-6, Alworth caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Craig Morton to cut the San Francisco lead to 21-13.
Lance Alworth with the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers pic.twitter.com/tph616mCpF
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) October 18, 2017
That jumpstarted Dallas and the team eventually came back to win the game 30-28.
The Cowboys bid to win another Super Bowl ended in the NFC Championship game when the Redskins eliminated them 26-3.
With three straight years of declining numbers, Alworth hung up his cleats following the ‘72 season.
In 11 years, Alworth had totals of 542 receptions for 10,266 yards, 85 touchdowns, 129 rushing yards and two more scores.
Along with being an AFL and NFL champion, Alworth was a seven-time AFL All-Star, six-time First-team All-AFL, AFL Player of the Year, three-time AFL receiving yards leader, three-time AFL receptions leader and three-time AFL receiving touchdowns leader.
Additionally, he is a member of the AFL All-Time Team, LA Chargers Hall of Fame, NFL 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams and Alworth’s number 19 is retired by the Chargers.
After retiring, the accolades continued to pour in for Alworth.
In 1978 he was the first Charger and the first player who had competed in the AFL to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Al Davis, Alworth’s former position coach with the Chargers and later owner of the Raiders, had this to say about Alworth during his enshrinement.
“He was the most feared player of our time and deserves to be the standard-bearer for the American Football League,” said Davis.
The following year, Alworth was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and in 1988, he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Alworth was ranked #31 by The Sporting News of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Lance Alworth is one of the 10 wide receivers selected to the #NFL100 All-Time Team!
⚡️ 6x First-Team All-Pro, 7x Pro Bowl selection
⚡️ 542 receptions, 10,266 receiving yards, 85 receiving TDs
⚡️ First AFL player elected to @ProFootballHOF
⚡️ 7 cons. seasons w/ 1,000+ rec. yards pic.twitter.com/3t4sxtPeJx
— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2019
Alworth was a successful businessman as well in retirement.
He owned Space Saver, an industrial real estate company.
Alworth also founded All Aboard Mini Storage with facilities located throughout California.
Even with his eventful post-career life, Alworth will forever be known for his football skills and effortless ability.
His former San Diego coach, Gillman, would often recall what he liked best about Alworth.
“Hands,” said Gillman. “God never gave anybody any better hands than Lance Alworth. I’ve never seen an end who could run down the field, time his leap, and jump as high as Lance to catch balls. When he ran on the field it was like being at a racetrack. There may be one horse who looks like a complete thoroughbred who takes your eye away from the other horses. That’s how Lance was. He was in a class by himself.”
Alworth himself later explained why he excelled in the game and was determined to be the best.
“I worked hard on my pass routes, but the main thing was that when the ball was thrown, it was mine,” said Alworth. “I fought for the ball because it belonged to me. It wasn’t up for grabs. I knew arcs and where the pass would be coming down. I had a God-given talent to catch a football.”
Alworth and his third wife currently live in the San Diego area.