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Sacco Sez: Chargers memories from LA days

Relive the Broncos vs. Chargers series history with photographs dating to the teams' AFL roots in the 1960s.

With the Broncos playing the Chargers on the road this week in Los Angeles — as opposed to the San Diego home the team occupied from 1961 through 2016 — there are a spate of articles and stories about Denver playing in LA.

These stories mostly focus on the last time the Broncos played a game in Los Angeles, but my own personal memory bank somewhat tops that.

I am one of few Bronco fans who can say he saw the one and only time the Broncos previously played the Los Angeles Chargers in Los Angeles, and I remember it as a still vivid snapshot of 1960, when I was 11 years old, just beginning to follow — and fall in love with — sports and the newly conceived Denver Broncos.

It was Dec. 10, 1960, a Saturday. Television and pro sports did not yet have the marriage that exists today, and American Football League teams sometimes played on Friday nights without the benefit of TV coverage, or on Saturday, with or without coverage.

This was with it.

I sat on the floor in front of our Packard Bell black-and-white TV and was thoroughly engrossed, an audience of one in our living room watching the same thing that 9,928 Southern Californians showed up to see at the fabled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

That crowd was one of the four smallest that Denver played before in the inaugural AFL season, and it was a big part of the reason why the Chargers relocated to San Diego the following year.

The Chargers wore their fabled powder blue uniforms that day. Of course, I only knew this because the announcers told me. Not just this game, but all sports events were still televised in black and white in 1960.

Los Angeles had a real good team, but the Broncos, who would finish 4-9-1, did their best to keep up with the Chargers' offense, which was led at quarterback by future presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

Two future Bronco Ring of Famers led the way, with quarterback Frank Tripucka throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns while all-purpose player Gene Mingo scored on a 12-yard run in addition to kicking four field goals for Denver.

The following week, Tripucka would become the first passer in pro football history to throw for 3,000 yard in a season, so he did his best that day in Los Angeles, but nothing was enough to keep up with the Chargers.

Kemp threw two touchdown passes of his own, and the final was a 41-33 Chargers win.

I still remember "Bootin' Ben" Agajanian kicking two field goals for Los Angeles.  He was the first true place-kicking specialist in pro football and was at the tail end of a legendary career.

Agajanian has the distinction of being the oldest living Charger, Ram and Raider. Born in 1919, "Bootin' Ben" is now 98 and lives quietly in Cathedral City, California.  I have written about him before and an interested reader can still find that story on this site.

But none of those things is what I remember most about that first Broncos-Chargers game in Los Angeles.

As I said, I was 11 years old, and my emotions were all very fresh.

I was so sad to see the Broncos losing — not that this was unusual for the team in 1960 — that I began to shed some tears.

My dad walked by and noticed this, and asked me what was making me cry.

I told him it was the Broncos losing, and although not a knowledgeable football fan, Dad was a very knowledgeable father, and he came over to me and patiently explained the reality that only one team can win.

He told me the Broncos were real good, which he knew not to be true, but that in a few years the Broncos would be a real good team and beat the Chargers and everyone else.

That made me fell a lot better and I was able to wipe away my sniffles and watch the rest of the weekly Broncos debacles without any further emotional incidents.

It turns out that Dad was prophetic. He was just off not by a few years, but by multiples of a few years.

He eventually had the pride that only a parent could have when I began my career with the Broncos, and we were able to enjoy the Broncos' first trips to the Super Bowl with differing versions of personal satisfaction.

Dad was right. The Broncos became better than everybody else in many seasons, but I still remember with melancholy fondness his seminal words to me during that 1960 loss to the Chargers the last time these two teams played in Los Angeles.

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