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Way Back Wednesday: 'Bambi' and the Chargers

You are likely aware of the Disney classic, "Bambi," the story of a young deer fawn destined to one day be Great Prince of the Forest, like his father had been. Bambi is a charming young creature and does indeed reach that position in time.

But what in the world does that have to do with the Broncos and Chargers, right?

Well, only one time in pro football history has a player carried the nickname "Bambi," and he truly was "Prince" of the pro football forest.

That player was Lance Alworth, a lithe, magnificent wide receiver from the University of Arkansas, so smooth and graceful himself as to merit the comparison with the deer of Disney fame.

In the film, Bambi watched his mother killed by a hunter. But in the pro football world, Alworth was the killer, and he absolutely destroyed the Denver Broncos.

I was in the stands on Dec. 1, 1968 when Alworth caught four touchdowns in an afternoon of misery for the Broncos.

Future Broncos assistant coach John Hadl was the quarterback for the Chargers that Sunday afternoon, and we sometimes discussed his Chargers teammate. "We [the Chargers] were way better than the Broncos at that time," Hadl recalled, "but with Alworth, it did not matter much who he was playing.

"He was such a smooth and graceful athlete, running routes and catching the ball that one did not pay much attention to the fact that he was a brutal blocker as well. He did whatever he needed to do to help us win."

alworth

Asked if Alworth was Bambi with a sledgehammer, Hadl said, "That is a pretty good description." 

In addition to owning a spot among Broncos' opponent touchdown records that might never be touched, he once had 211 receiving yards against Denver, that coming in a 1965 game, and in 1963 he had an 85-yard touchdown catch against the Broncos that still is the seventh-longest ever against Denver.

Those records have been in the Broncos books for 50 years, but Denver was not the only team victimized by Alworth.

A 1978 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he played for the (then) San Diego Chargers from 1962-70 and then with the Dallas Cowboys in 1971-72.

Chargers head coach and general manager Sid Gillman believed in keeping no player past the age of 30, so he traded the future Hall of Famer to Dallas, where he was on the Cowboys' Super Bowl XII championship team in 1971.

"A lot of us players wanted to keep Lance and were kind of surprised to see him traded," Hadl said, "but as great as Lance was you cannot argue with the great success Sid had."

Gillman is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Hadl, who himself tormented the Broncos as much as Alworth, was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

The career numbers for Alworth were 542 receptions for 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns.

He was named All-American Football League seven times (six on the first team, once on the second team) and played in seven AFL All-Star games.

Alworth was the first great pro football receiver to ever wear number 19, the only one ever called "Bambi" and to this day stands in the Broncos' record books among top performances by an opposing player.

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