Nino and Lance Alworth -- Football Legends and Classy Guys

Here in San Diego -- the sports fans are still bummed the Chargers moved to Los Angeles. I hate to admit that as bothered as I am by that, I’m more concerned with how my fantasy football team will do next year.

The stories about the Chargers that make me happiest always seem to involve the best Charger player of all-time: Lance Alworth. Never heard of him, do some research. Oh hell, I’ll do it for you. The Hall of Fame receiver had the most games with over 200 receiving yards. He had the most consecutive seasons with over 11 TD receptions (Marvin Harrison and Art Powell are tied with him). He’s tied with Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, and Cris Carter (all names I’m sure you are familiar with), with 12+ TD receptions (they all had 3). He has the most TD receptions that were over 70 plus yards in his career with 12.

Charger fans love Dan Fouts. We love the recently inducted Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson. I’m not a big Philip Rivers fan (the reasons would fill another story). But there are many reasons Lance Alworth is my favorite player, and they don’t all involve his football prowess. It’s not that he has so many Charger records (most receiving yards in a season, most receiving touchdowns, most consecutive seasons with 1000 receiving yards, first Charger to make the Hall of Fame, etc etc etc).  It’s the fact that he’s a classy guy.

One of the more recent classy moves he made involved a guy that turned 100-years-old. The newspaper interviewed the guy, and he had Chargers memorabilia all over his house. He said Lance “Bambi” Alworth was his favorite player, and he talked about the games in which he saw him play. Well, Alworth then paid a visit to his house. He signed some autographs, took photos, and get this. He stayed in touch with the guy.

Alworth had started a few successful businesses in San Diego, and I was at a friends house for dinner about 25 years ago. Jane said to me, “You like football, right?” When I nodded my head, she said, “Did you know Lance Alworth is my boss?”

I nearly jumped out of my seat. A few days later, I gave her a football card from 1968 and asked her if she’d get it autographed. She did, and even sweetened the pot by saying, “He also gave me his tickets to the game next week, if you want to go.”

We were sitting about where the 50-yard-line was, and it was a blast. But truth be told, I was happier I got the autograph.

The other day I got his autograph again, and it happened in the weirdest way. I met a teenager a year ago named Nino Alworth. I said to him, “You’re not related to Lance, are you?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah, he’s my grandfather.”

We talked a bit about his career, and I asked if he played football, too. Turns out he had been playing soccer for a long time, but was going to try his hand at football the following year. At 6’4” I figured he’d be a terrific receiver. I loved the idea of him wearing the same #19, with “Alworth” on the back of the jersey. We’d occasionally text and I’d ask about how things were going. He told me he ended up playing kicker, and it turns out, was surprisingly good. He made all his field goals last season, one of which was 50-yards-out. A bunch of colleges showed interest, and he told me he’s committing to the Kansas Jayhawks. He showed me a picture of him and Lance in the locker room after their tour to the university. I said, “I’m sure the staff there was thrilled to meet Lance.”

After knowing Nino for a year, I figured I’d finally ask him to get me his grandfather’s autograph. He said, “Yeah, no problem.”

When I met with him to pick it up, I was surprised to see he had gotten it on a Chargers football. I didn’t realize they made footballs like this specifically for autographs. Obviously, a brown football would make black Sharpies hard to see, and we all know how paint pens are a big mess.

I said to Nino, “When you make it to the NFL as a kicker, I’m going to ask you for an autographed football, too.”

As we were sitting in McDonald’s eating, something occurred to me. I said, “I just realized something. After being in Las Vegas, and sitting behind wrestler John Cena at an event...he was hounded the whole evening for autographs and photos. Since your last name is so popular in San Diego, how often do you have to get autographs for your friends? It’s probably not as bad as it could be, since he retired in 1972.”

He smiled and said, “Yeah, they ask. Maybe a few times a month I’m getting things signed for people. It’s usually friends whose dad wants his autograph, though.”

I never followed college football, but I’m certainly going to follow the career of Nino Alworth for the Jayhawks.

I’ll end this story with the lyrics to the classic song "Kansas City" changed slightly:

He’s goin’ to, Kansas City. Kansas City here he comes.

He’s kickin’ at, Kansas City. Kansas City here he comes.

They’ll have some crazy games played, and he’ll, win them one!

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Tags: Dan Fouts, Kansas City, Kansas Jayhawks, Lance Alworth, Nino Alworth, Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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