Alworth Still Going Strong At 66

FAYETTEVILLE — Lance Alworth was the original All-American boy at Arkansas. Blessed with 9.6 speed in the 100-yard dash, natural ability in baseball, football and golf, matinee-idol looks and a great name, Alworth led the Razorbacks to three straight Southwest Conference football championships in 1959-1961 and became only the school's seventh All-America honoree in 1961.

It turned out that he only touched his potential in college, where he played halfback. As a pro receiver, Alworth caught passes for more than 11,000 yards in nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers and two with the Dallas Cowboys. He was nicknamed "Bambi" for his jumping ability, speed and grace. Alworth punctuated his career by catching a touchdown pass in a Dallas Super Bowl win over Miami. A few years later he established a mini-storage company called All-Aboard, which he still heads in San Diego, Calif. For the first time since his induction into the inaugural UA Hall of Honor class in 1988, Alworth returned to Fayetteville in November to serve as honorary Hogs captain for the Tennessee game. At age 66, he enjoyed the experience immensely and vowed to come back more often. "It was a great feeling, seeing everybody," Alworth said last week. "I got to see old teammates like Billy Moore, George McKinney and Don Horton. McKinney and Horton spent the whole weekend with me. The best thing was beating Tennessee." Alworth was so impressed with tailback Darren McFadden and the Hogs' running game that he said last week, "Arkansas will beat Wisconsin by two touchdowns. They should be able to control the game. Arkansas has a heck of a team. I don't think they realize how good they are." Everyone knew how good Alworth was as a high school star in Brookhaven, Miss., but Ole Miss had a policy of not recruiting married football players at the time. Alworth had married his high school sweetheart, Betty, who is now Mrs. Jim Guy Tucker. "Ole Miss actually offered me a baseball scholarship with the idea that I would come out for football, too," Alworth recalled. "But I didn't want to be the first player to get around the policy that way." Alworth met first-year UA football coach Frank Broyles while playing in high school all-star games at Memphis and Jackson, Miss. Broyles tells the story of clinching the Alworth recruitment during a round of golf at Fayetteville Country Club, when Alworth asked to play another 18 holes. "We've got him!" Broyles told his late assistant coach, Jim Mackenzie. Alworth chuckled at the memory, but he said, "Really, it was Frank — the kind of person he was. He didn't have to recruit me that hard. He can sell himself pretty well. Both sets of parents liked him, too." Freshmen weren't eligible for the varsity in 1958, but Alworth and running back Bruce Fullerton of Little Rock Central created a buzz with their play on an unbeaten Hogs freshman team. Alworth started as a sophomore in 1959 alongside All-America halfback Jim Mooty as the Hogs went 9-2, beat Georgia Tech 14-7 in the Gator Bowl and finished as the No. 9 team in the country. Helping clinch a share of the SWC title by making a two-point run for a 15-14 lead in a 17-14 win over Don Meredith-led SMU was Alworth. "Lance broke four tackles on that play," Broyles said. Alworth didn't think it was that many. "I wasn't big enough to break that many tackles," he joked. While veteran Hogs fans remember Alworth's run fondly, he said, "I remember my fumble against Texas that year. We were leading them 12-7 when I tried to catch a punt on the run and dropped it. They recovered and went on to win 13-12. I was so upset, I cried on the bus all the way home." But Alworth called Arkansas' Gator Bowl win one of his best memories. "We had Mooty and he was hard to stop," Alworth said. "When we got to Jacksonville, Fla., they made all of us walk across the scales because they didn't believe we only averaged 183 pounds a man. It turned out we weighed even less than that." The next season, Alworth executed a running punt to the Duke 2-yard line in the Cotton Bowl, but Duke won the game 7-6. "They had a lonesome end (Ty Moorman) who didn't go into the huddle," Alworth remembered. "I played halfback on defense and he never looked at me. We had one coverage where I cut in front of Moorman. I flashed and thought I was off to the races, but the ball went off my hands into his and that set up their scoring drive. "I remember the bad things." Alworth's senior season, 1961, had more good things as Arkansas had an 8-2 regular season before losing 10-3 to No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The 170-pound Alworth rushed 110 times for 516 yards that year, caught 18 passes for 320 yards, returned 28 punts for 336 yards and returned 13 kickoffs for 300 yards. He led the SWC with 836 yards of tandem offense. After the season, Broyles mused about whether he should have put Alworth, his best athlete, at quarterback. "They actually did put me there in practice one week my first year," Alworth said. "McKinney, our quarterback, was hurt, so I took extra snaps at quarterback all week, with Fullerton in the backfield. But McKinney was able to play in the game. "Fullerton was a great athlete but he ended up joining the military. If he had stayed at Arkansas, he could have been one of the great players." Following the 1962 Sugar Bowl, Alworth signed with Al Davis of the AFL under the goalpost. "The (NFL) San Francisco 49ers drafted me sixth in the first round, but the Chargers traded Oakland four players for the rights to me and took me second," Alworth said. With quarterback John Hadl passing deep often, Alworth set numerous records with San Diego, including one for the most 200-yard receiving games. Last year Alworth became just the second Charger to have his number (19) retired. Quarterback Dan Fouts was the other. Alworth agrees with sportscaster John Madden that the Chargers are the best team in the NFL currently, and that running back LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best ever. "My company gets a bunch of Chargers tickets — which is why I'm so popular with the employees," Alworth joked. "But I like to watch the games on TV." Alworth and his wife, Laura, have no children together, but have helped raise a blended family of six children. Joe, 15, is "a heck of a football player," Lance said. "He played fullback and linebacker on his junior high team and he's been asked to play on the high school varsity as a 10th grader." Some of the family will be in the eastern U.S. for Christmas today, but Alworth said, "Christmas is a very special day for our entire family. We get together with our two families on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning." When Alworth returned to Reynolds Razorback Stadium last month, he wore the letter jacket he earned at Arkansas. It still fit him perfectly, and in many longtime fans' minds he was still the All-American boy. LANCE ALWORTH CAREER HIGHLIGHTS All-America 1961; Academic All-America, 1961; All-Southwest Conference 1960-61; Arkansas All-Decade Offensive Team, 1960s; UA All-Century Team, 1994; Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1978; Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, 1979; College Football Hall of Fame, 1984; UA Hall of Honor, 1988; Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame, 2005; Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame; uniform No. 19 retired by San Diego Chargers, 2005; played in Hula Bowl and College All-Star Game, 1962; UA Sportsmanship Award, 1961; Crip Hall Homecoming Award, 1961; Delbert Swartz Academic Achievement Award, 1962; lettered in football, baseball and track at UA; first-round draft choice, San Francisco 49ers, 1962; played for San Diego Chargers, 1962-70, and Dallas Cowboys, 1971-72; set numerous NFL receiving records including most 200-yard games; caught passes for 11,000-plus yards PERSONAL: Age 66, wife Laura, children Lance Jr., 45, Kelly, 41, Ryan, 30, Joe, 15, Riley, 12, Brian, 6. Lives in San Diego, Calif.

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