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Balboa Stadium



Balboa Stadium was originally built in 1915 as part of the Panama-California Exposition. Residing next to San Diego High School, the athletic field featured two sets of concrete bleachers on either side of the field that could hold up to 15,000 spectators.


Its first foray into the national consciousness was in September 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson spoke in front of 50,000 spectators, preaching the virtues of the League of Nations.


As the years went by and the high school continued to use it for its original purpose, the landscape of sports in America changed drastically. Before 1958, no major league sport existed on the West Coast. That changed when Rams moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland and the 49ers moved to the NFL in 1950.


Meanwhile, the seeds of the American Football League were beginning to take root. By 1960, eight startup teams across America formed a rival league of the NFL, daring to take on the old guard in a seemingly unwinnable battle.



After 1960, Chargers owner Barron Hilton saw that his team would have a hard time drawing a crowd in LA with the Rams holding the city's heart and elected to move south. Builders worked quickly to add a second level to Balboa Stadium, making it look more professional.


Although it was just a preseason game, the Chargers beat the Oilers 27-14 on August 6, 1961 in their first game at Balboa Stadium. Led by the innovative mind of Sid Gillman, the Chargers charged ahead to a 12-2 regular season record, setting up an epic clash with the Oilers for the AFL crown. However, the Chargers' magnificent season ended in a whimper, losing 10-3.


Two years later, the Chargers demolished the Patriots 51-10 in the AFL Championship Game at Balboa Stadium. Although the Bolts requested it, the NFL-champion Chicago Bears declined a matchup that would have been the first Super Bowl.

This was when Balboa Stadium entered its glory years. As the Chargers continued their quest for another title, the stadium featured numerous concerts that starred legendary artists such as the Beatles, the Doobie Brothers and Led Zepplin among a score of others.


While the Chargers lost the next two AFL title games to the Bills, ownership began to look at other options to call "home". At the time, local sportswriter Jack Murphy was leading a movement for the city to fund a new stadium. By August 1965, a $27 million bond was passed and construction began on a stadium that would soon be named after the leader of the movement.


December 18, 1966 is a date long forgotten, but to those in attendance, the moment must have been magical. With their bags packed for their new home and sporting a record just north of .500, the Chargers lost to the Chiefs 27-17 to close their time in Balboa Stadium.



With the Chargers gone, there was little use for all those extra seats so Balboa Stadium was renovated in 1978, reduced to a capacity of just over 3,000; a far cry from its glory days of holding 34,000 strong. Gone were the rows of bleachers that looked longingly at the field below and gone were the columns that guarded the south endzone while giving the stadium a unique look. In its place stands a relic of the past with a set of concrete bleachers on either side of the field that rests against the canyon that the field was built within.


It still resides next to San Diego High School, hosting football games and track meets among a slew of other popular events in the preparatory world. But amidst the hubbub of events, in the quiet of the night, one can still hear the echoes of past glories in a bygone era.



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