Exciting times in Bay Area pro sports.
Warriors on their way to the NBA Finals.
Giants packed with talent and just one year removed from the World Series.
Raiders making one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in pro football history.
And the 49ers? In the thankless role of spoiler.
It was 50 years ago.
Do you like Bay Area pro sports history? You like time travel? Great, then let's take a few minutes, have some fun, and travel back to 1963.
The Warriors, in only their second season in San Francisco after moving from Philadelphia, unveiled a lineup that included basketball's original Twin Towers, 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain, by far the most dominant player of his generation, and 6-foot-11 rookie Nate Thurmond, a future Hall of Famer.
On Dec. 8, though, exactly 50 years ago, the Warriors weren't playing like a team bound for the championship round four months hence. (Yes, the NBA season used to end in mid-April, not late June. It was a simpler time.)
Under new coach Alex Hannum, the Warriors were struggling, coming into their game at Los Angeles against the division-leading Lakers with an uninspired 10-12 record. But, coming back from a 17-point halftime deficit and outscoring the Lakers by nine in the fourth quarter, the Warriors earned a 114-112 victory, with Chamberlain (who would be traded away 13 months later) scoring 31 for the game.
The Warriors would then begin to turn around their season, if not immediately catch fire, win the division with a record of 48-32, then beat the St. Louis Hawks in seven games in the Western Conference final, with Chamberlain scoring 39 in Game 7 at the Cow Palace (third from last in attendance), before losing to the Celtics in the Finals.
Also on Dec. 8, 1963, the Raiders, who had gone 1-13 the previous season, hosted the AFL-best San Diego Chargers at Frank Youell Field in Oakland (average attendance 17,500). It was Al Davis' first year as coach and general manager, and his philosophy, some two decades before "Just win, baby," nevertheless apparently was: Win now, right now. As in today.
The Raiders already had upset the Chargers once, 34-33 at San Diego, in a classic AFL shootout, with quarterbacks Tom Flores and Cotton Davidson combining for five Oakland touchdown passes. That had evened the Raiders' record at 4-4. They would go on to win all their remaining games, including another showcase of offensive firepower, 41-27, on Dec. 8. It would be a victory that included Oakland's 31-point fourth-quarter, one in which Davidson threw for two TDs and ran for another.
The Raiders' 10-4 record would be the AFL's second-best in 1963, with only the the division-rival Chargers' 11-3 mark better. But, long before wild-card playoff teams, Oakland was left out of the postseason. Nevertheless, Davis gained instant fame for himself, instant credibility for the Raiders, instant respect for Oakland and significantly advanced the AFL's march toward equality with the NFL.
Also on Dec. 8, 1963, the hapless 49ers, descending to a 2-12 record, were in Chicago to play the Bears at Wrigley Field. The SF quarterback? LaMar McHan, the answer to at least two pretty good trivia questions. Who was Vince Lombardi's original starting QB in Green Bay? And what 49ers QB in 1963 helped San Francisco play the role of spoiler by handing the Bears their only defeat of the season?