But the Chargers have done a lot more for the community than just play football. In June 1979, after one of the coaches used 39 pints of blood during open heart surgery, the Chargers contacted San Diego Blood Bank’s Community Relations Director Lynn Stedd to schedule a staff blood drive to replace the pints. Five months later, kicker Rolf Benirschke required over 80 pints of blood during intestinal surgery and the Chargers again contacted Stedd. This time the team wanted to extend an invitation to the community to help replace the blood at a drive to be held in the Stadium Club Restaurant.
The Chargers request to the San Diego Blood Bank was for the blood drive to be held the very next day. Operationally that seemed next to impossible. However, the opportunity to communicate the importance of blood replacement and to be endorsed by a high profile NFL team motivated everyone at the blood bank to make the drive happen. So the Chargers issued an appeal to the community to come to their impromptu blood drive.
Hundreds of San Diegans poured into the stadium and waited hours to donate. Due to limited staffing, space and equipment, just 289 pints were donated that day. However, the relationship that was established between the blood bank and the Chargers fostered a 30 year partnership. Benirschke, frail and still ailing, saw that event unfolding on television and asked to be taken to the stadium so that he could thank the donors. Afterward, the team suggested that the event be held annually in November, the middle of the NFL season. The following year the Chargers Blood Drive moved to the Town & Country Convention Center where it continues to be held each year. Donated food, continuous entertainment and radio station booths were added the second year for waiting donors.
Over the past three decades, the Chargers Blood Drive has collected nearly 46,000 pints of blood, and PR pro Lynn Stedd has been the focal point each year. That figure includes one remarkable day in 1993 when the Blood Bank gained entry into the famed Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest single-day, single-location blood drive, with 1,853 pints collected. The Chargers Blood Drive has since eclipsed the 2,000-pint mark on several occasions Rolf Benirschke continues to attend and participate in the event. The San Diego Blood Bank has also worked to assist other blood centers establish NFL team blood drives. Now there are dozens of similar events nationwide.