October 25, 2014

Wally Lemm Leaves Oilers for Cardinals (1962)

On February 22, 1962 Wally Lemm, who had guided the Houston Oilers to the AFL Championship in ’61, quit to become head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. The 42-year-old Lemm signed a one-year contract in succeeding Frank “Pop” Ivy, who resigned with two games left in the season.

Lemm had started out more inclined to write about football then coach it. He graduated from Carroll College, where he was a halfback on the football team, with a journalism degree. Following service in World War II in which he commanded a torpedo boat, he became an assistant coach under Hugh Devore at Notre Dame in 1945. It was a quick jump to head coach at Waukesha High School in ’46 and then back to the college level. Lemm was an assistant coach for three years at Lake Forest College, as well as head basketball coach, before becoming head coach in 1954. The team won the conference title in his first year and he left after compiling an 11-4-1 record. From there it was on to Montana State and again, in his first season, his team won a title, gaining the Rocky Mountain Conference championship with an 8-1 tally.

In 1956, Lemm moved to pro coaching for the first time, serving as a defensive assistant for the then-Chicago Cardinals. The team, under Head Coach Ray Richards, had its first winning season in seven years and the defense was a big part of it as the unit intercepted 33 passes and allowed only nine touchdowns. However, in keeping with a pattern in which he didn’t stay in one place for long, Lemm returned to Lake Forest College as head coach in ’57 and came away with another conference title.

After returning to the Cardinals as an assistant in 1959, he moved to the Oilers of the new AFL in ’60. Houston won the first AFL Championship under Head Coach Lou Rymkus, but Lemm resigned to go into the sporting goods business. When the Oilers got off to a 1-3-1 start in 1961 and it was apparent that Rymkus was losing control of the club, owner Bud Adams hired Lemm to take over.

His coaching methods were rather unconventional for the time and made him unpopular with some of his peers. Lemm was low-key and took a relaxed approach with the players and kept the offense, in particular, as simple as possible in order to eliminate the potential for errors. His attitude was summed up in his statement that “football is supposed to be fun and if you treat the players like adults they will usually respond like adults. The game is not really simple anymore because the defenses change so much, but we try to keep it as clear, straightforward and pleasurable as we can.”

The philosophy worked in Houston. The intense Rymkus had sown dissension among the players, but Lemm relaxed the atmosphere. He also returned veteran QB George Blanda to the starting lineup and installed Willard Dewveall at tight end. The defense was simplified and Fred Glick replaced Charlie Milstead at safety, where he had been badly overmatched in the team’s defeats. The results were spectacular – the Oilers went 10-0 the rest of the way and repeated as AFL champs.

Lemm had initially agreed to a contract extension but was frustrated with the front office alignment in Houston despite the team’s success, and with the excuse of being able to work closer to home (he lived in Libertyville, Illinois), he accepted the offer to coach the Cardinals.

While there were rumors that the Oilers were interested in Sammy Baugh or former Dallas Cowboys assistant Babe Dimancheff to replace Lemm, in the end they hired Ivy, making it a straight swap of coaches (he lasted two seasons).

The Cardinals, all-too-typically a losing team, went 6-5-1 in 1960, the first year in St. Louis, and were 7-7 in ’61. Injuries played a key role in the team’s failing to show greater improvement, in particular the loss of star HB John David Crow for virtually the entire year. Canadian Football League legend Sam Etcheverry had moved south of the border after an outstanding nine-year career to take over at quarterback, but his arm was worn out and he was no longer the player he had been in the CFL.

Lemm didn’t have the same initial success as he did in his college stops and with the Oilers. St. Louis dropped to 4-9-1 in 1962. However, the seeds were planted for future success. Etcheverry started the year at quarterback but was replaced by second-year QB Charley Johnson, who showed promise and had outstanding receivers in fleet split end Sonny Randle and dependable flanker Bobby Joe Conrad. Crow was back at halfback and there was a good stable of young backs developing. The defense gave up too many points, but there was young talent in the backfield with 22-year-old CB Pat Fischer and 24-year-old FS Larry Wilson.

In the draft for the 1963 season, the Cards had two first round draft choices and used them to shore up the defense, adding safety Jerry Stovall from LSU and Purdue DE Don Brumm. The team dramatically improved to 9-5. Johnson had an outstanding year at quarterback, setting club records with 3280 passing yards and 28 TDs. Despite again losing Crow to injury for virtually the entire season, Bill Triplett was shifted from defensive back to offensive halfback and was a good replacement, running for 652 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry and catching 31 passes for 396 more. Perennial backup Joe Childress became the starting fullback and led the team with 701 rushing yards and grabbed 25 passes. Conrad led the NFL with 73 pass receptions, for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Randle gained 1014 yards on his 51 catches and scored 12 times. Rookie TE Jackie Smith contributed 28 receptions for 445 yards. The line, built around C Bob DeMarco and G Ken Gray, was also improved.

The defensive line was augmented by the addition of Brumm and Stovall proved to be an asset in the backfield, along with Jimmy Burson. The linebacker corps, anchored by MLB Dale Meinert, was a good one. Jim Bakken, who had originally joined the team as a reserve defensive back, proved to be a reliable placekicker (and would for the next 15 seasons in St. Louis).

The stage was set for the Cards to contend in 1964 and they battled the Browns to the wire, ending up second in the Eastern Conference at 9-3-2. Indeed, they went 1-0-1 against Cleveland and won three of their first four and all of their last four contests – only a midseason slump prevented them from finishing on top. The team was well balanced. Johnson passed for 3045 yards, although he threw more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (21). Conrad had another Pro Bowl year (61 catches, 780 yards) but Randle missed considerable time with a shoulder injury – backup WR Billy Gambrell performed admirably in his place. Jackie Smith continued his development at tight end with 47 receptions for 657 yards. Triplett was out for the year at halfback due to a bout with tuberculosis, but Crow was back and led the club with 554 yards rushing. On defense, the small (5’9”, 170) but aggressive Fischer intercepted 10 passes and the club ranked second in the league with 25 overall.

The success did not continue as anticipated in 1965, however. After getting off to a 4-1 start, they lost eight of their last nine games to sink to 5-9. The line and receivers were still outstanding, but Johnson, who started out well, was plagued by injuries and seemed to regress. Injuries also struck among the running backs, and they were lacking the clutch play of Crow, who had been dealt away to the 49ers. On defense, the linebacker corps was still a strength but the line failed to rush opposing passers effectively and Wilson and Stovall missed time in the backfield.

The failure to meet expectations meant the end of the line for Lemm in St. Louis. He left with an overall record of 27-26-3 and returned to the Oilers as head coach in 1966 (including Ivy, they had gone through three head coaches since ‘62). While the Cards had some good seasons under his successor, Charley Winner, they were never able to win a division title. Houston, with Lemm back at the helm, utilized a conservative offense and outstanding defense to win the Eastern Divison in ’67, but was decimated by Oakland in the AFL Championship game. It was Lemm’s last hurrah as a pro head coach, and he quit for good following the 1970 season, citing health issues. His overall pro record was 64-64-7 and he was 1-2 in the postseason, with the one AFL title to his credit.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 22, 2012.

 

Charlie Hennigan Deserves a Call to Canton

On February 4, 2012, in Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Super Bowl, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the inductees for 2012. The two senior nominees for this year, Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel, are both deserving of induction in Canton, but again many stars from the American Football League have been forgotten. The “Mickey Mouse League”, which the AFL was called by the powers that be in the more established NFL right up until the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, brought fans of professional football some of the greatest players ever to grace the gridiron. Unfortunately, despite the depth of talent in the AFL, only one player that played exclusively in the AFL, Billy Shaw of the Buffalo Bills, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There are several players from the AFL that fans of professional football have campaigned for their induction into Canton. Some of the players on that list have included the following names, among others: Cookie Gilchrist, Johnny Robinson, Paul Lowe, Jack Kemp, Abner Haynes, Lionel Taylor, John Hadl, Winston Hill, Otis Taylor and Charlie Hennigan. All of the players on this list have excelled in professional football and have strong arguments for induction into Canton, but the one player on the list that stacks up extremely well with already inducted members of the HOF, at the same position, is former Houston Oilers receiver Charlie Hennigan.

Before providing a statistical comparison of how Hennigan stacks up with other receivers in the HOF, a little background into how he came to play professional football will make his accomplishments all that more impressive.

Charlie Hennigan attended LSU as a track star, which was a miracle considering as a child he was afflicted with an extended illness thought at the time to be tuberculosis and his parents were told that he would have difficulty with just walking. Hennigan overcame his childhood illness and this was the first sign that he would not let any obstacles stand in his way. While at LSU, Hennigan decided to pursue playing football and transferred to Northwestern State University where he became the star of the team. Upon graduation, no NFL teams came calling and Hennigan became a high school biology teacher in his home state of Louisiana.

Then a glimmer of hope opened when the American Football League announced that they would begin operation in 1960. Hennigan drove to Houston to try out for the Oilers and motivated himself by taping the pay stub from his meager teaching salary to the inside of his helmet. The head coach for the Oilers in 1960 was Lou Rymkus, who was less than impressed by Hennigan, but he caught the eye of the receiver coach, Mac Speedie. Speedie was a star receiver for the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s and knew talent at the receiver position when he saw it. Speedie campaigned on the last day of cuts to keep Hennigan on the team and even threatened to quit if Hennigan was dismissed from the team.

Luckily for the Oilers and fans of the AFL, Mac Speedie was correct in his assessment of Hennigan’s football skills. Hennigan teamed with quarterback George Blanda, receiver Billy Groman, and running back Billy Cannon to form the high-powered offense that won the first two AFL Championships in 1960 and 1961. The Oilers came close to winning a third championship in 1962 when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in double overtime of the AFL title game.

In addition to having team success, Hennigan had become a star receiver in the AFL. In his second season (1961), he amassed a record 1,746 receiving yards on 82 receptions for a 21.3 yards per reception average. Hennigan compiled those statistics over a 14-game schedule and surpassed the prior record holder, Crazy Legs Hirsch, who had compiled 1,495 yards in a 12-game season. As a matter of personal pride, Hennigan, who was playing a 14-game schedule, made sure he surpassed Hirsch’s total within the first twelve games of the season to make sure he fairly eclipsed Hirsch’s record in the same number of games. Hennigan’s receiving record stood for 34 years and was broken in 1995 by Jerry Rice and Isaac Bruce, both of whom played a 16-game schedule. Now fifty years later, despite the changes made by the league to increase scoring and limiting defensive player contact, Hennigan is still ranked third on the all-time receiving list for yards in a season, only trailing Rice and Bruce.

From 1961-1965, Hennigan was an AFL All-Star and a perennial league leader in receiving. In 1964, he set another record when he became the first receiver to surpass 100 receptions in a season when he finished the season with 101 receptions for 1,546 yards. He also became the first receiver to have two 1,500-yard receiving seasons in a career. Unfortunately, the record-setting season for Hennigan was the last great season he would have due to knee injuries and the repeated concussions he suffered.

Hennigan called it a career following the 1966 season when he could no longer take the punishment his body had put up with and finished his seven-year pro career with 6,823 receiving yards on 410 receptions while scoring 51 touchdowns in 95 games. While not eye-popping statistics in today’s pass happy NFL, Hennigan’s statistics compared favorably to many of his peers already enshrined in Canton. Hennigan had four career 200-yard receiving games, including the AFL record 272 yards receiving he had against the Patriots in 1961. Only HOF members Jerry Rice and Lance Alworth, with five career 200-yard receiving games, surpassed Hennigan’s record and they required 303 and 136 career games respectively to compile those statistics compared to Hennigan’s 95 games played.

Despite his records and personal statistics, Hennigan has two major obstacles in his pursuit of enshrinement into Canton. The first being that he was an AFL only player and the second being that his career only lasted seven years. Many of the sportswriters that hold votes for the HOF say that the AFL was an inferior league or that a player really needed a longer career of at least ten years to be considered for enshrinement. In reality, it all comes up to a popularity contest and a writer’s personal opinion of a player. Gale Sayers played only five complete seasons in the NFL, yet was enshrined immediately after he became eligible for the honor. It did not hurt Sayers’ cause that “Papa Bear” George Halas personally pushed for Sayers’ enshrinement.

A website campaigning for Charlie Hennigan as a candidate for the Hall of Fame, www.henniganforthehall.com, was started two years ago and compares his statistics to other HOF members – you will be more than surprised how well he stacks up. Several HOF members including Don Maynard, Jackie Smith and Lance Alworth have written letters of support for Hennigan’s campaign stating that he is more than deserving of a bust in Canton, Ohio. Alworth and Smith even added in their letters of support that they studied Hennigan’s route running to perfect their own games, which led them to football immortality. But, Hennigan is still on the outside looking in. Apparently, all of the statistics and letters of support from a player’s peers mean nothing when it comes to the HOF vote. Don Maynard said it best when asked about his support of Hennigan. “I believe Charlie and several other player’s belong in the Hall of Fame, but it falls on deaf ears with the sports writers that vote for the Hall. It’s like having a bunch of plumbers vote for the best electrician.” Hopefully, the sports writers will take up the campaign for Hennigan and other forgotten players of the AFL, who rightfully deserve to be in Canton. Remember it’s not the NFL Hall of Fame; it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Too bad many of the writers on the selection committee forget that.

 

My Memories of Al Davis

 
As a young Charger fan growing up in the heyday of Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts and “Air Coryell”, I learned to hate the Raiders and Al Davis.  To everyone that bled blue and gold, Davis, clad in silver and black, embodied all that was evil in professional football. His teams were built of tough guys, rejects some called them, who played hard, sometimes dirty, and seemingly always won.
 
Later in my life, once I was able to look at professional football from a less passionate and more all-encompassing viewpoint, I came to appreciate Al Davis more for his many contributions to the game that I loved.  His intensity and willingness to do what it took to win was admirable.  His influence as commissioner of the American Football League was brief, but intense.  It was during his tenure that the merger with the NFL was accomplished.
 
I had dreamed of speaking with Al Davis for my book, Charging Through the AFL.  Davis had been a Chargers assistant from 1960-1962, and was responsible for signing many of the early Chargers greats, including Lance Alworth.  But now Davis was an icon, and someone who interacted with the most powerful media outlets in the world, strictly on his own terms.  What were the chances that a young, unpublished, unknown hoping-to-be-author would ever get time with Davis?  Slim-to-none, were my bet.
 
The one thing that I had going for me was a good relationship with Lance Alworth.  I had first met Lance when I was writing my master’s thesis on Sid Gillman, and we were reacquainted when I was doing the research for Charging.  One day Lance and I were talking about the progress that I was making with my research.  I told him of the roughly 50 former Chargers that I had interviewed, and how much I enjoyed speaking with them.  I also mentioned how much I wished that I could speak with Davis.  “Have you tried calling his office,” Lance asked.  “Sure,” I replied, “several times.  But I’ve never gotten a return call.”  Lance then told me that he would see what he could do.  It had been a while since he had spoken with Al, and he would give him a call to catch up.  He would also ask Al if he could spare me a bit of his time.
 
Later that week I was sitting at home when I received a phone call from the Oakland Raiders front office.  The woman on the phone introduced herself as Al Davis’s secretary, and said that she was inquiring about the interview that I would like to have with Mr. Davis.  I told her about the book that I was writing, and how I wanted to speak with Mr. Davis about his time with the Chargers.  She could not guarantee that Mr. Davis would speak with me, she said, but would pass along the information.  I thanked her, and hoped for the best.
 
A few days passed, and my attention shifted from the 1960s Chargers to the impending birth of my son, Will.  My wife had been scheduled for a 9:00 AM cesarean delivery, and so off we went, bright and early one morning, to bring our little boy into the world.  The procedure went flawlessly, and by 11:00, we had a brand new member of our family.  Later that afternoon, sitting in the recovery room with Kym, our baby, and a gaggle of friends and family, my cell phone began to ring.  The readout showed a long-distance number that I did not immediately recognize.  Thinking it was an out-of-town family member calling to congratulate us on the birth, I answered the phone and stepped out of the room.  My heart skipped a beat when Al Davis’s secretary responded, and said that Mr. Davis had some time right then to do our interview.
 
“Oh, Hell,” I thought, “I am about to tell Al Davis that I am busy and can’t come to the phone.”
 
“I am so sorry,” I began, “but my wife just gave birth.  I am standing outside the recovery room, and there is just no way that I can do this right now.  Is it at all possible to reschedule?”  She got a good laugh out of that one, but lucky for me, she was laughing at the situation, and not at my hopes for postponing the interview.  She said that we could do the interview in a couple of days.  Mr. Davis would understand.  I thanked her profusely, and went back to my family.
 
Two days later, she called me back to reschedule.  She said that Mr. Davis would have time that afternoon.  Not wanting to tempt fate more than I had to, I graciously accepted.  I told her that we were leaving the hospital that morning, and we should be back home by early afternoon.
 
Check-out went smoothly.  Kym, not one to sit still for long periods of time, was up and on her feet, walking gingerly, but well.  Will was doing just fine, and after signing the appropriate paperwork and ensuring the nurse that we knew how to use the car seat, we took our little bundle home.  We had just walked in the door, and gotten Kym and Will settled on the couch when the phone began to ring.  I walked over and looked at the caller I.D., which read “OAKLAND RAIDERS FOOTBALL CLUB.”  I answered the phone and Mr. Davis’s secretary asked me how Kym and the baby were doing.  I thanked her and assured her that they were well.  “Mr. Davis will be ready to speak with you soon,” she said, and gave me a number to call back in 15 minutes.
 
I spent the next 15 minutes scrambling from Kym to Will to my notes, making sure that everything was in order before I left my wife and newborn son for a 30 minute telephone conversation with one of the most influential football men in history.
 
I am happy to say that my interview with Al Davis went flawlessly.  I was amazed by his memory.  His recollection of the players that he had scouted more than 40 years prior was incredible.  His stories were insightful, interesting, and had a cool hint of arrogance.  It was all that I had hoped it would be and more.
 
I give to you now, my full and uncut interview with Al Davis.  That you all for reading, and thank you Al for everything.
 
 
 
TT – Lance Alworth came to the Chargers in a deal with the Raiders.  Can you describe the process of recruiting and then trading for his rights, drafting and signing Alworth?
 
AD – Yes.  We had drafted Lance in a prior draft that was ruled not legal.  So that draft was thrown out.  In the second draft that year, the Oakland Raiders had drafted him, number two, I think, in their draft.  Because they were much lower than us in the draft, they had the rights to him.  But we traded Bo Roberson and several players for Lance because I thought Lance would be a brilliant athlete and a brilliant performer.  It was unique that it was in November.  I think it was November; we had a bye week.  The Chargers did.  We were in San Diego.  We had moved from Los Angeles, and I was gonna go down to see Lance on that bye week.  I was going down to Arkansas to see him.  I got a call in the middle of the night, and I thought it was the planes calling to say that the weather had changed and they couldn’t go out.  But it was a call that was probably the worst call I have ever had in my life; that my father had died.  So I went to the funeral back East, and then late in the week I went down to see Lance and met him for the first time.  I started to sell him on the Chargers, a young team, a young city, a young league, grow with it, and then of course the point that I would be coaching him.  I had the ability to sell the great Sid Gillman, and of course the owner of the team, Barron Hilton.
 
TT – I know that in speaking with Lance that he had been drafted by the 49ers in the NFL.
 
AD – That’s right.
 
TT – He told me that he was interested in playing ball on the West Coast.  Now what were some of the specific selling points that you used selling the Chargers to Lance?  It was a new league at the time.  The team could have been perceived as unstable since they had just moved from Los Angeles, whereas the 49ers had been around for quite some time and at least had some stability.
 
AD – Well, no, we were not an unstable team.  On the contrary, we were very stable.  We had signed some brilliant young players like Charlie Flowers from Mississippi, Earl Faison from Indiana, Keith Lincoln, a lot of great young players.  And the class that we were bringing in when Lance’s class came in…  I like to call it a class…  Had John Hadl and had some great young players in addition.  So we had Ernie Ladd.  I don’t know if you know who Ernie Ladd was.
 
TT – Absolutely.  I have spoken with Ernie.
 
AD – Ron Mix, we had Ron Mix, we had Ernie Wright.  We had all the earmarks of a truly great football team.  As I said, it would be a young team, we would be going to a new city with a new league, and the idea was to grow with it.  Of course we had great coaches and we had me.
 
TT – Alworth had been a running back at Arkansas.  What did you see in him that made you move him to flanker?  Had that been the plan in drafting him or did that become apparent once he began working out for the Chargers?
 
AD – No, no, no.  I had seen him play as a junior.  I had seen him play as a sophomore.  And obviously had him positioned for a wide receiver early on in his college career.  He had great speed, he had great leaping ability, and while some people questioned his hands, they became great as well.  But also I think one thing that he had was tremendous confidence.  A very interesting story that might interest you.  I think it was in 1962; Lance had just come in from the all-star game.  We were going to play a preseason game at night.  I think it was a Saturday night and they played the all-star game on Friday night.  Sid said we were going to start Alworth.  I said that we would just give him some basic stuff, but I really didn’t want to do it because the guy that had been playing the position had really worked hard the whole training camp.  But Sid started him anyhow because we wanted to attract attendance.  The guy that had worked real hard the whole training camp was a guy named Jerry Richardson.  He now owns the Carolina Panthers.
 
TT – Once you got to the Raiders, how did you instruct your team to defend against Alworth?
 
AD – Well, we could double him up from time to time.  We could jam him at the line of scrimmage, which was brand new in those days, which we called a pressure defense.  They now call it the bump-and-run.  We had gotten the idea from John Wooden at UCLA, when they played pressure defense with Hazard and Goodrich.  In other words they got up and destroyed the routes, the timing routes.  And in those days you could jam a player all over the field.  So that was one thing, but I was also committed in 1963, that what I would have to do was get great corners.  Otherwise you couldn’t play the Chargers.  We did get great cornerbacks.  The great Willie Brown, who is in the Hall of Fame.  But Lance was just a great player, a brilliant player.  And he was tough to stop.  Look at his records.  And people were trying to stop him, but he had great records.
 
TT – And when you take into account the amount of talent the Chargers had with guys like Kocourek and Norton and Lincoln and Lowe…
 
AD – Well, just wait one minute now, Todd.  There is a difference with some of the names you just put out.  Some of them are fine football players, but Lance was greatness that would become a standard of excellence that a lot of players would be measured by.
 
TT – Oh, I agree with you completely.  My point was just that they had so many options.
 
AD – OK.  I’ll let it go at that.  But he made a lot of those options become real.
 
TT – OK.
 
AD – Do you understand what I mean?
 
TT – I believe so.
 
AD – What?
 
TT – I believe so.
 
AD – What?  What do I mean?
 
TT – I believe that you mean that because Lance was so great, other teams had to focus on defending him and that opened up other possibilities for the Chargers with other players.
 
AD – OK, you win.  That’s it.
 
TT – OK.  You have said in the past that Lance Alworth was one of two or three players in your entire career that have had what you call “it.”  Can you better define “it?”   Who are the other players?
 
AD – No, I’d rather not tell you who the other players are, but to give you an idea, I had Bo Jackson.  I’ve had so many great players that when I made these statements, that must have been 20 years ago.  Is that possible?
 
TT – Yes, it is.
 
AD – But Lance seemed like he was a guy that was born with great ability, and all he needed to do was put it to use.  And he had it.  He just had it from the word go.  All you had to do was refine and define it.  With his hard work, with his willingness to work and our willingness to see that it worked, because obviously it would help our careers.
 
TT – Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about the Chargers in general?
 
AD – Well, I don’t…  Well go ahead and let me see where you are headed.
 
TT – You, Chuck Noll and Sid Gillman are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Jack Faulkner has spent more than 40 years in pro football; Joe Madro spent more than 20 years.  After working on that staff for a period, could you tell that this group was special?
 
AD – Oh yeah they were special.  There is no question about it.  I was only with them in 1960, 1961 and 1962.  But I had to compete against them the rest of my life.  And they were special, there’s no question about that.  It was probably one of the greatest staffs of all time.  For a small staff of only five people, for three of them to be in the Hall of Fame, and I think between Chuck and myself we have nine super bowls.  That’s a lot of super bowls.  But Sid was really the catalyst.
 
TT – Tell me about when Sid Gillman first approached you about coaching the Chargers and how you came to the team.
 
AD – I was coaching at the University of Southern California.  One night I came home.  It was about 11:30 at night.  My wife, Carol, said, “Sid called.”  And Sid and I used to talk all the time.  And he liked you to call him no matter what time you got in.  So I called him about one in the morning.  I told him that I hoped I wasn’t disturbing him.  He said, “No, no, no, I was waiting for the call.”  He says, “I’m going to go over and take over this Charger team in this new league, the American Football League, and I’d like you to come along.”  And I said, “Well, what are you thinking?  What would I coach?”  He said, “I’m not sure exactly who I’m gonna hire yet, but I’ll let you say where you want to coach.”  And I said, “Well I coached the defense, I was the defensive coordinator at Southern Cal, but I really want to go back on offense, the passing game.”  He said, “OK you’ve got it if you’ll come.”  I said, “Gimme a week.”  And I took a week and I said I would come.
 
TT – Was learning Gillman’s offensive theories a major factor in you deciding to accept the Chargers’ job offer?  How do you think you benefited by working for Gillman?
 
AD – No, I knew Sid’s offensive theory a long while.  That was not the factor.  The factor was working with him.  We were gonna build a young team in a new league.  I had opportunities in the National Football League and opportunities in college.  But I liked the idea of it.  I liked the idea because I also could recruit a lot of the players.
 
TT – I have spoken with a number of them that you recruited and signed.
 
AD – What?
 
TT – I have spoken with a number of them that you recruited and signed.
 
AD – Of those great teams in the early years, I’d say we got most of them.  From Paul Lowe to Keith Lincoln to Ron Mix.  Did you ever talk to Sam DeLuca?
 
TT – I did.  I spoke with Sam DeLuca.
 
AD – Don Rogers?
 
TT – I spoke with Don Rogers as well.
 
AD – All those kids.  Ernie Ladd.
 
TT – Yes, I spoke with Ernie Ladd, Earl Faison.
 
AD – Signed’em all.
 
TT – Ron Nery.
 
AD – Ron Nery died, didn’t he?
 
TT – He did.  He died about two years ago.
 
AD – Was he still married?
 
TT – Not to his original wife.
 
AD – No, you didn’t think so.
 
TT – Apparently he went through an ugly divorce he told me.  I spoke with him about nine months before he passed away.
 
AD – Terrible.  I signed Paul Lowe in the middle of the night.
 
TT – Tell me about signing Paul Lowe.  He had been a castoff of the 49ers.
 
AD – Yeah, but he was a great talent.  In those day there were many castoffs, which was proven by having the new league.  He just had great ability.  And what really got him going was the weight programs that we had.  That really developed his body.  He was a very explosive player.  God, he and Lincoln were explosive players.
 
TT – You got two years to coach the two of them.  Didn’t Lincoln come in ’61?
 
AD – Yes.  Lincoln came in ’61.  He was a number two choice.  Earl Faison was number one.  The thing is that I missed Lincoln.  I missed Keith when I came to the University of Southern California.  Keith had already signed at Washington State.  I couldn’t get him.  But he was really good.  I think he was from Monrovia.
 
TT – I think you are right.  Earl told me a story about his signing with the team, that you guys brought him into a hotel room.  I believe it was the penthouse suite at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.
 
AD – That’s what it was.
 
TT – You threw about, I think he said fifteen hundred-dollar bills on the bed and said, “Earl, this could all be yours if you sign with the team.”  And then Esther Gillman led him out to the balcony and showed him all of downtown L.A. at that point and told him that he could be the king of L.A. if he signed with the Chargers.
 
AD – Earl, he did well.
 
TT – He did.  Absolutely.  After finishing 1-13 in 1962, the Raiders went 10-4 under your guidance in 1963, including two wins over the Chargers.  What were the key changes that you made to produce such a turnaround?
 
AD – Oh, I don’t want to go into Al Davis and the Raiders.
 
TT – OK.
 
AD – No.  We’re talking about the Chargers and Lance.  One thing I want to point out to you.  The first time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys, Lance was one of the receivers.  You’re aware of that.
 
TT – I am.
 
AD – But do you know that Lance caught the first touchdown in the game?
 
TT – Yes, I do.  Lance said that it was kind of ironic because when he first met with Tom Landry, Landry told him that he had brought Lance to Dallas to block.
 
AD – To block, yes.
 
TT – I don’t think Lance was terribly thrilled with that.
 
AD – Well, Lance was a great blocker.
 
TT – Yes, and obviously did his job and did it well.  Then they went on to win the super bowl that year.
 
AD – You got what you need, Todd?
 
TT – I did, and I appreciate your time very much.  Do you think there are any points that I missed, or anything that you would specifically like to mention about  your time with the team?
 
AD – No, there’s a lot.  I just am not in a position to do that right at the moment so much.  But I have so many great memories with those players and all, and from time to time I have responded to them when they have needed things.  The door was always open because that’s how we built the league.  The Chargers were the flagship of the American Football League.
 
TT – I have talked to several of the players and they all think very highly of you.  Walt Sweeney and Lance, in particular, went on and on about how much you have meant to them and what a great friend you have been.
 
AD – Walt Sweeney is another who truly…  Walt Sweeney, if he didn’t go through the unfortunate problems personally, would be in the Hall of Fame.
 
TT – I think you’re right.
 
AD – You know, Lance was the first player to go into the Hall of Fame from the American Football League.
 
TT – Yes, and I know that he asked you to give his introduction speech.
 
AD – Yep.
 
TT – That must have been a neat honor for you.
 
AD – It certainly was.  It was an honor because he was a guy that was a high school all-American, a college all-American.  He was an all-pro player.  I can remember making the speech at the end.  It was really great.
 
TT – And then Ron Mix followed him the very next year.
 
AD – Yes, Ron…  I was in on the switch when I coached at Southern Cal.  Ron was a tight end and I was the one forerunner to move him to tackle.
 
TT – How did he take that?  He went from tight end, which can be somewhat of a glory position to…
 
AD – Oh, he liked it.
 
TT – Did he?
 
AD – Oh yeah, he liked it.  He was just excellent.  What a player.  What players those guys were.
 
TT – I asked Walt Sweeney the same question because he went from a tight end to a guard.
 
AD – Yep.
 
TT – He told me that obviously he would have done anything to make the Chargers, but initially he was kind of upset because he really liked catching footballs and he knew he wasn’t going to do a whole lot of that playing guard.
 
AD – I’ll never forget Walter, when we were getting ready to draft him, Sid asked me, “Who’s he like?”  And I said, “Sid, he’s like Ditka.”  He was a tough son of a bitch.
 
TT – Yeah.  Lance told me that if he had been a linebacker that he would have erased the name of Dick Butkus from the record books.
 
AD – In all probability he would have done that.  There’s no question.  He was just a great player.
 
TT – Tell me about that first fearsome foursome.  The Chargers had one of the biggest lines in football.
 
AD – Not one of.
 
TT – I’m sure you’re right.  With Bill Hudson…
 
AD – The idea was that they would be the biggest.  Nery played right end.  Big Bill Hudson, who I got out of Canada, played tackle.  Ernie Ladd played tackle, and of course Earl played end.
 
TT – That was a tremendous line.  I have spoken with a number of the defensive backs that played during that period.  And obviously they set the record for number of interceptions in a season.
 
AD – Is he still alive, Richard Harris?
 
TT – Yes, he is.  Dick Harris, yes he is.  He’s down I believe in Long Beach.  I have spoken with Dick several times.  But they all credit that line as the reason that they set the record that year.
 
AD – Did you ever talk to Paul Maguire?
 
TT – I did, briefly.  He said that you had recruited him to the Citadel, and as soon as he signed on, you were somewhere else.  But obviously he wasn’t too upset about it.  He signed with you to play with the Chargers.
 
AD – Memories.  Thanks a lot, Todd.  I hope that you got what you wanted.  If you talk to Lance, send my love.  And to the rest of the guys, tell them I said, “hello.”  Really.  Just for a moment you go back in time and it seems like it was only yesterday when I start talking about all these guys.  Really, it’s a unique experience.  But thanks a lot, and good luck to you.
 
TT – Thank you very much for your time.  I truly appreciate it.
 
AD – OK, good.
 

 

Todd Tobias runs the blog Tales from the American Football League where this article was originally published on October 8, 2011.

 

My Memories of Sid Gillman

My interest in the American Football League began when I started writing my master’s thesis on Sid Gillman, the Chargers’ first head coach.  I was fortunate because at the time, the Gillmans lived at La Costa, in San Diego’s North County.  During my research, and then for a few years after, I was able to spend time with Sid and his wife, Esther.  It was a very neat time for me.  My girlfriend at the time (and now wife), Kym, often came with me.  She and Esther would walk through their beautiful gardens, enjoying the flowers and talking about things ranging from family to football, being married for 60+ years, politics, and having to pick up and move your family with each new coaching position.

Meanwhile Sid and I watched television, talked about the current NFL, or reminisced about his time with the Chargers.  I remember watching the 1999 NFL Draft with Sid.  He didn’t know much about the draftees, but he still liked to keep track of what was going on in the NFL.

One of the pieces that I love most in my collection was given to me one day by Esther.  Knowing that I liked to collect memorabilia, she presented me with one of Sid’s pipes.  Aside from the passing game, Sid was well-known for wearing bow ties and smoking pipes.  That simple gift meant more to me than she ever knew.

Sid Gillman was 88 years old when we first met.  His memory was still sharp, but began fading shortly thereafter.  I was able to record four interviews with him.  The one presented below is the first of those interviews, and I believe the best.  It was done on December 16, 1998, and covers many areas within coach Gillman’s career.  I have presented the entire interview for you to enjoy.

 

 

TT – How did you get started in football?  When did you begin playing?

 

SG – Well, of course I played as a youngster.  I played in high school and was always, as far back as I can remember, oriented as far as athletics are concerned.  I was very much interested in them.  I played in high school and I played in college, played in professional football and it just carried on through life.

 

TT – How did you get started in coaching?

 

SG – Well, that is kind of an interesting story in that my coach, a fellow that I worked with, briefly, to start with.  His name was Francis Schmidt, and he was probably one of the greatest minds of anybody that I’ve ever known.  I was playing in the all-star game in Chicago.  We don’t have an all-star game anymore because insurance rates are so high that if any of those kids got killed, especially if somebody hurt his arm and he’s got an insurance policy of $15 million, you couldn’t afford to stay up with the insurance deal.  So they cut it out.  But I was playing in this all-star game when my coach wired me and wanted me to come back and help out in spring football practice, which I did do, although I was destined for law school.  I thought that maybe I might become a lawyer.  But I thought, “Well, we’ll give football a try.”  And I went back, this was at Ohio State.  I went back and I haven’t seen a law school yet, because I was taken back by football and teaching football and coaching football.  I wasn’t interested in anything else after that experience.

 

TT – Were the offenses that you played in at Ohio State similar to the ones you ended up coaching later?

 

SG – Not even a reasonable facsimile.  It wasn’t close.  I played old-fashioned football where it was called single-wing.  You had a wing-back and a half back and a running back and a blocking back but there was no I-formation at that time.  Actually “I” came in later on.  Clark Shaughnessy had a lot to do with establishing the I-formation.  We had some great teams at Ohio State at that time.  And that’s how it got started.  Francis Schmidt, the guy loved to work and I fit right in with him because I was a workaholic.  That’s the way she went.

 

TT – Can you explain how you started off with your offensive philosophy in football, the thoughts that you went into your first coaching jobs with?

 

SG – It goes way back to when I decided that running the ball isn’t going to win for you.  You had to have a good passing attack and some good ends that can catch the ball and quarterbacks that can throw the ball.  And the key to the whole thing was scoring points.  You can score faster, quicker by throwing the ball than you could any other way.  This fascinated me.

 

TT – Is that something that you learned right away?

 

SG – It is something that I learned right away.  It started right on out.  And of course Schmidt, my coach, was pass-oriented.  He liked to throw the ball, too.  It started kind of with him and the fascination myself.  Scoring fast.  So that’s just about the way it went.

 

TT – Who were your greatest influences in football?  You mentioned Francis Schmidt.

 

SG – Well, Francis Schmidt was probably the key.  He was the worker and he enjoyed having me around because I worked right with him.  So it was Schmidt that really was the key guy in my thinking.  Because of the fact that you could score faster, quicker and that was what was happening.

 

TT – Can you discuss some of the difficulties you encountered between coaching college and pro ball?

 

SG – Well, the main thing in pro ball was throwing the ball and scoring quick.  This was the idea.  Against college football it was more run-oriented.  People didn’t think too much about throwing the ball in the old days when I was breaking in.  They were thinking about running the football until some of us got to thinking that it was kind of a waste of time.  We began to throw it.


TT – What do you think were your greatest strengths over the years as a coach?

 

SG – Well, number one is work.  I worked probably harder than most coaches.  As a matter of fact, I think that and the fact that I enjoyed throwing the ball rather than running it.  I guess throwing the ball was the key and working day and night.

 

TT – I’ve heard that from many of your players that you were the hardest-working person on the team.

 

SG – Well, I hope that they appreciated it.

 

TT – They did. I’ve talked to probably 20 of your players with the Chargers and they were all extremely complimentary, not only of you, but of Mrs. Gillman as well.

 

SG – Well, that’s nice.

 

TT – So many of your coaches went on to have extremely successful coaching careers of their own.  What were some of the qualities that you looked for in your coaches when you chose them?

 

SG – Well, the key to the whole thing is to get somebody that will be willing to work.  That’s the key to the whole thing.  And then to have a guy that was bright enough to learn as much as possible of the system we had so that he could go out and coach it for us, and if necessary go out and get a job on his own.  That’s all it is.  No magic at all, just work.  Work your rear end off.

 

TT – This next set of questions is about things that you introduced to the game.  First of all, you brought in Alvin Roy in 1963 as the first weight training coach.

 

SG – Yeah, we had the first weight training coach.

 

TT – What was the desired result that you were looking for when you brought him on?

 

SG – We tried to make people stronger and larger.  That was the key to the whole thing, get them larger, get them stronger.  Then we thought that we could block a little better.  That was the key thing.  As a matter of fact I saw a high school team work out once with weights and that intrigued me.  I went back home and went to work right away trying to get a system going of lifting and that helped us a great deal.

 

TT – That was my next question.  Was it a success?

 

SG – Oh, definitely a success.  It was a success in high school football and college football and pro football.  Everybody began to copy it.

 

TT – When did you first begin to learn about weight lifting?  Roughly how many years before the Chargers?

 

SG – Maybe a year or two.  I mentioned I saw this high school team in the weight room, lifting weights and I thought what a great thing that would be for us.  That’s the way it was.  We became stronger and stronger by the day.

 

TT – Do you think that maybe it hurt because weight lifting was not as well understood at that point?  Did you have any drawbacks to it?

 

SG – No, no drawbacks, none at all.  We just carried on as much as we could and everybody fit right in the program.  The first time I was connected with any weight program was with a high school team years ago.  I watched them work and thought it was going to be a great thing for us.  And it was.

 

TT – When did you first begin to use film as a coaching tool?

 

SG – Oh, that dates back to my cradle.  It was college as a matter of fact, we filmed our practice sessions and carried it over into pros.  When I went with the Rams we began to take film of our practices.  So it dates way back, almost to day one.  Of course it was very simple for me, because my parents were in the movie business.  And in those days, this was long before you were born, they used to have Fox Movie Tone News and Paramount and they all had newsreels and I used to clip the football out of those reels.  It was against the law, but I did it anyhow.  So that’s what started me out.  Invariably it was our newsreels which were a big thing in the movie business.  People now get television, but years ago you had the Movie Tone.  Fox, Paramount, they all had shots of major games and I used to cut those major games out and study them.  So that’s what started me out in the movies.  And then the fact that I just took the movie camera out on the practice field.

TT – So were you even clipping these highlight reels before you started coaching?

 

SG – No.  I was coaching at the time.  Gee, I’ll never forget.  I was coaching in college at the time and we were in a training camp and I had a cameraman work with us.  He was shooting one day and we noticed that there was going to be a storm.  The clouds were so goddamn black, you could hardly see.  The guy reminded me of Gene Leff, same mode.  I said, “Jimmy, come on down.  It looks like were going to have a storm.”  Well, before he was able to get down, that storm came up and it was about a 25-foot scaffold and the son of a bitch just flopped on over and the camera and everything just smashed to smithereens.  It was just a hell of a thing.  Nothing happened to him, thank goodness.  He survived, but all our film equipment broke up.  I see that in my mind every once in a while.  He had just enough room to move in a direction.  He was like a rat trying to find the hole and he couldn’t find the hole and he decided to ride down with it.  He rode down with the storm.  Oh jeez, I’ll never forget that.

 

TT – You were also the first coach to allow black and white players to room together on the road.  Can you explain your philosophies behind that?

 

SG – Well, it was a simple thing.  They all decided to room together.  We just got together and had a meeting and discussed the situation with them and told them we just had to live together.  That’s all.  We played together, we had to live together.  And they accepted it, without question.  We left the movie one night because the owner of the movie came up and told me, “Coach, you’re gonna have to get your boys up in the balcony because we got a big crowd coming in and you gotta move up.”  I said, “We’re not moving any place.”  I told him, “We’re not moving anywhere because of black and white, see.”  I told him, “We’re not moving any place.  If we have to move, we’re moving out.”  And he says, “Well, I can’t help it.”  So we just took our squad and got the hell out of there.

 

At this point Bob Hood, a Chargers staff member from 1962-77, joined in the conversation.

 

BH – Sometimes we went and all sat in the balcony just so there wasn’t any problem.  The whites would sit where the blacks had to sit, rather than embarrassing the blacks.

 

SG – But we just collected our whole team and told them, “We’re leaving, getting the hell out of here, because it’s not a place we want to be.”

 

TT – And that was in Atlanta?

 

SG – It was in Houston, wasn’t it?

 

BH – That one was in Houston.  We had another incident, remember in Atlanta.  It was in 1964 and we played…  Do you remember when we played in Memphis and we flew on that crappy plane that Johnny Gough got, that constellation?  We stayed in Jonesboro and we played in Little Rock.  And then we stayed in Jonesboro, we went to Kansas City and we finished in Atlanta.  And Atlanta didn’t have a team yet.  We played in a little stadium called Wickham Stadium, stayed in a Hilton out by the airport and Ernie and those guys , we all went next door.  I went with them to the bowling alley to play pool.  Keith Lincoln, Lance, all of us were playing pool and they came up in the pool hall and asked the blacks to leave because they weren’t allowed in there to play pool.  You had to have the mayor come to breakfast the next morning because the guys said they weren’t going to play.  You had it in the all-star game, I think it was the same year.  But 1964, it was the preseason Sid.  My eyes were big.  I came from California and didn’t know what segregation was.  But that happened in 1964.  We stayed in a Hilton and right next door was the bowling alley.  Ernie and those guys, Ladd and Luther we all were there, playing.  The whole group left just like the movie theater, and the players came to you and said they were not going to play the game.  That’s when they were trying to get either and AFL or an NFL team in Atlanta.  I remember that.  I remember that, at the time I was 19, 20 years old.

 

SG – Well, we were at training camp when we decided that we weren’t going to have any segregation and I discussed with members of the squad and they all agreed.  I tell you.  They all took a black roommate and every one of them was tickled to death to do it.  We had some great kids, no problem at all.  And the next time that we had a problem was the all-star game.  Cab driver would only take our all-stars a certain distance.  And he stopped the cab and said, “It’s time to get out now.”  Our kids decided, “The hell it is.  This isn’t time to get out.  We haven’t reached our destination yet.”  So they went back to the hotel and packed.  And I caught a bunch of them walking out of the hotel and I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  Then I nailed a few of them and we discussed the thing with them and got it settled and went and played it in Houston.  We played it in Houston.

 

BH – That was before New Orleans had a team, too.

 

SG – Yeah.

 

TT – You had problems with some of your hotels as well, didn’t you?

 

SG – We didn’t have too many problems with the hotels.  Do you recall any problems with the hotels?

 

BH – I think Barron kind of eased the way on that.

 

SG – Listen, when I was coaching the Rams, the black football players could not travel with us.  We had to put them up with families.  They couldn’t go to a hotel in the South, below the Mason-Dixon Line.  We had to take all our black kids, and we had a few of them, and get a place for them to stay in a private home.  I’ll never forget that.  That’s when it all started.

 

TT – Did you ever face any pressure for having so many black players on your teams?  You had a lot more than most teams.

 

SG – No.  I didn’t have any problems.  None what-so-ever.  We had some high-class guys.  Tank Younger and guys like that.  We had a bunch of them and they were first-rate guys.  So we didn’t have any problems.  We didn’t have any problems when they weren’t allowed to live in a hotel.

 

TT – What kinds of things did you have to do differently coaching the Chargers than you did with the Rams?  What kind of things did building a new league at the same time cause?

 

SG – Pretty much the same.  There wasn’t any difference in the football.  The football was the same.  We probably threw the ball more than most people.  I’m sure that’s true because we wanted to give the fans a thrill, so we threw the ball a little more than anybody else.  Basically there wasn’t any problems.

 

TT – That was actually my next question.  Why was there more passing in the AFL than the NFL?

 

SG – Well, that was one of the reasons.  Instead of running the ball, we knew we could start the cash register going a hell of a lot faster when we’re throwing than when we’re running.  So we just decided that we’re going to throw the ball and not run much.

 

TT – Most of the teams were that way in the AFL.  Most of the teams threw a lot more.

 

SG – Well, I think they probably did.  Of course we were so successful at the time, throwing and everybody was willing to grab onto our theory at the time and so we would grab onto theirs if they had something good that we could use.

 

TT – What were some other differences between the AFL and the NFL at that time?

 

SG – Well actually, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference, except the passing game.  We didn’t have the size and experience player-wise, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference.

 

TT – Did you play a role in the merger of the AFL and the NFL?

 

SG – I think I did.  I think I did.  As a matter of fact, I have talked to Esther about this so often.  It was going to be a nip-and-tuck battle, and the National Football League we had a meeting.  American League and the National League met and we couldn’t get together for some unknown reason.  It was just impossible, like the Israelis, we couldn’t get together.  The National Football League people, Chuck Noll and five or six of them got up and walked out of our meeting because they weren’t happy with the way things were going.  I went to Chuck Noll and half a dozen of the people that were on the National Football League and tried to get them back in the meeting.  Pete Rozelle came to the meeting and we discussed merger at the time and I played a major role in keeping them together, getting them together.  But hell, it was so long ago.

 

TT – So many of the players have told me that Rough Acres was their most successful training camp.

 

SG – They hated it.  I guess they did.  It was great.  It was a great experience for us.  Hood can tell you more about that.  It was a real fine experience.  Lousy food, snakes all over the place, God Almighty.  It served its purpose.

 

BH – You used to have me make champagne.  Do you remember that?  That was salt water with lemons.  We called it the champagne break.  That was pre-Gatorade.

 

SG – That was even before Gatorade.

 

TT – Why didn’t you do more of those retreat-style camps more often?  Where you got away from everything.

 

SG – Well, we couldn’t find the spots, as a matter of fact.  There were very few areas that were conducive to pro practice and players.  We had …

 

BH – We were at USD and went from there to Rough Acres and then we went from Rough Acres after that one year we went to Escondido.

 

SG – Escondido, oh yeah.  But then we went to the University of California.

 

BH – Then we went to University of California San Diego after that.

 

SG – That was our best training camp.

 

BH – They still are there…  Oh, I missed one.  We went from Escondido to Irvine, University of California Irvine.  That was a wonderful training camp.  That was a good training camp.

 

SG – We bounced around, couldn’t settle down to a real good training camp.  But we had enough good areas that weren’t too bad for us.

 

TT – During that 1963 year Tobin was quarterbacking most of the time.

 

SG – Yeah, he started us off.

 

TT – Did you have to rearrange your plays at all because of the weakness of his arm?

 

SG – No, we threw short with him.  But he was good for us.  He didn’t throw too long, but he was accurate as hell, just accurate as hell.  Hell of a player.

 

BH – Quite a leader too.

 

SG – Oh yes he was.  He was fine.  Well-experienced.

 

TT – The Chargers went to the division championship five times in the first six years of the AFL.  What made that ‘63 team better than the other teams?

 

SG – Well, personnel-wise.  You’re talking about Keith Lincoln, you’re talking about Lance Alworth, you’re talking about…we had some top, Ernie Wright.  We had some top players.  There were no bad players among them.  They were all pretty good.  Ernie Wright was terrific.  Ernie, I got him out of Ohio State.  But I think…John Hadl and Ron Mix, my God, we just had outstanding players.  They could play today.  The only problem we would have probably would be defensively because we’d be too small.  You gotta be 300 pounds to play defense this day and age.  But we could play pretty well today.

 

TT – When you went into the ‘63 championship game against the Patriots, Keith Lincoln had one of the best playoff games in history.  Did you plan on using him that much in that game?

 

SG – Oh yes.  He’s the best we had.  We couldn’t play without him.  He’s just a great player.

 

TT – But did you center the offense that day just around him?

 

SG – Oh, pretty much so.

 

TT – What was your game plan going into it?

 

SG – Well, it was play action passes as a matter of fact and motion.  We probably started out with more motion than any other club in the league, because they usually “dogged” (blitzed) a hell of a lot.  And when you dog, you change your coverage.  So we forced them to change coverage and that’s truly what happened in that ball game.  The fact that they were forced to use motion and when they did, that’s when we really got to them.

 

TT – A few more questions on your offense.  How did you attempt to use the tight end in your offense?  You used it a lot differently than most coaches did at that time.

 

SG – Well, we used it as a key receiver and blocker.  It was a combination of blocker and key receiver.  (Dave) Kocourek was made to order for that because he could block and catch the ball.  He was of reasonably good size, not very big, but reasonably good size.  He was a heck of a player.

 

TT – How much of your offense do you think you personally designed and how much do you think you got from another coach?

 

SG – Oh God, I don’t know what we got from another coach.  But I think most of our stuff was homemade.  I didn’t mind stealing anything from anybody if it would help us.  That’s just about what it amounts to in this business.  Watch these successful clubs.  Anything that they have that’s good, that you think you can use, just grab it.  Forget it.

 

TT – Many of your players have told me that you stretched the defenses with your passing game.  Can you explain that to me?

 

SG – Well, what we did was widen our outside ends.  So often you see these outside ends, wide receivers are awful tight.  Now that confines the area behind them.  What we did is move them out.  That gave us a lot of passing room, a lot of receiving room in there.  That gave us the width of the field and we threw long because we had Lance Alworth and stretched the field straight away.  So we just stretched the field horizontally and vertically.  There are some clubs that do that now.  No major deal there.

 

TT – How were you able to take advantage of when they widened the hash marks on the field?

 

SG – Well, it was great because when they split the field up it gave us seven areas.  We call that the Field Balance Theory, where were going to have a guy between the sidelines and the numbers, were gonna have a guy on the numbers, were gonna have a guy inside the numbers, then were gonna have another guy in the middle of the field.  Well, you don’t have enough people to handle all of those areas, but at least we’ve got good balance if we’ve got half the areas.  Control half the areas, we’ve got a hell of a passing game going.  But we call that Field Balance Theory and it’s very important to our passing game because if we widen them out, we had areas behind them, we had areas to the inside.  If we went deep we had the field to throw into.

 

TT – How has the game opened up offensively since your time with the Chargers?

 

SG – Well, anymore the game is a game of looks.  In fact, I talked to Dick Vermeil this morning.  They won last week.  We decided a long time ago that pro football is a game of looks.  You take one play and you run that one play ten different ways as against ten plays.  What we’ve done is simplify the whole process by spreading the field and creating these areas that we can throw into.  But it helps us in throwing into those different areas.  Field Balance Theory.  If we can get a guy in every one of those areas, then we can control the field.

 

TT – How do you think you influenced today’s West Coast Offense?

 

SG – Well, I think that we’ve influenced it because number one, we have created a good short passing game, which is important.  We got backs and ends that can run and catch, that’s the key thing.  You gotta have a guy that can catch a football and run with it after they catch it.  That’s the 49er theory.  So that’s basically what it’s all about.

 

TT – So it’s really as much pulling certain types of personnel.

 

SG – That’s right, and then having guards who can run and block, trap and block.  That’s essential.  So that’s about what it’s all about.  We’ve been successful throwing the ball because we used a mirrored system.  We put two guys the same distance and the guy that’s open will get the ball.  If we widen two guys out there and if one is open we’ll get it to him.  If there isn’t anybody open, that’s where our tight end comes into effect.  He’s in the middle getting free somewhere.

 

Todd Tobias runs the blog Tales from the American Football League where this article was originally published on November 7, 2011.

 

Joe Namath Becomes First 4,000-Yard Passer in a Season (1967)

The New York Jets finished the 1967 season against the Chargers at San Diego Stadium on December 24, winning 42-31. Third-year QB Joe Namath completed 18 of 26 passes for 343 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. With his second consecutive 300-yard passing game (he threw for 370 yards in a loss at Oakland the previous week), he finished the year with 4,007 yards, a new AFL record (Washington’s Sonny Jurgensen bested his own NFL record with 3,747 yards that same season).

Namath thus became the first 4,000-yard passer in either NFL or AFL history, and the only one to do so in a 14-game season (the record was first broken by San Diego’s Dan Fouts in 1979). Including the Chargers game, he had six 300-yard performances and one of 400 yards during the season. In addition to passing yards, he also led the AFL in pass attempts (491), completions (258), yards per attempt (8.2) and, on the negative side for the second year in a row, interceptions thrown (28). His 26 touchdown passes ranked second.

Overall, the season was a disappointing one for the Jets. After getting off to a 7-2-1 start, New York appeared to be cruising toward the Eastern Division title, but three straight defeats, including a stunning loss at home to the lowly Broncos, knocked them out of contention. Injuries to running backs Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell had a significant effect, forcing the team to over-rely on Namath’s passing and, thus, setting the stage for damaging interceptions as a result. There were also weaknesses in both the defensive line and backfield.

Namath, naturally, was the focus. A celebrity as well as a much-hyped passer out of college, he couldn’t help but draw attention, and his skills were outstanding. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, he had size, plus a strong and accurate arm that was made all the more potent by his quick release. He read defenses well, was a charismatic team leader, and stood tough in the pocket while taking many a hard shot from opposing defensive linemen. At the same time, Namath was not yet a seasoned quarterback, and while he could put up big numbers, he could also be erratic and try to force passes into coverage. In a tie against Houston, he passed for 295 yards but gave up six interceptions.

Namath came into pro football with one bad knee, injured in college; it required surgery before he ever played for the Jets, and again in 1966. Following the ’67 season, he underwent surgery on his left, or “good”, knee. The resulting limitation on his mobility made him all the more prone to taking hits, yet he never missed a game because of injury in the five seasons prior to 1970 (after which time missed due to wear and tear increased significantly).

It helped that he had two excellent receivers to throw to: veteran flanker Don Maynard, who caught 71 passes for a league-leading (and career-best) 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, and third-year split end George Sauer, who led the AFL in pass receptions with 75 and accumulated 1,189 yards with six scores.

New York ended up at 8-5-1 and in second place in the Eastern Division, a game behind the 9-4-1 Houston Oilers, who succeeded with a solid ground game and strong defense. Head Coach Weeb Ewbank, who had built a championship team in Baltimore over the course of five seasons in the 1950s, took some heat for the late collapse by the Jets, but all would be forgiven the following season.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on December 24, 2009.

 

Franchises Returning to Their Former Homes

This Sunday’s St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns game isn’t generating a lot of buzz. But the significance of the game shouldn’t be lost on the city of Cleveland.

The Rams who were originally founded in Cleveland, will be making their 11th trip back to the city Cleveland. The Rams have a record of 4-6 in Cleveland, since they left the icy shores of Lake Erie in 1946.

The Rams are one of ten current NFL teams, to have ever played an official NFL game in a city they use to call home.  These teams have a winning record of 48-42 in their former cities.

Franchises Records at their Former Home

Team Former City Moved W-L 1st Game Back
Result
Cardinals Chicago 1960 3-6 1965: Bears L 13-34
St. Louis 1988 7-3 1998: Rams W 20-17
Chargers Los Angeles 1961 7-10 1970: Rams L 10-37
Chiefs Dallas 1963 1-4 1975: Cowboys W 34-31
Colts Baltimore 1984 4-2 1998: Colts L 31-38
Lions Portsmouth 1934 1-0 1934: Cin Reds W 38-0
Raiders Oakland 1982 Didn’t play in Oakland until they moved back. ¹
Los Angeles 1995 Haven’t played in Los Angeles since.
Rams Cleveland 1946 4-6 1950: Browns L 28-30
Los Angeles 1995 Haven’t played in Los Angeles since.
Ravens Cleveland 1996 8-4 1999: Browns W 41-9
Redskins Boston 1937 7-4 1944: Bos Yanks W 21-14
Titans Houston 1997 6-3 2002: Texans W 13-3

¹ The Raiders played an exhibition game in Oakland in 1989, they lost to the Houston Oilers 21-23.

 

Charley Hennigan Has Third 200-Yard Receiving Game of Season (1961)

The Houston Oilers, defending champions of the AFL, looked as though they wouldn’t defend their title very effectively when they got off to a 1-3-1 start in 1961. However, after owner Bud Adams dismissed Head Coach Lou Rymkus and replaced him with Wally Lemm, the team caught fire. On December 3, they hosted the top team in the Western Division, the San Diego Chargers, at Jeppesen Stadium. The result was a convincing 33-13 win, spurred by four George Blanda touchdown passes with three of them to flanker Charley Hennigan.

Hennigan was one of the key offensive performers behind Houston’s success, and on this day he caught 10 passes for 214 yards. It marked his third 200-yard game of the season, on the way to accumulating an overall pass receiving yardage record that would last for 34 years.

It hardly seemed likely that Hennigan would become a successful pro football player when he arrived at the team’s first training camp in 1960. He had drawn scant attention from the NFL when he came out of Northwest Louisiana in ’59, and had played briefly in Canada. Hennigan was teaching high school Biology in Jonesboro, Louisiana when he decided to take a shot at the new pro football league and signed with the Oilers. Fast but thin at 6’1”, 187 pounds, he didn’t do much in training camp or the preseason, but gained an advocate in assistant coach Mac Speedie, the former star end for the Cleveland Browns who coached the Houston receivers.

In the 1960 season opening game, Hennigan scored the first touchdown in team history on a 43-yard pass play from Blanda and had four catches for 85 yards in the first half – and then suffered a separated shoulder that required surgery and kept him out of action for three weeks. He came back to catch 44 passes for the Oilers in ’60, and did much more in 1961.

The team may have started slowly, but Hennigan didn’t as he went over a hundred yards in each of the first seven games, and twice went over 200 yards with a high of 272 yards on 13 receptions on October 13 at Boston. Two weeks later he caught 9 passes for 232 yards at Buffalo.

In all, Hennigan ended up with 10 hundred-yard games on the way to a season total of 1,746 yards on 82 receptions (a 21.3 average gain) with 12 touchdowns (his three against the Chargers were his single-game high). The yardage total was finally exceeded in 1995 by both Jerry Rice of the 49ers (1,848) and Isaac Bruce of the Rams (1,781), and of course they did it in a 16-game season as opposed to 14. Oddly enough, Hennigan was even shut out in one game in ’61.

Hennigan and split end Bill Groman, who caught 50 passes for 1,175 yards and 17 touchdowns (equaling the record at the time, held by Don Hutson and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch), helped the Oilers to accumulate a team record 4,392 yards through the air (not exceeded until 1980 by the Chargers). QB Blanda threw for 3,330 of those yards, with a then-record 36 TD passes.

While Hennigan’s yardage total was eventually exceeded, the three 200-yard games in a season have not. Nor have the seven consecutive hundred-yard performances, although that was tied by Michael Irvin of the Cowboys in 1995, when, with 11, he also became the only NFL receiver to exceed Hennigan’s 10 hundred-yard games in ’61 (three others have also had 10). Granted, the level of competition in the AFL in 1961 was not on a par with the NFL or as high as it would be in just a few more years, but the numbers remain impressive decades later, when rules changes have significantly opened up the passing game.

Houston ended up winning nine consecutive games under Coach Lemm to finish the season, compiling an overall 10-3-1 record to again place first in the Eastern Division. They faced the Chargers, 12-2 and easily the best team in the West, in the AFL Championship game, which the Oilers won by the surprisingly low score of 10-3.

While Bill Groman’s numbers dropped off significantly after ’61, Hennigan remained one of the AFL’s best receivers and again led the league in pass receiving yards in 1964 (1,546); the same year that he set a record with 101 receptions.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on December 3, 2009.

 

Broncos Stun Lions in First Preseason Game Between AFL-NFL Teams (1967)

The merger between the NFL and AFL, that was agreed to in 1966, was implemented in phases. In the first phase, following the ’66 season, a game was played between the champions of the two leagues (now known as Super Bowl I). For 1967, there was a common draft of college talent between the two leagues, and while they would still play separate schedules until 1970, interleague preseason games could be scheduled. While at one level the contests were mere exhibition games that counted for nothing in the standings, to the participants they meant a great deal. In particular, the AFL players were determined to prove their mettle against the clubs from the older NFL.

Such was the case as the AFL’s Denver Broncos hosted the NFL’s Detroit Lions at University of Denver Stadium on August 5, 1967. The Broncos, a club that had never produced a record above .500 in any season and had gone 4-10 in ’66, hardly seemed likely to fare well against any NFL team. Under new Head Coach Lou Saban, who had led Buffalo to back-to-back championships in 1964 and 1965 before coaching for a year at the University of Maryland, the team was in the process of being revamped. Gone were key veterans that Saban deemed unfit for taking part in a rebuilding effort like split end Lionel Taylor, safety Goose Gonsoulin, and guard Jerry Sturm. Most notable among the newcomers was the rookie first draft choice out of Syracuse, halfback Floyd Little. Denver had lost its first preseason game against the second-year Miami Dolphins by a score of 19-2.

The Lions also had a new head coach in Joe Schmidt, at age 35 and only two years removed from his Hall of Fame career as a linebacker. Detroit had gone 4-9-1 in 1966 and was also in transition. Defense had long been the team’s strong suit, and they still had a strong veteran core of defensive tackles Roger Brown and Alex Karras, linebackers Mike Lucci and Wayne Walker, and safety Dick LeBeau. Veteran QB Milt Plum was recovered after missing half of the season due to injury and was being challenged by Karl Sweetan, who had performed creditably as a rookie in his absence. Their top three picks in the draft had added HB Mel Farr from UCLA, CB Lem Barney of Jackson State, and Tennessee LB Paul Naumoff.

There were 21,288 fans in attendance for the Saturday evening contest. Neither team was able to mount much offense in the first half. Playing inspired football, the Broncos defense kept the Lions offense out of the end zone; the closest Detroit penetrated was to the Denver 36 yard line. Safety Lonnie Wright made two big plays, intercepting a Sweetan pass at his own 20 and then batting down a long Detroit pass in the end zone to stop another drive.

Following a 56-yard pass play from QB Scotty Glacken to flanker Al Denson, Errol Mann kicked a 35-yard field goal that staked the Broncos to a 3-0 lead (while Mann failed to make it to the regular season with Denver, ironically, he eventually ended up kicking for the Lions for 7 ½ years).

The key play of the game occurred on a 4th and 11 situation at the Detroit 44 in the third quarter. Denver punter Bob Scarpitto ran instead of kicking and picked up 28 yards and a first down at the Lions 16 yard line. Six plays later, FB Cookie Gilchrist bulled into the end zone from a yard out and the Broncos led by 10-0.

Detroit finally scored in the fourth quarter as Plum threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to WR Bill Malinchak. That was it for the Lions, and Mann’s second field goal of the game from 32 yards out capped the scoring at 13-7 in favor of Denver.

On the bus after the game, Roger Brown of the Lions moaned “The Denver Broncos…it didn’t happen!” But Coach Schmidt summed up by saying, “I want to pay tribute to the Denver team. And, if the other AFL teams show as much desire, there will be many other surprises in the preseason inter-league competition.”

While the Broncos went on to defeat the Vikings, 14-9, and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs thrashed the Chicago Bears by an astounding score of 66-24, the NFL teams won the remaining contests and had an overall record of 13-3 in the 1967 interleague preseason games.

For all of the excitement and heightened expectations, the Broncos still ended up at the bottom of the AFL’s Western Division with a 3-11 record. Detroit finished the ’67 regular season with a 5-7-2 tally that ranked third in the Central Division of the NFL’s Western Conference.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on August 5, 2010.