January 20, 2018

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  What were the chances that a young, unpublished, unknown hoping-to-be-author would ever get time with Davis?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.


Richard Topp: He knows the score…and more!

Richard Topp is a score researcher whose project is to research and compile correct and accurate information on every college football game that has been played since 1882. This was the origin of when touchdowns, goals from the field and goals after touchdown were beginning to be used when computing scores; replacing goals and earlier scoring methods.

Recently, Tex Noel did a question and answer session with Topp.


TEX NOEL: What exactly do you want to accomplish with your project?

RICHARD TOPP: So there would be a definitive source on the (score) history of American College Football. There are so many typos and misidentification of opponents.

TN: Wouldn’t it be easier to contact a school or a governing body (the NCAA or NAIA) to find out what the score was?

RT: It would be easier…but they lack correct information to present correct and accurate findings of scores.

TN: What sources have you utilized in the development of your Scorebase?

RT: The most reliable source would be a newspaper from either the town or one nearby where the college is located. I have found out that when in doubt, a newspaper in the same state would be more reliable than one across the country. Finding dependable and accurate researchers who would be willing to assist with this project has been key. After newspaper accounts, I turn to the school’s annual yearbook. A media guide from the team would be my last choice but it has helped at times. Worth noting, an interesting story while researching scores for the now defunct school, Daniel Baker College (it was located in Brownwood, Texas)…its 1920 team was so bad that its yearbook staff deliberately left the scores out when assembling the publication.

TN: Would a school football media guide or history aid in your efforts…are they accurate with their listing of scores?

RT: In my opinion, often times a college football media guide has been slapped together and its scores have been transcribed off a written page—and not well researched. Sometimes the school would take a calendar and just list the Saturdays in October and November as the game dates.

TN: What has been the highlight or most rewarding experience in searching for scores?

RT: Finding scores where the college was unaware or that it never realized the game actually existed.

TN: How much time can you say that you spend searching for the scores?

RT: It varies. Researching a single school’s entire history has often taken up to a week. But once I have entered the scores into the database, I can find a school’s records within a couple of minutes.

TN: Are you content with just the final score or what else are you looking for?

RT: Yes, the final scores are important; but the more information that I can find—such as the date and the location where the game was played—are just as vital to this project. One other thing would be the proper name of the opponent that was played. Down through the years, schools have changed names for one reason or another. In the database, I list the name of the two teams by what they were known by at the time the game was played.

TN: What about other sources or ‘scorekeepers’ before you—weren’t they accurate in their findings?

RT: No, not really. They would type scores that they had previously handwritten on a sheet of paper and would often transpose the numbers, or mistaken a hand-written number as another number. So a 0-0 score could wind-up as 6-6 or 6-0 or 0-6.

TN: In today’s world, the Internet has so much to offer—has this aided your efforts and if so how?

RT: Digital newspapers! No longer do I have to wait for microfilm obtained through interlibrary loan—which would take weeks to receive and would often have a limit to the number you could receive at one time. While some libraries would make the reels available at no charge; others would charge up to $7 for a single reel.

TN: What methods did you use before the creation of online newspaper sites?

RT: Actual old newspapers; or others would send what they were able to find out of their local papers.

TN: Have you ever found a score that a school didn’t have listed with its all-time scores?

RT: Yes, many times. But, now that the NCAA has told schools to ignore games that were played against athletic clubs, junior varsity teams and military teams…in other words, unless the school was a four-year college, it doesn’t count (in a school’s all-time record). That’s poor record keeping.

TN: Are you attempting this project on your own, or do you have others who assist you?

RT: Back in 1993, the late Don Newton, of Cupertino, California, and I began this project. Don died in 2004 unexpectedly. Now I am aided by Don Vollmer (out of Chicago Heights, Illinois). Don has been a tremendous asset to me as he has been doing score research since 1938. All of his efforts are in 24 notebooks, and handwritten!

TN: Do you cross-check scores…by this I mean, if you find a score that “Team A” won 53-23 over “Team B”, do you then check with “Team B’s” to be sure it has the same score?

RT: Yes. Each game should have two entries as both the dates and the site of the game should match-up. In addition, the game’s decision (W-L-T) and score will be reversed. Only “one-sided” games will have one-entry. These are games against a high school for example.

TN: What type of database are you using to register your findings?

RT: I am using Microsoft Access; with the current database having over 545,000 entries.

TN: Can you point out a particular school or schools that have been the most difficult to locate historical scores for?

RT: Yes I can. One school that quickly comes to mind was in Owatonna, Minnesota; it was Pillsbury College. It started out as a military academy and closed down in 1957. It reopened in 1958 as a college funded by the flour family of Minneapolis. The editor of the town newspaper, the Owatonna People’s Press, had a conflict with the school and from 1958 to 1982 never acknowledged the school in the newspaper. I found only a paragraph about the girls volleyball team winning the state championship in the late 1970s. When the editor died, the coverage resumed.

TN: Have college football fans, colleges or the media been receptive to your findings?

RT: Yes, overall they have. Just two schools have been unreceptive. I won’t say who they are, but one uses a “gorilla” as a mascot and the other is where the Packers have their training camp.

TN: Say someone is looking for the all-time scores of their alma mater, would you have it? What if they went to a school that no longer plays college football?

RT: Yes I would. Many times I have located schools and scores that people have never heard of.

TN: Are you researching scores just for the major colleges or are you willing to seek scores for other schools?

RT: This research includes schools from every level; even the difficult HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) schools—especially one that has since dropped the sport. When this project began, we had 980 colleges; by mid-July the current tally reads 1097 schools included.

TN: Would you mind sharing a few of your most unusual findings, when researching scores?

RT: One of my most memorable events I uncovered when looking for scores could have been straight out of a John Wayne movie. The newspaper in St. Mary’s Kansas, (near Fort Riley) dated December 1, 1899, wrote: “The soldiers rode into town—about 100 strong—on horseback, to watch the college football game.”

During the 1896 season, Purdue University played and defeated Greer College located in Hoopston, Illinois—located due west of the Purdue campus on the state line. The Boilermakers were victorious 36-0. Once I was on the phone with the librarian in Hoopston seeking additional information of the school that closed in 1919. I was told that the last living alumnus of Greer College (she was 93 or 94 at the time) was in the library that day reading stories to children. I asked the librarian to ask the lady what were the school colors. The reply was…”Crimson & Cream.”

All-in-all I’ve visited about 300 colleges. I stood at the place where William & Vashti once stood at the edge of a cornfield. I saw the only building remaining of Mount Morris College while eating at “Ed’s Pretty Good Hotdogs” across the street.

I have a T-Shirt from Austin Peay, a shirt with the famous cheer…”Let’s Go Peay!”

At William Jewell, they are proud to have had the first actual daytime bank robbery in downtown Liberty; that was the first one Jesse James robbed. (During the robbery, a student from the college was killed!)

And in the words of St. Olaf…”Um Ya Ya!”


For anyone looking for scores, contact Richard Topp at richtopp@gmail.com and mention Leatherheads of the Gridiron in your email.


Tex Noel is the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association.