Monthly Archives: October 2010

>The Powell Boys do San Diego Proud!

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If a survey was done to name the most notable of the many San Diego-area athletes to ultimately achieve success in professional football, most people would nominate Junior Seau, John Lynch, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush.  Brian Sipe might get a nod from a few folks, and Stephen Neal could possibly get his name added to the list as well.  But it would take either a student of football history or a San Diegan of the AARP set to rattle off a couple of names that are unknown to most, but were every bit as dominant in their day – Charley and Art Powell.
Charley Powell (#87) makes a tackle against the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960.
The Powell boys grew up in San Diego’s Logan Heights district, and honed their athletic skills at a place the kids called “The 40 Acres,” now the home to Memorial Park.  The kids in the neighborhood held impromptu track meets there, as well as pick-up football and baseball games.  The Powell’s and many more of our local athletic standouts of the time (former Negro Leagues and PCL baseball star, Johnny Ritchey and AFL standout, Dave Grayson, to name just two) credit their early development to the time they spent at The 40 Acres.

For the Powell brothers, their excellence in athletics began to garner attention when they entered San Diego High School.  Charley grew to be a 6’3” and 230-lbs. high school senior, who played football, basketball, baseball and track & field.  He graduated in 1952, the proud owner of 12 varsity letters, and promptly passed up scholarship offers from Notre Dame, UCLA and a tryout with the Harlem Globe Trotters, to play a season of professional baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.  After spending a year being pitched around and served a steady diet of curveballs, Charley left baseball, and at 19 years of age, became the youngest player ever to play in the NFL when he broke into the starting defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers.  He gained instant notoriety when he sacked the Detroit Lions’ Bobby Layne 10 times in a single game for a total loss of 67 yards.  Charley played five seasons with the 49ers, and then put his football career on hiatus to place further emphasis on boxing, something that he had also been doing professionally since 1953.  Powell rose to be the No. 4-ranked heavyweight in the world, and had matches against No. 2-ranked Nino Valdes of Cuba (won by TKO), Floyd Patterson (lost by KO) and a young Cassius Clay (lost by knockout).  In the midst of his boxing career, Charley went back to football and played two seasons with the fledgling Oakland Raiders of the American Football League, and ultimately put an end to his boxing career in 1965.

While Art Powell’s career perhaps wasn’t as varied as his brother, Charley’s, the football and basketball star came out of high school to play both sports at San Diego City College and then San Jose State.  Art was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1959, but found his niche a year later in the American Football League.  The young wide receiver joined the New York Titans in 1960, and had three successful years playing opposite Hall of Famer, Don Maynard.  In 1960, he and Maynard became the first wide receiver duo to each earn 1,000 yards receiving. They repeated the feat in 1962.  Art was sold to the Oakland Raiders after the 1962 season, and quickly adapted to coach Al Davis’s vertical passing offense.  He put up strong numbers with the Raiders, averaging 1,123 receiving yards in each of his four seasons in Oakland.  He was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 1967, as part of the deal that brought Daryle Lamonica to the Raiders, and he played six games with the Bills before ending his career with the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL.  Art Powell averaged more than 1,000 yards per season in his eight years in the AFL, and hauled in 81 touchdown receptions.  When the two leagues merged in 1970, he was named to the All-Time AFL Team.

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>Rick Redman, Larry Elkins and the 1965 Topps football set

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Being a collector and historian of the American Football League, I occasionally run across interesting sidebars and tidbits to the players, the league and the vast world of collectibles.  One such case is the situation involving a couple of former AFL’ers and their 1965 Topps football cards.  Rick Redman and Larry Elkins both began their careers in professional football in 1965.  Redman, a linebacker from the University of Washington, played nine season for the San Diego Chargers, from 1965-1973.  Elkins, a first-round draft choice of the Houston Oilers, was a wide receiver from Baylor University, whose playing time in the AFL was from 1965-1967.  Both were highly-touted players coming out of college and as such, both had their first football cards appear in the famed 1965 Topps set.
As we were wrapping up a telephone interview for my book, Charging Through the AFL, I asked Rick Redman if he would sign a few of his football cards if I sent them to him in the mail.  He graciously agreed to sign, and added the following commentary about his 1965 Topps card:
“I am absolutely amazed at how many cards I get in the mail.  I get probably three a week.  I just can’t believe it.  There’s a funny story about one of those cards.  I don’t know if you remember a guy that was drafted the same time I was, by the Houston Oilers.  He was a guy from Baylor and his name was Larry Elkins.  He was an All-American at Baylor.  In fact, we played against each other and were on several all-American teams at the same time.  Well, Topps screwed up on the bubble gum cards and got our pictures mixed up on the cards.  So every once in a while I’ll get a card that has his picture on it.  And I’ll send it back and let the people know that they have something that they should really hang onto…  You ought to try and find his card with my picture on it.  I’ll sign that for you too.  Every time we saw each other before a game we’d say, “You never looked so good as when you were on my card.”  We always had this friendly banter back and forth.”

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>The Original Fearsome Foursome

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When the term “Fearsome Foursome” is used by football fans, it is typically in reference to the Los Angeles Rams defensive line of the 1960s that featured Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Rosey Grier.  That Rams’ line was a fine one indeed, but it is a common misconception that it was the only or original Fearsome Foursome.  In fact, the San Diego Chargers of the old AFL featured the original Fearsome Foursome a few years earlier and 100 miles to the South. The Chargers had just settled into their new home in San Diego when the 1961 football season came rolling around.  After fleeing the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum the year before, the Chargers traded their downtown LA home for the cozier confines of San Diego’s Balboa Stadium.  San Diegans were quick to adopt their new team and the many interesting players that came with it. The Chargers began the 1961 with what was believed to be the largest defensive line in professional football, a group of four men that averaged 6’ 6 ½” in height and 273 lbs.  Ernie Ladd, Bill Hudson, Earl Faison and Ron Nery wreaked havoc on offensive lines throughout the AFL.  Their relentless pursuit of opposing quarterbacks helped the Chargers secondary set a league record with 49 interceptions on the season.  Dubbed the “Fearsome Foursome” in that first year in San Diego, the Chargers defensive line is a group that still inspires awe in the men who faced it 50 years ago.

ERNIE “GIANT CAT” LADD – Ernie Ladd was one of two rookies on the Chargers defensive line in 1961.  The 6 9” and 325-lbs. defensive tackle from Grambling University was so big that opposing linemen said that he blocked out the sun.  Known for his size, appetite and defensive prowess, Ladd stunned one sportswriter who made the mistake of taking him to dinner.  Ladd’s nighttime nosh consisted of two shrimp cocktails, three dished of cole slaw, three servings of spinach, three baked potatoes, eight rolls with butter, four 16-oz steaks, a half-gallon of milk and three desserts.  Ernie Ladd was an AFL All-Star from 1962-1965, and was voted All-AFL in 1961, 1964 & 1965.
 

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>The Great Cookie Gilchrist

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st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } In the 10 years that the American Football League was in existence, there were many characters whose eccentric personalities and antics contributed to the overall “flavor” of the league.  While Cookie Gilchrist certainly participated in his share of notable off-field situations, no one can deny his athletic prowess and the hurt that he put on AFL defenders every Sunday. Carleton “Cookie” Gilchrist was signed straight out of high school by Cleveland Browns coach, Paul Brown.  After Brown supposedly reneged on his promise that Gilchrist would make the team, Cookie went north to play in the Ontario Rugby Football Union where he won team MVP trophies in 1954 and 1955.  He joined the Canadian Football League in 1956, and was a CFL all-star in each of the next five seasons. After losing Syracuse running back Ernie Davis to the Cleveland Browns when he chose to play in the NFL instead of the AFL, the Buffalo Bills signed Gilchrist to a free agent contract in 1962.  In his first season with the Bills, Gilchrist became the AFL’s first 1,000-yard rusher, and earned league MVP honors.  He followed that up by leading the league with 232 rushes for 979 yards in 1963, and a league-leading 12 rushing touchdowns.  Cookie then helped lead the Bills to the AFL championship in 1964, rushing for 122 yards in a 20-7 championship game victory over the San Diego Chargers.  While his performance on the field was a delight for Buffalo fans, Gilchrist’s off-field antics wore thin with Bills’ management.  Contract disputes and issues that seemed to continually disrupt the team’s balance led head coach Lou Saban to finally make a move with Gilchrist.  After three seasons in Buffalo, the Bills traded Cookie to the Denver Broncos for Rookie of the Year, Billy Joe. According to newspaper accounts, the Broncos were initially interested in having Gilchrist pull duty, as a placekicker in addition to his responsibilities at fullback.  The team balked, however, when Gilchrist demanded two contracts – one as a fullback and another as a placekicker.  The relationship between player and management was strained over the situation, and it never truly mended.  As a Bronco, Gilchrist led the AFL with 252 rushes and six rushing touchdowns in 1965, and earned his fourth and final selection to the AFL All-Star team.  Gilchrist retired after the 1965 season.  The 1966 football season found Cookie Gilchrist ending his retirement to play eight games for the expansion Miami Dolphins.  He returned to Denver in 1967, but played in just one game before retiring from the game for good.  Though his name has gone down as one of the dominant backs in the old AFL, football historians have to wonder what Gilchrist could have accomplished if not for the issues that continually cropped up away from the field.  Physically-speaking he was a man among boys, carrying 252 lbs. on a 6’3” frame that looked to be chiseled from granite.  His speed and strength were legendary, and his intensity was something to behold.  Sadly, Gilchrist seemed to wear out his welcome earlier than most, which leaves us all wondering what could have been nearly 50 years ago in Buffalo.

>Let’s Open the Blog!

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Welcome to my new blog, Tales from the American Football League. I first became interested in the AFL in 1998, as a graduated student at the University of San Diego. While working as an intern in the archives of the San Diego Chargers, I chose to write about Sid Gillman for my masters thesis. Over the course of the next year, I learned all that I could about Sir Sidney by spending countless hours in several archives, watching any and all AFL and Chargers-related video, spending time with Gillman himself, and interviewing the Chargers of the 1960s. What developed was not only a great appreciation of Sid Gillman, but also a deep interest in the entire AFL. I became fascinated with the idea that a group of relatively young and inexperienced (though typically very wealthy) individuals could not only put together a professional league in a rather short period of time, but also that this league could challenge and eventually gain parity with the well-entrenched National Football League.

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