Monthly Archives: March 2011

>Mack Lee Hill – A Career Cut Short

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At 5’11” and 225-pounds, Mack Lee Hill was a powerful fullback when he came to the Chiefs as a free agent out of Southern University in 1964.  He was the Chiefs second-leading rusher in his rookie season, carrying the ball 105 times for 567 yards and four touchdowns.  Hill’s success earned him a spot on the 1965 AFL All-Star Western Division team.  Hill had six carries for 20 yards in the game played at Houston’s Jeppesen Stadium. Mack Lee Hill overcame the dreaded “sophomore slump,” by gaining 627 yards in the first 13 games of the 1965 season.  He was forced to end his season one game early, however, after he ruptured a ligament in his right knee in a game against the Buffalo Bills. Hill underwent knee surgery a few days after his injury, but after going into convulsions post-surgery, Hill died on the operating table.  He was just 25 years old. Inspired by their young runner, the Kansas City Chiefs created the Mack Lee Hill Award, which is given each season to the team’s most outstanding rookie.

>Happy Birthday, Don Norton – An Original Charger!

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This week marks what would have been Don Norton’s 73rdbirthday.  Sadly, Norton passed away in 1997, of complications from open-heart surgery.

Don Norton was an original Charger, a member of the 1960 team that began in Los Angeles.  A two-time Rose Bowl champion and all-america end out of the University of Iowa, Norton was drafted in the first round of the 1960 AFL draft by the Oakland Raiders, but soon traded to the Chargers for defensive lineman, Charlie Powell.  Norton was a workhorse, missing only seven games in his seven-season career with the Chargers.  In 91 career games, Don Norton had 228 receptions for 3,486 yards (15.3 avg.) and scored 27 touchdowns.  He was an AFL All-Star in 1962 and 1963.  He played in five AFL championship games with the Chargers (1960, ’61, ’63, ’64 & ’65), and was an integral member of the 1963 AFL Champion Chargers team, despite playing the season with a back injury that he suffered while lifting weights in training camp that season. The following is a collection of photographs and memorabilia from Don Norton’s time in the American Football League.
Autographed 1961 Fleer Card
Autographed 1962 Fleer Card
Autographed 1964 Topps Card
Autographed 1965 Topps Card
Autographed 1966 Topps Card
1962 Union Oil Card
1960s Chargers White Border Card
November 27, 1960 vs. Oakland Raiders
November 27, 1960 vs. Oakland Raiders
December 4, 1960 vs. Oakland Raiders
December 4, 1960 vs. Oakland Raiders
December 4, 1960 vs. Oakland Raiders
1961 Team Issued Photo
November 19, 1961 vs. Dallas Texans
December 17, 1961 vs. Boston Patriots
Chargers in the 1962 AFL All-Star Game
July 1, 1962 Pool Party at Sid Gillman’s House
August 11, 1962 vs. Dallas Texans
September 16, 1962 vs. New York Titans
September 30, 1962 vs. Oakland Raiders
October 7, 1962 vs. Dallas Texans
November 4, 1962 vs. Denver Broncos
December 9, 1962 vs. Boston Patriots
Chargers in the 1963 AFL All-Star Game
1963 Training Camp
October 20, 1963 vs. Kansas City
September 14, 1964 vs. Oakland Raiders
September 12, 1964 vs. Houston Oilers
October 18, 1964 vs. Denver Broncos
November 1, 1964 vs. Oakland Raiders
December 6, 1964 vs. New York Jets
Original Chargers at 1965 Training Camp
September 19, 1965 postgame interview with George Ratterman
December 26, 1965 vs. Buffalo Bills

>The First AFL Game

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September 9, 1960.  The Denver Broncos vs. the Boston Patriots at Boston University Field. More than the announcement of a new league, the first AFL draft or the opening of training camps, the first regular season game marked the presence of fledgling American Football League.  After several weeks of bar tenders, truck drivers, and local tough guys intermingling with legitimate football players at eight camps spread across the country, rosters had been set (somewhat) and the new league was open for business. The first AFL game matched two teams that had somewhat similar backgrounds.  Lacking the seemingly unlimited the financial backing of the Houston Oilers, Dallas Texans or Los Angeles Chargers, the Boston Patriots and Denver Broncos were pieced together by hard-working ownership groups that scrutinized every nickel that went out the door.  The results were two working-class teams with little known star power, and whose rosters were heavy with players from the local colleges. But despite their less-than-flashy origins, the Denver Broncos and Boston Patriots were scheduled to open the AFL season and introduce the nation to “the other league.” Clad in their second-hand mustard yellow and brown uniforms, the Broncos offense stalled on their opening drive and Denver was forced to punt.  The Patriots began on their own 29-yard line and the men with the tri-corner logos on their helmets drove to the Denver 27 before Gino Cappelletti kicked a 34-yard field goal and recorded the AFL’s first official points.  The Broncos countered with the league’s first touchdown.  On the opening play of the second quarter, Denver quarterback Frank Tripucka threw to Al Carmichael in the right flat.  Carmichael crossed the field and dashed 41 yards into the end zone.  The score remained 7-3 going into halftime. Play resumed and both team were held pointless until Gene Mingo scored the AFL’s first special teams touchdown late in the third quarter when he returned a Boston punt 76 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots responded with a Butch Songin 10-yard touchdown pass to end Jim Colclough.  Despite a valiant effort by the Bostonians to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Colclough’s TD was the last score of the game, and the Broncos recorded their first-ever victory with the 13-10 win. Neither team proved to be a post-season threat in 1960.  Despite winning four of their first six games, the Broncos closed the season with six losses and a tie to finish with a 4-9-1 record.  Boston fared only slightly better, finishing fourth in the AFL’s Eastern Division with a 5-9 record.  In fact, neither team experienced the post-season for several years.  The Patriots made their first playoff appearance in the 1963 AFL championship game, where they were subjected to a 51-10 drubbing by the San Diego Chargers.  The Broncos did not find themselves playoff-bound until 1977, when they finished 12-2 and won the AFC championship, only to lose 27-10 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXII.

>The AFL’s 10-Year Men

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } During the 10-year span of the American Football League, more than 1,400 men suited up and played at least one down in a regular season AFL game.  They range alphabetically from Ray Abell (Chiefs linebacker, 1966-1968) to Bob Zeman (Chargers and Broncos defensive back, 1960-1966), with John Frongillo (Oilers guard, 1962-1966) and Ray Ratkowski (Patriots halfback, 1961) falling somewhere in between.  But of all 1,400, only 20 of them lasted for the entirety of the league, from preseason 1960 through Super Bowl IV after the 1969 season.  Here is a breakdown of the 20 Ironmen of the AFL. Larry Grantham – At 6-foot, 206-lbs, Larry Grantham was a small linebacker even by 1960s standards.  The Mississippi alum called the Jets’ defensive signals, and was a critical member of New York’s Super Bowl III-winning defense. Jack Lee – Besides being a 10-year AFL member, Jacky Lee is notable for being the only “loaner” quarterback in league history.  After the 1963 season, the Houston Oilers “loaned” Lee to the Denver Broncos for two years.  He returned to Houston in 1966.  He was traded to Kansas City in 1967, and finished his career there in 1969. Billy Cannon – The 1959 Heisman Trophy winner from LSU was the AFL’s prize rookie signee in 1960, and helped lead the Oilers to league championships in 1960 & 1961.  After back problems cut short his time at running back, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, fro whom he became an all-star tight end. Paul Maguire – A graduate of The Citadel, Paul Maguire played in the first six AFL championship games, and was on the winning side in 1963 (Chargers), 1964 & 1965 (Bills).  After his playing days ended, the linebacker and punter made a name for himself as a broadcaster. Harry Jacobs – Harry Jacobs went from being a taxi squad member in the NFL to the starting middle linebacker for the Patriots in 1960.  He remained the defensive signal caller in Boston until 1963, when he took over the same position in Buffalo and remained until the last game of the 1969 season. Bill Mathis – Mathis, a fullback from Clemson, began his career with the Houston Oilers, but was traded to the New York Titans (Jets) before ever playing a single down in Houston.  His rushing statistics are not exceptional, but he was highly-prized for his blocking and pass protection. Jack Kemp – The quarterback-turned-congressman began his AFL career with the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960.  After a thumb injury sidelined him in 1962, the Chargers lost Kemp to the Buffalo Bills on Sid Gillman’s misunderstanding of the waiver rules.  The Chargers’ loss was the Bills’ gain, as Kemp led Buffalo over the Chargers in the ’64 and ’65 AFL championship games. George Blanda – “Ageless” George Blanda was already 32 years old when he was quarterbacking the Houston Oilers in 1960.  Blanda’s long career that began in 1949 with the Chicago Bears spanned four decades, and did not come to an end until after the 1975 season. Johnny Robinson – A teammate of Billy Cannon’s in college, Robinson shifted to the defensive side of the ball in the pros.  He quickly became an all-league player at safety, and was known around the league for his bone-crushing hits. Paul Lowe – One of the original Chargers, Lowe took the first kickoff in team history and ran it back 105-yards for a touchdown.  Lowe was the 1965 AFL Most Valuable Player and a two-time AFL all-star. Gino Cappelletti – Cappelletti played wide receiver and kicked for the Boston Patriots all 10 seasons of the AFL.  He was the league’s all-time leading scorer and the only AFL player to break the 1,000-point mark during his career. Wayne Hawkins – A smallish guard at 6’ 0” and 240-lbs., Wayne Hawkins was a two-time AFL All-Star and a valuable member of the Raiders offensive line throughout the 1960s. Ernie Wright – At 20 years old in 1960, Ernie Wright was one of the AFL’s youngest players.  But his size, speed and tenacity made him an excellent tackle.  After eight seasons with the Chargers, Wright went to the Cincinnati Bengals in the expansion draft and provided veteran leadership for the young team. Babe Parilli – After playing in the NFL and Canada, Babe Parilli found a home in the AFL.  He began with the Raiders, and then spent the bulk of his time with the Patriots before backing up Joe Namath with the New York Jets. Jim Hunt – Hunt earned his nickname, “Earthquake,” because of a rumbling 78-yard interception that he returned for a touchdown.  Far from the stereotypical defensive lineman at 5”11” and 255-lbs., Hunt excelled because of his speed and technical style of play. Tom Flores – Flores became the first Hispanic-American quarterback in pro football when he took the helm for the Oakland Raiders in 1960.  He threw for nearly 12,000 yards in his career with the Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Paul Rochester – After initially being cut by the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL, Paul Rochester earned a starting position in the AFL and won an AFL championship with the Dallas Texans in 1962, and a Super Bowl championship with the New York Jets in 1968.    Jim Otto – The AFL’s premier center, Jim Otto came into the league at a light 205 lbs.  He eventually built himself up to 260.  In his 10 seasons in the AFL, Otto played in 203 games (all preseason, regular and post-season included), missing only one Raiders preseason game.  He was the definition of reliability. Ron Mix – A highly-intelligent player, Mix was called the “Intellectual Assassin.”  AA blend of size, strength and surprising speed, Mix is thought by many to be the most technically-perfect tackle in the history of professional football.  He was called for holding only twice in his career, and to this day refutes both calls. Don Maynard – Another man who played in the NFL and Canada before finding a home in the AFL, Don Maynard was an immediate deep threat for the New York Titans.  In 1965, Joe Namath took over as the Jets quarterback, and he and Maynard helped each other to Hall of Fame careers for the next several years.