Monthly Archives: December 2011

>AFL In Memoriam – 2011

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As we say goodbye to 2011 and prepare to welcome in 2012, I want to take a moment to recall those American Football League players and representatives who passed away this year.  Sadly, the fraternity of AFL players that are still with us is dwindling.  These men are all legends of the sport for doing their part, no matter how small, in the battle for legitimacy with the National Football League.  I would like to thank Mike Thomas (www.nearmintcards.com) and Ange Coniglio (www.remembertheafl.com) for informing football fans of these passings as they occur during the year. Cookie Gilchrist – Died on January 10 – A legendary running back with the Bills, Broncos and Dolphins, Gilchrist was one of the most colorful of all AFL players.  Ralph Felton – Died on January 22 – Ralph Felton played two seasons at linebacker for the Buffalo Bills after spending seven seasons with the Washington Redskins of the NFL. Danny Brabham – Died on January 23 – A linebacker out of the University of Arkansas, Danny Brabham played five seasons with the Houston Oilers and was an original member of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. Ken Carpenter – Died on January 28 – Ken Carpenter had originally retired from professional football in 1953, after playing four sseasons for the Cleveland Browns.  He came out of retirement to play in six games for the uppstart Denver Broncos in 1960. Tom Addison – Died on June 14 – An original member of the Boston Partiots, Tom Addison was the first president of the AFL Player’s Association.  He played for the Patriots from 1960-1967. Lee Riley – Died on June 9 – The older brother of famed basketball coach, Pat Riley, Lee played professionally from 1955-1962, spending his last two seasons with the New York Titans. Preston Carpenter – Died on June 30 – An offensive end/halfback in the NFL from 1956-1966, Carpenter played for the Miami Dolphins in 1967.

Pete Duranko – Died on July 8 – Duranko, a defensive lineman out of Notre Dame, was a second round draft choice of the Denver Broncos in 1966.  He played in Every Broncos game from 1967-1974. 

George Wilson – Died on August 6 – George Wilson was the Miami Dolphins first quarterback in 1966.  Wilson’s time in Miami was unique in that his father, George Wilson Sr., was the team’s head coach. Jimmy Harris – Died on August 8 – Harris sent two years in the NFL before joining the dallas Texans for the 1960 & 1961 seasons.  The defensive back had four interceptions in 25 AFL games.

Ray Abruzzese – Died on August 22 – Abruzzese totalled 10 interceptions in five seasons as a defensive back in the AFL.  An alumni of Alabama, Abruzzese was Joe Namath’s roommate in college and again when the cocky quarterback first joined the New York Jets.

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>Happy Holidays!

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Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa and best wishes for whatever you are doing this holiday season.  I appreciate you all reading Tales from the American Football League.  Here is to us all having a happy and prosperous 2012!

>1960 Houston Oilers Matchbooks

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I know a group of collectors who are enamored with the Diamond Matchbooks of the 1930s that feature football players on them.  Many of these matchbooks are considered the earliest issues of certain hall of fame players, and are therefor hotly pursued when they come up for auction. There were no league-wide matchbook sets designed when the AFL came into existence, but there is a rare and rather obscure set of matchbooks featuring members of the 1960 Houston Oilers.  This 10-book set was produced by Universal Match Corp., and I was fortunate to pick up a complete set last week when it was auctioned on ebay. This Oilers set featured the team mascot and logo on what would have been the outside of the matchbook, while one of 10 different players was revealed when opening the flap.  The most desirable “card’ in the set is of Hall of Fame quarterback and kicker, George Blanda.  The other nine players are Johnny Carson, Doug Cline, Don Hitt, Mark Johnston, Dan Lanphear, Jacky Lee, Bill Mathis, Hogan Wharton and Bob White.  It is an interesting group of players.  A few tidbits on this group:
  • Blanda, Lee and Mathis represent three of the 20 men that played all 10 seasons of the AFL.
  • Don Hitt never actually played for the Oilers.  During the 1960 training camp, Hitt learned that he had a severe for of diabetes, and thus was forced to end his career before it began.
  • All of the players are also featured in the 1960 Fleer football card set, with the exception of Mark Johnston.  Identical photos were used in both the cards and matchbooks.

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>Talking AFL at the Grocery Store

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I hadn’t planned on posting today, though I am long overdue.  But when a bit of AFL runs into me while I am grocery shopping, then maybe that is a sign that I need to sit down and do some writing.  I was at my local Sprouts store this morning, when I ran into former San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins defensive back, Dick Westmoreland.  I’ve known Dick for many years now, and it was a nice surprise to see him.  It just so happened that I had a photo that I’ve been meaning to get to him, so I invited him to stop by my house after he was finished shopping. Once we sat down and I handed him the photo, a great shot of the 1963 Chargers team in their team sportcoats and ties, memories began bubbling and the stories flowed. Dick Westmoreland was involved in several important AFL situations.  As a rookie with the Chargers in 1963, he earned a starting position at cornerback, and was an integral part of the Chargers lone AFL championship team.  Westmoreland finished second to Denver’s Billy Joe for AFL Rookie of the Year honors that year. After having another successful season in 1964, Westmoreland was selected to play in the AFL All-Star Game to be held in New Orleans.  However, once the African-American players began arriving in the Crescent City, they began facing the racism that was so prevalent in the South during that time.  They were denied taxi cabs, entry to night clubs, and forced to endure ugly comments nearly everywhere they turned.  The African-American players ultimately decided to boycott the game in New Orleans.  The AFL leadership supported their decision, and the game was moved to Houston and played a week later. After three seasons in the Chargers defensive backfield, Westmoreland became an inaugural member of the Miami Dolphins when they selected him in the 1966 AFL Expansion Draft.  He and his teammates brought professional football to Florida, and were the precursors to the great Dolphins teams of the 1970s. Dick Westmoreland played four seasons in Miami, and led the AFL in interceptions with 10 in 1967.  He was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings in 1970, but was later released, not having actually played for them. Westmoreland returned to San Diego after his football career ended, and began a long career with the probation department.  In fact, he made a point of telling me that today he was celebrating the two-week anniversary of his retirement. 

>Tales from the American Football League on the Radio!

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After a great interview with Jim Laslavic on Sunday Sportswrap last week, I was contacted by Doug Young, host of Sportsquawk Sunday on XTRA Sports 1360, in San Diego.  He invited me to join the show tomorrow morning at 7:45 Pacific, to talk a little AFL history.  If you are awake and wanting a little football history fix, tune in and enjoy!

XTRA Sports 1360