Monthly Archives: January 2012

>An American Football League Standard Players Contract

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I have a love-hate relationship with Ebay, but one of the things for which it is absolutely fantastic, is being able to pick up oddball items pertaining to whatever you may collect.  I have been able to purchase numerous interesting AFL-related items on Ebay over the years, the most recent of which arrived on my doorstep just last week.  For a whopping $3.24 + shipping, I am now the owner of an unused copy of the American Football League Standard Players Contract.  This contract, which came to me in triplicate (white copy to be held by the league office, yellow for the member club, blue to be returned to the player), is a simple four-page document that outlines the payment schedule, amount, and various rules that AFL players had to abide by during their time in the league. Of the 17 points detailed int he contract, the one pertaining to payment schedule reads that the player will receive”75% of said salary in weekly installments commencing with the first and ending with the last regularly scheduled League game played by the Club during such season and the balance of 25% of said sum at the end of said last regularly scheduled League game.” Though room and board, food and traveling expenses are also mentioned, the contract does not specify payment for preseason games.  But to give you an idea in that regard, former Dallas Texan and Kansas City Chiefs end, Chris Burford, recently posted an image of one of his preseason checks online.  The single game check was for $48. The remaining 16 points cover the player agreeing to abide by league rules, to be governed by the league commissioner, to not engage in dangerous activity that could put his ability to play football at risk, the details of what should happen in the event that the player is injured while under contract, and/or drafted into the Armed Forces. The back page lists the “Club Rules and Regulations.”  Most are understandable and reasonably clear.  However I found item #2 rather funny. 2.  Drinking of intoxicants is forbidden. I am guessing that roughly 98% of this league, which was made up of young men, many of them single and enjoying some money and a bit of popularity, was in direct violation of their contract on an almost daily basis.  Perhaps those rule was generally ignored by both players and officials?   

>Remembering Hank Schmidt

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Down the road from our home is one of my favorite places to go for breakfast, the La Mesa Bistro & Bakery.  If you happen to roll into the Bistro on a Wednesday morning, you are likely to see a group of older gentlemen occupying a large table in the back room.  They are all retired, and meet each week to have breakfast and enjoy each other’s company.  One neat thing that they do is for each meeting, a member of their group will bring an item from home to share and discuss.  It may be a tool used during their career, a photo from a past occasion, or a souvenir purchased on a special vacation.  But the item is passed around, discussed and enjoyed by all. One of the men that is part of this group is former AFL’er, Hank Schmidt.  Hank was a tough defensive lineman who joined the Chargers in 1961, after spending time playing in the Marine Corps and then for the San Francisco 49ers.  Schmidt played for the Chargers through the 1964 season, then spent the 1965 season with the Buffalo Bills, and 1966 with the New York Jets.  Though he was not as well-known as his Chargers linemates, Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd, Schmidt was a solid player that excelled in the physical aspects of the game, and was a great contributor to the Chargers special teams.  In fact, when Sports Illustrated’s famed football writer, Dr. Z, selected his All-Century Team in the August 30, 1999, issue of SI, he added only five specialists to this “Greatest of all Teams.”  One of the five specialists was Hank “Henry” Schmidt, whom he chose as the greatest wedge buster in professional football history.  After football, Hank entered the insurance business, where he was a longtime agent in San Diego. Knowing where I could find Hank and his buddies on Wednesday morning this week, I scanned through my collection of AFL Chargers photos, and printed about a dozen different 8x10s of Hank Schmidt.  When I arrived at The Bistro at around 8:30, the group was laughing and enjoying their breakfast.  I walked over to their table, introduced myself, and gave Hank the sack of photos.  “I just thought you might like these,” I told him, and then left them to enjoy their meal.  Hank’s group broke up a little while later, and on their way out the door, several stopped by my table to thank me for bringing the photos.  “Hank really enjoyed them,” they said.  “In fact, most of them he had never seen before.” It was a fun connection, and a real reminder to me of how these AFL players were really just everyday guys, who enjoyed their sports careers, and then assimilated into the regular world.  Today, most are very happy to be remembered as former athletes, and enjoy the opportunity to stroll down memory lane.

>Tea Parties and the Simplicity of the AFL

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One of the reasons that I really enjoy the AFL is that it reminds me of a time when professional football wasn’t such a huge business. Sure, the players received a paycheck and owners tried their best to turn a profit, but things were much simpler in comparison to modern pro football. Take, for example, this wire service photo that I recently picked up on ebay.  The photo shows five New York Titans players in the end zone at the Polo Grounds.  Two are holding a giant cup and saucer, while a third is dipping in an oversized tea bag.  The caption on back reads, “October 10, 1960 – The Boston Patriots will have no tea party these New York Titans players say as they gather in the “tea formation” to brew special plays for their Saturday night game, Sept. 17th, with the Patriots at the Polo Grounds.  Gathered around the titanic tea cup are (seated, left to right) offensive captain Gene Cockrell, tackle; defensive captain Tom Saidock, tackle; Dick Jamieson, quarterback.  Standing, left to right, are Fred Julian, defensive halfback, and Pete Hart, fullback.” This makes me chuckle.  Yes, the theme of the photo is silly, but you have to appreciate the attempted reference, however goofy, to the Boston Tea Party.  The promotion was clever, and not over-the-top, and loud and abrasive.  In a time when professional football players are international multi-media darlings, their likenesses gracing the internet, televisions, billboards, video games, magazines, and nearly every other kind of consumer product, I prefer the simplicity of the AFL.  Though the owners wanted to make money, the emphasis was on the team and game and at least, not openly, on the Corporate America and profit statements. 

>48 Years Ago Today – 1963 AFL Championship Game

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This large, framed team photo given to team members and office staff
On January 5, 1964, the San Diego Chargers defeated the Boston Patriots by a score of 51-10 in the 1963 American Football League championship game.  Chargers running back Keith Lincoln cemented his name in the annals of football history by amassing 349 yards of total offense, and scoring on a 67-yard run and a 25-yard pass reception.  In these days pre-merger, Chargers head coach, Sid Gillman, offered to play the NFL champion Chicago Bears in a game to determine the true champions of professional football.  When Bears’ owner, George Halas, refused Gillman’s offer, the Chargers coach  had “World Champions” engraved on his team’s championship rings.
The 1963 Chargers were the first AFL team to be
 featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. 
Much has been said and written about that 1963 Chargers team in the years that have passed.  Sid Gillman protege, Ron Jaworski, did a masterful job of breaking down the Chargers success and Gillman’s game plan for that legendary victory in his book, The Games that Changed the Game (Random House, 2010).  A mythical championship game between the offensively-gifted Chargers and defensively-dominant Bears has been hotly debated by historians.  Lance Alworth, Sid Gillman, Ron Mix, and then-defensive backfield coach Chuck Noll, have since been inducted into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.  ESPN’s Chris Berman has even jumped into the fray by declaring the AFL Chargers to have the best uniforms in all of pro football history. Perhaps the fact that this remains San Diego’s only major sports championship contributes to the recollections of the 1963 team.  But I think that the team itself is the cause for its own popularity.  Coming off an injury-riddled 4-10 season in 1962, Sid Gillman sequestered his team in the hills of Boulevard, California.  Gillman’s idea was to get his team away from the temptations of city life, and force them to focus on football and bond together as a team.  And so the Chargers spent their 1963 training camp at a dilapidated facility called the Rough Acres Ranch.  What the “Ranch” lacked in air-conditioning and comfort, it made up for with rattlesnakes and grassless practice fields.  But when the Chargers finally came down off the hill, they were primed and ready to play. They ripped through the regular season with an 11-3 record, and secured the AFL Western Division title with a 58-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in a December 22nd game at Balboa Stadium.  Two weeks later, behind a game plan that Gillman himself named “Feast or Famine,” the Chargers decimated the Patriots.  Gillman’s plan, which was heavy on motion, deception, and the use of his tight end, consistently trapped the blitzing Patriots linebacker out of position, and resulted in many plays that went for long yardage and six points.  Tom Addison, the Patriots all-star linebacker, was quoted in Jeff Miller’s AFL classic, Going Long, as saying, “I’ve never been on my knees so much in my life.  I got knocked down on every Goddamn play.”

That kind of domination is rare, especially in a championship game, and in fact it led many people to begin questioning the supposed dominance of the NFL.  Noted football personalities came out on both sides of the issue, some supporting the Chargers while others backed the Bears.  Sadly, that game never came to be, and now, 48 years later, we have nothing but game films and statistics to back up our own beliefs of what might have been in the lightning bolt-clad Chargers had played the Monsters of the Midway…  Oh, and those Chargers rings that already say, “World Champions.” read more

>The Bobs of Boston

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Bob Dee, Bob Lee and Bob Fee of the Boston Patriots.
There were lots of interesting characters at the early AFL training camps in 1960.  Many teams held open tryouts that they advertised in local newspapers.  The result was having every bartender, truck driver, dock worker and other tough guy come out and make an attempt to play professional football.  The Boston Patriots held their initial training camp at the University of Massachusetts, and had their own collection of football-playing hopefuls, including three guys named Bob – Dee, Fee and Lee.

Bob Dee had the greatest career of the three Bobs.  After playing two initial season with the Washington Redskins, Dee re-started his football career in Boston in 1960.  He played on Boston’s defensive line through the 1967 season when he retired to embark upon a business opportunity that was “too good to resist.” Bob Dee left the Patriots as a four-time AFL All-Star who started 112 consecutive games. Years later his number 89 was retired by the Patriots, he was selected as a member of the Boston Patriots All-1960s Team, and he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Bob Lee was an offensive guard out of the University of Missouri.  Lee managed to get into eight games with the Patriots in 1960, after which his professional football career ended. Bob Fee got cut in training camp, and thus never played in a regular season game.  I managed to track him down in an effort to get his football card signed.  After receiving my letter, he called me on the phone from Massachusetts. He said that he had gotten my phone number off of the stationary from my autograph request, and thought he would give me a call. He is now 76 years old, and participates in the Senior Olympics. He has run 31 marathons in his life, but at his age he hates having to do long training runs in the Massachusetts cold, so he now does the 100 and 200 meters. He will be competing in Texas in March. He said that he gets 3-4 requests to sign his card each year and always enjoys doing it.