Monthly Archives: May 2012
by Guest Blogger, and author of Remember the AFL, Dave Steidel
MYTH: “AFL players were a bunch of ‘NFL Rejects’”.
In the NFL they were known as “the Phoenix” players. Rising from the ashes of one team only to be recreated and hit the highest of highs with another; players who had been put out to pasture or given up on because their time had passed.
One of those names could have been George Blanda, who after becoming the forgotten man in Chicago retired from pro football until he found new life and fame in the AFL by leading the Houston Oilers to three straight championship games including two AFL titles. Then when Houston changed quarterbacks with a youth movement in 1967 he help defeat his former team in yet another AFL championship game as an Oakland Raider as the league’s leading scorer. To the NFL media he was just a washed up quarterback trying to catch in a senseless new league.
One of the interesting things about the AFL is that many coaches that went on to prominence in the NFL got a heads-up in their career with the American Football League. The Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers in particular had a very impressive grouping of assistant coaches over the years. Head coach Sid Gillman demanded a lot out of his assistants, and as a result, hired the brightest and hardest-working individuals that he could find. The result was team that played for the league championship in five out of the first six AFL seasons.
After defeating the San Diego Chargers by a score of 20-7 in the 1964 AFL Championship Game, the Buffalo Bills made a few changes to their roster. The most significant adjustment was trading away star running back, Cookie Gilchrist, to the Denver Broncos in exchange for fullback, Billy Joe. With their retooling complete, the Bills began the 1965 season right where they had left off the season before. Led by star quarterback, Jack Kemp, Buffalo moved through the league at rapid pace and finished the regular season with a 10-3-1 record. They again faced the Chargers in the AFL Championship Game, this time shutting out the western division champs, 23-0, in San Diego’s Balboa Stadium.
At 6’9″ and somewhere around 325 lbs, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Ernie Ladd knew his way around the dinner table. A San Diego Chargers press release from 1961 discusses Ladd dining with Larry Fox of the World Telegram, and mentions Big Ernie’s consumption for the meal, which consisted of two shrimp cocktails, three dishes of cole slaw, three servings of spinach, three baked potatoes, eight rolls with butter, a half-gallon of milk, four 16-ounce steaks and three exotic desserts. The bean counters at the World-Telegram undoubtedly raised a few eyebrows when Larry Fox turned in that receipt for reimbursement.
One the greatest characters in San Diego Chargers history is minority owner, George Pernicano, whose association with the Chargers began when they first moved to San Diego, and he was able to purchase a small stake in the team. Since that time, Pernicano has remained very closely connected to the team, and has attended every Chargers game, home and away, and manages to watch a fair number of practices as well. Now into his 90’s, Pernicano can still be seen in a private box at Chargers games that he shares with one-time team owner, Barron Hilton.