Charlie Flowers – November 22, 2002

autographed 1961 fleer charlie flowers
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CHARLIE FLOWERS

Running Back

Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers – 1960-1961

New York Titans – 1962

TT – Tell me about the process that you went through in coming to the Chargers.

CF – Well, I don’t know because the league hadn’t even been formed yet.  They hadn’t played a game when I got there.  So I don’t know that we had what you would call scouts.  I don’t know how they drafted.  But they had some people who worked for the Chargers, a man named Tom Eddy and the old coach from Notre Dame, Frank Leahy.  I really don’t know the process by which they drafted, because they didn’t even have coaches yet.  It was before Sid Gillman signed on.  So I assume that they just drafted off the NFL or I’m not really sure.  I don’t know how.  But I am positive that they didn’t scout football games, because I don’t think they had a staff yet.

TT – You were a pretty high-profile back.  You really didn’t need to be scouted so much.

CF – Probably not.  We had a pretty good football team and we were pretty well-known, in the South East Conference.  I don’t know much nationally, but we were well-known in the conference. 

TT – You were drafted by an NFL team as well and there was a court battle.

CF – The Giants.  They had me sign a salary agreement, as I was told.  It turned out that I had inadvertently signed a contract without my knowledge.  So when I found that out, luckily I had called my coach and asked him if I could do that.  And he said, “yes.”  So it was pretty cut and dry, I thought.  As a matter of fact, they went so far as to say, “if you don’t want to play for the Giants, forget about it.”  Then they proceeded as though that hadn’t happened.  And we had a court case, which I won.  And then they appealed it to the Court of Appeals in New Orleans and I won there too.  So, obviously, it didn’t have much merit.

TT – When you finally did come on with the Chargers, were you concerned that the league might not succeed?

CF – Not really, because our franchise was so first class, with Barron Hilton and Sid Gillman there.  I would think that if I played for somebody that was operating on a shoestring, then maybe so.  But we went first class.  And therefore, it of course entered all of our minds, but it wasn’t paramount.

TT – And there were some pretty top-notch athletes in those training camps.

CF – We had a good football team.  I think we were 10-4 my first year and 12-2 my second year.  So we had some pretty good talent.  Especially the second year.

TT – Was the move from the South to a large Southern California city difficult for you?

TT – No, it was like I died and gone to heaven.  We were training in 70-degree weather and some of those guys were complaining, they felt they were about to die. And I said, “You guys don’t know what it is like.”  It was the easiest training I’d ever done.  It was no problem.

TT – How did the first Charger training camp differ from others that you had attended?

CF – They are all basically the same.  This one was longer, because it started on the first of July.  So it lasted a long time.  But I was used to such oppressive heat down in Mississippi, and such a different training camp, that I though it was fairly easy.  We didn’t hit that much and it was just football.  Different guys.

TT – Was it at all intimidating having so many players come out?

CF – No.  I was kind of impressed by some of the guys, but not really.  We’d played a pretty tough league in the Southeastern Conference.  We played LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee, and all those guys.  So we were used to competition.  So I don’t really recall…  I might have been impressed, but intimidation would not be a word that I would use.

TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.

CF – He was tough.  He was brilliant, and very, very dedicated and single-minded.  He was obviously going to produce a winner, one way or another.  He was very demanding, very tough, and very unemotional.  In other words, you may think that you were something special to him and he may make you think that, and then the next day you would be gone.  But he was a typical…  I think most great coaches are that way.  They don’t get that involved.  It’s very practical and unemotional to them.  But I have never in my life seen anyone who knew as much football as he did, and come to think of it, still haven’t.  He was just an absolute genius.  Especially on our side of the ball.  Believe it or not, he really coached both sides of it. You can’t know that much offense and not know that much defense, because they are both the same.

TT – At that time the Chargers coaching staff had three future Hall of Fame coaches in Sid Gillman, Al Davis and Chuck Noll.  Did it appear to be a knowledgeable or overly impressive staff at the time?

CF – Yeah.  But here again, we were so compartmentalized.  Sid basically coached my group.  We had come from college where we played both ways, therefore we got coached by everybody.  But in the pros you didn’t really get involved with Chuck or Al Davis or Faulkner or those guys because they had their own spear of influence, whereas Sid coached the offense and the offensive backs.  So I saw more of him.  So we were more friends with the other coaches because they didn’t come that much in contact with us.  So it wouldn’t be fair to say that I recognized their genius at the time, because I didn’t deal with them that much.  But I did like them.  They were good guys.

TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team?

CF – Well, I guess Jack Kemp was my best friend.  We were roommates.  Don Norton, and Keith Lincoln was a great friend of mine.  Dave Kocourek was a good guy, Bob Zeman.  They were just really nice, fun guys to be around.  I had never been around people not from the South before, and I don’t think they’d been around Southerners before, so it was kind of interesting.  They’d call the coach by his first name, and they would call their college coach by their first name, and that’s something we’d never in a million years do.  I couldn’t get used to calling Sid, Sid.  It was Coach Gillman to me.  But that was just a difference in the way we were raised, I guess.  But there were a lot of good guys on the team.

TT – Sid was one of the first coaches to room players by position, making blacks and whites room together on the road.  Did that ever cause any issues that you can remember?

CF – There was some tense moments, because when I got there it was the beginning of the James Meredith thing.  There were some nervous moments, but once we got to know each other…  Paul Lowe and I got to be good friends, and Ernie Ladd and I, Earl Faison.  At first, before we got to know each other, it might have been a little touchy.  Especially with me coming from Ole’ Miss.  But after that, we were just playing football together.  So it was not something you live with.  But it was a transition, there is no question about it.  It was made more difficult by the fact that that was going on at the same time.

TT – And you’re the man credited with first calling Lance Alworth “Bambi.”

CF – Yeah.  And if you saw him, you would see why.  Those big ol’ brown eyes and that baby face, those long eyelashes.  He looked like a little deer to me, and ran like one too.  We were trying to cover him before practice one time, just horsing around, and he would beat us so bad that I wouldn’t even know where he went.  I couldn’t have thrown my helmet and hit him with it.  I don’t see how those guys stayed with him.  Yeah, he was a good guy.

TT – How did you feel the competition level was in the AFL at that point?  Did you feel that it was pretty close to the NFL?

CF – I didn’t know.  I think our ball club, we had a lot of talent, so I really don’t know.  I’ve often wondered.  Maybe we could have hung in there with some of the teams.  Since we started playing when the leagues merged, there didn’t seem to be much of a drop off, but that was a little later.  But I think the second year, not the first year.  We couldn’t have played them the first year.  We didn’t have the defense the first year, when we were in Los Angeles.  But when we were San Diego, with Faison and Ladd and those guys, we probably could have hung in there.  Everybody says, “Well, you couldn’t beat the Packers.”  And I say, “No, well neither could you.”  Nobody else could beat them either.  But we probably could have played a lot of the teams to a stand still.  Not necessarily the Packers or the Colts, but here again, nobody in their league could do it either.

TT – Then after the Chargers you went to the Titans.

CF – (laughing) Oh yeah.  That was a disaster.

TT – Tell me about some of the differences between those two teams.

CF – How about the difference between day and night.  How about the difference between getting paid and not getting paid.

TT – Does all that boil down to the difference between Barron Hilton and Harry Wismer?

CF – Absolutely.  I got my ankle dislocated and it was one of the highlights of my career.  I didn’t like New York, I didn’t like being there.  My wife was seven months pregnant.  We weren’t getting paid, guys would strike.  They’d show up at practice if they wanted to.  I had come from Ole’ Miss and Sid Gillman.  I had never seen anything like that.  Right after I got hurt, the league took them over.  The next week, I think.

TT – I know they took them over.

CF – I think in the middle of the season they took them over.  I was already hobbling back to Mississippi.  It was awful.  I don’t know how else to say it.  It was awful.  It was not like anything I had ever been through.

TT – That bad, huh?

CF – Yeah, it was.  I can’t sugarcoat it.  It was weird.

TT – Tell me about Sammy Baugh and Bulldog Turner.  Did they get along together after the coaching turnover?

CF – I’ll tell you what.  I’d better not get into that.  I’m gonna chicken out on that.  Sammy was gone, so I don’t know. 

TT – Didn’t he come back and do some kicking coaching?

CF – Not when I was there.  I don’t know that anybody did any coaching when I was there.  I’m gonna leave that Bulldog Turner thing alone.  There’s enough empirical evidence out there about that situation that I don’t need to add to it, other than to say that it was the strangest thing I had ever been through in my life.

TT – How did the Polo Grounds treat you as a stadium to play in?

CF – It was downhill and uphill, if you can believe it.  I used to (unintelligible) when they’d kickoff downhill.  It was strange.  A lot of the crowd came disguised as empty seats.  They would announce 25,000 or 30,000 people and I don’t know how many was there, but certainly not that many.

TT – I read that Harry Wismer was famous for inflating those attendance numbers.

CF – The ones I say were inflated.  But that wasn’t on my watch, so I didn’t really care what they did.

TT – How about a favorite road trip memory.

CF – I would say we had a fun trip.  We would play New York, Boston and Buffalo in a row, and we would train up at Bear Mountain, New York.  About 60 miles north or New York, up by West Point.  Up by the Hudson River.  I felt that was pretty neat.  And then we would train to play Buffalo, we would train in Niagara.  We would see the falls and everything.  It was in the Fall, so the weather was just delightful.  And I had never spent any time in that part of the country, and that was the prettiest time of the year to see it.  I enjoyed being in those two places.  It was kind of neat.

TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?

CF – I couldn’t get used to the fact that it was 100% business.  I had come from Ole’ Miss and we played for the national championship every year and we felt like we represented the state, or at least half of it.  We felt like if we lost, then the state would go into mourning.  And we felt like we represented something, people.  Whereas when I got into the pros, it was strictly business.  The football was the same, but the feeling of it was not.  It is hard to describe, but it was like going from Ole’ Miss to all of a sudden joining General Motors.  You were playing football for General Motors.  And I couldn’t get used to that because we always played for something and somebody.  Well, you know the difference between college and pros.  It’s more meaningful, I think.  At least to me it was.

TT – What are some of your fondest memories of your playing days?

CF – My second year we went 12-2 and had a great ball club, but everybody almost got killed.  I got a high ankle sprain, Jack hurt his shoulder, Paul Lowe got hurt.  We ended up playing the championship game with 29 guys.  But we had a lot of talent.  I think we were 10-0 or something like that.  We had a real good team and that was enjoyable.  Anytime you don’t get beat it is enjoyable.  I felt like it was just a shame.  You know we only had 33 guys at the time and we ended up, we couldn’t even suit out enough to make 3 teams for the championship game.  But prior to that, it was an enjoyable year.  Being pals with Jack, and Keith and those guys.  That was a lot of fun.  I don’t know if it was any one event, but that was pretty much the highlight.  I enjoyed that.

TT – Any other comments?

CF – That’s about it.  I’d say the low point was when Sid called me in and told me that he’d traded me to New York.  That was about as low as it got.  I woke up one day on the beach and went to bed that night in the Bronx.  Like I told him, why couldn’t it have been Denver or some place like that.  Why did it have to be New York?  Oh Lord!  But anyway, that let me know that it was just a business.

Todd Tobias (762 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.


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