Gary Garrison – August 28, 2000
San Diego Chargers – 1966-1976
Houston Oilers – 1977
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
GG – Well you know, when I was here I was at San Diego State, played at San Diego State. We were real close because we had all of our games at the Aztec Bowl. And we had a lot of them, like Tom Bass, who was originally with San Diego State, later on went with the Chargers. He’s the one that scouted me, because he’s the one that recruited me to come to state. So it was kind of like a built-in factor where he knew what I was going to do. They all scouted all of our games, every home game. In fact, the Charger team would come and watch us play.
TT – Were you concerned signing with the AFL at that point, that they might not make it?
GG – You know, when I was drafted, I was drafted number one by the Philadelphia Eagles and number one by the San Diego Chargers. And at that time, I really wasn’t worried about the AFL or the NFL, but I was worried about not playing on the West Coast. I didn’t want to go to the East Coast because I had never been there and I knew it was cold and snowy and that. So I really wanted to stay on the West Coast. So the Chargers were the ideal choice. But when Philadelphia found out that I didn’t want to play with them, they traded my rights to San Francisco. So then it became a challenge and back then we had an attorney. His name was Robert Brockway of La Jolla. And he put together the deal where he was negotiating for me with the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. And so it was really what would do the best for me, how that would work. Would I be better off in San Francisco as far as playing, or would I be better off in San Diego? And money-wise was a factor, so we just played one another against each other and San Diego came up with the most money.
TT – What benefits do you think you got playing with the Chargers?
GG – I think the biggest thing was being from the area, I knew a lot of people. And then when I started playing for the Chargers, that just opened a lot more doors. And there’s a lot of good people here that I still stay in touch with. I still have businesses down here. I think it was just the area and the people that I met that I benefited most from.
TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.
GG – Sid, you probably heard them talk about him last night, and all I can say is that it’s all true. Without Sid, I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did in the NFL. His scheme is still used today. People don’t understand, but he helped the Washington Redskins, he helped Dick Vermeil with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he helped Dick Vermeil with the St. Louis Rams. They still use his playbook today. In other words, his theory of passing is still used in the NFL today. He’s well respected. You talk to any coach and they’ll always bring his name up, like Don Coryell did last night. He was so far ahead of everybody, and that’s one of the reasons that I thought I’d like to play for him, because he was just a genius about the pass offense.
TT – Tell me about Balboa Stadium, playing there versus the Aztec Bowl.
GG – Very, very similar. When I was drafted, I played in the college all-star game in Chicago and we played the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. And so I was away back in Chicago trying to train for the college all-star game. So when I got there, I flew in the night they played the Miami Dolphins in Balboa Stadium. Other than that, I’ve never been in Balboa Stadium. And when I went down there, they brought me down to the locker rooms and everything like that and I thought this is just like Aztec Bowl. Concrete stands on one side, Aztec Bowl concrete stands. So everything was real similar. The only thing was, I’d like to say the crowds were bigger, but I don’t know if they were any bigger than they were at Aztec Bowl.
TT – Tell me about some of your buddies that you hung out with on the team.
GG – Well you know, probably my best friend was a guy from Arkansas and his name was Chuck Dicus. He was a receiver from the University of Arkansas and he came to play with us. He was a young kid and we were thrown together as roommates and stuff like that. And he was probably one of the guys that I was very close to. But then after he got cut, it kind of bounced around to where we got switched with roommates and then one of my other roommates, after he left, was Mike Garrett. And that’s when we got him from Kansas City. And then after that was when Keith Lincoln came to us that last year here. So I was kind of friends with Mike Garrett, and then at the end I ended up rooming with Keith Lincoln. So I’ve seen the young rookie, I’ve seen the middle of the track and then I had Keith Lincoln who was Mr. San Diego as far as football was. So I had a lot of good trips around here.
TT – What’s your favorite road trip story?
GG – Well I think my favorite road trip story was in Houston when… it kind of tells you a little bit about Sid. Our windshield cracked on our plane and they were gonna say, “OK, were gonna be delayed until they fix this windshield.” So everybody took off to the bars and to the places. And they said it’ll take about four or five hours or whatever. And so everybody took off and was out drinking and everything like that. Well, what happened was they got another plane. And so we were taking off and so everybody started scouring around, trying to round up the people and everything. So we took off and George Pernicano and John Hadl were coming to get the plane and they were bringing them out in a car and Sid said, “hit it.” We left George Pernicano and Hadl in Houston. True story. So he’s determined. When he says, “we’re going,” we’re going and it doesn’t matter who’s left behind.
TT – What was it like the first time you saw yourself on a football card? Did you feel like you finally made it?
GG – Yeah, you know you really do. I mean even though you sign and you’re playing and all that stuff, it really doesn’t hit home until when somebody comes up and they have a picture of you. Or even when we used to go to New York, that those kids there are probably the most organized kids I’ve ever seen. They would have a notebook and they would have a whole page and these cards stuck in these plastic deals. They’d bring them out, make you sign them, always had their own pens to sign with. And that’s when you really feel like you’re part of it is when you see yourself there, that they’ve taken enough time and effort and money to put you on a card. And that’s when you really do feel like you made it, is when you do that. And New York, New York would be probably my second choice to play, would be New York because if you’re good and you can produce, you’re really in heaven. They take care of you.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
GG – You know, I don’t think there’s anything. You know traveling was super. That’s the first time… you work in Pop Warner, high school, college, you carry your own luggage, you carry your own bags, you do everything. Then all of a sudden you get to the pros and all you do is show up. You take your bag and you drop it off. We never went through the terminal. We went through the deal to get on a private jet. And then we got in, we got off. Right at the foot of the stairs you got into a bus and went to the hotel. Your bags were delivered to your rooms. So there was no work at all. And so I can’t say there was anything negative about it. I like traveling. You always ate good. They always had meals brought in, or you went to a restaurant and had meals. So I can’t think there’s anything negative about it.
TT – What’s your fondest memory of your time with the Chargers?
GG – I think the thing that I learned about being with the Chargers is we really were a family. After the game there was places like George Parnicano’s Casa di Baffi. We would all go up there and have a dinner. And you’d go in there and there might be 20 other players in there. After that we’d go to John Mabee’s house in Alvarado Estates and we would have a party up there. There’d be half or more of the team up there. So I think the camaraderie that we had, that we always did things together. After that I started coming down to certain games and everything like that. I was with a couple of the players and I said, “Well, what do you guys want to do? Are we going to go meet there? Or I’ll meet you later?” And they said, “No. We just do our own thing.” So basically the players started being so independent that they started going to their own places and there might be one or two players here and one or two players over there. So I think my fondest memory is the friendships that I acquired and still have to this day.
TT – How would you like to be remembered as a football player?
GG – I’d just like them to remember me as a person who always showed up to play. Back then we played hurt. There was a lot of times, you watch on the TV and a guy’s got a bruised hand or a bruised shoulder or a hangnail and they don’t play. Back then it was more of a family-type deal to where you’re playing because you’re going to help this team win and we’re going to win as a 40-man roster. We’re not going to win as an individual that’s making millions of dollars. So as soon as they get done, who knows where they’ll go, or if they will have plans or anything like that. But more or less the unity and the camaraderie that we had that we were all willing to lay it down to play.
TT – Any final comments?
GG – No, I don’t think you really… That was a good interview. You touched on a lot of good things and I’d just like to say that I love San Diego. The people in San Diego have been great to me. My experience in San Diego, starting at San Diego State, where a lot of people don’t realize that when I was at San Diego State, Don Coryell was the head coach, John Madden was the defensive line coach and Joe Gibbs was the offensive line coach. And then after leaving there, I went to the Chargers and had some of the greatest coaches there. So I was a very fortunate person to play in college with that caliber of coaching staff and players, and then going to the Chargers and playing with that type of team.