George Gross – October 30, 1998
San Diego Chargers – 1963-1967
TT – To begin with, as a defensive player you played against a ton of different offenses through college and pro ball. What were some of the characteristics of Gillman’s offenses that were different from the offenses that you saw on the other teams?
GG – Gillman, he liked to move the ball. We had some very good receivers in Alworth and Don Norton and then the backs could catch too, you know, Lincoln and Lowe. So he just liked to play wide-open offense, just like Coryell.
TT – Did his offense change throughout the years, the years that you were there? Did you see any type of adaptation, any things that he brought on later in years that he wasn’t doing when you were there in the beginning?
GG – He still has a pretty good mind about football and he has helped a lot of teams as a consultant. That’s his game – passing. He just moves the ball.
TT – Tell me about some of Gillman’s innovations; his use of film as a tool, bringing in Alvin Roy as one of the first strength and conditioning coaches, anything else that you can think of.
GG – Sid is a nut on films. He’s got a whole house full of them still. And not just the Chargers, other teams also. But he studied film till 2:00 in the morning. He watch patterns that these guys had, habits. He’d pick up on all this stuff and relate it to his defensive players. He was a very good coach.
TT – Now did you guys watch a lot of film as well, as players?
GG – Oh yes. During the week you’d watch the game film on Monday. The rest of the time you’d be studying films of the team that you ‘re going to play. These meetings went at least an hour a day, on other teams. Especially the team that you’re going to play.
TT -What about bringing in one of the first strength coaches in professional football in Alvin Roy?
GG – He did that. Did some of the other guys tell you the story?
TT – No. Earl Faison just mentioned that he’d brought in Alvin Roy, he didn’t tell me any stories.
GG – My first year was up here in Rough Acres, which is in Boulevard. So he brings in Alvin Roy and we are all lifting weights. I think it was Don Norton. He wasn’t a very big guy, but he was lifting one time and I guess he hurt himself. Then Sid said, “That’s it. No more weight lifting.” No, but ugh, Alvin had some, ugh… He went to the Russian Olympics and he’s the one that came back with, you’ve probably heard this story, with the ‘bennies’ (Benzedrine). The little pink pills that they used to feed us. They were on the plate and you’d just take what you needed. You ought get Sweeney, boy. He’d tell you some shit. You know he sued the NFL but he lost out. That’s too bad.
TT – That was just recently (Summer, 1998). Within the last two months.
GG – The last two years he spent. This judge in town voted for him. Awarded him. He was supposed to get a couple of a million dollars. The NFL appealed. The way Walt tells it, the NFL went in with about six lawyers, you know, marched in there. Cause they got a lot of clout. If they let Walt win then they have to pay all these other guys too.
TT – Was that something that was pretty prevalent back then?
GG – They would make these, uppers, I guess they called them, which is speed. They’d make it available for you.
TT – Really?
GG – Oh yeah. You’d ask the trainer, Jimmy Van Deusen. He’d put it in your locker. So you take sleeping pills so you can sleep the night before and then you gotta take uppers to wake up. But not all the guys did it. Some in excess.
TT – I imagine it’s probably not all that different today.
GG – I’m sure, well they’re taking their steroids. But you had a couple of guys who over-did it. Who was the guy up in Oakland who died?
TT – Oh, (Lyle) Alzado.
GG – Yeah.
TT – (John) Matuszak as well.
GG – Yeah, that’s right.
TT – Had you guys seen a lot of weight training before Roy came in? In your college programs and professional programs?
GG – Yeah, especially in my last two years at Auburn they started weight training. They’d do it under the stadium. You are only allowed so many days to train for spring training, and hell, they’d have them working all winter. I was lucky. I went out for wrestling so I didn’t have to lift weights because I was always in shape. This Coach Atkins helped me down there and had other guys wrestling.
TT – I imagine that keeps you in great shape and teaches you all kinds of body positioning.
GG – Yeah, agility.
TT – What other things did Gillman bring about that you had never seen before and was new to football?
GG – That’s a toughie. He just had a great football mind.
TT – We were talking about new innovations that Gillman brought about. If you can think of anything else you hadn’t seen before coming to the Chargers.
GG – Everything was new to me when I got to the pros. I just think the passing game was his forte, although he did like to run.
TT – He had some great backs.
GG – Sure. I wish we could have played Green Bay at the time. We probably would have got our ass kicked, but it would have been fun.
TT – How was Gillman as a coach? Was he respected by his players?
GG – Yes. Well you had to like the guy. I’ll tell you a little story about him. I guess it was the first or second year that I went in. See, back then we didn’t have any agents. And Sid wouldn’t talk to anybody that had an agent anyway. But he says, “Georgie.” He sat there at his table smoking his pipe. He says, “Georgie, I love you like a son.’’ It was true. But you had to negotiate with him. “But you didn’t have too good a season.” So he cut you down. That’s when the guys didn’t like him. Because he also negotiated your contract and he was your coach.
TT – Yeah, that would be tough.
GG – That’s like your father, right?
TT – How did Sid make you a better football player?
GG – The coaches he had hired. He had Chuck Noll, but we didn’t have as many coaches as these guys do. We did have some damn good coaches who taught you some new things. It’s completely different coming out of college. You’re playing guys all your size or bigger, but I’ll tell you a little story. They put me on the kickoff return team. They called them the four bulls, the big guys. My first game down at Balboa stadium they kickoff to us and we’re coming up the field and I block somebody. And you know those great big cages we wore? I mean this helmet, the cage was crushed and my helmet was turned around, and I said, “Shit. These guys hit a lot harder than they do in college.” Cause they’re all your size. That was my introduction my first game.
TT – What do most people overlook when thinking about Sid Gillman? Everybody talks about his passing game and his intensity, but is there another key there that people overlook that players knew about.
GG – He was a shrewd businessman too. He knew how to work people, I think.
TT – What made him a better coach than others”
GG – His knowledge of the game. He’s always been on a winning team, right? He coached at Miami of Ohio. Then he went to the Rams. I guess he takes the rap there for trading away a bunch of guys there for Ollie Matson, right. He still studies the damn game. Even in his retirement. He’s a nut about football.
TT – how much did he have to do with the defense? They talk about Gillman as the offensive-minded coach. Did he overlook you guys as well?
GG – No, no. He’d watch everything. He just hired good people. That’s what it takes to teach you the game plan. But defenses…all they ever told me was to get the guy with the ball. That’s all you have to know, right?
TT – What do you think other defenses had to watch out for when they played the Chargers? What did they have to keep track of that they maybe didn’t have to with other teams?
GG – Sid would always find some weakness. Just like in that ‘63 game, where we played Boston.
TT – For the championship?
GG – Yeah. Where he used Lincoln on a little swing pass and Lincoln came up with 375 yards all by himself in that game. So he really studied the other people developing the game plan and stuff like that.
TT – So they had to watch more for Gillman that they did anyone on the field, per say. Tell me about playing on a defensive line with Earl Faison, Bob Petrich, Ernie Ladd and Hank Schmidt.
GG – Yeah, well that’s it. Back then we had five defensive linemen. I mean it was a pleasure to play with these guys. Ladd would always get double-teamed, so that would leave the other guys open, right? Well, he was big enough to handle two guys. That was a good defensive line, and the linebackers, and the whole backfield. he just picked the right players. Just like the Padres had a very good team. They all came together. I guess he thought by taking us out to Rough Acres that it would pull us all together. It just made us mad, out in the middle of nowhere.
TT – That was my next question. Tell me about Rough Acres. What was it like?
GG – An experience. They had built these…I guess it was supposed to be like a motel. They had these little units, two guys to a cabin. There was no air conditioning. The only fans that we had were the bathroom fans. My first year I’m roommates with Sam DeLuca, from New York. Sam and I’d be laying there at night and the place is full of bats and he says, “George. You hear’em, you hear’em?” They’re scratching. I guess they were in the attic or something. He was afraid of any kind of bugs or anything like that. You know he later played for the Jets. But some of the guys, we had rooms, right. At night the bats are flying around and they’re swatting at them. That’s one story. And then the field was terrible. Bobby Hood and the other boys would have to go check for snakes before we could practice, for rattlesnakes. To practice in 104 degrees, it was like a Spartan camp, but you couldn’t get that much done. The guys are always trying to get water or something. It was an experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. They have such a nice training facility at UCSD. I mean it must be the best facility in the country.
TT – Yeah, it’s nice up there. The ‘63 team was probably the best Charger team of all time. What made that team better than some of the other teams, like the Super Bowl team of ‘94? What were the strengths?
GG – We just had a lot of talent, just tremendous talent. When you have guys like Alworth. This is funny. He brought in Tobin Rote who been in the National Football League and the Canadian. He made a mistake by trading Kemp away for $100. Someone picked up on him.
TT – Buffalo.
GG – Yeah. Anyway, he brought in Tobin Rote and Tobin couldn’t throw the ball that far. He had tendonitis, right? But Alworth was a great jumper and he’d come back for the ball all the time, cause Tobin couldn’t fling it out more than 50 yards. It was the talent that we had on the team.
TT – Was the team excited when they brought Tobin in originally?
GG – Oh yeah, the old man. Did the guys tell you any stories about him? He loves beer.
TT – Really?
GG – Yeah, he’d put away a case. There’s some stories in the old days.
TT – Earl Faison told me that Gillman was originally thrilled about bringing in Tobin Rote, but he had to kind of convince the players. The players weren’t necessarily thrilled because he’d been playing in what they considered to be a second-rate league up in Canada.
GG – He just had a lot of knowledge because he’d been around so damn long. But Hadl took over in’64 because Tobin, his arm was so bad that he couldn’t play anymore.
TT – How did it work in ‘63. Did it work well with Tobin and Hadl sort of splitting some duties?
GG – Oh yeah. John played as much as Tobin did and John could run because he was a halfback in college. He loved to run the…I forgot.
TT – If there was anything that you could have changed about that time with the Chargers, what would it have been?
GG – I don’t know. I was satisfied with them. It was my first year and I was lucky to be on such a good team with great players. You now it’s funny. Al Davis signed all of us because he was with the Chargers. And then the next year he left. He signed Alworth, Sweeney, myself, and a whole bunch of other guys. He used to love to sign us under the goal posts after the last game, under the goal posts, right? My last game was in Birmingham against Alabama and that’s where he signed me. (Al) LoCasale was here with us.
TT – What do you think some of the differences were back then between the AFL and the NFL?
GG – Well the AFL was a young league and they liked to move the ball. More offensive-minded than the NFL. Back then in the National Football League it was defense. They didn’t score a lot of points. That’s the difference.
TT – You’d say they threw the ball a lot more in the AFL.
GG – Yes.
TT – That about wraps up my interview. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
GG – OK.