Hank Schmidt – June 28, 2003
San Francisco 49ers – 1959-1960
San Diego Chargers – 1961-1964
Buffalo Bills – 1965
New York Jets -1966
TT – Tell me about how you came to the Chargers after playing for the 49ers.
HS – Well, I was up with the 49ers and the new head coach, Red Hickey, in 1961. The last training camp game he cut me and said that they would put me on their taxi squad. I was notified by the British Columbia Lions. Then Jack Kemp was down here with the San Diego Chargers. Because Kemp went through the 49er camp, we had gotten to know each other. He asked me to come down and I came down to San Diego. The training camp was at MCRD and I had been in the Marine Corps and played at MCRD. So Sid Gillman signed me to a contract. They suited me up and boarded me on an airplane and we went to Dallas to play the Dallas Texans. When we arrived there at the airport, there was this other ballplayer that was in the Marine Corps with me back in the ‘50s, Mike Connolly. He was the center of the Dallas Cowboys. Well, unbeknownst to me, I was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys and he was there to pick me up and take me over to Tom Landry. I told Sid Gillman about this and Sid said that he would work it out. So he worked it out somehow where I stayed with the Chargers. I had basically jumped leagues. So that’s how that basically occurred. Then we played the Dallas Texans and I really don’t remember if we won or lost.
TT – Did you have any concern that the league was new and might not succeed?
HS – No, not whatsoever. There were only 12 teams in the United States back then, in the NFL. There was a lot of good talent coming out and there were not that many ballplayers kept on a team, only 30-someodd players. And there were a lot of players that were let go that could play excellent ball. There were good ballplayers coming out of college and out of service ball. They just wanted to play pro ball. Not semi-pro, they wanted to play pro ball. So I never had any doubts that it would continue at all.
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?
HS – Definitely. I was very impressed with Chuck Noll. He was very technique-oriented. He also was a very brilliant defensive strategist. Sid Gillman was offense. He was so far ahead of the game… And then Al Davis, what can you say about Al Davis? The guy was just a great coach, great management-type of coach. He knew talent, Al Davis did. So definitely, there was a big difference from what I came from with the 49ers. I saw a tremendous difference in technique and their knowledge of the game. And their knowledge of ballplayers too. They knew their talent.
TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.
HS – Sid’s interaction was good. There was only one incident. It is kind of funny now. But the office of the Chargers used to be up where the Red Fox Steakhouse is now. There used to be a Hilton there and they had the upper floor on one side as an office. I remember that after the ’63 championship season I went up to negotiate with Sid on my contract. We got to a sticking point. He actually got up and I got up. He circled the desk and I circled the desk, and I just walked right out. I just thought that would be the end of it. But I went to training camp. That training camp was up in Escondido, in ’64. I went up to training camp and we worked it out up there. We both had to give a little bit. But it was kind of funny because most of the time he was real laid-back and it was just different.
TT – What benefits do you think, not monetarily, you got playing with the Chargers that you may not have gotten from playing with any other team in the AFL?
HS – I think the comradeship was excellent, but the coaching staff like you brought up… Chuck Noll was very impressive to me, and Al Davis. Those two. And some of the ballplayers. With other teams you still had the comradeship a lot. In fact, I go back to the 49ers reunion every now and then. It’s still there. They have a different feel than the Chargers. But the Chargers, that ’63 year we put it together. But other than that, I think there was a better feel for football up at the 49ers than at the Chargers, to be honest with you. Even with the Jets, I was very, very intrigued with the Jets and the New York crowd. It was completely different than San Diego. In fact, if I had it to do over again, I would never come to San Diego. I would have went to New York and played. It’s a different atmosphere and I would have gone there if I could.
TT – Tell me about Rough Acres.
HS – Oh, that was completely different, my God. Let’s put it this way, I got a fly swatter and started swatting flies because there was nothing to do. It was just crazy. You worked out, it was hot, there was not grass hardly at all on the field. It was just rock and sand. The only thing you could concentrate on was football. It was like being up at a prison. I didn’t mind it to a point, but after a while it was like, what’s the point? They had pool tables and all there, but still, you have to get away. Some of the guys would take off and go into a local bar or something. But other than that, I stuck up there. There was just nothing to do but football. Maybe that helped us, I don’t know. But we were biting at the bit to get back, get the heck out of there. It was a different experience. I can’t remember too much, but it was interesting. Let’s put it that way.
TT – Do you think that really helped make that ’63 season a great one?
HS – Yes. It was way better there. The disaster was the Escondido camp in ’64. That was a disaster. I believe the Boulevard camp was better, but if they could have fixed the field up… But even MCRD was a better workout place. We could have done the same thing at MCRD. We could have still went to the championship. Escondido, up there, that was horrible. That didn’t feel like a training camp at all. Boulevard felt like a training camp a little too much. But MCRD would have been good. The University of San Diego, I didn’t like that either. Your concentration wasn’t there.
TT – Tell me about the 1963 championship game.
HS – To be honest with you I don’t remember very much at all. Like I said, my memory is kind of shot. I just know I remember driving home to Crown Point and saying that we won. That was about it. I don’t remember anything specific about it. It was kind of a blow out. We just shocked them. We did everything right and they did everything wrong. Everything. I mean everything was clicking. There was no big injuries, no nothing. Everything clicked just right. It was a perfect game that we played. And the talent we had was excellent. They all complemented each other.
TT – Was Rough Acres the biggest difference between the ’63 team and the ’64 and ’65 teams?
HS – I think Boulevard had a lot to do with it. I firmly believe that. It kept the guys together a lot. Your mental attitude towards the game. I believe it was a good move on Sid’s part going there because we were isolated and concentrating on the game. See, training facilities then, there weren’t any good training facilities. Like I said, the one at Escondido I felt was a disaster. I thought the one at the University of San Diego was a disaster. MCRD was there. You have to have a facility where you can go work out, have your weight room and everything and not have a lot of people around to distract you. Nighttime we did a lot of stuff. Football was all you concentrated on. On the other ones, I’m not saying there was no concentration, but it seems that all kinds of things would interfere with your thought process. I believe Boulevard was a big, big factor in that game. A lot of guys probably don’t think that, but I think it was.
TT – What is your favorite road trip memory?
HS – None whatsoever.
TT – Which of your teammates impressed you the most?
HS – Tobin Rote was very impressive. Tobin Rote. He was a leader. He could get the guys together. The defensive line players, we were always communicating, always good together. The defensive line had a good relationship with each other. All the ballplayers, there was no hard feelings towards each other or anything like that. There was no jealousy. Everybody just played their style and Chuck and Walt Hackett, the defensive line coach, knew how to use that talent. We just all meshed together. It was all meshed, it seemed, together. Just like gears. With some coaches the gears just don’t hit. But it just seemed that we all hit together. And like I say, the one ballplayer that really struck me as should be a hall of famer was Tobin Rote. His leadership quality was there. He said something and you did it, you believed in it.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
HS – Back then, looking back now, at least I wasn’t paid properly. I had to have a job during the off-season. Al Davis was good at getting us a job. He’d get me a job in construction. I worked for Trepte Construction. In fact, building a bank building downtown. Arnholdt Smith’s bank building. I was on that project. I worked at Andy Kitzman Plumbing, driving a truck and delivering plumbing supplies to work areas. Bathtubs and such, it kept me in shape. But we just had to have, at least I did, we had to have a job and it was hard to find anything except in construction or labor. You didn’t have a career. That’s the only dislike I had. The only career you had was football, at least myself, that I was concentrating on. The other jobs I just had as a job, to make money during the off-season to survive. I had a family to support. That was the only dislike. There was never enough money there. I don’t think I ever made over $10,000 in any of the years I played.
TT – Looking back now, what are your fondest memories of the Chargers?
HS – Fondest memories. Besides Jerry Magee being thrown in a swimming pool out in Boulevard? I don’t remember that much, but I remember we were out at Boulevard and Sid took all of us in a bus to El Centro to a television station to watch a boxing match. I believe it was Muhammad Ali. It ended in one or two rounds, a typical Muhammad Ali boxing match. Afterwards we left. We stopped at a motel to eat and somehow Jerry Magee ended up in the swimming pool, the reporter. But he was a good guy. I like Jerry.
Barron Hilton. He was a good owner, Barron Hilton was. I remember going down to Houston and playing. His brother came along. He was a good guy. He took us out to have different food and stuff. His brother really took care of us too.
George Pernicano was an excellent owner too. He was part owner, still is, I guess. He was a great owner. He went on every trip with us and he’d always bring pizzas on the airplane.
There’s Joe Madro. Joe Madro was a good offensive line coach. Just ask Mix about that. He was a little guy, but he knew his technique too. He taught technique. I forgot about him. He was the offensive line coach, but he was a great technique teacher. He probably made Ron Mix to be honest with you.
On every team I played on there was four defensive linemen and Hank Schmidt. I just substituted in for everybody. Ends and defensive tackles, and I played all special teams. I was always on kickoff return, kickoff team, punt, punt return teams, the extra point teams.
I remember when we were playing Buffalo in Balboa Stadium. Billy Shaw, he was a guard for them. He was giving me a real rough time. What you always tried to do is you try to weaken an opponent up, but not cheap shots in the legs. But you try to weaken him up by hitting him. I’ll never forget in this game a play was over. I looked to my left, looked to my right and straight-ahead, there was no officials by. Billy Shaw walked right by me and I nailed him right in the back with a forearm. I knocked him down. Then I heard a whistle and a flag went up. The official was right behind me. We got a 15-yard [penalty]. Then Sid Gillman came off the bench and went bananas and got a technical foul. That’s what I remember on that one. They had to restrain Sid on that one. But I used to try to weaken them up. Like I say, I didn’t try to hurt anybody intentionally on the knees. That’s a no-no. I didn’t do any cheap shots.
Now I firmly believe that the ’63 team was one of the best teams that I was on. That New York team, with Joe Namath and some of the guys there, that was going to be a good team, which they were. They had some good receivers and some good linemen. I’m sorry I didn’t go back. I decided I had a wife and two kids and I could go get a job. So I went into insurance and never went back. Weeb Ewbank called a couple of times and said I couldn’t play with anyone else. I told him I didn’t want to.
I don’t think I ever wore a cage on my face. I only wore the two bars. I never wore a facemask until I went with the 49ers and I only had a one-bar. I came with the Chargers and they had the two plastic bars. I didn’t want anyone grabbing the facemask and using it on my neck. I never had a cage on my face, ever.