Harold Akin – December 9, 2002
San Diego Chargers – 1967-1968
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
HA – I think probably Bum Phillips, who was the defensive coordinator there, was the one that scouted for me. I was drafted in the third round in 1967, as an offensive tackle.
TT – Were you giving any thought to whether you would rather be drafted by an AFL or NFL team?
HA – No, I did not. Actually, there was three people that were talking to me quite a bit; Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and San Diego. So I was really not ad Ruther on the AFL or NFL. I just wanted to be drafted.
TT – Did you have any preferences between those three teams?
HA – Yes, I preferred the Dallas Cowboys, definitely because of the locale.
TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.
HA – Coach Gillman was very, very, what I call, a “brainy-type” coach. He knew the business very, very well at the time I was there, and had already been around it for several years of coaching. So I highly respected him and his knowledge. Certainly we got along very well. He, from all aspects, has become the person that has put out lots and lots of head coaches over the years, throughout the NFL and college.
TT – Did you recognize at that point how impressive he was, or did you realize that later?
HA – Really I did recognize it, and I think probably for a specific reason. He was considered kind of an offensive coach genius, and I was in a system at Oklahoma State where we were mostly defensively inclined. So actually, we had very little offense designed and very little numbers of plays, compared to going out there. Because of his offensive-minded coaching, I though it was unbelievable from the very first day I went to practice. As far as more ingenious way to play offense. Since I was an offensive tackle, I think I recognized most of it right then, that he really knew what he was doing.
TT – Did you run mostly at Oklahoma State?
HA – Yes, that’s correct. We had a fullback there by the name of Walt Garrison, that played about eight years with the Dallas Cowboys. That was the fullback who I blocked for and we did a lot of Walt Garrison to the right, Walt Garrison to the left, Walt Garrison up the middle.
TT – Do any particular games or plays stick in your memory?
HA – Well personally, or course I was what they called a sling tackle. Coming in there I got to play immediately my first year. I got to play a quarter for the starting tackles on both sides, so I got quite a bit of playing time my first year. Then in my second year, early on, I got stomped on one of my feet, and had an evicular bone break off down in the joint. From then it was going to be another year and a half of just trying. So I only spent two and a half years at it.
TT – How were guys like Ron Mix and Ernie Wright as mentors to you?
HA – Well I think like most teams, when you get a group together, you always have some people that are the born teachers and leaders. For instance, Ron Mix was one of those. I really considered him a great mentor for me, as far as understanding the game and learning the game. He was quite a technician, and not so much a muscle guy. But he basically just out-tactically worked almost everybody that we played. Like I say, he was a very good teacher for me.
TT – Who on the Chargers particularly impressed with as an athlete or great player?
HA – Without a doubt, I had the good fortune of being there when Lance Alworth was there. He, too, was an awfully good mentor for young rookies coming in. I think he paid attention to everybody, not just me. But that’s what you find a lot of times in high-quality athletes. But Lance, certainly, was one of the most outstanding players I have ever seen play the game. We had a couple of guys. Sam Gruneisen, that was a center, that I felt was one of the all-time centers, probably not recognized enough. But he was a very, very good center.
TT – Did you stick around town in the off-season?
HA – No, I came back to Oklahoma City where I had a part-time job working in the off season working as a sales marketing rep for a furniture and appliance store.
TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team? Who were some of your good friends?
HA – I guess, probably the biggest guy that I hung out with was a guy that, I don’t think he ever became a starter, but his name was Paul Latzke. And then a starter, offensive guard named Gary Kirner. Basically those couple guys lived down in our area of apartments, so we did a lot of hanging out together. Some goofing off together. Another guys that was from Oklahoma originally, he played ball in Houston, but Dick Post, out of Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma. He played college at Houston. We hung out a little bit, too.
TT – What did you think of San Diego and the fans there? The Chargers had just moved into the new stadium.
HA – I think again, nothing but fantastic thoughts and feelings about that. As a brand new stadium, being drafted, and that type of thing, we were treated really royally as draftees. Being able to go into that stadium and get some playing time my very first year, I was on cloud nine. It was one of things that I think the town leaders, they had already supported baseball for years and I think from the very beginning, San Diego won a lot of divisional titles and from the very beginning they were loved by fans and everybody in San Diego. There were not any slow times. I think they filled the stadium most of the time, after just the first year or two there.
TT – What is your favorite road trip memory?
HA – We went to what we called the Eastern Swing, where we would go up to and stay around Buffalo, New York. Then we would play Buffalo, and what was then the Boston Patriots, now New England Patriots, and then also the Jets. I happened to be there in ’67 to see Mr. Namath with his fur coat. We were in the game, I don’t know if you recall that. He wore a fur coat, I think maybe three or four home games before the finally asked him to take it off. It was a full-length fur coat. You see some runners on that now. I remember being on the field there and we were thinking, “What in the heck is he doing on the other side?” Of course, we were kind of in awe of him anyway because of what he had done in college. Obviously he was a great, great player, he just didn’t have the knees to hold up. But that was one of the neatest and funniest moments of all time. Then probably just being in New York City for the first time. I think that was one of those things that was a real eye-opener for a little Oklahoma boy. We’re not used to those big tall skyscrapers. So that was awesome to spend time there. We stayed two weeks and played three Sunday games. Do they still do that now?
TT – I don’t believe so.
HA – They probably just go in and out now. They don’t worry so much about the traveling cost.
TT – That and I believe that there are so many teams now in the AFC that the Chargers don’t usually play Boston and New York.
HA – Yeah. You can’t get them synced like that. That makes sense. That was a great time. And like I said, one of the most unusual we ever saw. The refs couldn’t call a penalty on it because there was not a penalty for wearing long, full-length fur coats. Of course Weeb Ewbank, you could tell he was over there huffing around. But he didn’t know what to do. It was a pretty interesting deal.
TT – Did you ever get to talk with Gene Klein at the time?
HA – Yeah, Gene actually was fairly active with the team at that time. I don’t know if he had been prior.
TT – He had only bought the team in ’66.
HA – OK, yeah, I started to say maybe one year before me. But he was real active. I know he made arrangements for Thanksgiving day and came there and brought his wife and a son and a couple people. They flew their jet down and then they’d helicopter over. So it was pretty impressive to see a guy like that. And to sit and talk to him, he had those long handlebar sideburns at that time. Joe Namath had those, you know. But he was pretty impressive, a tall guy, about 6’ 5”. He was pretty active with the players, especially those who were superstars like Lance and John Hadl and those guys. Nothing but good feelings there. And he’s one of those that was down on the sidelines some. You see that now with Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s about the most visible one that you see. But Klein did that most of the times that we had home games.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
HA – I think probably the emptiness of getting hurt. A lot of people don’t understand that, but once you’ve played for several years, thee was no wind-down time for me. Once I got hurt with that bone down there, and at that time they couldn’t do those micro-surgeries. In fact, something that is just as coincidental as can be, and of course maybe not, but my youngest son, who played at Oklahoma State University, just finished in the year 2000, he was a three-year started for them and had the same problem. Only he had it happen to him when he was a senior in high school here. They actually went in there, made about a ½” incision, took it out, and he had one missed game. And it was the same surgery that they were telling me that if they did the surgery, I would probably lose a lot of muscle movement and would not be able to run at all. They said just tough it out.
TT – That’s amazing. That changed the course of your career.
HA – Oh, it really did. And like I say, 30 years later, it’s a whole different ball game. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled up Zach’s X-Rays. I had to go back and look at it. It’s the same bone. The call it the same name as what’s up in the wrist. But it just has a little nub on it there, right down in that foot bone, right at the end of the leg bone, right on top. And a cleat goes right down through there. It is a fairly common thing to happen to players, because the bone would just go down into the joint, and you couldn’t get it out without a lot of slicing. But like I say, he’s never had a problem since, with his. I don’t have much trouble with mine unless I get to playing tennis or something that is on hard concrete or something.
TT – When you were in high school or college, did you have a favorite NFL player that you modeled yourself after?
HA – Well, I had several players that I really admired and that type of thing. But to say that I picked one offensive tackle, no. I didn’t really have one. It was a Bob Lilly, who was a defensive player for the Dallas Cowboys, who I always thought was one of the greatest. He did lots and lots of good things, so I always watched him a lot. But I did not really have an offensive lineman. Of course in those days, offensive linemen, you were pretty nondescript. They still are today.
TT – You didn’t get a whole lot of TV time.
HA – Yeah, they don’t get a whole lot of TV time, unless you’re the center. Then you get your face on there because they’re looking at the quarterback.
TT – Looking back now, what are your fondest memories of the Chargers?
HA – I think my most fondest memories are probably the big two-week trip to New York City and seeing all of that. Playing in the Orange Bowl, I though that was wonderful. The trip to be going down there and being in that. I think playing at that kind of level, though, is something that’s distinctly the upper thought in my mind about what’s most exciting. That was playing with the very best in the world at the time, because you could test yourself to see if you really were one of the best people in the world. To me, that’s exciting. Of course, I’m a very competitive person, so those instincts come out in most ball players. They like that high, high intensity. The rush, that’s the adrenaline that you get when you come down the ramp. Even if you’re an offensive tackle.
TT – Do you remember any opponents that gave you particularly good games?
HA – Oh yeah. That taught me a lesson, maybe? Yeah, I got one. Deacon Jones. He taught me a lesson. He was already a six-year pro. We played against him, I believe that was an exhibition game because we were just starting to cross over. If you remember those first couple of three years. But anyway, he gave me a real lesson in how not to be able to block somebody. He was obviously very, very good. And me being brand new, he took me to school that day. I found out what a great defensive end he was. So you remember those, and then probably the most interesting and psychic time I had was playing against Ben Davidson with Oakland.
TT – Oh sure.
HA – Big handlebar mustache, he was kind of a long, goosy guy. I think he’s about 6’6”, 6’7” maybe. He wasn’t real heavy, but he was quick as a cat. And all he did was kind of grumble and get that real deep voice. So you never knew where you stood with him. You couldn’t talk to him because he wouldn’t answer. He’d just kind of grumble. But he was a very good player, obviously. He took me to school.
TT – He and Hadl had a real thing. They had a competition, but I read that after Davidson tackled Hadl, Hadl just threw the ball at him.
HA – Yeah, I think Hadl was kind of like most of the other quarterbacks, too. Davidson never let up. Today in this time, he would have a penalty on every play. Hitting the quarterback late, hitting him in the head, grabbing their jersey, kicking him in the crotch when he was down… He was definitely on the edge of being a tough, tough player. Talented in his own right, but he didn’t much care about how much he hurt you or what he did to you anytime. He was one to take you out.
TT – I have interviewed Ben and he is one of the nicest guys off the field.
HA – I bet he is. Of course you see him in those beer ads from time to time. He seems to be such a nice guy. I never figured him out because he wouldn’t talk about the game. He just put himself into motion on every play and you didn’t know where he was coming from. But a good ball player. But like I said, most quarterbacks didn’t like him.
TT – Other comments?
HA – I think that I would probably just have one really, really important thought. This is the type of thing that whether it be in business or in pro football or pro whatever, playing at that level brought me to the knowledge and awareness of how a person can be. Whether that was me or someone else, or people around you, because you saw excellence everywhere. You saw people get beat, but you really saw the best of the best. And I think without that, I probably would have gone on in life and just assumed that there wasn’t an excellence higher than college football. But there is a whole other tier up there that’s to be the very, very best. And to enjoy those times, I think that was one of the open-your-eye type things for my wife and I. I was married at the time. In fact, we had Jeff, my second son, was born in San Diego. And that would certainly be a highlight. He was on the scoreboard, “Jeff, 7.1 pounds, born to Sally and Harold Akin.” I thought that was exciting, and that was spontaneous on their part. I thought that was really neat. I don’t know if they do that today, but that was pretty impressive. We had that big electronic board. But I think just the situation of being in that kind of environment and being around a team is just one of those real highs that you don’t want to miss if there’s a chance you can be there. As a player, as an assistant, as a coach, whatever. I think it’s an extremely high rush of adrenaline. It was just a great, great experience in my lifetime. Even though it was short.