Herb Travenio – October 16, 1999
San Diego Chargers – 1964-1965
TT – How did your career with the Chargers begin?
HT – I was playing here locally at MCRD, in the Marines, and the Chargers were practicing on the Marine Corps fields. I got a chance to meet everybody. At that time the Marine Corps had an organized football team and we played teams like the University of Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, some of the major schools. And we played San Diego State. That was the big rivalry every year before the Chargers came here. This is the way I got a chance to know the fellows, the coaches and meet everybody.
TT – Relay your story about starting with Kansas City and being traded to the Chargers.
HT – I was working here in the U.S. Postal Service. I did a hitch in the Marine Corps and I was working in the U.S. Post Office and the Vietnam War got nasty. Being an ex-Marine, I chose to go back in to help train troops in this specialty that I had, which was tanks and stuff like that. I decided to go back in and do that because a lot of the guys were doing it and they were asked, “Would you come back and do this?” So I volunteered and did that. I was an instructor. Well, while I was there instructing… My first hitch I was wounded in Korea, a young man, 17 years old. I came back and didn’t want to get out, but I decided to get out and I wound up in the post office. But in the mean time I went back in and trained troops for Vietnam and I decided to play football too, at MCRD. They requested that I come down and play football. I was up at Camp Del Mar and Scotty Harris was coach at that time. So he requested I come down and play, which I did. I became All-Marine down there. So in the mean time the pros were checking me out. I never kicked a football, but I’d go out and practice every evening because I was a fourth string full back. So I said, “I might as well do something to help this ball team. Because I’m never going to do it as a fourth string full back, because we had some great backs.” So in the mean time I went out and started practicing place kicking. And Jesus, I didn’t know I was going to become that good where pro scouts would be coming out to talk to me. So I said, “Boy, I guess I got something here.” So in the mean time Dallas came out, and that’s my hometown. I said, “Boy, it would be great to play for the Cowboys.” But Bob Beathard came around and he was convinced that I should come to Kansas City. That’s where he signed me and when I got out I went to Kansas City. I took another leave of absence from the post office, for a year. And I went back to Kansas City and I made the ball team. They wanted me to taxi and I said, “Well, no. I can’t do that. I’ll go back to work in San Diego and if you need me, call me.” We all agreed, Hank Stram, Steadman, we all agreed to that. I came back home and went back to the post office to work and I didn’t lose any time because that’s all federal time. Going back in the service is all federal time, so I didn’t lose any time. It’s just like transferring from one federal job to another job. In the mean time I’m working mail and somebody came to the back dock and says, “Hey, hey, hey, you gotta get out of here and tomorrow get on a plane out to New York City.” I says, “Who are you?” He says, “I’m Sid Gillman’s secretary. You’re Travenio?” I said, “Yeah.” She had come to the back dock and asked for Travenio. I said, “I’m Travenio.” She said, “You’ve been traded.” I said, “Boy, they sure don’t let you know.” So I knew it was cold back there and I said, “I’ll stall for about three or four days because I was in condition. I practiced every day.” I caught that late flight out of here to New Your City, flew up to L.A. and right out to New York City. Bobby Hood was waiting for me at the airport and took me up to Bear Mountain. This is where they were in New York, at Bear Mountain practicing. So I checked in and Sid asked me how was the flight. And I said, “fine.” And I had a press conference that afternoon. But I went out and at the time Tobin Rote was quarterback and Hadl was setting behind Tobin. We practiced. I hit about eight out of ten and we were ready. We were ready for Boston. Because we were going up to Boston and New York, then Buffalo. We made that circuit and I had three good games. We came back to San Diego and that’s where it started.
TT – What did you know about the American Football League at that point?
HT – I helped start the American Football League. When the American Football League went up to… I mean when it started, the Chargers were one of the first teams in the American Football League, from Los Angeles. They were the Los Angeles Chargers. I went up there, there were 500 guys up there, but I went up there for a tryout, at that time as a halfback. I was a running back in school. I went up there just to try out, to see what it was like. That’s where I met the Chargers.
TT – How did the AFL and the NFL compare at that time?
HT – I got sick and tired of the NFL because it was five yards and a cloud of dust. And people said, “What in the world is this on channel 6? Man, this is football. They are throwing the ball 18 yards and somebody is catching the ball. I can’t believe somebody is down, catching the ball.” There were quarterbacks throwing. It was fast. It was exciting. The uniforms were different. The football was smaller. People didn’t know that. But the AFL played with a smaller ball. It was these young fellows that were hungry, that loved the sport. And they got a chance when the NFL didn’t give them a chance. Then the NFL got to the point where they… Well I’ll tell you what the bonus baby was Joe Namath. So the NFL had to come up with some money and Anderson from Texas was the first bonus baby that the NFL signed. It was for $250,000. Joe Namath got about $475,000. But that was great money in those days. So a few of the guys were getting out of school and saying, “Hey, I’m checking this AFL out. They’re paying. And it’s the kind of football I want to play.” But the NFL is five yards and a cloud of dust. Run 10 plays and never pass but once. People just want to see exciting football. That’s what it was about.
TT – Tell me about your first time in Balboa Stadium.
HT – My first time in Balboa Stadium was watching the Chargers play. I was playing for the Marines and we used to go to the ball games. The guys would tease me. Blair would miss a field goal or screw up some kind of way. I like Blair. Blair was a nice guy I’m not putting Blair down. But he was kicking at the time. We knew the guys anyway because they were working out over there. They said, “Travenio, go down and show Blair how to kick. Take his place.” I had been going to Balboa to watch high school ball games. We played a championship game down there, the Leatherneck Bowl, and beat Pensacola for the championship. And we do have a photo in the Hall of Champions now, of the team there.
TT – What about the first time you played for the Chargers in Balboa Stadium? What was that like?
HT – Playing for the Chargers in Balboa Stadium, I just looked around one day and looked at the area where I used to sit, to watch them. And then I said, “Now here I am.” But the amazing thing about that was Earl Faison, I’ll tell you what. We used to work out at Lincoln (High School), the Chargers, guys that lived here from other teams, NFL, AFL, we’d all meet, it was predominantly black in this are. So we’d all meet down at Lincoln and work out. Well, I was working out down there with the pros and kicking. Then Earl Faison teased me one day, he said, “Old man, what are you down here working out for? What are you kicking for?” I said, “I gotta get ready like you guys get ready.” He said, “Aw, you’re too damn old to be playing football.” I said, “Well, if you think so.” So we were all friends, though. So two years later I said, “Earl, here’s this old man in the locker room, playing ball with you.” So everybody just cracked up.
TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team?
HT – I didn’t hang out with anybody. Too old. They didn’t want to hang out with a guy like me. We flew back to New York and I helped in Emityvilly, Long Island. And we flew back to New York to play the Jets and Joe Namath and the bunch. We got in there late and Sid said, “All right, I want to see you tomorrow. No curfew tonight, I want to see you at curfew tomorrow night.” Well, I went on up to the hotel and went to bed. These guys, they got this chance to get off and party. I wasn’t a partier. Dedicated man. So I went on up and I got up that morning to go over to see my people and I see these guys on the subway all red-eyed, hung over and nasty. “Where you going?” I said, “None of your business.” They were definitely hung over, trying to get back to the hotel. I had nobody that I ran with. Nobody that I had anything in common, with me being a vet and being as old as I was. I had good friends there on the team, but I didn’t run with anybody.
TT – Tell me a few stories about fun times with the Chargers.
HT – Well, the fun times were all the time. The locker room, soap, tricks and all that kind of stuff. The shower tricks and all that kind of stuff. I can’t tell you what they were, keep it clean. We were on our way back from Boston one night and we flew through this storm. The plane was jumping all over the place. Well, flying’s my hobby. I flew a little bit myself. It’s one of my hobbies. And Sid Gillman just had a fit. He ran up and down the aisle, “Shut up, shut up, be quiet. Everybody just be quiet.” So everybody was cracking up. He was all shook up. The storm shook him up. Hank Stram, Hank Stram was the same way. He didn’t like jets. He’d fly nothing but props, TWA and the same thing with him. But it was a lot of things that happened that I just can’t tell you about. I just don’t want to talk about them. It wouldn’t be nice.
TT – What was it like to play for Sid?
HT – Sid was a hard knot. He was a general and I loved every bit of it. I don’t like easy coaches. I like a disciplined coach. Coryell at State, I helped him out there with his special teams for two years. Great person, disciplined. Players love him. Sid Gillman, nobody loved him because he was a hard knot. He was like Lombardi. He was serious. He was a businessman. Even with the money. He was cheap, but it wasn’t his money in the first place, that he was dealing with. But anyway, I loved the guy. And if I said it around players, they’d spit on me. Because they didn’t understand him, I did. Because he gave me a chance when there was no black kickers. I’m the first black specialist in the game. There’s none today. Gene Mingo, Shockley, years ago. Before the American Football League came along, they were kicking in some semi-pro leagues. But Gene Mingo and I were kicking in the AFL. But I was the only, only, only, only specialist. There has never been another. And there probably will never be one. I tried to help some of the black kids at Southern University. I call them on my phone and talk to them, very good specialists. But they just won’t take them. It’s just an area that they stay away from, the scouts stay away from. I mean you got to be Superman. You got to kick like you’re Superman anyway. And I’m not prejudiced, myself. That didn’t bother me. Even if I’d have went there and just tried out, I’d have just said, “Thank God I did try out.” Because I came from that area. I came up tough, I came up hard. I came along working. I came along when you had to go to a different bathroom or you had to drink out of a different water fountain. And people said, “How?” When I came back from what was overseas, ribbon on my chest, I couldn’t go in and get a hamburger in Phoenix. But it didn’t bother me. I just would trot it right along, got me a hamburger someplace else. You can’t let those things bother you. Just like football, just like anything else. If you love the sport, hey, that’s just another obstacle. Everybody’s got them. Even you. You got them.
TT – Did you ever play any positions besides kicker?
HT – Yes I did. I like the kid who’s kicking out her for the Chargers, I talked to him before. He said he wished I would have been a special teams coach, when I first went out there and talked to him. I told him to lean the ball back so he could get some distance. He said, “Jeez, I wish you were out here.” He’s been doing it. And I played halfback, running back. I played defensive back. I played for Naval Air, too. I played defensive back, went both ways over there. Played a little quarterback against State, when they had Governelli out there. The coach put me in, we were so far ahead. Those are three positions that I played. I helped bust the wedge on kickoffs. They don’t do that no more. I got a picture right over there right now, when I’m playing with Kansas City, I’m down there. Because I love the sport, I knew the sport, and at that time they didn’t tell the kickers to run off the field. You were part of the ball team. They didn’t talk about kickers like they do today. You’re kind of an outcast, you know what I’m saying? But then you weren’t an outcast. You were part of the ball team, man. So that’s what made it so… We were family. We were family.
HT – This is at the University. It is isn’t it? Sam DeLuca, great ball player, great ball player. Charlie Flowers, great ball player. Southern boy, great. Ernie Ladd, aw, he’d be killing people today. Ron Mix, man got a lot of brains. He’s the brain. Keith Lincoln, Keith Lincoln, the only thing Keith Lincoln was missing is he wasn’t black. But he played black. Keith walked like a black, talked like a black and ran with the blacks. He was just one of those hip dudes. Could play, though. Oh boy the guy could play. He and Paul (Lowe) used to run competitions together. Dick Harris, crazy. Crazy Dick. This guy was fun. He could have been a comedian. He missed his calling, he should have been a comedian. Alworth, the greatest ever. They talk about this kid up here in Frisco, Rice. Rice can’t wear his shoes. If Alworth was playing today… Rice can’t wear his shoes. Bambi, the ball would hit him on the tip of his fingers. Two guys, three guys around him, he’d go up and bring the ball down. And come down still running at the same speed. That’s right. That’s why they called him Bambi. The greatest receiver I’ve ever seen. And I’ve got black friends that get mad at me when I say that. But see, you’re wrong because you’re looking at his skin color. You’re not looking at the man’s ability, in the man’s heart. You’ve got to be with him and play with him. He’d practice like he plays. He’d practice like he plays. We all did, we all did. Didn’t make no money, like I said, but we all did. Hadl. John was an old Kansas farmer, but could play. He was smart. What he didn’t have, somehow he would find it, and go get it. And he could trot. He could run when he had to. You know what I’m saying? And he could throw when he had to throw. He could improvise. He could improvise. Oh Emil Karas, a gentleman. Gentleman. You would never know he played football. You’d think he was a Wall Street businessman getting off a plane. Could play. He died early, too. Jacque MacKinnon did too. Jacque MacKinnon was a lover, playboy. Everybody loved him, and wild. He was wild. Ernie Wright, a pro. Charlie McNeil, a pro. Oh boy, this guy would tag you. He’d hit you, man. They talk about hitter today like Ronnie Lott. Shit, this guy would kill you. He’d kill you. Don Norton, missing a few screws. You never knew what Don was thinking about. But you had to like him. He was just crazy, witty. Don Rogers, the judge. I used to say, “Don, please snap me the ball.” “Aw Hell, I’ll snap the ball. Kick it.” Schmidt, ex-Marine, crazy. Bud Whitehead, now that’s one of my best friends. You asked me about a friend, he’s up there in Fresno. I call Bud about three times a year, talk to him on the phone. But Ernie Wright was a pro. That’s all you got to say about Ernie. Earl Faison, pro. Serious all the time about what they do. Earl teaches now, coaches. Petrich, crazy. He’s one of my second-best friends. Bob Petrich. He’s a lunatic. Bob’s good people. He’s my second-best friend. Sam Gruneisen, Sam screwed me up a few times. He rolled the ball back on the ground and I had to kick it off the grass. Ken Graham, good friend. I don’t see nobody else here. I see the same fellows over and over. But that’s what I think about them. They are all great people to me. I didn’t have one there that I disliked. I didn’t have one that disliked me. But I had friends in Kansas City. One of my best friends in Kansas City was Abner Haynes. He came from my hometown. And Buck Buchanon. Harris, I still don’t understand him. I’ve been living in this old house ever since. 38 years, a long time. Married for 41. Those are my boys. Those are the greatest football players to come down the pike. Businessmen now, lawyers. There’s a few that you don’t have in there, about three or four. They were just great fellows. We hang now. This has been thirty years ago, but at the barbecue, we’re just like a family. And these guys today, I’ll tell you. I go out there, sometimes we meet and they look like there is something wrong with us. Like we stink. We’re the pioneers. We know you’re making great money, I don’t care about the money. But man, you’ll be here someday too. With a cane, crippled, sick, crazy. Because they don’t keep their money. Do you notice that? It’s gone like that. The ones that don’t finish school and try to do something for themselves, their really not… Money-wise, it’s gone. But more power to them. I’m not jealous, by no means. I’m comfortable. I’m sick, but I’m comfortable. I’m a Texan, as you can see. We usually kick our shoes off, sit down and have a little barbecue. Ain’t nothing extravagant about me or my wife or my house, what you see is what you get. If you don’t like it, don’t come back. People come in here expecting to see gold and chandeliers, but no. I think as much as anybody made out there was maybe $100,000. That was like Alworth and Hadl. And they didn’t make that for a while. I got a little $500 bonus to fly me back, and then I wound up getting a $3,000 bonus later. That’s nothing. That’s chicken feed. And I’m just a kicker, so you can imagine what the guys are making today. Kickers are making $175,000. But that’s it, sir.