Keith Kinderman – December 15, 2003
Fullback – Defensive Back
San Diego Chargers – 1963-1964
Houston Oilers – 1965
TT – Tell me what you know about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
KK – Well, Sid Gillman and my coach, Bill Peterson, were pretty good friends. San Diego was interested in me initially as a strong safety. They scouted me. Al LoCasale came down and Al Davis, he came down when he was with the Chargers. He was with the Chargers before he went to Oakland. They liked me as a defensive back, although I was primarily a running back. There is a story that I don’t want to tell, but they drafted me in the second round, San Diego did. Well, San Diego drafted me on a Friday. On Saturday I signed with them with a little pressure from my coach, my college coach. I wanted to wait until Monday when the NFL drafted. My coach told me, “No, they’re not gonna draft you. They know you’re going to San Diego.” Well, Green Bay drafted me on Monday, in the fifth or sixth round somewhere. But I had already signed, so I didn’t have any bargaining power. So as a second draft pick, my big signing bonus was, I think, $3,500. My salary was $12,500. But I thought I was rich. I was honored to be drafted, and I was honored to go out there and play. I was tickled to death that I could be a professional football player. I loved it.
TT – What were your first impressions when you came out to the Chargers? Rough Acres?
KK – Yes it was. I wasn’t too pleased with it. We had to clean the rattlesnakes off the damn field before we started practice. And big ol’ spiders. But it didn’t bother me as much as it bothered some of the guys because coming from Florida, we’ve got a lot bigger rattlesnakes down here. So it didn’t bother me much. But it was hot. We practiced in 120-degree weather, but there was no humidity. So it evaporated immediately. It’s much harder on you to practice on you in Tallahassee than it is in Boulevard.
TT – Tell me about the coaching staff.
KK – I’m sure that you know from writing your book that Sid Gillman is the engineer behind the wide open passing offense, which a lot of other people have taken credit for as, “This is our West Coast Offense.” That is a bunch of crap. Sid Gillman was the guy that opened the game up. Sid Gillman was a brilliant, brilliant offensive mind. The best I have ever seen. And he trained a lot of guys. Dan Henning is now the offensive coordinator for the Panthers. He and I were rookies together, out there at San Diego. Dan never played. He was a marginal player, but he was a very bright guy too. Sid had him and another quarterback from McNeese State named Don Breaux. He was the offensive coordinator for Joe Gibbs at Washington. He had them making up the game plan with him. In their rookie year, or maybe it was their second year. But they learned a helluva lot from Sid Gillman. Noll was a defensive coach, defensive coordinator.
TT – Could you pretty quickly understand that you had some top-flight coaches?
KK – I thought they were very bright guys. The sophistication of the game, compared to what I was used to… That’s an interesting point. Seeing the sophistication of our game, the schemes, the plays, formations, everything like that, on a 1-10, say we were a 10. On the college level it was about a two or three. Interestingly, I talked with Henning and a few of the guys I played with who are coaching in modern-day pros now. I asked them the same question, because I have noticed watching on TV that they don’t do the stuff that we did. I asked Henning point-blank, I said, “On a scale of 1-10, if the sophistication of our game was a 10 when you and I played at San Diego, what is it today now that you are coaching?” He said, “We have had to dumb it down. It is about a five today. Five or six.”
TT – What did he attribute that to?
KK – I don’t think I’ll go there. But it’s a fact. We wouldn’t put up with it. Or the coaches wouldn’t put up with it. But I’ve been in the backfield with some guys and Hadl or Tobin Rote was one of our quarterbacks in my rookie year, they’d audible to another play and the snap count would come and we’d all take off and that one back would still be in his three-point stance and didn’t know what the Hell to do. So he would get his bus ticket the next day.
TT – Which position did you prefer?
KK – Running back. I was an excellent blocker with very good hands. As a matter of fact, I led the country in my senior year in pass receptions from the backfield. Sid recognized that I had good hands. I was a strong runner. I’d rather be the runner and punish the defensive backs rather than having the responsibility to cover one-on-one, because we didn’t do much one-on-one coverage. It was kind a foreign deal to me when I went there to play defensive back. But they wanted me to be a strong safety because I hit real hard. I was a good-sized guy for back then.
TT – That would have been about the time that they were starting to lost some guys in the defensive secondary as well. Charlie McNeil.
KK – Bud had been there two or three years by the time I got there. But they brought Dick Westmoreland in. Kenny Graham. Graham was better suited as a strong safety than I was. But the reason they put me at running back is that they did move some guys out. They had some older guys playing in the offensive backfield. Sid wasn’t real happy with everybody. One of the guys couldn’t catch. We called him ping-pong-paddle hands. But he told me after the season was over, he said, “I want you to put on 20 pounds and next year you are going to be a running back.” So I worked on the weights during the off-season and came back as a running back. Unfortunately I partially tore my ACL in my left knee. I worked myself up to a starting position twice in my second year in San Diego. The first time I partially tore the ACL in my left knee, it was an exhibition game in Atlanta, of all places, against the Jets. I rehabilitated and came back, although I probably had lost a half a step. Because back then they didn’t know how to repair torn ACL’s, the orthopedic guy. So I just let it heal, and I went with tape. But I worked my way up to start again, playing Denver in Denver. They had a back named Odell Barry that ran about a 9.2-100. I guess he ran about a 4.3-40 or something like that. I was the starting running back because they had some real strong dogging linebackers. They had me as a safety on the kick off team, just to get my feet wet before we started running the ball. So this Odell Barry gets the ball. He comes into his wedge, then moves out to the sideline and he’s running free except for me and the sideline. I worked the sideline as another player. I used it for leverage. I pushed him out of bounds and landed funny on my hand. Something I did a hundred times a day, and dislocated my elbow. So that put me out for about four or five weeks. That was basically my career with the Chargers. I just did special teams after that. Then the next year I played for Houston. Then I decided that I was going to leave Houston, or leave the pros, and go to law school, which I did.
TT – Tell me a favorite road trip memory.
KK – The Eastern Swing, we called it. We’d go east and stay for a while. We’d go out and play the Jets, stay the next week and play Buffalo, stay the next week and play New England, then come home. It was real interesting, that swing. We had a lot of fun in New York and Boston. Not a whole lot of fun in Buffalo, but the other two were pretty fun. There were a lot of places we could buy our wives nice clothes and stuff. We’d come back, and for Christmas give them nice presents.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
KK – I guess the biggest thing I disliked about being a pro football player was that I felt like a part of a racecar engine. Let’s say I was a carburetor and I went bad. They’d just throw you away and put a new one in there. Which basically happened after I dislocated my elbow. The human element is missing, but what in the Hell can you expect, though?
TT – A fair number of the guys have answered that question with a similar response.
KK – They had a similar response?
TT – Yes. They disliked the non-human element of it. They felt like a piece of meat, essentially.
KK – I guess the players union has now corrected some of that. But we had a very weak union when I was in San Diego. The NFL players, I still have a card from them somewhere. Ron Mix was our team representative.
TT – When you signed with the Chargers, did you have any concern that the league was so new?
KK – No, I didn’t. I didn’t have any concern. I thought about it, and thought that if that happens, I’ll get on with an NFL team. But the truth of the matter is, I think the NFL had 12 teams at that time. We had eight teams. And there weren’t enough… I’ve heard Gillman say this and I’ve heard Davis say this. There weren’t enough quality players in the country to put 22 men on 20 rosters to play the level of football that was expected of them. See what I’m saying. I see that today. Now they have 32 teams. I see millionaires dropping passes, fumbling the ball. They changed the fumble rule. If you hit the ground and the ball pops out, it is not a fumble. Well, it was a fumble for us. But we rarely fumbled. The whole league was like that. You rarely saw a fumble. You rarely saw a dropped pass. Now it is a bit diluted. The talent pool is diluted today, in my opinion. They say the players are so much bigger and so much faster. I think Alworth ran a 9.6-100. I ran a 9.7 or 9.8, which equates to about a 4.4 40. Alworth ran a 4.3 40. They say about the size. I can point you to some of these 400-pound linemen today that have 125-pounds of fat on them. We had Ernie Ladd, 6’9”, 325-pounds. And if you took two separate photographs of him and me from the back, and had each of us in a different photograph, he was built just like I was as a running back. He had no fat on him. Earl Faison was 300-pounds, 6’7”. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. There are a lot of bellies hanging over the belts today.
TT – I noticed that in the Chargers game yesterday.
KK – 120-pounds of fat on them. That’s bad on their hearts. I don’t think they are any better today. Of course I’m prejudiced, but I don’t think they are any better today. I think, as a matter of fact, they are not playing to the level that we played.
TT – Which of your teammates most impressed you?
KK – I really respected Ron Mix for his intellect and his ability. He and I kind of tee-hawed pretty good because we both had pretty good minds. Both ended up as lawyers. I think Keith Lincoln is the most underrated player that ever played professional football. He ought to be in the Hall of Fame. Are you aware of that game he played against Boston in 1963? 320 yards. I happened to see that on NFL Classics. Ten of the best games played by any player. Other players that impressed me? Well, Lance of course. His ability was just so phenomenal. He was a pretty good boy on the field. He was a pretty good teammate. Paul Lowe’s running ability impressed me, but his blocking ability left something to be desired. Pat Shea and Walt Sweeney. I love those two guys. We’d run what they called the Green Bay Sweep. You’d have the fullback as a lead blocker, the offside back carrying the ball. We’d have a double-team with the tight end and the tackle mixing down. These two guards pulled. You could see their heads going right and left. They looked like the blue ball on a police car, looking for somebody to knock down. They impressed me.
TT – Who were some of the guys you hung out with?
KK – Lincoln, Paul Lowe, Paul Maguire a lot. Sweeney, Shea. Bernie Rogers and I fished every Monday when we had off. He had a boat. We were trying to catch marlin then when none of us knew what we were doing. We got into a damn school of marlin one time. They’re coming right up alongside the boat. I said, “Bernie, what the Hell are these right here?” He said, “Goddammit, those are marlin!” We took Lincoln and Alworth and me and Bernie went out one Monday. We drank pretty good on Sunday after the games. But I’m a pretty good fisher guy and I don’t get sick. But Alworth got sick. He was throwing up. He offered Bernie Rogers his next game check if he’d please take him into shore.
TT – Anything else you would like to share?
KK – Comparing the players then and now, I’d say we loved the game a little bit more than they do. We did it for the game. The love of the game sounds corny, but we weren’t making any money. Now they take themselves out of the game if they have a sprained finger or something. We used to dislocate finger and then just put it back in place. Dave Kocourek. Have you talked to him? He had his four front teeth kicked out buy Smokey Stover, playing the Chiefs. And he came right back to the huddle. We were in the huddle and I’m looking at the guy bleeding down his jersey. We had to take him out of the game. He wouldn’t get out. Just things like that. We loved it more, I guess. I’m sorry it’s over, but everything’s gotta end. But I’d do it again if I could. It was exciting. It’s something that everybody can’t do.