San Diego Chargers – 1961-1968
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you first came to the Chargers.
BW – I would say, probably, the one that found out about my playing abilities at Florida State University was Al LoCasale. He was involved in personnel with the San Diego Chargers at that time and has now been with the Oakland Raiders a number of years. He was the one that kind of contacted me and let me know more or less that I would probably be drafted by the Chargers and I was drafted by the Green Bay Packers because you had the two leagues against each other. So I was a draft choice by the Packers and the San Diego Chargers. I just felt like the opportunity for me to play would be in a new league that was actually looking for ball players. At that time Lombardi had a real powerhouse. They didn’t really need a lot of bodies and I thought I might just get a cup of coffee and be sent home. I wanted to go play where it looked like there was a real opportunity that I’d get a real chance and I was given that and a very enjoyable time. Really good.
TT – Did you have any concerns about the league possibly folding?
BW – You would think, seeing the financial backing and not having the support right off the get-go, which is normal, there might have been some inklings of “Man, we may not make it.” But I don’t think I ever thought about that. I don’t think I ever worried that, “You know, this thing might go under.” I felt like this organization was very solid. We had a strong owner in Barron Hilton, as you know. He had financial success with the hotels and came from a family that had a lot of money, and he could probably back us a long way before he might give up, if no money was coming in through TV and ticket sales. But I don’t think as a player, in my mind, I thought that we would ever go under. I don’t think that really crossed my mind. Maybe I was being nieve about that, not knowing what the financial picture was, but I thought we looked like a marketable product because I’ve heard so many people say that, “Man, you guys kind of brought pro football out of the twilight zone because it wasn’t three yards and a cloud of dust. You opened up the passing game, you put people in motion, different formations, you made football exciting.” And that’s not to knock the NFL, I don’t mean that derogatory in any way, but it was appealing. They liked to see scores. To a fan, 7-3 or 10-10 is nothing. They don’t get pumped up. They want to see that ball move down the football field because most fans are not defensive people. That’s what the AFL was. It was highly explosive. Most teams were very good offensively. We had some good defenses with the Chargers, I’m not saying we didn’t. We had some excellent defensive ball players. But I think it is a little more wide open, a little more appealing to the fans. And as I said, I don’t think in my own mind I thought we would fail. I thought if the league went under, I though we had maybe one of the stronger teams and we might keep moving along and maybe incorporate some other teams somewhere else if we had to. Maybe go to other cities with teams that might be failing, maybe move out of that city and go to another one. But no, never did.
TT – What advantages do you think you had playing with the Chargers.
BW – I’m not sure of the advantages I had. One of the things I really wanted to do, I think in my mind, I definitely wanted to play in a good climate. And I knew San Diego had to be, not knowing California, being a Florida boy, I knew I’d be playing in great weather. I felt as a defensive back, I didn’t have a lot of inkling that I wanted to play on wet and muddy, cold, frozen fields. I thought, man, playing out here would be a wonderful experience. But advantages of playing in the AFL, I’m not sure there were a great deal of advantages playing here versus the NFL. We took a lot of harassing, I’ll tell you that. Because everybody said, “Boy, you guys are just a rinky-dink scab league,” that type of thing. It would just rub you wrong in the worst way. But probably starting out we weren’t powerhouses too much, but knowing Sid Gillman, and you probably know Sid as well as anyone with the interviews that you have done with him, he was going to put together a class organization or he wouldn’t have been a part of it. As I said, he was going to find the ball players, the financial backing, and he’s in the Hall of Fame as one of the all-time greats as a coach. Lombardi and all of those great other coaches, they were great, but I don’t know if anybody can top Sid. He was an offensive genius. There’s no doubt in my mind, the guy was just a genius. It was great playing under him because he was a leader. I don’t know any coach is better organized. Not that I’ve been under others, and I can’t sit here and make a judgment, but we were organized. Unbelievable. Everything, as far as he could do, he made it first class. And that was good. I think we had some things that where some of the other teams, having him in leadership, that we might have had a little bit of edge. Because Sid was so good and so organized and so smart, probably in the beginning, because we had a lot of championship ball clubs early. I think it’s because of Gillman. I think that was an advantage playing for him. Maybe it’s in with some of the other coaches, because I just think he was a little bit ahead. Some of the other guys just didn’t have his background and his expertise.
TT – Tell me about the relationship between Bud Whitehead and Sid Gillman.
BW – Sid, I’ll never forget Sid’s opening comments at training camp, I almost had it memorized for a little bit. Sid would always tell us in training camp, and one statement always stood out in my mind. He said, “Guys, I’ll tell you what. I’m not interested if you like me. I’m not here on a popularity contest. But you will respect me.” And he had the respect, I guarantee you. And if you heard some of the guys last night, you know he had some times where he’d get on your butt and it wasn’t always a lot of fun. But I don’t think Sid ever did anything in a vicious way. I think when he did chew on you, and get on your rear end, it was to improve you and make you a better human being and a better athlete. Because one of the things I learned real quick, if a coach isn’t on you, he’s probably given upon you. So when you’re screwing up, and you’re not getting your little behind reamed out, they’ve probably said, “Hey, he’s never going to make it, why waste your breath.” So you felt like, “Hey, if I’m getting my butt chewed out, they see something in me and they’re trying to make me better some way, somehow.” So I appreciate that in coach Gillman. And he was just a great coach. Just a super guy to play under. Yeah we had a great time. Great guys, the camaraderie was good. And like they say, it’s probably cliché, but I’m not saying we played for the love of the game. Naturally you know there wasn’t a lot of money when we came out, and guys were playing for very little. I mean it wasn’t there. We wouldn’t say, “Man, the owners are rolling in dough, why don’t give some to the players?” There was no big TV contracts, and the huge stadiums and the money wasn’t there. They were always fair. Sid was always fair, Barron Hilton was always fair to us. And I just thought we were one of the upper-echelon of the AFL back in those days. I just think Sid ran a class organization. And I’m not bragging or being a smarty, I just thought we were a little bit above most of the teams. I’m not going to say very one of them, but most of the teams I think we were a little bit ahead through Sid Gillman and his organization. And playing under Sid was a thrill because it’s like the guys that played under Lombardi. You never forget it. They say they played under the best coach, and we say we played under the best coach. I like that. I like that idea. It’s like hay, the guy running the show, he’s one of the very best. And I learned a lot. And I coached and enjoyed coaching. And probably everything I took into coaching came from Sid Gillman.
TT – Who were the guys that you hung out with?
BW – Well the guys I hung out with are probably the guys you saw me sitting with at the table. The Chuck Allens, the George Blairs, Bob Mitingers, those were probably my closest friends and still are my closest friends. There’s just some kind of camaraderie. I was a bachelor when I came out and Bob Mitinger and we had another friend that was a bachelor and we used to have a pad together. Being bachelors we all kind of spent our money together. We didn’t have a lot to spend so we kind of roomed together and had apartments and had a friend who’s passed on, Reg Carolan, he was a tight end from Idaho. He’s passed on now, he was one of our roommates. But the guys that I was real close to, we’re still real close. The Blairs, the Mitingers, the Chuck Allens, etc. They were my closest friends. All the guys were my friends, but like you say, who would maybe you call to go out and have lunch with the wives, and stay with after the game, those were probably my closest guys to run around with back in those days. Super people. Still are my best of friends today.
TT – Tell me about Rough Acres.
BW – Oh man, that was an experience. I know you’ve heard everything about that one. Boy the snakes, the spiders, the bugs, the hot weather, oh miserable up there. I thin more sawdust on the field than there was grass. It was just a tough, rough place to be. But you know, I think like a lot of people have said, and I’m sure you’ve heard it said, I think it brought our ball club together. Because you know, when you’re out there and you’re going through what you might call Hell, you kind of come together as a unit. And I think Sid had a lot of that in mind. Get out of the city lights, get out of the festivities and the bright lights. Let’s get out there in the wilderness and come together as a unit. And I think we did. I think we came together as a real strong, cohesive team. They only had that one bar, I forget, the White Horse Saloon, or something like that. That was the only place you could hang out for a quick beer before you had to run back to go to camp or get back in before bed check. Just being together on a close basis like that, you didn’t have guys scattering here or there or going home. You had to hang together. I think that was probably the closest knit unit of guys I ever was with, was the Rough Acres 1963 football team. A lot of camaraderie there. A wonderful experience. Like they said in the Marine corps, “It was a great experience, but you don’t want to do it again.”
TT – Tell me your favorite road trip story.
BW – Oh my goodness. I think the story that I told about Earl Faison, I guess when we were back in Buffalo. I think Earl was out signing Jimmy Jones on chits for lunches and meals and drinks for all his pals, and sending them to the hotel in care of the Chargers. Sid says, “If I ever find out who that damn Jimmy Jones is, he’s gone.” Everybody was looking around, “Who’s Jimmy Jones?” “Who the Hell is Jimmy Jones?” And ole’ big Earl, he’s been sending those chits. Sid’s getting all these receipts, “Who the Hell has been spending all this money and writing down the Chargers organization?” We laughed about that, that cracked us up. That was so funny. And ole’, big Earl, he was having a good time just treating anybody who wanted a drink, he’d buy them a drink and sign the Chargers. Really good times. Those years went too fast. Time moves on, doesn’t it?
TT – What did it feel like the first time you saw yourself on a football card, the first time a little kid came up and asked you for an autograph?
BW – Well, I’ll tell you, because for me, coming from Florida State and as you know, Florida State now is a powerhouse. They are as good as anybody in the country. When I was there they had only been co-ed just a few years. So coming from a small program, it wasn’t like coming out of Ohio State or Texas or USC or all those schools. It might not have been a big deal to those guys to sign autographs, [but] that wasn’t even heard of back when I was in school. “Who wants your autograph? Nobody wants an autograph.” And I’m sure back then the big schools, that they had a following and guys probably were signing autographs. So like you say, when the first kids run up to you and want an autograph, I was almost like in shock. “Why do you want my autograph? It’s no big deal.” To me it didn’t seem very exciting. But now that I’ve been in football these years and coaching and been around the other athletes, I can see where for a little kid that loves sports, it’s a thrill. I’m a little disappointed, even now when guys want money to sign the little kids autograph. Here’s a little guy and he’s looking up at you, just idolizing you and the guy says come on over here and give me fifty bucks. I hate that. I wish there was no such thing as getting money for autographs. I just despise that. I’m thankful they weren’t doing that stuff when I was around. Particularly now, the money is so huge. Now maybe if a store says, “Come down, we’ll give you X number of dollars in the department store.” Then, OK, but not some little kid. They should sign every little kid’s autograph and be thankful they admire you enough to even ask for an autograph. You should be very appreciative. Because the fans make the game, they make the game. Without the fans you could be the greatest athlete and with nobody out there watching you, so what. And it was a thrill, really. I think they had little Coke caps with a picture of a ballplayer under a Coke cap. I think the first time I ever saw my photograph on anything, before I saw a card, but yeah, it was kind of a thrill. “Hey that’s me on that card. Wow.” Like I said, coming from not a big time football program. Florida State had not arrived in those days, because we used to kid and say that we were playing William and Mary and hoped William didn’t show up. We had a handful of real fine athletes, but we weren’t nothing compared to what these guys have nowadays. Good Lord, Bobby Bowden’s got a powerhouse down there and great athletes. But coming out and playing on the Chargers and getting your photograph on a card was very exciting. Very exciting for a little, small town country boy. I grew up in a little town, 4-5,000 people out in the country. I never dreamed about playing. Never was a dream of mine, that I’d play pro ball, because I thought that was way beyond me. So I never even thought about it. Whereas some kids think, “Oh, I’m gonna be a major league pitcher.” Or a great basketball player. That never went through my mind. I never thought I’d get the opportunity or even have the talent. So I was blessed, and thankful for it.
TT – What did you dislike about being a pro football player?
BW – Dislike? I’ll tell you the hardest thing… It was my last year, the camaraderie. I miss these guys. And they were family. They become family, these guys that you spend a lot of years with. A lot of these guys I spent more than a college career where you are there four years, some of these guys you spend eight years with, because I was here eight and they were here the whole time with you. Some maybe four, five, six years, and they became like family. What I didn’t like about pro football, you were asking me, I am not sure… Practice for me has never been a lot of fun. The aches and the pains and the conditioning, because to me, that was never fun. That was hard work, it was really hard work. I think for myself, I wasn’t the most talented guy in the world, I think I just had to work harder probably than some of the guys just to hang on and make the team. The hard work and the conditioning. But I don’t know that there is any real negatives on my side of it. I just loved it and was thrilled by it and happy to be part of a great organization with Coach Gillman and this great city of San Diego. What a marvelous experience, I’m so thankful. I married my wife, she’s from San Diego. She went to San Diego State. I met my wife through a fraternity brother. I was an SAE, Bob Mitinger is an SAE, and we roomed together, and we got introduced to my wife. As I said, I owe this town a lot, a lot more than football. That’s my wife, that’s the mother of my children, and now we got our first grand baby 11 months ago. I really don’t have any qualms or any drawbacks. Everything was great. I loved it. I’d do it again. And like I said, I’ve seen a lot of guys with some serious injuries. I broke a clavicle in my shoulder running back kick-offs my last year and I knew that was probably the end of the line for me anyway at that age. I was kind of worn out. I was about 30 and I said, “Man, I’ve been doing this since I was in the fifth grade. I’ve got to find something else to do.” But it was great, a great time.
TT – How would you like to be remembered as a football player.
BW – I would like to… If a guy says, “What do you remember about Bud Whitehead?” He says, “He played with everything he had. He gave his best effort, never dogged it, never wanted to be out of a game. Always wanted to be out there in the tough situations, wanted to play in those championship games when everything is on the line. He was a team player and he just put his heart and soul into it and was willing to do whatever it took to win.” That’d be good enough for me.