San Diego Chargers – 1963-1965
Miami Dolphins – 1966-1969
DW – What we had then is just amazing. We didn’t have racial problems. We were like a big family, from the trainer right on up to everyone else. It was just like good times all the way around. We played hard. We had good times at practice. Do you know what that is, to have a good time at practice?
TT – Talk about how your career with the Chargers began.
DW – My career started with San Diego when I got a call from Al LoCasale. He called to my school, North Carolina A&T, which is in Greensboro, North Carolina. I am from Charlotte, North Carolina. Football season was over. I think we were getting ready to go home for either Christmas of Thanksgiving. The season was just over. Anyway, I get a call one night in the dorm and it’s Al LoCasale who is Chargers personnel. He called me and asked me if I would be interested in playing with the Chargers. I was elated because I was told by the Detroit Lions and by the Buffalo Bills that they were going to draft me, but I was injured my senior year in college. So I didn’t get drafted and I was sort of downhearted. So when I got that call from the Chargers I was elated. He talked about that he wanted to sign me to a free agent contract. So I was like, “Yeah, I’d be glad to do that.” So it really happened fast. It blew my mind because he’s in California. What he did in fact was call a coach from North Carolina Central, which was called North Carolina College at that time. It is in Durham, North Carolina, maybe an hour away from Greensboro. So he called one of their scouts there, which is one of their coaches, and asked him to come over and sign me up. So I had about an hour before they signed me after that phone call. I can remember being kind of excited, but we were getting ready to go home and me and some of the boys were having a few drinks to celebrate the end of the year. I can remember thinking he was going to come sign me and smell alcohol on my breath. So I was up there trying to brush my teeth and all this other kind of stuff. When the Dean of the dorm came down, he was a pretty strict guy. He came down and he said to me, “Westmoreland, you’ve got a phone call,” because the phones were down at the end of the hall. I said, “Thank you Dean Boone.” Then he said, “Seems like I smell alcohol in here too.” “Uh, no.” So anyway, after that conversation… The irony of the situation is this. I think the coach was named Stevens, Coach Stevens. He was an assistant coach down there. But this same coach that signed me to the Chargers, he tried to recruit me out of high school four years prior to that. He was wondering why I didn’t go there because he was kind of pushy-pushy and I was a pretty big commodity, I thought. He was like, “O.K. Westmoreland, you’ve got to make up your mind. We’ve got things to do. We’ve got more guys to sign up. Are you going to sign or not?” “Well, no, I’m not.” That was the way he was. So he came over and he was there about maybe an hour or so and signed me to a contract. It wasn’t that much money, but I was happy with it. See what they would do in those days, most of your predominantly black schools were loaded with talent. A lot of your white schools, particularly in the South, weren’t all that integrated with athletes and scholarships and things like that. So A&T and all your black schools were real powerhouses in athletics. The white schools weren’t integrated down there and the kids went out to UCLA and things like that. But it wasn’t so down South. So the professional leagues, they knew about this pool of talent. But I guess the rest of the world didn’t know much about it. But at any rate, they had a way of signing you as a free agent, knowing that you probably were going to be one of their best stars. So I can remember a guy making an error in my favor, gave me about $500 more and he said, “Oh, no problem.” One of the ways that they… not messed with your mind, but got you all excited is that they might give you $1,000 in $20s. Or $2,000 in $20s. So it looked like a lot of money. “Jeez, look at all these $20s. When actually they maybe should have given you five grand for signing or something like that. But anyway, I’ve got no regrets about any of that kind of stuff. But I can remember after I signed I went home and I remember everyone on campus was looking for me. They all took care of me when I was in college, they’d buy me food and stuff like that. I must have owed everybody in that way. They tried to catch up with me. “I heard you got a bonus.” But anyway, that was my experience with signing with the Chargers and so I was real happy about that. I trained and got ready to go out in July. That was my first plane ride. So I went out to Chicago and from Chicago to San Diego. Then from San Diego right out to Rough Acres, which is Boulevard, California. I work not too far from there right now in Campo, California in the probation department. That’s a little irony, about 20 miles away. That was the first spot I came to in California. The camp was excellent for training because there was nothing there but us and rattlesnakes and things like that. All we had to look forward to was practice and things like that. There was one girl that lived on the neighboring ranch, probably 15years old. She used to ride over on her horse and watch us practice. The whole team would be looking at her. The whole team watching this little girl. But anyway, we started training and I can remember being so bent on making the team. That was my desire. I was intent on graduating from college, but that was a big deal too. Gosh, they give me a scholarship to do this when I’d do it for nothing. So when I got my chance with the pros, I was there like one day at a time. The kind of remarks that I had, it was very inspiring. I can remember Nolan Richardson was my roommate. He’s the basketball coach at the University of Arkansas now. I can remember thinking that guys who had done better than me were getting cut. I though, “Gee, I’m stumbling all around.” But Chuck Noll, who later coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl champs, he was my defensive coordinator. He coached the defensive backs. He really inspired me. He was always training me to be optimistic. I’m an optimistic person. If you kind of yell at me and curse me out I might not do as well as if you let me know that you’re depending on me, and “don’t let me down.” That kind of thing. I would do my all for you. So he always kept me going. He always told me, “No, you don’t look bad at all.” He always told me that I was looking and doing this sort of thing. I said, “Am I? I feel like I’m skipping around and falling.” But like it came on and I got the hang of it. I started being good at it. Because in college The Pittsburgh Courier, which is a black newspaper, I was an All-American there both ways. I played offense, defense. I led the league one year in pass receiving. I was good at defense, but I was really offense. I though about running the ball more so than tackling somebody. But when I got my shot in the pros I came out as a receiver or a defensive back. But I got my shot as a defensive back. And I realized that if you really nail this down, it is going to be really hard from somebody to take your place because it is a hard place to play on the corner. Everybody can’t do that. You can’t get no touchdown pass thrown and then let them embarrass you all day. So things went well. I started playing well in preseason. I remember when the final cut came, Lance Alworth came up and shook my hand and said I had made the team. Lance did. The guy whose place I was playing in, Dick Harris, he was injured. He was an all-league player. He was a very good player, but he was injured and I got in place of him and started playing in the regular season. They wanted to keep that same continuity when he got well. He played safety a lot and corner a lot, but they still kept me at cornerback. So when we had a reunion some years later, I can remember telling the guys, I said, “You guys know who won the championship that year, right? Because I know they weren’t coming out to me.” And they realized it. All the offensive coordinators were directing their attacks at me, who was a rookie corner. My first year was a dream. Pretty much like my first year in college. My first year in college I was fortunate enough to make first string, we won the championship. My first year in the pros I was fortunate enough to make first team and we won the championship. I was freshman of the year my first years in college. And my first year in the pros I was rookie of the year for the Chargers. I was runner up to the league’s Rookie of the Year. They only had one Rookie of the Year at that time and an offensive player got it, Billy Joe. Had they had an offensive and defensive rookie of the year, I probably would have gotten the defensive one because I was the runner-up to the guy in the league. So we went on and had an outstanding year, our team did. We won the championship. I made second team All-Pro. And all I was trying to do was not mess up. Do you know what I mean? They would tell me things like, “Oh you had a great game.” I wouldn’t hardly remember it. I was so disciplined and so in tune to my whole thing. It was, “Yes sir. What do you want? Do this. Yeah, no problem. Hit him, no problem.” I was doing things that I could do. I would never, not tackle you or somebody. But when it came to making the team, I would hit anybody. I’d like that. Especially if it was something I wanted so bad. We had such a great team. Great owners, Barron and Conrad Hilton, Sid Gillman and Chuck Noll were our coaches. Our football team was very smart. We had a great offense, great defense and great special teams. You can’t really ask for a whole lot more. Excellent coaches. I told Sid the other night, “You know everything you guys told us, if we did it, it was right on.” They would tell me things and there it was. Just like we practiced. So the game was, not fairly easy, but if you studied and were attentive and read your keys, it was right there. And that was the fun of that. That particular year we had a rookie camp and Lance Alworth and John Hadl, who were a year ahead of me, they didn’t participate in the rookie camp that year before. For whatever reason, I don’t know. But they were allowed to participate the year I played. So we had a rookie camp at Rough Acres Ranch and our rookie show stopped all the rest of the rookie shows. We kind of trashed the place. I think they sued the team as a result of the things that we did. Troublemaking. The statue of limitations might not be up. But at any rate, that was the kind of year we had. I remember getting hurt at the end of the year. I hurt my knee, I believe, but I got back in time and I played in the championship game. I wasn’t at my best, but we still slaughtered them. That was great.
TT – What was it like the first time you stepped into a pro football game in Balboa stadium?
DW – Balboa Stadium was a sight. This new baseball stadium that they’re going to have, it’s going to be out of sight. Because playing downtown, that atmosphere downtown, with planes coming over about five feet off the ground. People inside the city, it was just great. We had a double decker. Balboa Stadium was a double decker stadium. So basically we played to capacity, I think it held 35-39,000. We had the stadium basically filled. We were a great team to watch and Mickey Finn’s cannon, we used to run that guy out of ammo. Touchdowns and field goals. But it was just so exciting playing there. I remember being superstitious and I’d walk out the same way. They had some walls, some gothic things, Roman-style things out in front where we came through the stadium. I would walk a certain way all the time. You can really get superstitious, do the same thing the same way. But it was just elating because the crowds were loud and close to us. And we had some great people on the team. Tobin Rote was one of the older guys who were very inspirational. I remember Tobin was our quarterback. Since I was a starting cornerback on defense, he would come and talk to me before a game or something like that, off the records. He would tell me something like, “West, whatever you do, don’t let them get behind you.” “Yeah, I got the game plan Tobin.” He would come over and tell me his own things to do. But we had a lot of love, a lot of camaraderie that everybody had. It went from Barron Hilton down to Bobby Hood, who was our ball boy. Jimmy Van Deusen was our trainer. We just had a great time with the coaching staff. The fans loved us. I don’t know what was happening before that, but the fans loved us. We were a big deal here in San Diego. But the players were different in that we were… I wouldn’t want to say more dedicated than anybody else, but we were really dedicated about our jobs. It was kind of like if you’re not doing your job, I’m waiting right outside waiting to take it because I’ll come right in and do this job. You know you can act like Ryan Leaf or something like that. Hey, this is football, something you played when you didn’t get paid for it. It’s like the game of life football is. It’s like a war that you get a chance to live again after. Some genuine relationships come out of that. So you can’t have problems like, “Well, I don’t want to play today.” What! It’s time to play. “I don’t feel like practicing.” What! It’s time to practice. We had good characters on there. Good leadership with Lance, Ladd, Earl, Paul Lowe, Charlie McNeil really took me under his wing as a defensive player and helped me out a lot. Helped make me tough, too. We were always wrestling upstairs. We were trying to out-do each other. But Balboa Stadium, there was some magic down there. Qualcomm is a nice stadium, but that downtown atmosphere was great.
TT – Describe your best game.
DW – That can be kind of difficult in a way about your best game. As I told you I was so in tuned to playing that I wouldn’t remember a lot of the things after the game. People would come up and say things. Although on that first year, I think in Kansas City, we played the Chiefs and I had a phenomenal amount of tackles in that game. I had something like 13 or 14. I was a cornerback coming up supporting, but I had about that number of unassisted tackles. I won player of the week about three times that year with the Chargers. About three times that year, I didn’t realize I would. I was able to meet the challenge and win. But there was the Kansas City game that I really performed well in and we were able to beat them. Kansas City’s talent was perhaps as good as ours, or maybe in some instances more depth, and they had been champions. But the label attached to them was like the problem with Kansas City was they had too many Chiefs. You know their name is the Kansas City Chiefs, but the had a whole lot of Chiefs other than indians. And that was a thing that we felt we had a real family with the Chargers. Everybody pulling together; that’s what it took. But I would probably say that first year Kansas City game where I had a lot of single tackles. We beat them and I would say that was one of my better games that first year.
TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team?
DW – Paul Lowe and I ran around a lot together. Jerry Robinson, we would be together. Ernie Wright, we played golf all the time. Charlie McNeil. But I was the kind of guy that was friendly to everybody. Whoever I was with it was O.K. It was like I didn’t run around with anybody. If there was one sidekick I had my first year, it was probably Paul Lowe. He and I really hung out a lot together.
TT – Talk about your relationship with Sid Gillman.
DW – In those days, as I think it should be, your relationship with the head coach is kind of like a father thing. You believe what they told you. You believed in them. And they were kind of like your dad in a way, the way that they led you. So you would want to live and die for them. One of the things that I loved about Sid was that he had a lot of confidence in me. He thought that I was a real good back, real excellent cornerback. And he knows talent well and he though I was a real good talent. I remember in practice I would make a couple of plays and he would say, “Well the guy in the game is not going to make this play. Dick is different.” Stuff like that. But Sid was always personable. And I’d like to also mention his wife at the same time because she was right there too. Not practicing, but I don’t think there could have been a better football couple, husband and wife team. Because when she would be at our functions and things, she would be just like your mom, just like your friend. You could tell it was genuine. And Sid had to deal with all of us. He would deal with all of us, but he was personable and I admired him and respected him. Chuck Noll was my direct coach. He was my coordinator and defensive back coach. I loved him also. I loved all the coaches, Joe Madro, Walt Hackett, all those guys. But Chuck Noll is the one I consider really made me, really developed the talent in me. He was an optimistic persona and I am an optimistic person also. It was a perfect fit for me. He wouldn’t curse me out with mistakes, he would deal with me firmly but he wouldn’t destroy my pride with humiliations. But I didn’t mess up that much. But I really like the way that he brought me along. He always made me feel that I had a chance. And he would say things to me about coaching that would free me up to do some things. He would say, “I want you to play this and play that. Because that’s what they have been doing. I want you to be real tough on that. If they come another kind of way, I’ll take the blame for that.” So I’d be real tough on the turn into the deep or I’d look for that flare coming out of the backfield first like he would say. Sid and Chuck were kind of like hand in hand, but I was with Chuck most of the time.
TT – What did you do in the off season?
DW – We would draw unemployment too. One year I sold insurance with Pacific Mutual. I went back and finished college my first year. I had eight hours to do, which is two courses. It really wasn’t that back. When you do you four years in college and you have only two courses that you are shy of graduating. Which is an eight hour course and a three hour course. Because I went with the intention of graduating, I carried heavy caseloads when it wasn’t football season. Football players in those days too, they had a lot of pride in them. A football player was our student body president. Jesse Jackson, he played football with us and he went to college with me. He was on a football scholarship. So we had some smart people that were football players that set some good examples. I was surprised to know that when I went to Boston, people on campus saw the football players as jocks or dumb guys. I was surprised at that. Are you kidding? If you can think under that kind of condition and be in the classroom for all that kind of stuff, you can do anything. It is just that society kind of messes you up. I’ve had teachers, even in high school and particularly in college, if you went to class they wanted to do favors for you because you were a great athlete on campus. But I knew that would hurt me. I need to know what’s on that paper. Don’t not tell me what’s on there and give me an “A” anyway. I need to know what everybody’s learning. You’re not doing me a favor. I recognized that right off the bat. Of course there were a lot of players that took advantage of that. To their detriment. When you go to take the test you don’t know what to do, you can’t read, write, whatever. And that’s where the athlete that can think comes in. I was also surprised when playing ball I had the money to afford a lot of things and people give me stuff. But they won’t give it to you and you have a job. You go by the Coke plant, they give you all the drinks you want to take home. You go to have dinner and, “Hey, dinner’s on me.” But I got the money to pay for it. That’s the way they do you as athletes. We take advantage of it. I remember one year we tried to collect unemployment in the off season. Your money wasn’t that much more than that of a teacher, maybe $5,000 more or $10,000 more than what teachers were making. A $10,000 contract or $11,000 contract, and I think teachers make five or six, but it was good money during the time. You invest it right and you might get a house for $10,000. No mansion. So it was in proportion. But I sold insurance and I went back one year and finished college. I played golf one year in the off season. So that’s basically what I was doing in the off season in the first portion of my career with the Chargers.
DW – Let me sum things up by saying that I thank God for that experience. Having played, that was my dream. I wanted to be a professional football player. I can remember when I stopped playing at 30-whatever it was, I would think, “O.K., what am I going to do now?” I had my degree of course, but I wanted to find something that I loved like that, because I knew I would be a success at it. I loved football, so there was no problem studying. It was on my mind. There was no problem with research, or whatever I had to do to be good at it. Because I cared about it. It was on my mind. And I knew how to be successful with honesty and hard work. I knew about that, but I also knew that your interest had to be there. So if you get out and get a job. I wasn’t all that interested in selling insurance. First of all you knew I was selling insurance and you don’t want to buy. You have to convince people to do something that is in their best interest. So it had to be a finessing and how well you talked. You had to see so many people a day. I didn’t necessarily like it that well. You looked around and tried to find things that you liked to do. But it was a while before I could find something that I liked like football, or whatever it is that you liked to do. I knew I could be successful at something, but I was searching about what I liked that would take my interest. I know how I go about doing things that I am interested in. But I had a great experience. San Diego was great. Al three years that I played here, we played in the championship game. We lost two and won one. I met my wife here and we are still together. We got married in 1964 in Vegas. I bet we were the only black couple in Vegas. We were the only people in line getting married for the first time. There was a line to get the license and people were saying, “Hey we got some first timers.” They were drinking a toast to it. We were like 20 or 21, thinking, “What’s wrong with these people?” Imagine that. There were probably 10 or 15 people in line and all those people had been married before. I remember liking California because of a beautiful day like today. There is something about playing football on a bright sunny day thinking, “Oh, I’m going to dance today.” Feeling good. Football is a tough sport. Other than wrestling or boxing, you have to pad up every day and go through the same motion as the game. It’s a tough sport. In basketball you bounce and toss the ball back and forth. Or swimming. But football, you have to pad up every day and go at it. But I cherished this experience here. And now I have great friends from it that we meet every year. San Diego is my love, really, and the Chargers. I had some great times there, but I was able to tell you some of the things that I could tell you. I am in the church now. God is in my life. I am a Christian. I am a first elder in my church and I had a sermon last Saturday, and God is doing wonderful things with me. I am so happy with that. I am a much better husband than I used to be. I’m a better dad. I’m better at everything really. I just thank God for that. Christ is my savior and we are just having a ball. God says give thanks in all things. That means when things aren’t going too well, he will still take care of you. And I am learning to do that. We have a new house, so we are hanging in there. I live in Ocean View Hills Estate, which is right where Wal Mart is on 805 South, near San Ysidro. And the mortgage is O.K. I can remember telling my wife, “Hey did you pay the rent, I mean the mortgage.” We are having fun. I have two daughters. One of my daughters was in a dance thing at Southwestern. I went to see her Friday night, I had a sermon Saturday, we had a game Sunday. We had a pretty packed weekend here. I am topping it off with this interview with you. I can’t think of anything else except to tell you that I had that championship picture with Barron Hilton and Conrad Hilton and Sid. We were drinking that champagne. There were four cards of me. I remember a kid sent me one for an autograph and I didn’t send it back. It was the only one I had. He sent me another and said, “You can have that one, sign this one.” Our parties were good. Black and white were coming together. We had parties over at Earl house and everybody would come over to party at his house. In the black community or whatever it was. Everybody would go. There were like two kind of parties that we would have. We would have a white party and a black party. It got like that over at Earl’s house. The white party would be how we started off. We would be drinking and mingling and talking. Go around and that kind of thing. Then about 10:30 or whenever it was, the party would turn black. We would turn on James Brown, “I Feel Good.” And everybody would start partying. White people really dug it because they thought we really knew how to have a good time. After a couple weeks of that, we would start having parties and the white people would say, “When is the party going to turn black because we are tired of all this mingling. Let’s get down.” They wanted to cut out the whole part of what we call the white party where we were just talking society-like. They wanted to get down and dance. That’s the kind of fun we had. Let’s get the party going. And they were genuine. One thing my wife and I always talked about, “Honey I will call you if I need you. Otherwise I can handle the situation.”