San Diego Chargers – 1961-1964
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
GB – I was drafted. Back then you could be drafted as a junior and I was drafted by San Diego and the New York Giants. After we played in the Sugar Bowl, Al Davis came down and waited in my room until after the ball game and signed me that night.
TT – Were you concerned with the AFL not making it at that point, as opposed to signing with a more established NFL team?
GB – No, really I didn’t think of it that way. I just signed with San Diego, where I felt like I could play quicker because of the new program, new team. With the Giants being established like they were, I just felt that the league surviving didn’t even cross my mind. I was just ready to play some football.
TT – What benefits do you think you got playing for the Chargers that you might not have with other teams?
GB – Well, as the banquet went last night (A banquet honoring Sid Gillman) playing for a great coaching staff. We had some great coaches and some great teammates. We didn’t get paid very much, but friendships, we’ve come through playing together like we did with the early Chargers, that’s invaluable. Again, we didn’t make a lot of money, but the friendships and playing with the great group that we had, was priceless.
TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.
GB – Well, Sid was more offensive. Of course I played left safety and kicked. I’d really come in contact with him when we had special teams like that. But, [I] really didn’t have that much contact with him. Just when you got in trouble. But I really didn’t have a lot of contact with him, because I tried to hide from him.
TT – What was it like to play in Balboa Stadium?
GB – I enjoyed playing in Balboa because of the fans. We had some great fans. We had a full house every game and, like you said, they were close. Of course, we would have played anywhere, but I enjoyed playing in Balboa. It’s been a long time since I played there. It was a small stadium with crowd noise. We had great backing then and they did make a lot of racket and noise, but I enjoyed it.
TT – Tell me about Rough Acres.
GB – Oooh. I don’t think we have enough time. I’m sure you have got a lot of stories about Rough Acres. It was unreal. In the desert like it was, of course the heat was like the heat back in my home in Mississippi. But living, I think everyone was upset about the living quarters. Rattlesnakes, spiders, that’s all we did. We practiced football, ate, went to bed. Most of us. But it was unique. It was unreal. It was something that we all talk about when we get together. It was rough.
TT – Sid was the first coach to room black and white players together on the road. Being a Southerner, did you ever see any problems with that?
GB – I did not see the first… We just had a great relationship, everybody. I think that came not only from Sid, but from the players. We’d joke with each other and call each other names and laugh. We just got along, more so than… Sid, they say Sid had a lot to do about that, but I just think it was the guys that came through there. They were all just good guys. They played a lot with each other and got mad at each other and the next day we forgot it. I think it was just a great group of guys.
TT – Tell me your favorite road trip story.
GB – Bud Whitehead and I were talking today about it. Sid, you know he was strictly offense and we’d go peel and deal on offense and defense and he’d be over with the passing game and we’d be over trying to cover these receivers, which were great. I think that’s what made our defense so good, is trying to cover them. Every once in a while Sid would see one of us defensive backs and he called us peekers. He’d come over and cuss us and get onto us about peeking. So we’d go up to Oakland and play Al Davis up there and I don’t know, but the week before we may have gotten beat a couple times [in practice]. But anyway we were in the dressing room and the defensive people always got in the way back and the offense always got near the door. So we were back in the back with Chuck Noll having a little meeting before the ball game and I look up and see here comes Sid walking towards us and I said, “Oh Hell, he don’t ever come back here unless something’s wrong.” But he came back there and said, “You damn defensive backs. If one guy gets behind you guys, you all will be gone by Monday.” So Bud and I were laughing about that today. We went and played the game and went into our team meetings and Chuck Noll starts zapping the film and starts looking and says, “Hell, where’s our defensive backs?” We were so far back that we weren’t even in the film. But that was one of the funniest road trips that we’ve had. He laid the law on us and scared us to death. We were rookies and, man, we were so far back we weren’t even in the film. That was probably the best one.
TT – What, if anything, did you dislike about being a pro football player?
GB – Well, back when we came through, we didn’t make much money. And we say we always played the game for the fun of it most of the time, because back then I think there were a little bit more hard-nosed football players. We weren’t spoiled. But I think the time away from your family. I really enjoyed it. I think maybe the time away from your family.
TT – What was it like the first time you saw yourself on a bubble gum card? How did that feel?
GB – I never did see myself until I retired and I went back home and was coaching football and this fella in my home town came up to me and he says, “how about signing your card?” I said, “What card?” But since then I have got just about every player on the team from then. I’ve been successful in tracking them down and found most everybody’s card. But it was unique and surprised me. Really, back then, I guess there wasn’t as many collectors as today. But I collect them and I’ve tried to collect all the old Chargers, especially that ’63 team and I have most of them.
TT – Who are you missing?
GB – I really don’t know. I’d have to sit down and look at them, but I’ve got quite a few. But I am missing some. Do you have a bunch?
TT – Yeah, I have a bunch. If you email me that list, I will help you look for them. How would you like people to remember you as a football player?
GB – Well, just that I played the game like I loved it, which we did then. Back then we had to play two positions. The roster was 33 and they expected you to play at least two positions. I played safety and kicked. Just that people remember that I enjoyed the game and played it hard. I didn’t play it long enough, but I enjoyed it.
TT – Any final comments?
GB – I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve played on some good college programs at Ole Miss and had some great coaches and came out here and played under a great staff and great bunch of teammates. To me it’s priceless. Like I said a while ago, we didn’t get paid much, but the memories and experience we had is priceless. We had a great football team in ’63. We get together and talk and we feel like we could have played with anybody. I’m just very fortunate that I was a part of it. Real happy.