Running Back

San Diego Chargers – 1962-1964


TT – Tell me about how you came to the Chargers.

GM – I actually started in 1957 up in Canada, before the AFL started.  I believe they started in 1960.  I had played my option out in Canada because I was thinking about coming and playing for the New York Giants.  I was on vacation prior to the 1962 season out there in Los Angeles.  I was contacted by the Rams because somehow they had found out that I was playing my option out, and I said to myself, “Well, maybe I should give Sid Gillman a call down in San Diego,” because that was more appealing to me than the Rams at that time. 

TT – For what reason?

GM – Well, as I said, I was playing my option out, so just to see what their offer might be, compared to the New York Giants.  So I talked to Sid Gillman and he said, “Well, until you do play your option out, there is no sense in talking right now.  If and when you don’t make a deal, then contact me.”  This was in October, and out season actually ended before the playoffs.  We didn’t make the playoffs.  I was with the Toronto Argonauts at the time and our season ended, I believe in the latter part of October.  So I contacted Sid Gillman and he said, “Yes, come on out, we are very interested and we would like to talk to you.”  So I said, “Well, there is also a quarterback who is playing his option out in Toronto, by the name of Tobin Rote.”  And he said, “Well, let me get a hold of Tobin and we will have both of you come out here and talk.”  So I got ahold of Tobin and told him what happened, because he was going to retire at the time.  And the two of us, at their expense, flew to San Diego and talked to them.  Meanwhile I am in contact with the Giants and they made a pretty lucrative offer, but being born and raised in Long Beach, California, I figured that really I would like to return to the southland.  And the Chargers came really close to what the Giants had offered, so I decided to sign with them.

TT – Did you have any concern at that point that the AFL might not succeed?

GM – Well, I had already played from 1957 up through 1962.  That’s what, six years?  So didn’t really think that my career would go much longer.  So I also figured that there were some pretty good backers, like Barron Hilton, who owned the Chargers at the time.  And they said that they were in it for the long haul.  So, that’s basically what happened.

TT – When you came to the Chargers in 1962, they had three future Hall of Fame coaches on their staff in Al Davis, Sid Gillman and Chuck Noll.  Did that staff appear to be overly talented at that time?

GM – No, not at all.  They were kind of unknowns at that time.  In fact, I really did like Al Davis.  He more or less talked me into going with the Chargers.  He really had the winning attitude as far as I was concerned.  Now I played the last five games, I finished the Canadian season.  I played seventeen or eighteen games, and then came down and played those last five games of 1962 with the Chargers.  Apparently I was the last Canadian that was able to do that, or out of the Canadian League that was able to do that.  They changed the law or the regulations after that.

TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman.

GM – Well, he was really a tactician.  As far as warming up to his players, his personality wasn’t such.  If you got hurt or something like that, and I have seen this with other players, or you couldn’t perform, you were like a broken gear and he would just replace you without saying too much or without any feelings involved.  It was strictly business with him.

TT – Tell me about the Rough Acres Training Camp in 1963.

GM – Well, that was something else.  In fact, that is where I got hurt.  Unbeknownst to me, I had severed my ACL.  And they sent me off to a doctor in Los Angeles.  And the doctor said, “Is this an old injury or a new injury?”  And I said, “Well, I have hurt this knee prior, but I heard a snap in my leg.”  And he did nothing.  He drew some fluid out of my leg and sent me back to the Chargers.  I had no idea that that’s what happened.  The medical situation back then was unbelievable.  I guarantee you that.  That was one thing.  But at Rough Acres, the football field, I guess they had leveled one area to create a football field, but it left a lot of potholes and what have you.  They also had a weight program that they had just installed.  There was one wide receiver that was squatting with 315 pounds and he went straight down.  He was in traction for about five weeks.

TT – Was that Don Norton?

GM – Yes.  Have you talked to Don Norton at all?

TT – No.  Actually Don passed away about four years ago.

GM – I didn’t know that. 

TT – Yes.  I started this project a bit late, unfortunately.  I wasn’t able to talk to him and Tobin passed away a couple of years ago.

GM – Well, I didn’t know that Don Norton had passed away.  Who else has passed that you know of?  There was a linebacker.

TT – Well Bob Laraba passed away a while back.  Emil Karas, of course.  Buncom.

GM – Emil Karas was a health nut.  Again, unbeknownst to the team, they had these bowls at the training camp.  When we would go in for lunch they would have bowls of two different types of pills.  And they said, these pills would add twenty pounds of muscle.  If you took these pills it would add twenty pounds of muscle on you.  And I said to Tobin, “Tobin, we don’t need to be taking that.  I am already 28 years old and I am all right with my body.  I don’t need to add 20 pounds of muscle.”  And he said, “Yeah, you’re right.  I don’t need anything either.”  As you took these pills, a couple of coaches would stand there and make sure that you took the pills and swallowed them and took you water and stuff.  Well, Tobin and I would put the pills under our tongues and then go spit them out in the bush after we left the dining room.  Now I understand that the linebacker was eating that stuff like candy, and he died in 1974 from stomach cancer.  I attribute that to his downfall.  He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, ate nothing but the best of foods, and here he dies of stomach cancer.  Anyway, he was eating that stuff left and right.  It was ridiculous.  It is kind of the dark side of football.  I understand that there has been a lot of conversation, as well, some people have tried to sue the NFL and the San Diego Chargers.

TT – Sure, a couple of them.

GM – Which I can’t blame them.

TT – Was it tough to be a running back on the same team as Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln, a couple of the AFL’s biggest stars?

GM – No, no, not at all.  I fact, I was the starting fullback before I did my knee in.  Then that kind of did me in from there on.  I had a non-release contract for ’63 and ’64, so there wasn’t much they could do about my situation.

TT – What was Balboa Stadium like to play in?

GM – Well, it was something in comparison to the stadiums in Canada.  It really wasn’t any different.  I had an operation in ’66 in Canada, which removed a peach stone from behind my knee, which was that ligament that was taken out.  In 1968 Sid Gillman called me.  And I had already retired from football, but I said, “Well, I know your system.  Why don’t you let me come out and see if I can help you.”  So I played the last five games in 1968 with the Chargers.

TT – That was actually one of my next questions.  How did that come about after being retired for 3 or 4 years?

GM – Yeah, like a couple years.  Well, the first day I lost 7 pounds.  But I got into somewhat fair shape after.  I did make the team.  It was kind of hard.  But the gym, the guy who ran it was named Bob Clark.  I don’t know if he is still alive or not.  Because at one time he was the trainer for the San Diego Chargers and he invented a lot of different kind of weight machines that he had with the Chargers.  He had the patent for them and I think he sold out to some muscle man.  I forget the name that he sold out to.  But anyway, Bob Clark is the one that got me back into shape, good shape. 

TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team in your spare time?

GM – Pat Shea, have you talked to him?

TT – Yes, I have talked to him.

GM – Ron Mix.  He is an attorney in the area.  Tobin, John Hadl… Lance Alworth, myself and John Hadl would always play gin on the airplane traveling back and forth.  Ernie Ladd was the same way.  There is a story about Ernie Ladd.  He had an old Mustang.  This was in like ’62.  He had taken the front seat out and had done some type of conversion with the back seat so that he could actually get in and drive the car.  Not only that, I remember in 1962 I had my football shoe on.  So I took my football shoe and put it inside his football shoe.  And I wear a size 11. 

TT – Yeah, he was a pretty big guy from what I have seen.

GM – Yeah he was.  Have you talked to him?

TT – I have.

GM – Oh good.  He and Earl Faison, Hank Schmidt and George Gross, Bob Petrich.

GM – Good.  There was a center, I am trying to think of his name.  He is still in the San Diego area as far as I know.

TT – Don Rogers?

GM – Don Rogers.

TT – I have talked to Don a few times.  Keith Lincoln.  Lance, John Hadl.

GM – What is John Hadl doing these days?

TT – He is back in Kansas, working for the university as a fund raiser.

GM – Oh really?

TT – Do you have any favorite road trip memories.

GM – Not that I can really recall.  Nothing that would be of any interest.

TT – In high school or college did you have a favorite player that you modeled yourself after?

GM – None that I recall.  Pro football back then was just the NFL and there wasn’t that many teams.  In fact, Sid Gillman was with the Rams at that time.  I went to UCLA and he was with the Rams.  But no, I can’t say that anyone influenced me at all.  [I was] The tailback in the single wing formation under Red Sanders at UCLA, so I was kind of half quarterback, half running back.  So no, I can’t say that there was any influence there.

TT – Was there anything that you disliked about being a pro football player?

GM – That I disliked?  No.  It was like still being in college.  It seemed to have the same college atmosphere.  And it was a lot of fun and I was deeply in love with the game.  You’d be hurt from the top of your head to the tip of your toe every season, you’d have to have some type of amorous feeling to continue. 

TT – What are your fondest memories of your time with the Chargers?

GM – Well, winning, of course.  We were a winning team.  The limelight, the friendliness of the people of San Diego, the good times that we used to have.  It is just kind of a broad situation, nothing specific.  You’re talking 40 years ago.

TT – Any other comments?

GM – No, there is just some of the ways that some of the other players were treated when they were injured.  There was one black guy, I forget his name.  He was a lineman.  They shot his back full of novacain and put him out on the field and I guess he just really screwed up his back.  In fact, he sued the Chargers and won some type of settlement for about $60,000.

TT – Oh, was it Houston Ridge?

GM – Yes, I think that was his name.  It is just some of the seedy things on the black side of football.  Where we were like cattle in one regard, in the other regard it seemed like we weren’t really appreciated by the coaching staff.  It was strictly a business deal and if you can’t cut the mustard, you’re out, you’re out.  It’s that quick.

TT – That must have been tough to deal with.

GM – Yeah, I think that’s the worst part of football to swallow.  And I don’t see that being any different today.

TT – It is probably worse with the high dollars today.

GM – Exactly.  Of course these teams now insure the individual and what-have-you.  It  is a little different story.


GM – Oh, he passed away as well?

TT – Yes [Scott Appleton] passed away early, I believe at the age of 50.

GM – I would say, because he was real young when he joined the Chargers.

TT – Bob Briggs.

GM – OK, Bob Briggs.

TT – Frank Buncon, Reg Carolan.

GM – Oh, Reg Carolan and Frank Buncom.

TT – Well Buncom passed away in the ‘60s.

GM – Oh, that’s right.  With Cincinnati.  He got hit in the lower leg and a blood clot traveled up to his heart.

TT –Yeah.  Kern Carson, Dick Chorovich, Tom Day, Emil Karas, Bob Laraba, Rommie Loudd.

GM – OK, now Rommie Loudd was at UCLA when I was there.  He was an offensive end when I was there.

TT – He was the first black assistant coach.

GM – Yeah, with Boston.

TT – Yes.  And Jacque MacKinnon.

GM – Jacque, geez, I knew that situation very well because it happened just near my house.  I lived on Ardath Road where Ardath meets Torrey Pines.  It was like a triangle situation there and it happened just right across the street from my house.  If he would have come to my house I would have hid him somewhere in the house.  But instead he runs down through some property and ran into a large hole apparently, because there was some construction going on, and killed himself.  He landed on his neck and killed himself.

TT – Geez, that’s a sad one.

GM – Yeah, I know.

TT – Charlie McNeil.

GM – Oh, Charlie McNeil.

TT – Yes, apparently he took his own life.

GM – Oh no.

TT – I don’t know many details about that.  Ed Mitchell, Fred Moore, Ron Nery

GM – Ron Nery?  Oh my gosh.

TT – Sherman Plunkett.

GM – Well Sherman Plunkett weighed over 300 pounds.

TT – Yes, he was one of the really big guys.  Jim Sears, Russ Smith and that’s all that I know of.

GM – That is quite a few.

TT – Of the coaches, Walt Hackett, Joe Madro, Sid Gillman, Alvin Roy.

GM – Alvin Roy.  Now he was the guy that actually introduced the pills, the steroids to the Chargers.  Nobody liked him.  He was a real asshole…  Oh, there is one story.  You should be interested in this one.  I was a punter, John Hadl was a punter and Paul Maguire was a punter.  This was in 1963 at the training camp up in Rough Acres.  And it was between the three of us to see who was going to be the punter for the season.  And Paul was really a character, and we needed characters on that team.  I said to John, “Paul told me that he will give you $10 if you shank a couple of balls.”  So I shanked a couple, John shanked a couple, and Paul became the punter.  Because Sid Gillman and Paul did not get along.  It was like Mutt and Jeff or whatever, they just didn’t see eye to eye.  So anyway, Sid had to keep Paul because he was the best out of the three.  So that night, after dinner, John says, “Where is my $10?”  I said, “Oh come on, John.  I just said that to keep Paul on the team.”  And that’s what happened.