Running Back

San Diego Chargers – 1964-1968

JA – My experiences coming into the AFL, when I entered into it, it was the “other” league.  It was the lesser, the inferior league compared to the NFL.  I made my decision, I was the last year of the draft, so I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL and the San Diego Chargers in the AFL.  I felt having played my first year there that the quality of the league, all of the players were there, maybe the depth was a little bit different because the NFL had so many years of stockpiling talent and our league was just starting out.  I think one-on-one our first teams were very equal, but then after that I think it dropped off a little bit.  That’s basically my comparisons of the leagues.

TT – What were some of the first things that you saw when you came into the team?

JA – My big thing is that I led the nation in rushing at San Diego State College and being drafted by both the NFL and the AFL, I felt that I deserved to start when I got there which is really not the way it is.  But I got in there and I got a rude awakening.  I was introduced to the great Paul Lowe.  Paul, the year that was my rookie year, was named AFL Player of the Year and got a new car.  He led the league in rushing and I learned a lot sitting back there.  And it humbled me a little bit, but then the second year I came in… and I think it is a situation thing, not an AFL thing, but Paul Lowe was injured in training camp and I played a lot.  In fact I started with Keith Lincoln. And when the season opened, I was leading the league after two weeks into the season, in rushing.  Then Monday at practice Sid Gillman came up to me and told me that, “Gee, I think Paul is healthy now, I think he is going to have another banner year and I am going to bring him back up into this position.”  I had felt that it was my time.  The momentum was with me and what do I have to prove?  Here I am leading the league in rushing and then “Paul is going to have a banner year.”  So I feel that as far as opportunities went, I didn’t have the opportunities.  I probably should have asked for a trade then.  But I guess that is just the way it turned out.  I think I finished that year with 400 yards playing in relief of Paul Lowe.  Paul Lowe struggled that year, but he never had the banner year that he was supposed to have and I had, towards the end of that year I got my first knee injury and had to have it operated on.  I think that was just a situation thing more than anything else.

TT – What are some of your most memorable times with the Chargers?  Some of the fun times you had with your team?

JA – Stories upon stories of things we have done.  I just think, without getting into all the stories, the camaraderie, the group of guys that we had, was something that you would never trade in your life.  You know, all of us go to high school and whether you played sports or not, just the friends we have in high school is so special and you always remember that.  It is a time that you can never duplicate.  And then all of a sudden you get into pro football and you get the camaraderie and you know it is really neat.  Everybody, when you played pro football in our years, I’m not saying it’s that way in current times, but there was no prejudice, no racial differences, no economical differences.  It was 40 guys there to play a football game.  And we didn’t see color, and we didn’t see all these things.  Speedy Duncan would call me and say, “Hey Jimmy, do you need a ride to the airport?”  “Oh yes I do.”  It was just a brotherhood that was so special that even when we meet up today for reunions, it is just so special.  We may not hang around each other, but the respect and love that all of us have is so special.

TT – What was it like the first time you played in Balboa Stadium?

JA – Well, to be honest with you, at San Diego State we played at Aztec Bowl, which is one heck of a nice old, outdoor stadium and Balboa Stadium is not much of a cut above it.  I’m very fortunate because I came into the league in 1965, so I got to play two years at old Balboa Stadium and three years in the new San Diego Stadium.  So I got to see the difference between, I mean the locker rooms down there were like two-and-a-half feet wide and then when you get your shoulder pads on, I’m between Keith Lincoln and John Hadl and I’m bumping into all those guys.  The locker room was just really bad.  The linemen had it worse than we had it.  I remember Ernie Ladd would have to dress sideways almost.  He was so huge at 6’9” he just had no room. 

Then we would go out there on that field and the fans are right behind you in that stadium.  I remember Jacque MacKinnon, he had dropped a pass that would have been a first down for us and as he was coming off the fans were like 20 feet behind you.  It’s not like it is at the new stadium.  Then some guy yelled out to Jacque that his hands belonged on a clock.  That he should have been out there catching the ball or something like that.  I remember Jacque just flipping him off and yelling out unpleasantries and Sid Gillman running down and grabbing him.  “C’mon, c’mon Jacque,” and just that type of thing. 

The field was always in O.K. shape, but I think it only held 31,000 fans or something like that.  And then when we got to go to the Murph, you’re talking about, in our time, a state-of-the-art facility for us.  The locker rooms were huge.  You could sit two people in one locker.  You had all different room for different pairs of shoes and all the different gear, the whirlpool, the room where you got medical treatment and all that.  The whole thing was just first class.  The weight room, everything.  When you compare that to Balboa Stadium, it’s like an apple and an orange.  And I believe that the team functioned better in a facility like that where… I’ve always believed that people work better in an environment that they’re happy working in, and that you get better production out of people.

TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team?  Who were some of your good buddies?

JA – Well you know, it’s really funny.  We had a lot of Southern ballplayers from Tennessee and Arkansas, and Lance was my roommate for a few years and to be honest with you, I hung out with a lot of the black players.  Speedy Duncan, Kenny Graham, Bob Horton, those guys like that.  I used to play chess with Bob Horton, a black guy, a linebacker.  He looked just like Muhammed Ali, he was a very light-skinned black man.  We sat out around my pool at the time and we played chess all day long.  When we got up I noticed that he had tanned.  Bob always told me the story that at one time the whole world was black.  And I said “Oh really.”  And he said, “ yeah.  Two, three, four of the brothers went down to this big lake that was down there and two of them dove in and went down to the bottom and they came back up.  A couple of the other guys were still standing on the side up there.  When they came up out of the real deep water they were white.  And all of a sudden the other guys yell, ‘hey, you’re white.’ Then they looked at each other and said, ‘wow.’  So the other two dove in and went down there and they turned white.  So they said, ‘Let’s go back and tell everybody.’  So those four guys raced back into town and told all the black community there that, ‘my god, you dive down there and then you’re white.’  So half the town ran down there and dove in and the other ones that stayed are still black today.”  And that was Bob Horton’s way to explain it.  But that is the type of relationship that you have, where stuff like that can be discussed and it’s all in humor.  So I used to hang out with all those guys. 

I remember Earl Faison, we went to an after-game deal, a big party and Earl Faison was in there and Ernie Ladd.  And we were all dancing all the rhythm and blues dances and stuff like that.  My wife is 5’3” and you’ve got big Earl at 6’5” and he says, “Do you mind if I dance with your wife, Jimmy?”  And I said, “Yeah, go ahead.”  So he just picked her up and they were dancing but her feet weren’t even touching the ground.  There was no offense to that and none taken.  It was just all, honest, straight-out good relationships.  So that’s who I hung out with.

TT – What was it like to play for Sid?

JA – Well, you know I came from playing at San Diego State with Don Coryell and boy, you talk about intense.  But I think the thing with Sid Gillman, when I first went in there with Sid, Sid was a very results-oriented guy.  He was so talented.  I mean, he could look at a wide receiver and go, “You know, you’re three feet to wide,” and he’d have him move back in.  And I’m sure half of them never understood why he was moving them in three feet, other than there was some technical factor there that Sid had in his mind, and it worked.  In fact, he worked.  I think, offensively, he was so talented.  A lot of players flunked the personality test with Sid, and maybe him with us.  That sometimes, and I had made the recommendation, obviously it wasn’t heard because it was never done, that Sid ought to sit in a room by himself with a mail-hole slot in the door.  You slide the information through, he fills out the offense, slides it back through the door and never comes in contact with players.  Then I felt the results might have been better. 

But it’s funny.  I had this relationship with Sid and that was our relationship, I felt.  Then after I had retired and Sid had his bypass surgery, I went over to visit Sid at the hospital.  It was a whole different Sid.  He and I even talked about the way he handled things.  I’ll tell you, it was a whole different Sid Gillman.  And for two weeks straight I would go over to the hospital and spend a couple hours with him and just talk to him and stuff.  I remember Sid telling me, “You know Jimmy, I wish we could have had this relationship when you played.”  And I said, “Well, I sure do too.”  And that gets into my deal that I feel that my talents coming out of college could have been better used than leading the American Football League in rushing for two weeks and all of a sudden benching me because another player was returning.  But Sid Gillman, I think he is very talented and I think he is a real talent for football.

TT – What was your best game?  What was the best day that you can remember?

JA – Well, I have got a big picture of myself against the New England Patriots.  I had a 71-yard run over there.  I ran over Nick Bouniconti.  I mean I ran over him.  In fact it was really neat because one year in the Super Bowl when the Dolphins were going to the Super Bowl and Nick Bouniconti played for the Dolphins, someone asked who were the four hardest hits he ever took in football.  And I was the third one that he mentioned.  I remember my friends calling and telling me that’s great.  But I had run 71 yards in that game.  I forget whatever else I did in the game, but I ran for over 100 yards.  And that was at old Balboa Stadium, believe it or not.  That’s when Nick played with the then-Boston Patriots.  That was a great night and I didn’t even start the game.  Paul Lowe had started and I came in afterwards because he was tired.  Then after my long run they said, “Well, maybe we ought to leave this guy in a little bit more.”  Then the next series when we got the ball I had a nine, seven and 11-yard runs.  But even all of those things weren’t enough to keep me in the starting line up. 

I remember Don Coryell telling me that he had talked to Sid Gillman at the time and said, “You know, I know this is a fact that Jimmy led the nation in rushing at San Diego State.  And if you give him the ball 20 times a game, Sid, that he is going to give you 100 yards.”  But that never happened.  The most that I ever carried in a game that I played was eight times.  I only got to carry the ball eight times.  And that was a game I got to start against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland.  And if you take that in perspective, I only got to carry the ball two times per quarter.  So I just feel that I could have accomplished more if I had more opportunities.


JA – One thing you have got to really admire about us, is what a coaching staff.  You’ve got Chuck Noll, Faulkner, Joe Madro, and we had Bum Phillips there also.  And you’ve got Al Davis I mean God, what a group of guys. 

There are some old stills of Balboa Stadium.  I’m a landscaper and looking at this grass here, I wonder why I ever thought it looked good.  These are the Chargers before I got there. Bob Mitinger and a bunch of the guys.  Lance looks like a fuzz-tailed little kid.  I feel sorry to look at Frank Buncom there who had passed away early in his life. 

Hank Schmidt, boy they called him Kilroy.  I remember one time after practice they had the PSA stewardesses come up and they had these watermelons cut in half.  The girls were serving us after we finished eating our evening meal.  One of these girls, very nice looking, offered Hank, “Would you like some watermelon?”  She was referring that she would take half this watermelon and cut it whatever slice he wanted.  He said, “Yeah” and he took his hand and stuck it straight in this watermelon, tore the whole heart of it out, walked away with all of this watermelon all over his mouth with seeds and stuff.  This girl was looking and we were standing there behind going, “Oh my God.” 

I look at this picture of Jimmy Tolbert.  Jimmy was very talented.  I don’t know if any of you guys are aware, but he was a seamstress too.  I don’t mean that like that, but he sewed some of the best suits for men and a lot of the ballplayers.  He made his own clothing.  You’ve got to take you hat off to that guy. 

And then here is the old Lafayette Hotel.  Here is Sid, at his enshrinement in’83 at the Hall of Fame.  He is just a talent.  I don’t know where you got this.  These are great cards.  Sid Gillman, Ron Mix, Paul Lowe, those are great looking deals there.  I don’t remember the white uniform that we had there.  I don’t remember that, but Volney Peters.  I remember him from the Washington Redskins.  Paul Maguire.  Paul Maguire blocked my punt in the Buffalo championship game my first year with the Chargers.  Ernie Wright, Ronnie Mix, Paul Lowe.  He’s got a red jersey on there.  Boy, Dick Harris looks like a young, little kid in this picture. 

Keith Lincoln was my roommate for two years.  What a great guy.  Keith Lincoln was, to me, the Paul Hornung, the Golden Boy of the American Football League.  He could do it all.  He could punt, kick, run, pass.  Keith started out as a defensive back and actually couldn’t make the team as a defensive back and they moved him to offense.  Shows you what, going back to my old deal about breaks.  Lots of times today a person like Keith Lincoln would have been cut and moved on, never gotten a chance to play offense.  But they were hurting there for the moment. 

I see this picture of Jacque MacKinnon and he, like Frank Buncom, passed away early.  We hate to lose any of those guys. 

Here is Steve DeLong.  He was my roommate at Rookie Camp, from Tennessee.  My wife always used to ask, “Do those Southern people, do they have their own dictionary with ‘y’all’ and ‘tis’ and all that stuff.”  I explained to her that, “No, it’s just their way.” 

I don’t know where you got all these cards, but this is not a very good picture of Rick Redman.  Maybe I’m being too blunt.  John Farris, I went to college at San Diego State with him.  A real good guy. 

I remember John Hadl bought a new Jaguar one year because we all had XJE Jaguars and he smoked cigars.  Oh my, gosh, he pulled in with this car and the ashtray was heaping.  He said, “Yeah I gotta sell this thing so I can get a new ashtray.”  Instead of changing ashtrays he was going to change cars. 

Oh, there is a picture of a fine-looking man here, Jim Allison, a running back.  Now there is a picture of Rick Redman.  Speedy Duncan was one of my best buddies.  Speedy and I, we hung out a lot. 

Bobby Petrich, Howard Kindig played at L.A. State against us.  That’s an interesting story too.  Howard Kindig, which starting defensive line in college football was made up of all number-one draft choices?  Most people would say Notre Dame, Alabama, Oklahoma, but they would be wrong.  This team that I am referring to was from Los Angeles State and had Howard Kindig, who was a number-one by the San Diego Chargers, Don Davis, who was number-one with the New York Giants, Jimmy Weatherwax, who was number-one with the Green Bay Packers and then the great Walter Johnson, for the Cleveland Browns.  That was the starting defensive line. 

But good pictures of Sid in here.  I see you have got Pete Mikolajewski’s card there.  We’d have to talk real hoarse to remember old Pete.  I guess you have got all the pictures here.  You have got Ron Carpenter, I haven’t seen him in years.  Donny Breaux, Lance.  Lance was such a talent.  I still see him today. 

Gene Foster and I were in the National Guard together.  I wish I could see him. 

Gary Garrison and I were teammates at San Diego State.  Gary was a great receiver.  What he has accomplished speaks for itself. 

Sid, what intensity.  He’d come out there in his little shorts.  Kenny Graham.  Here’s one of my old room mates right here.  Walter Francis Sweeney, a good Irishman.  My mother would love that. 

That’s a classic picture of Lance Alworth and John Hadl sitting there.  I assume their going over what they can get away with in the passing game.  I remember Lance, I played in Miami one year.  Lance came over to make a block for me and I ended up blocking Lance and the guy he was…  No, I was running with the ball and he was trying to block a defensive back and I ended up hitting both of them and knocking them out of the way.  Then finally, as a joke, I came back to him in the huddle and said, “Look, if that’s the best you can do, just get out of the way and let me hit this guy by myself.” 

Jack Milks was at San Diego State, a good linebacker.  If you notice, some of these pictures are taken up in La Mesa at our old training facility.  Not like they have today, the great facilities they have today.  Those are some neat old photos.  That’s a great book.