Fullback – Halfback
San Diego Chargers – 1961-1966
Buffalo Bills – 1967-1968
San Diego Chargers – 1968
TT – How did your career with the Chargers begin?
KL – What do you mean by how did it begin?
TT – What was the drafting process and the signing process that you went through? Who were some of the people that scouted you?
KL – Well, back then I got drafted by both leagues. I was drafted by the Bears and by San Diego and by a Canadian team. Then it was just a matter of negotiating where you wanted to go. An interesting thing, a side light was that I got a telegram from Vince Lombardi telling me that they would take me number one if I agreed to play defensive back. Of course when I played here, I think my junior year, I averaged something like 58.5 or 59 minutes a game. I just never left the field. But Vince wanted me to be a defensive back. So I went through that. And, Jeez, what’s the scout’s name? He became a GM. He is a character. He was with the Rams and I think with Kansas City. He got hurt in a skiing accident so he walks a little bit different. Anyway, he was the lead scout that had contacts with me for San Diego.
TT – At that point, what did you know about the American Football League versus the National Football League?
KL – I just knew that it was an upstart. There was no question about that. Historically, what had been going on with the NFL. I certainly knew that the AFL was only two years old at that time. There were a couple of things that were key, and at the end of it you get down to money. Then, of course, the AFL was signing guys for double what all-pro guys were making in the NFL. So it was attractive financially. I think Sid Gillman was a big key for me. You’re knowing that he was a well respected coach. And we didn’t know it at that time, but he had an awfully good staff with him also. But I think the key for me was that I wasn’t anxious to go play in the cold, was one. Two, being a West Coast guy, and the financial part of it. My feeling was that you have got to have confidence in yourself. If I sign and do the thing with the Chargers and they disband the league, then I will go play in the other league.
TT – What was it like the first time you played in Balboa Stadium?
KL – They had not refurbished it in time. I had always thought it was an attractive stadium. I liked the setting of it. Close to downtown and in that canyon. So I liked it. I was comfortable in that. People could argue that it wasn’t big, it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that. It’s like going to Fenway Park or some of those other places. You just feel very comfortable when you’re there.
TT – How was the fan interaction there? They were right there on top of you guys.
KL – It was great. I always liked that, I really liked that.
TT – Anything stick out in your mind, an interesting story involving the fans?
KL – I was fortunate. They were always very appreciative, very friendly, this type thing. Open to me. We had a great fans base, and of course we worked extremely hard at that as an organization and a team. We’d scrimmage at different places and travel around. And back then, I think it is something that is missing today, there was really a lot of interaction within the community. Trying to interact, whether it is with the youth trying to be role models there, they had the backer luncheons and they were capacity crowds. It was just fun. And the same thing spun off when you’re talking about the teammates and stuff. You just knew everybody, interacted with everybody, knew their kids, knew this, knew that. It really was a family-type atmosphere.
TT – Describe your best game.
KL – I don’t know. That’s a hard thing for me to do because I liked all fazes of it. I don’t dwell back much on that stuff. People have to sort of light a fire in my memory to get going because I really don’t sit around and think back or look through programs or watch film or this type thing. I just don’t do that. My wife has kept a bunch of stuff, we had some stuff given to us and that is for the grand kids or somebody sometime when they want to look at it. Maybe I’ll get feeble someday and I’ll want to look back on it. But I just don’t do that. But the truth is that the idea was to win. I was never overly concerned with my own stats and what they were. But if we were to win I could get just as much satisfaction out of a three-yard run that was important for a first down or something we needed. Or making a good block, making the good catch, doing something. So I didn’t look and say, “Jeez, on this game I got this much yardage or I did this or I did that.” It’s really hard, I think, to pinpoint. I’m sure if you gave it to the public they would say the championship game he got this much yardage or he did this or that, but that’s not how I equate what a good game is.
TT – Who were some of the guys that you hung out with on the team? Who were some of your good friends?
KL – Well, a whole bunch of us lived in Loma Palisades. So we would interact almost daily. Let’s see, who did we have out there? We had Alworth, who was my roommate, and Hadl, Karas, at one time Kemp, Chuck Allen. I hate to do this because then you miss people. There were just a whole bunch of us that did that. That was sort of the group.
TT – You mentioned that you played defense in college. Did you ever end up playing any defense with the Chargers?
KL – Just a little bit. There was a time when they really had an emergency. I think, if memory serves me right, we were going to go play Oakland so they were grooming me. Maybe I played a little bit of defensive back in that game, just because of injuries and that type of thing. And then, as you know, I was a back up field goal kicker and punter, I did those things for them.
TT – Tell me about Rough Acres Ranch.
KL – That was quite an experience. It was out in the middle of nowhere. The timing on it was probably good for Sid to take us out there. As far as not having distractions and doing this type thing, it was sure as heck a location for being geographically isolated out there. And with the weather and stuff where you could really get the social fat off people, if that’s what you had to do. You could get people in shape. I think you basically had full attention of all the players that were there. As it was very Spartan. And the field was a mess, to be honest with you. They were mixing in sawdust and whatever, trying to make a practice field out of the thing. It was a thing, I think, where once again I talk about family and team unity and that. And I think it really strengthened that once again. And of course, you’ve got the full attention. There’s no distractions. From those standpoints, we had everything there that we needed. Like I said, the field wasn’t the best field, or this type thing, but God, it worked. In retrospect it was pretty positive.
TT – What kind of stuff did you do in the off season? Did you go back up to Washington or did you stay here?
KL – I always came back to Washington. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I felt strongly that I probably wanted to live in this area when I retired, so I made investments and stuff up here. So the vast majority of the investments and the different things I did, I did up here. And I thought that in fact, if this was where I am going to live, then I should be here. I’m talking about the Northwest, not one town. But I should be here and get exposure here and start building up a network.
TT – How were the players involved in the move into the new San Diego Stadium?
KL – I wasn’t involved in that because when they did that I was in Buffalo and then I came back.
TT – What was your feeling, as someone who played in both stadiums? What were some of the positives and negatives of the two?
KL – I think it is just a positive. You’re looking at the size of it and upgrading the facilities and doing that type thing. I think it was just mandatory that they built the new stadium. There’s no question about that. It was very positive. It is just something that is going to happen. Times change, I mean they had to do that. Now it’s a nice stadium. I like the name Jack Murphy, though.
TT – Who were some of your most impressive teammates? Some of the guys that struck you as being either phenomenal athletes or football players? Just people that stuck out in your mind. Or even some of the people that you played against that you found to be most impressive.
KL – Well my roommate Lance Alworth was a heck of an athlete. He just had that given talent, the eye-hand coordination, the leaping ability, the whole thing. The speed, acceleration, he was gifted. Earl Faison was, when healthy, a heck of an athlete. The guy that might at some point have been a little bit under appreciated, and I though was a football player that any team would be lucky to have on their roster, was Gary Garrison. I think he got over shadowed sometimes, but was there. Ron Mix, in our era, a self-made football player. A guy that really hit the weights and did the things he had to do to reach and maintain a body weight to be competitive, was very impressive.
TT – Any other thoughts that strike you about the Chargers? Things that you really remember but don’t often get to speak about?
KL – I tell you what, we had a good owner in Barron Hilton. I think he really cared about the players, about the team. But he was good. But the openness and the acceptance of the community, from the backers to the average fan was very exceptional.
TT – How was the overall structure of the team and how they dealt with the players compared to some of the other guys that you might have talked to on other teams, or even when you played in Buffalo?
KL – I think highly organized. If you step back and look, it is almost mind-boggling if you look at the collection of assistant coaches that went through there. That says something. It was light years ahead. Hell, they talk about the West Coast Offense, hell Sid started the West Coast Offense. There’s no question in my mind about that. Look at what they’re doing today and what they’re trying to do. Hell. Sid was a trailblazer on that. Not Bill Walsh or somebody like that, it was Sid. Coryell came along and followed it and of course Coryell was out at our practices all the time taking notes and watching. That’s how he grew with his philosophy. I think it was that. It was a well-run, well-managed team. Better than anyplace. …. Wanted people to do that. I respect that. I think that whatever you do in life, if you’re going to be successful, you better have some discipline and organization to what you want to do.
KL – Todd, you can me anytime. Dammit, I can’t think of the scout and GM that was there from the list of any of those people.
TT – You know, Earl Faison relayed a story to me about his signing, that he was taken up into the penthouse suite at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.
KL – He and I were there at the same time.
TT – Right. He had mentioned that you basically followed him into the room as soon as they were done signing Earl.
KL – right.
TT – Do you remember that point?
KL – Sure do. I sure do.
TT – Is there anything that you can speak of to that point?
KL – Yeah. Earl signed and I didn’t. I came back home and said, “more money.” I wasn’t going to let the neon lights impress me. And I knew that was what they were trying to do. They had the red carpet out and they were doing that. That was before agents and stuff, but hell, I was smart enough to figure that one out. You don’t jump at the first carrot.
TT – Earl said they threw about 15 hundred dollar bills on the bed and Mrs. Gillman walked him out and showed him the view from the penthouse balcony and he was sold.
KL – Oh yeah, they did all that and had what’s-his-name, the old bald-headed actor come in and say “hello.” Yul Brenner. Don Klostermann is the name I am trying to think of. Ever hear of that name?
TT – Yeah.
KL – Boy, he was a good one. I mean, you talk about a guy. He could sell an icebox to the eskimos. He was smooth. He was good.
TT – And he was the one that eventually signed you?
KL – Well he was the guys that was recruiting me. He was up here three or four times. I haven’t thought about that in a long time. That’s where I met Earl. That’s where we started out.
TT – How long was your eventual signing process?
KL – Probably could have held out, but I didn’t do that. There were five or six of us that went back the college all-star game on that team. Were you aware of that? I don’t know. And then I got a little bit more money out of them because when I signed with them they were in Los Angeles. Changed the franchise to San Diego. When I was drafted, it was the L.A. Chargers and then after I signed and Faison, all of us had signed, they moved the franchise to San Diego. So then I went back to them and said I need more money if I am going to play in San Diego. Just another avenue. Goddamn 20-year old kid, don’t know what in the hell I am doing, but I thought I might get a couple more bucks and I did.