Being a collector of AFL memorabilia, I occasionally find large accumulations of material that come up for sale. When this type of thing occurs, the seller often has a “take all of it, or none of it”-type of disposition. The person is sometimes cleaning out their garage, or maybe they found a stash of stuff at a yard sale and want to make a few buck reselling it. Whatever the situation, I am happy to take a look at it and see if we can come to some sort of agreement. If I am fortunate, the items for purchase will include a few pieces that fit immediately into my collections, perhaps even filling a hole or two on one of my many want lists. Once the proverbial cream is skimmed off the top, I am usually left with some items that I like, but do not need, others that I do not like and definitely do not want, and a handful about which I can’t immediately form an opinion. I picked up just such an oddball piece about five years ago when I purchased a large lot of early AFL Chargers items from a collector in San Diego.
After getting particular batch of goodies back to my house, I began looking it over to see just what I had gotten myself into. As I flipped through a stack of 1960s Chargers game programs, a strangely shaped piece of red paper fell out of the magazine in my hands, and onto the floor. It had “COATES 78TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT” printed on the front. The backside had no printing, but both sides were covered in autographs. I immediately recognized a few of the signatures, and determined that the piece was signed by members of the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos teams of the early to mid 1960s. But as to what it actually was, I had no clue. This was one of those pieces that causes me, as a collector and historian, to pause and wonder just how it came to be. How did the young boy (the man who I had purchased the collection from had assembled it himself as a child) come across this political flyer? Was it given away at a Chargers game? It didn’t appear to be complete, so what was it? Who was “Coates”? And why, of all things, did the young man choose to get this autographed by football players?
A quick Google search began to answer some of my questions. Apparently, a gentleman named Robert C. Coates was a Nominee for the 78th Assembly District in 1964 and 1966. In his online biography, I learned that Coates was an Eagle Scout, the Most Valuable Player on La Jolla High School’s baseball team in 1954, and in 1959 was a Distinguished Graduate of San Diego State University. He had a long and successful law career in San Diego, and was later a Municipal and Superior Court Judge in San Diego.
So understanding that this item was printed for either Mr. Coates’ 1964 or 1966 Assembly District nominations, I began to look at the signature to determine which year this was made. There were a few names that could have narrowed it down for me, but the first one to jump out at me was Denver Broncos lineman, Charlie Janerette, who had been with the team in 1964-65, but not 1966. I flipped open my 1964 Chargers media guide to find out that he Broncos made two trips to San Diego in 1964. They were here on August 8th for a preseason game, and then again on October 18th for the regular season contest. Since the voting was done in November each year, I believed the piece to have been distributed at the Chargers vs. Broncos game on October 18th. Identification complete, I was then able to really appreciate the signatures, which were an interesting batch.
Emil Karas (Grab Them) – Karas was a Chargers linebacker in the 1960s, who later worked in the team’s front office worked and as a radio broadcaster for Chargers games. A fan favorite, Karas died of stomach cancer in 1974. He included the inscription “Grab Them,” which was odd for an item signed in the 1960s. Inscriptions, other than personalized notes, are a relatively recent addition to autographs. I can only assume that “Grab Them” was some sort of reference to making tackles from his linebacker position.
Willie Brown – Brown was a defensive back for four seasons with the Broncos before being traded to the Oakland Raiders. Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.
Jack Cverko – Cverko was drafted as a future selection by the Chargers in the 14th round of the 1963 AFL Draft. A guard out of Northwestern, Cverko never made the Charges roster, though spent time on the Chargers taxi squad in 1964.
Bob Lane – Not Hall of Fame quarterback, Bobby Layne, but linebacker, Bob Lane. Lane was signed as a free agent by the Chargers in 1963, and played two years with the team.
Charlie Janerette – A hard-hitting defensive lineman from Penn State, Janerette played with the New York Jets and Denver Broncos in the AFL. A close friend of comedian Bill Cosby while growing up, it is rumored that Janerette was the inspiration for Cosby’s famed cartoon character, Fat Albert. Janerette suffered from mental disorders after his playing days, and was killed by a Philadelphia policeman in a scuffle in 1984.
There were many other names included, some 28 in all, including John Hadl, Walt Sweeney, Dave Kocourek, and Leslie “Speedy” Duncan. Some had long, distinguished football careers, and others never actually played in a professional game. But all live on in my collection, as parts of this unique little piece of history.