It’s hard to say whether it was late summer heat or just the rigors of a long, tough training camp, but there was some ill feeling on both sides in the upcoming game between the Raiders and the Patriots. For the Raiders it was understandable. They were about to play their third game in nine days, the last two on the east coast, and things hadn’t gone all that well. Sure, they beat the Bills with their most satisfying effort to date, but not much else had gone smoothly.
Matters hit a low point when the Raiders arrived in the Boston area, only to find that their expected practice site in Springfield was unavailable and that they were instead heading to Holyoke. There they found a badly churned-up field, a terrible dressing room, and generally substandard facilities all around. To make matters worse, the coaches had very little information on which to base a game plan. They hadn’t received game films from the Patriots until the morning of the day before the game, which was, incidentally, an improvement as they hadn’t received anything from Buffalo at all. Nevertheless, the coaches had no time to break down the film and put together a plan of action. Needless to say, frustrations were running high amongst the Oakland troops.
In the Boston camp, it was the press that was getting testy. John Ahern, a writer for a Boston newspaper, said Raider coach Eddie Erdelatz had put a gag order on his players and wasn’t letting them speak to the media at all, whether friendly or opposition. Ahern, working on a comparison between the two teams, said there were similarities to be found, but “no one here can find out about them (the Raiders’ problems). Coach Eddie Erdelatz is running this team just the way he ran the Annapolis team. That means no reporter may ask, no reporter may answer. It’s going to be a long season for the Oakland football writers.”
Oakland writers hastened to contradict the report, saying they had plenty of access to players, even going so far as to say Erdelatz had referred reporters to players looking for a quote about a particular game situation.
Boston players and coaches forbore to comment except to say they had been impressed by what they saw in films and would have “their hands full” trying to beat the Raiders.
For the Patriots, beating the Raiders started at quarterback. And on top of the depth chart was 36-year-old Ed “Butch” Songin, a local product out of Boston College. A star on both the football and hockey teams for the Eagles, he was drafted by the Browns in the 19th round of the 1950 draft, but never played in the NFL. He did spend some time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canada and also played some minor league hockey, but dabbled mostly in coaching and was making his American pro debut with the Pats.
Backing him up was another Boston man, Tom Greene out of Holy Cross. At 22, he had gone undrafted by either league, but his punting was likely to earn him a roster spot, even if his arm didn’t pan out.
So far things had panned out pretty well. The Patriots were coming into this one with a 3-1 preseason record, surprising most observers, and they had done it with a stalwart passing game, completing over 70 percent of their throws in their first two games: a 28-7 win over the Bills and a 43-6 thumping of the Broncos. However, like the Raiders, Boston was beset with injuries, especially in the backfield and on the offensive line. Prospective starting running backs Ron Burton and Jim Crawford each had missed significant time and the team was down to its third string center, Bill Brown, who was a linebacker pressed into emergency service. By the time the team met the Texans in their third game, there were holes everywhere and the result was a 24-14 loss. Even more players went down in that one, including top draft pick, halfback Gerhard Schwedes, who had been a disappointment so far, but they managed to put things together long enough to win the rematch against Buffalo, 21-7. Burton was healing, but the team expected him to play little against the Raiders and both starting cornerbacks, Chuck Shonta and Bob Soltis were both missing in action, giving Oakland quarterbacks a better than fighting chance to pass effectively.
Still, as much as anything, the game likely would turn on whether the Raiders could muster enough energy to play at a high level. Long travel and short rest conspired to wear them down even before the opening kickoff. It didn’t have to be that way. The game had originally been scheduled for September 4, with the Bills/Raiders game to have been played on the 28th, but at some point after the end of May, dates were moved. One result of this was a lawsuit by a Providence promoter who claimed Patriots owner Billy Sullivan had promised to play at the promoter’s site on the 4th and was looking for damages. Sullivan denied the charges and, whatever the truth, the game was going on as currently scheduled.
The Raiders probably weren’t all that worried about winning anyway. They just wanted to get through with no more injuries. Tom Flores and Jack Larscheid were expected to sit this one out. Babe Parilli and Paul Larson would each get a last chance to prove worthy of the backup quarterback job and the whole team could then look forward to a couple of weeks to heal a bit and prepare for the opener against Houston. Except, that is, for the bubble players who were looking forward to the September 6 cut-down date with increasing dread.
North Adams Transcript