Seven months, almost to the day, following the awarding of a franchise to Oakland, the Raiders assembled to play their first game, against the Dallas Texans at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
The day dawned chilly and windy, with a drizzling rain that fell all morning. As game time approached, the rain stopped and the temperature climbed into the mid-60s, but the weather was still raw for the Bay Area in July, and as the stands filled, it was clear the team was not going to reach their attendance goals. By the 1:30pm kickoff, just 12,000 or so showed up to watch (later corrected to 10,882).
The Raiders got the ball first and moved it successfully for a while, but ultimately had to settle for a field goal try. Larry Barnes‘ 37-yard attempt fell well short and Dallas took over on their own 31. On the Texans’ first play, Johnny Robinson swung around left end on a sweep, but fumbled. Joe Cannavino recovered for Oakland. Raider quarterback Tom Flores responded with a passing attack and pushed the ball to the two, where halfback Buddy Allen pushed it across for the first score. Barnes kicked the point after and the Raiders took the game’s first lead.
Following all the excitement, the contest settled into field position battle for the remainder of the first period. As the second quarter began, the Texans’ offensive line started to open big holes and the running game began to click, giving Dallas the next scoring opportunity, driving to the Oakland five. There, Texan quarterback Cotton Davidson avoided heavy pressure from the Raider defensive line and whipped a sidearm pass to end Chris Burford, who made a diving catch on the goal line for the score. Passing up a conversion kick, Texan head coach Hank Stram sent his offense back on the field for a two-point try. Davidson completed a pass to Robinson for the conversion and Dallas led, 8-7. And that’s where matters stood at halftime, an extravaganza of action that included music from Del Courtney’s 35-piece band, a drill routine by 65 majorettes, and a chariot race featuring Shetland pony-led carriages.
In the third quarter, the Texans pressed to extend their lead. Roughly halfway through the period, Davidson connected on a couple of long throws to get out of Dallas territory and with the Oakland defense focusing on stopping the pass, a series of nice runs moved the ball to the Raider two. From there, fullback Jack Spikes took it in for the score, but Cannavino stuffed Robinson on another two-point try and Dallas now led, 14-7.
The Raider offense, bottled up since the earliest stages of the game, finally responded, going on a 17-play march that extended into the fourth quarter, culminating in Allen’s second touchdown of two yards. On the drive, Flores successfully mixed some short throws with a nice Billy Lott run, and was aided by a key pass interference penalty against Dallas defensive back Charlie Jackson to extend the possession. Raider head coach Eddie Erdelatz chose to go for the lead rather than the tie, but Lott couldn’t burrow his way through the right side of the line and Oakland now trailed, 14-13.
With tensions mounting, neither team could get anything going on their next drive, but the Raiders got the worst of it. Flores, looking to pass from deep within Oakland territory was hit as he threw and the misfire was picked off Dallas defensive lineman Mel Branch. Branch looked like he might score but was finally chased down at the 13. The Texans turned to their ground game and hit paydirt on a Spikes run from the two. Eddie Macon broke up a pass to stymie the Texans two-point try, holding the margin to seven points with about four minutes to go. Try as they might, though, the Raiders couldn’t put anything together after that and Dallas took home the win, 20-13.
Afterward, Erdelatz addressed his team in the locker room with some words of praise. “I want to congratulate you,” he began, “I thought you did a hell of a job. Mistakes were made by all of us, including myself, but keep up the hustle and you’re going to be a tough outfit to beat. I mean it. I’m proud of you. The main thing is we did our best. Our best wasn’t good enough, but it sure wasn’t lack of effort.” He then gave thanks that there were no injuries and closed the speech with a moment of prayer.
Later, he expanded on his views for the press. “It was like walking into a dark room, but I thought before the game our guys would do well, and they did,” he said, “We’ll be back tougher. We showed a lot of hustle and we have no alibis. A few things happened out there that weren’t supposed to and that unquestionably helped Dallas. We’ll look at the movies. Then we’ll know a little more about what happened.
“Actually, this was only our third scrimmage. It’s a long schedule and we’ll get a chance to look at more players as the season progresses. For our next game, we expect to have linebacker Tom Louderback and Charley Powell back. That should help. We really missed Louderback out there. (Quarterback) Bob Webb will also be back and that should help.”
The Raider coach revealed that part of the problem was that he had installed only one defensive set for the game. “The defense was one of my mistakes,” he said, “I thought one would be enough this early, but it wasn’t. We spent the short time principally on organization. The next time you see us we’ll have more than one defense, jitterbugging and all that stuff, and a complete offense. We only had time to do the simple things. Now comes the real football.”
When asked about his choice to go for two, down one point in the fourth quarter, he simply said, “I’ll never go for the tie.”
Erdelatz did spare some praise for Dallas, saying they played a good game, but pointing out he had “nothing to compare them with. I can tell you this, though. Their big name personnel didn’t hurt us too much. We just weren’t prepared for some of the things they did. Their linebackers were charging during the early stages of the game and it fouled up our blocking assignments because we just didn’t have time to prepare for everything. We had to wait until halftime to make some adjustments.”
Across the field, Hank Stram had a few good words to say about his opponent. “Anyone who knows Eddie Erdelatz knows he’ll field a fine team,” was his view. About his own team he said, “What I like was the fact that we played so lousy and then came back so well.”
Some of the Dallas players chimed in as well, including Cotton Davidson. “They have a pretty good ballclub,” he said, “That Flores did a pretty good job of throwing and calling plays. I don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about. They’ll be okay.”
Even 49ers quarterback YA Tittle, in attendance at the game, weighed in, saying Flores was “very impressive.”
The Raider players themselves put a good face on things. “I think we did a pretty good job,” Flores said, “We just didn’t have enough time to get ready. It’ll be a different story next time around.”
Defensive end George Fields echoed his quarterback’s sentiments. “We’ll be better next time,” he said, “We made a lot of mistakes defensively, but I think things will be better next time. All we have to do is what the coach tells us and we’ll be all right.”
While the team was generally pleased to get off the field in one piece, general manager Chet Soda was less than enthused about the head count in the stands. “It was a very interesting ball game, but obviously the size of the crowd was somewhat disappointing,” he said, “There is no question we’ll do better next time. People didn’t expect to see what they saw, an interesting, even, hard-played game. I feel it was a tremendous show. The halftime activities as well as the game were everything we had hoped for and more. There’s a long way to go yet, and I’m certainly not disheartened by the size of the crowd.”
Now that the novelty of the first game had worn off, the Raiders could get back to work. They had two weeks to prepare for their next exhibition, a Saturday night game on August 13 against the New York Titans in Sacramento.
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