With Tom Flores unavailable to play quarterback in the near term and with roster reductions looming, Raiders head coach Eddie Erdelatz was planning to give more playing time to the men on the far end of the bench, starting with Paul Larson. So far, Larson hadn’t shown all that much in camp, displaying an inaccurate arm. Consequently, he had received almost no in-game opportunities, but he was going to get a chance tomorrow, sharing time with Babe Parilli. Plenty of other neglected players were going to get their chances, too.
“We’re going to do a great deal of experimenting,” said Erdelatz. “We’re going to have to make cuts in the near future and we’re going to take a real good look at some of the boys who haven’t played too much to date.”
Their next opponent, the Buffalo Bills, were in a similar position. Like the Raiders they had a 1-2 preseason record, but none of their games had been close. They opened the slate at home against the Patriots with a 28-7 loss, then beat the Broncos in Rochester, 31-14. Their most recent game, a rematch with the Pats in Boston, was a 21-7 defeat marked by special teams failures, including two missed field goals and a blocked punt.
They were coached by former Chicago Cardinals all-pro guard and linebacker, Gerrard “Buster” Ramsey. After a six-year playing career Ramsey went into coaching, most notably with the Lions from 1952-59, where, as an assistant, he helped craft one of the most ferocious defenses of the decade, one that brought three championships to Detroit. He had plans to bring that sort of play to Buffalo, but he wasn’t satisfied with what he had seen so far.
“What we’re looking for most in this game is a win,” Ramsey said, “You have to have the winning habit to be a winning football team. We haven’t begun to establish that.”
Hoping to be part of the winning habit was quarterback Tommy O’Connell. The former Illinois product and 1953 Bears draftee had stayed local playing briefly in Chicago, but spent the next three years out of the league. His return to the NFL came in 1956 with the Browns, following the retirement of Otto Graham. He spent two seasons in Cleveland and played his best football in 1957, when he won seven of nine starts and threw for over 11 yards per attempt, but quit following the season to go into coaching until the Bills came calling.
Vying with O’Connell for the starting job was Penn State grad and 1959 Heisman runner-up Richie Lucas. He had been drafted by the Redskins at number four overall but chose to go with Buffalo instead.
Joining O’Connell and Lucas on offense were big fullback Wray Carlton, a third-round pick of the Eagles, tackle Harold Olson, a second-round pick of the Cardinals, former Detroit end Tom Rychlec, and fleet rookie receiver Elbert Dubenion.
The defensive backfield was helmed by NFL veterans Billy Kinard, a second-round selection of the Browns in 1956, and Richie McCabe, formerly of the Steelers and Redskins. In front of them was linebacker Archie Matsos, a promising first-year player out of Michigan State.
To the Raiders, the Bills were mostly an unknown quantity because Erdelatz had yet to receive films from either Buffalo or the Patriots, despite league rules requiring such an exchange. “I guess we’ll just have to fly blind,” Erdelatz said.
One player who wouldn’t find out firsthand was tight end Irv Nikolai, who had been cut to bring the team into compliance the league’s first mandated roster limit of 43. The move left just Charles Moore and the injured Gene Prebola at the position for the moment. The next roster reduction, to 38, would come on August 30, a week before the final cut to 33.
That didn’t mean the Raiders weren’t still looking for players. “Iron Man” Severn Hayes, a 5’11”, 200-pound halfback out of Contra Costa Junior College and the University of Montana had joined the team for a tryout. Hayes had played mostly at guard and fullback in college, but had suffered a fracture to each of his legs — first the left, then the right — in successive years at Montana, though he was still thought to have excellent speed. According to general manager Chet Soda, Hayes was the subject of a persistent write-in campaign to get him on the squad. “He has so many fans, we should have a look at him,” said Soda. That would have to wait until the team returned from Boston to their new practice digs on the site of the Oakland Naval Air Station.
In league news, ABC, the AFL’s broadcasting partner, released an updated schedule of the season’s televised games. Most weekends, the network would broadcast a pair of games each Sunday, one to the western half of the country and one to the eastern half. The Raiders would appear seven times, with only four of those coming to televisions in the Bay Area.
The full list of Raider broadcasts:
September 11, Houston at Oakland (West)
September 25, Oakland at Houston (East)
October 9, Oakland at Dallas (West)
November 13, Buffalo at Oakland (East)
November 27, Oakland at Los Angeles (West)
December 4, Los Angeles at Oakland (West)
December 11, New York at Oakland (East)
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