September 6, 1960: View from the Future

It’s a truism and probably a truth that we can’t tell much about football teams from their preseason performances, but it might have been a little less true for the AFL in 1960. With every team consisting of players who, in almost all cases, had never played together before, for coaches they’d never played for, there was plenty of uncertainty, and lots of incentive to find out just what they had before competing for keeps. Eddie Erdelatz, just as an example, said explicitly that he was playing to win and there’s no reason not to think that at least some of the other coaches felt the same way. It sure looked like Hank Stram and Sid Gillman felt that way. The Texans and the Chargers had gone undefeated in the preseason, affirming a sense among league observers, developed before the exhibition schedule began, that they, along with the Oilers were the class of the league. The jury was still out on Houston, though. At 2-3, they were no better than the Raiders at this point. The surprise was Boston at 4-1. No one expected much from them going in, so it would be interesting to see if they could translate their success into the regular season. Also-rans were the Bills and Titans at 1-4 and the Broncos at 0-5.

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The Mid-Week Take: August 30, 1960

The Raiders had to look on the preseason as a success. With good reason, the team felt they were a step behind through the whole process. Last to the table for everything, they still managed to put together a functioning organization, bring in competent coaches and players, and were ready to field a team in the AFL. Worries that they wouldn’t be competitive were unfounded. They might not be the best team in the league, but they weren’t going to be patsies, either. So where did things stand looking forward to the regular season?

Consensus among observers was that the team lacked  size on the lines and in the offensive backfield and speed at the receiver spots. Potential strengths were a promising, but unproven Tom Flores at quarterback and an lively defensive backfield with a nose for the ball. As for coaching, Eddie Erdelatz was well-regarded as a college coach, but whether he could get the job done in the pro game was still unknown. Even at the end of August he still hadn’t introduced the entire offensive scheme to his players, possibly the result of being a late-comer or perhaps he was still figuring out how teams operated at this level.

Of course, another explanation is that he still expected a good deal of player turnover and didn’t want cut players to take their knowledge to another team. Erdelatz and Chet Soda had said all along that they still expected to make personnel changes and were looking forward to the last cutdown where teams would have to get to 33 players for a couple of days before going back up to 35. The Raiders would have the first option on any available players during that period.

It was still all guesswork. No one really knows what a team is until they’ve had a few weeks of regular season play, a shakedown cruise, as it were. So it might be October before any real conclusions can be drawn.

August 28, 1960 postgame report: Raiders vs Patriots

The Raiders were game, despite the heat and the fatigue, but luck and mistakes favored the Patriots and gave the game to the home team. A break here or there could have changed the result, and the Colclough touchdown was simply a gift from the gods, but no team deserves to win when they fumble three times in key situations and the Raiders didn’t deserve to win on this Sunday.

Still, coach Erdelatz seemed fairly pleased, at least with his offense. The ground game was clicking pretty well, and Parilli cemented his spot behind Flores with another solid performance, leaving Paul Larson in the outside looking in. The Raider defense continued to lag behind, though. The Pats hit for a number of big plays and the Oakland squad couldn’t come up with the stops when they needed them.

Player notes:

Luther Carr – After a good performance for a team that desperately needed help in the backfield, Carr took a step back in this one, missing the second half with a rib injury.

Wayne Crow – Crow also sat out the second half with injured ribs.

Ron Drzewiecki – The Pats were tough on ribs. Like Carr and Crow, Drzewiecki spent the second half on the bench nursing his aching ribcage.

LC Joyner: A bright spot on the defense, Joyner had one interception and almost had a second, making a nice play on the ball in the fourth quarter that nevertheless ended up in Colclough’s mitts for a score.

Jack Larscheid – Sixteen carries for 124 yards looked great, but there’s no getting around those three fumbles, each of which set up an easy Boston score or ruined a promising drive. Larscheid continued to be the team’s leading rusher in the preseason, but the whispers about his size and durability weren’t going away.

Billy Lott – Carried nine times for 54 yards, including the 42-yarder for a score in the first quarter.

Babe Parilli – Completed 21 of 36 for 310 yards. He went the distance at quarterback, received praise for his on-field leadership, and was now firmly installed as the backup signal-caller, providing veteran savvy to complement Flores’ promising, but untried skills.

Charley Powell – A shoe-in to make the squad, Powell nevertheless put a scare in both himself and the team when he came up with a hurt knee, missing the second half.

Tony Teresa – Putting together perhaps his best performance of the preseason, Teresa excelled at the flanker spot, catching seven passes for 74 yards, and made several key plays that led to the team’s second quarter touchdown.

August 28, 1960: Raiders vs Patriots preview

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.

Berkshire Eagle
Concord Enterprise
Fitchburg Sentinel
Lowell Sun
North Adams Transcript
Oakland Tribune

The Mid-Week Take: August 26, 1960

It’s hard to take preseason games seriously. A win is a win, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything in August. What can be concluded is that the team was capable of successfully traveling across the country and playing a decent football game. The team didn’t embarrass itself and the rest of the league would have to acknowledge that the Raiders were on more or less equal footing with the other teams. It’s clear from the quotes by players and coaches there was a real fear they could have been a laughingstock. But that was put to bed by this game.

Aside from that, the game probably didn’t settle much except to confirm that Tom Flores was their best quarterback. It was probably too soon to tell about Babe Parilli, but Paul Larson, who’d created so much excitement at the time of his signing, wasn’t getting it done. Elsewhere on offense, the running game was unsettled, except for Jack Larscheid, and at just 160 pounds, he wasn’t likely to be able to take the pounding a workhorse back would need to take. And the receiving corps was inspiring no one. The offensive line was a cypher at this point to the distant viewer.

This was just as true for the defense. The Chargers did a number on them, to no one’s surprise, but while they turned in respectable per-play numbers against their other opponents, no one really knew how good any of those teams were, so again it was anyone’s guess how the Raider defense would perform in the regular season.

What did stand out among all the unknowns was the epidemic of minor injuries the players were suffering. Whether the players were out of shape, were being overworked by the coaches, or were poorly looked after by the training staff, seemingly everyone on the roster was dealing with muscle pulls or joint strains that kept them from performing at their best or performing at all, in many cases. Unless player health improved, the team would never find out how good they could be.

At this point, the best the team could hope for was to get past the Patriots, head home, and take full advantage of the remaining two weeks of the preseason. They just needed to survive the road trip without any additional troubles.

Postgame report: Raiders vs Bills

Offense:

The game was very much a tale of two halves and the first half was all about the Raider offense. The team came flying out of the gate with big plays, and with the help of a Buffalo miscue or two, jumped out to the 20-0 tailwind. While the passing game was responsible for the touchdowns, it was the running game that sustained the effort, and a good thing, too, because aside from the early scores, the passing game was atrocious.

Jack Larscheid and newcomer Luther Carr set the pace on the ground and proved that, when the Raiders could run, they could win, just as they had against the Titans. But the futility of the aerial game made clear how valuable Tom Flores was to this team. Eddie Erdelatz appeared to have alternated Babe Parilli and Paul Larson throughout, maybe by quarters, but they were both inaccurate the entire game and it’s a good thing they had the running game to lean on or it could have been very ugly.

Player notes:

Luther Carr – In his first chance to shine, Carr made good, gaining 71 yards on just six carries. He didn’t show up in the receiving column, but that could easily have been someone else’s fault entirely.

Ron Drzewiecki – Making his first appearance on a score sheet, he scored the team’s second touchdown on a 13-yard reception following a botched punt snap by Buffalo, and contributed a solid 28 yards on seven carries in the ground game.

Alan Goldstein – Caught a pass for the second game in a row, for 28 yards, and given the weakness of the receiving corps on this team, was in line for a regular season roster spot as a result.

Charlie Hardy – He didn’t catch a pass, but he continued to prove adept at blocking on the outside. His block on the third play from scrimmage set Larscheid free to score on his 53-yard catch.

Jack Larscheid – Speaking of whom, Larscheid cemented his spot on the team with another big game. He set the wheels in motion by returning the opening kickoff across midfield, then scored the game’s first touchdown. He had another big play very late in the game, ripping off 55 yards on a run to shift field position and leave the Bills with too far to go and not enough time to make a comeback in the waning seconds. His play was not blemish-free, though. In the third quarter, he coughed it up at the Oakland six leading to a quick Buffalo score that closed the gap to five points and shifted momentum the Bills’ way.

Paul Larson – Larson got his big chance and blew it. He completed just 3 of 13 passes for 38 yards and ran 3 times for 8 yards. Just after Larscheid’s big run that could have salted it away late, Larson threw an interception, giving the Bills a last gasp opportunity.

Billy Lott – A decidedly subpar performance by Lott, though he could still have been feeling the effects of his bruised shoulder. He carried six times for a net loss of two yards and didn’t make a catch for the first time in the preseason.

Babe Parilli – In his first appearance with the Raiders, Parilli showed confidence and poise, but he had a very inconsistent game overall. He did have a hand in all three Raider touchdowns, passing to Larscheid and Drzewiecki for scores, and he showed excellent mobility in the pocket. His rushing touchdown came on a scramble in which he was menaced by three Buffalo lineman and barely escaped with his life.

Dean Philpott – Philpott was the team’s leading receiver, with just two catches for 10 yards.

Tony Teresa – In his first game as a full-time wideout, Teresa was a non-factor, catching one pass for 16 yards.

Defense:

If the first half belonged to the Raider offense, it was the defense that won the second half. While the offense kept giving the ball to Buffalo on turnovers, the Oakland defense, time and again, came up with the big stop or the big takeaway to preserve the lead in what had become a tight game. Utilizing a bend, but don’t break, strategy, they gave up some yards on the ground, but kept Tommy O’Connell off-balance and made the plays when they were most needed.

Player notes:

Buddy Alliston – Alliston merited his first game mention with a game-saving recovery of Carl Smith’s fumble inside the Oakland ten with less than two minutes to play.

Bob Dougherty – The Bills looked to carry their late first half momentum into the third quarter, but fumbled on their opening drive of the period. Dougherty was there to land on the ball, which led to Larry Barnes’ second field goal.

John Harris – Up 26-21 in the third quarter, Parilli had just thrown a long interception, giving the Bills one of their many second half chances, but Harris stole it right back with a pick of his own off O’Connell.

Special Teams:

It was Larscheid’s big return that set the tone in the team’s first game on the road and they never looked back. The team was solid in both the return game and in kick coverage.

Player notes:

Larry Barnes – Barnes made his two field goal attempts, but missed an extra point after a penalty had moved him back five yards.

Wayne Crow – Crow was nothing special in this one, averaging just under 39 yards a punt.

The Mid-Week Take: August 23, 1960

After three games, with a 1-2 record, the Raiders were a definitively middling team. All three games were close and the team’s point totals on both sides of the ball were near the league median. The Raiders had significantly outscored their opponents in the first and fourth quarters, but the reverse was true in the middle two periods and they had yet to score at all in the third. Yes, it was the preseason and this was all meaningless, but the Raiders were thought to be under a real handicap because of their late start and to see them play competitive ball was both a relief and encouraging.

Offense

Overall, the Raider play calling on offense was balanced, with a 98 to 104 run/pass ratio, but the running game was lagging behind at this point, with the team averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry. Only Jack Larscheid, with his 6.3 yard average, was anything more than workmanlike in the run game. Billy Lott and Buddy Allen were given the lion’s share of the work in the backfield, but Lott’s pass catching ability gave him the advantage when it came to competing for a starting spot. Tony Teresa was the only other runner getting a serious look, but he, too, was more effective catching the ball and, in fact, was going to get his reps in at the flanker spot going forward, at least until tight end Gene Prebola returned from injury.

As for the quarterback spot, there was no competition. Eddie Erdelatz had to all intents anointed Tom Flores the starter and, despite his recent injury, he would presumably get his job back as soon as he returned. In the meantime, Babe Parilli and Paul Larson would fight over the scraps.

The biggest area of uncertainty, though, was at wide receiver. Prebola was the tight end, by default, and Charlie Hardy seemed to be taking the split end spot as his own, but the other side was still up for grabs. Teresa was working there for now, but the team’s long-term plans for him were still unclear. He had thrown a few halfback passes and was adequate catching passes coming out of the backfield, but he was woeful in the running game, averaging just a couple of yards per carry and was often stuffed behind the line.

On the offensive line, only 5’9″ Don Manoukian was mentioned with any regularity in press dispatches, so it was hard to tell what was going on there. It was clear, however, that the offense was still very much a work in progress.

Defense

The Raider defense was in the same boat. They were good at getting the ball from their opponents—eight turnovers in three games—but they were giving up a lot of yards otherwise. Opponents were averaging nearly a yard more per run and better than six yards a clip through the air, and the Oakland rush had sacked opponent quarterbacks only once for a paltry five yards.

On the defensive line, end Carmen Cavalli was getting the most attention, but it was clear that the unit wasn’t getting it done. Among the linebackers, Bob Dougherty and Tom Louderback seemed to be doing a fair job, but still needed to get stouter against the run. And in the secondary, cornerback Joe Cannavino was rising above the crowd in pass coverage and was showing a nose for loose balls.

Special Teams

Erdelatz appeared to have settled on linebacker Larry Barnes to do the placekicking. He was true on extra points and was okay so far on field goals as well. Halfback Wayne Crow had laid claim to the punting job with his 45-yard average. The return and coverage teams were performing within expected norms.

The consensus among observers was that the Raiders had beaten expectations so far. They held their own in preseason losses against the Texans and the Chargers, teams that were thought to be title contenders and, above all, they hadn’t embarrassed themselves. And it was clear that many people thought they would. They were about to face a pretty stern test of two games in five days, but they were also in a position to get a good feel for the players who, to this point, hadn’t played all that much. After that, they would have two full weeks to get ready for the Oilers in the regular season opener.

Postgame report: Chargers vs Raiders

August 19, 1960

Postgame Report

Offense:

The weather was atrocious. Temperatures were on the chilly side and the fog, according to those who where there, prevented people from being able to see across the field and balls in the air, on long passes or kicks, were in danger of disappearing altogether. And according to reports at the airport weather station the wind was blowing at over 20 miles per hour, though maybe not at field level. Either way, it wasn’t a night for passing. And yet, that’s the all the Raiders were left with. The Charger defense held their run game to just 43 yards on 31 carries. If yardage was to be gained, it was going to have to happen through the air, regardless of the weather, but that didn’t go all that well, either, with Flores getting bounced around pretty good by the Los Angeles defensive line.

Oakland held their own in the first half, but they were stifled in the second. It’s possible that had the two controversial calls gone the Raiders’ way, it might have made a difference, but the Chargers had plenty of bad luck of their own, losing two fumbles and committing nine penalties for 109 yards. The Raiders were game, but they were simply outplayed.

Player notes:

Buddy Allen – He had his moments in the first two preseason games, but didn’t do himself any favors in this one, with just four carries for a net -1 yards. He did catch three passes, but Lott, probably his primary competition, outclassed him in both facets of the game.

Tom Flores – He continued to earn praise for his poise and his smarts, but he had his worst statistical performance of the preseason, completing 16 of 39 passes for just 188 yards and a touchdown.  He also threw a pair of costly picks to Dick Harris. The first led to an easy Charger score and the second, a contested toss to Alan Goldstein that, admittedly, could have gone either way, ended the last best hope for his team. Still, nothing in his performance probably did anything to unseat him as the top man in the quarterback race. What did cost him, though, was an injury to his elbow he sustained during a scramble run early in the fourth quarter. He returned to the game, but his status for the upcoming game in Buffalo was uncertain.

Alan Goldstein – Made his first catch of the preseason, for seven yards, but was really only noticed for the aforementioned play late in the game where he was unable to wrest the ball free from his Charger defender.

Charlie Hardy – He had another decent performance, catching a pair of passes for 29 yards, one of which was made while in the grasp of a defender. Probably the best of an unimpressive Raider receiving corps at this point.

Jack Larscheid – After an excellent outing in the second half of last week’s game against the Titans, he was given every chance to prove it wasn’t a fluke, and failed. Gained just 18 yards in eight carries. Granted, he didn’t do much worse than his backfield mates.

Paul Larson – With the signing of Parilli, who didn’t play in this one, Larson’s time in the spotlight was just about done. Erdelatz tried him for a few plays at halfback (no carries) and let him hold on placekicks, but gave him no time under center.

Billy Lott – The offensive player of the game for the Raiders. Despite suffering a bruised shoulder, he stayed in the game, running for 33 yards on nine carries and a second quarter touchdown, and continued to shine in the passing game, catching five balls for 80 yards.

Don Manoukian – The dimuntive (5’9″) guard continued to get singled out for his blocking prowess in the running game.

Charles Moore – His play continued to earn at least a look as the coaching staff tried to find anyone who could man a wideout spot. Caught one pass for 16 yards.

Brad Myers – Losing whatever slim hold he had on a roster spot. Caught one pass for a four-yard touchdown, but was quickly joining Larson among the forgotten men of the backfield.

Gene Prebola – So far, the tight end spot was his by default, but he pulled a hamstring (who hadn’t this preseason?) and was expected to miss the last two games as a result. Caught one pass for 16 yards.

Tony Teresa – The former San Jose State quarterback was still looking for a permanent position and didn’t make a strong case for any of them in this one. After fine receiving performances in the previous two games, he was almost completely shut down in this one, with only 14 yards on three passes. He was even worse at running the ball, gaining seven yards on five carries.

Defense:

As hinted at in the offensive discussion, the Raiders were pretty lucky to keep things as close as they did. The Chargers had no problem moving the ball against the Oakland offense and only the penalties and turnovers prevented a likely rout. The Chargers averaged just over five yards a carry on the ground, with only one run over 20 yards to inflate that total and Kemp was able to overcome the bad weather with an efficient 15-of-25 evening through the air. The 398 yards given up by the Raiders was their worst performance of the preseason by a wide margin.

Joe Cannavino – The former Buckeye continued to demonstrate a nose for the football, even on a bad night, recovering a Royce Womble fumble in the first quarter that led to the Raiders’ first touchdown, giving him three takeaways in three games.

Bob Dougherty – Noticed only for his failure to stop Howie Ferguson on his way into the end zone on his one-yard go-ahead scoring run in the third quarter.

Tom Louderback – Was right there with Dougherty on the Ferguson touchdown and was run over.

Eddie Macon – Only standout play was the defensed pass against Womble that resulted in simultaneous possession awarded to the Chargers.

Special Teams:

A pretty unremarkable effort by both teams. No missed placekicks and the return game for both teams was steadfastly average. The only advantage went to the Raiders who won the punting battle handily.

Larry Barnes – Succeeded on both extra points and was good on a 29-yard field goal.

Wayne Crow – Probably earned the punting job with a fine effort, averaging 52.6 yards on five boots.

Postgame Report: Titans vs Raiders

OFFENSE

The Raiders won this game for two reasons: an overall improvement in both run and pass blocking in the second half and a superior rushing attack. Statistically, the teams were roughly even in the end, except for the running game where Oakland had a 227-103 advantage in yards. With the exception of the team’s opening drive and the big screen pass to Lott at the end of the half, the Titan defense did a good job of shutting down the Raider offense. In the second half, though, the Raider running game opened up, especially when an injury to Lott forced Erdelatz to give more carries to Larscheid, who took full advantage of the opportunity. Oakland runners also came through at the end of the game when they took the last 3:35 off the clock to snuff out any chance of a Titans comeback.

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Postgame Report: Texans at Raiders

Offense

Play balance for the Raiders skewed slightly to the pass (36 pass plays, 28 running plays), which shouldn’t be a surprise, given they trailed most of the game, but even in the first half it looked as though the game plan wasn’t going to focus squarely on grinding it out. Despite the good words from the coach and some of the players, the offense needed a lot more work having gained just 175 yards all day.

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