Two days out from the loss to the Oilers, the Raiders made a number of personnel moves. Four players were cut, including tackle Joe Barbee, halfback Luther Carr, tackle Don Churchwell, and quarterback Paul Larson. Read more “September 13, 1960”
The glad day had finally arrived. A crowd of 12,703 fans came to Kezar Stadium to watch the Raiders host the Houston Oilers, a team coached by old Cleveland Browns warhorse Lou Rymkus and led on the field by quarterback George Blanda, a veteran of ten campaigns with the Chicago Bears. The weather was fine, if windy, and after long months of preparation and sweat, the locals in black were ready to embark on their big adventure. Read more “September 11, 1960”
The team announced today that Tom Flores would start at quarterback against the Oilers on Sunday. Flores had sat out the final two exhibition games because of an injury he suffered against the Chargers, but the Raider training staff pronounced him fit for duty again, pushing Babe Parilli back to reserve duty.
Flores and the rest of the squad would be joined on the field by a new recruit. The Raiders signed 6’4″, 260-pound defensive tackle Ron Warzeka. A three-time All-Rocky Mountain Conference performer at Montana State, Warzeka was named to the second-team Little All-America team while with the Bobcats in 1955 and was drafted in the 14th round by the 49ers in 1957. The Niners cut him just before the start of the regular season and Warzeka spent the next two years in the military, playing at least one year for the Fort Meade club in Maryland. San Francisco re-signed him late in 1959, but had cut him again shortly before the Raiders picked him up.
Eddie Erdelatz was happy to get another big body on the defensive line. “Warzeka has the real good attitude,” he said, “and with his size he should help us once he becomes familiar with our system.”
With the regular season just four days away, the Tribune published a special section of the paper devoted to the Raiders and the AFL and included an unattributed story titled “The Raider Spirit.”1 The piece discussed, at length, Erdelatz’s coaching philosophy and how it influenced the players.
Erdelatz had been thought of as a topnotch motivator while coaching at the Naval Academy and he had brought the same skills to bear here in Oakland. Players and coaches alike were expected to give full effort at all times and show a hustling spirit. The staff put together practices that were meticulously organized and players could count on Erdelatz sticking to his word, once given. The Raider coach was serious about preparation, but he was no stoic. “It has to be fun for the players, for my assistants, and for myself,” he said, then elaborated, “We want to win every game, exhibition or league, because then the game becomes more fun. Thinking of football in a fun sense doesn’t mean you don’t put out or don’t care about the outcome. It means playing hard and playing to win, because that, after all, is what makes a great game.”
And so far, players like Joe Cannavino were buying in. “I’ve played for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, Weeb Ewbank of the Baltimore Colts, and Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns,” he said, “and none can put ball players at ease like Coach Erdelatz. He tells us the game will be fun, so we go into it expecting to have a good time, and we do.”
Montana State University football media guide
1. The author was probably Scotty Stirling, but no byline was included.
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.
It was hot and sweaty, there was next to nobody watching, and the Raiders were on short rest twice over. But for a half it didn’t matter. With the temperature creeping up toward the high 80s, just 3,500 locals turned out in the early afternoon sun to see the Pats host Oakland at University of Massachusetts Stadium.
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.
With one game left in the preseason, the Raiders were just trying to keep any more players from getting injured. The team’s top running threat, Jack Larscheid, was reportedly hurt with an unspecified ailment and wasn’t expected to play against Boston. Defensive back Wayne Crow was suffering from a pulled ligament that was likely to restrict him to punting duties. And the team labeled halfback Buddy Allen as doubtful to play, too.
Interestingly enough, the player least likely to play on Sunday was someone who said he was healthy and ready to go. Quarterback Tom Flores said his shoulder felt “much better” and hoped to get in there against the Patriots, but head coach Eddie Erdelatz said that probably wasn’t going to happen, both because he wanted to give his top signal-caller more time to heal and because he wanted another long look at Babe Parilli and Paul Larson.
With the end of the preseason near, some of the Raider players took time to reflect on the team’s chances for the season. Though they hadn’t seen all of the teams in the league yet, most of the players thought the Chargers were the team to beat, while a few others favored the Dallas Texans. One player who wasn’t ready to concede to anyone just yet was Larscheid.
“I don’t think you can count us out,” he said. “I think we can beat both Dallas and Los Angeles. We were just getting organized when we played Dallas and I’m convinced was can take Los Angeles.”
While the team still faced some serious holes in its lineup, the league had provided them at potentially valuable remedy. The Raiders would get the first crack at signing any players let go on the final cut-down day, September 6.
Hayward Daily Review
San Mateo Times
On game day, Raider head coach Eddie Erdelatz was still shuffling players right up until the 8pm kickoff. The biggest news was that Babe Parilli would start over Paul Larson at quarterback. Parilli and Larson were competing to be Tom Flores‘ understudy, as Erdelatz had indicated he would only carry two quarterbacks on the roster in the regular season, but Parilli wasn’t ready to accept second place yet. “I’m going to try and play some football for Oakland. I wouldn’t be here if I had lost my enthusiasm for the game,” he said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.