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.
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).
Four days from the preseason opener, the focus was all on the Dallas Texans. Getting the most press was the Texans’ early start to training camp. They, along with the Chargers had broken a league rule starting camp a week earlier than allowed. Each team paid a $1,000 fine, but otherwise suffered no penalty.
“We go against the Texans minus a week’s preparation,” said head coach Eddie Erdelatz, “Those seven days mean a great deal. With us, they could mean the difference between a reasonably skilled club and one merely adequate. Right now we are rounding into shape, but we haven’t completed the full circle. The boys are beginning to get the real feel of my style. I’m not building alibis, I’m not crying the lowdown blues, I’m merely emphasizing facts. We’ll do our best, and our best may be pretty good, but Dallas figures to give us trouble.
“We will learn much from this first game and I’m sure we’ll have a better idea of just what we have when it is over. I’d sure like to be starting even with Dallas. They got that week’s jump in practice which means they are just that much further along than we are. I can’t understand coaches and club officials doing something like that. This game is supposed to teach sportsmanship and fair play.”
Regardless, most observers agreed that Hank Stram’s Texans were formidable. They had three 1959 All-Americans on offense, including Oakland native Chris Burford at end, fullback Jack Spikes, and guard Marvin Terrell. Also in the backfield with Spikes were Johnny Robinson and Abner Haynes, who had been with the Raiders briefly in the spring. Cotton Davidson, who had appeared in a few games in the mid-1950s for Baltimore was at quarterback.
Haynes, though, was who had everyone excited. “He has looked like a million dollars, said Dallas PR man Bob Halford, “Even better than we anticipated. He runs like Willie Galimore of the Chicago Bears.”
The Raiders would be down one more man on game day. End Ron Beagle, an Erdelatz favorite, hadn’t yet healed from his knee injury and was sent home for 30 days rest, after which the team would re-evaluate him.
The Raiders announced a trade with the Dallas Texans. Quarterback Fran Curci was sent to Dallas in exchange for tackle Dalton Truax. Truax, a Tulane graduate and a third-round pick of the Packers in 1957, but had no regular season experience. Curci, meanwhile, was happy about the opportunity to play for Texans head coach Hank Stram, Curci’s backfield coach at the University of Miami.
A Raiders representative cited a surplus of quarterbacks as the reason for the trade suggested that Truax could play on either the offensive or defensive line for Oakland.