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”
Eddie Erdelatz named his starting offense today. As mentioned a couple of days ago, Tom Flores would start at quarterback. Joining him in the backfield would be Jack Larscheid, Billy Lott, and Tony Teresa, who would man the flanker spot. On the ends would be Charlie Hardy and Gene Prebola. Ron Sabal and Dalton Truax were to start at the tackles, with Don Manoukian and Wayne Hawkins at guard, and Jim Otto in the middle.
On the practice field, the team ran through their last workout before the game and the next time they put on pads they would be facing the Houston Oilers to get the whole shooting match underway.
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The Raiders made more personnel moves today. In a continuing effort to upgrade their lines, the team signed Glenn Holtzman, Paul Oglesby, and Riley Morris. Holtzman, a 6’3″, 250-pound defensive end out of North Texas State had been drafted by the Rams in 1954 in the 26th round and spent four years in Los Angeles, one of them as a starter. After the Rams traded him, along with six other players and a pair of draft picks, to the Cardinals in exchange for Ollie Matson, Holtzman refused to report to Chicago and pursued careers in acting and professional wrestling instead. Sid Gillman had tabbed him a few months ago to play for the Chargers, but cut him earlier this week, giving the Raiders a chance to pick him up.
Oglesby, a 6’4″, 235-pound tackle from UCLA had been drafted by both the Cardinals and the Oilers and went with Houston. He was plagued by minor ailments in camp, and the Oilers eventually gave up on him and let him go.
Morris, a 6’2″, 220-pound linebacker out of Florida A&M had been released by the Oilers the same day as Oglesby and picked up by Oakland at the same time. Oglesby was added to the active roster right away, but the team was waiting for Holtzman and Morris to report in person before adding them.
To make room on the roster, the Raiders released halfback Buddy Allen. Allen, who scored the first points in franchise history, had looked good early on, but found his playing time reduced as the preseason unfolded and he became a forgotten man as Jack Larscheid and Billy Lott got more attention. Unofficially, Allen ended the preseason with 81 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 32 yards. Allen’s departure left just Lott, Larscheid, JD Smith, and Tony Teresa, and Luther Carr in the offensive backfield.
While these moves were going on, Coach Erdelatz continued to prepare for Sunday’s game by naming team captains. On offense the captain would be Tom Flores. A member of the squad since early June, Flores had been the front-runner for the starting quarterback position almost from his arrival and was a clear choice. On defense the captain would be linebacker Bob Dougherty. Dougherty was one of the players chosen in the AFL’s allocation draft back in the spring and had stood out for his exemplary play in the preseason.
On the public relations front, today was the day for the big parade in Oakland. A 4:30pm departure from Jack London Square saw the players and other team officials convoy in convertibles on the half-hour long route to a park next to Lake Merritt with fanfare, autographs, and pictures to follow.
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As the roster deadline approached the Raiders continued to move pieces, dropping four and adding one. The four players let go were end Dan Edgington, halfbacks John Harris and Brad Myers, and center Mac Starnes. Edgington was perhaps a bit of a surprise as he had been penciled in as a starter opposite Charlie Hardy as recently as the last week of August, but he hadn’t caught a pass in the preseason and with Alan Goldstein and Tony Teresa being considered for the spot, Edgington was apparently expendable. Harris was another who seemed to have a spot on the team, but he had been battling knee problems and the Raiders were comparatively deep in the defensive backfield. Myers was still another who held promise, but he couldn’t get past Teresa, Billy Lott, and Jack Larscheid. Starnes’ release was simple: Jim Otto was already on the roster.
The new player was 6’1″, 220-pound fullback JD “Jetstream” Smith1, out of Compton Junior College. Smith, claimed off waivers from the Chargers, had played against the Raiders on August 19, but hadn’t made the stat sheet. With his combination of speed and power, he could be expected to challenge Lott for the starting fullback spot.
These moves left the Raiders with the mandated 33 players in time for the September 6 deadline.
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1Smith has been identified in several different ways by the press and other sources. Most of the papers at the time referred to him at Jetstream or Jet. Others used the name Jim, while still others called him JD. To confuse matters further, Pro Football Reference lists a total of three JD Smith’s playing in the pros at this time. In addition to Jetstream, there was a HB-FB JD Smith who played in the NFL from 1956-66, mostly with the 49ers, but also with the Bears and Cowboys, and an offensive tackle JD Smith who played with the Eagles and Lions from 1959-66. With no definitive answer and no idea which name Smith himself prefers, the Logbook will refer to him as JD to maintain consistency with Pro Football Reference. If anyone knows different, please let me know.
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.
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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.
After having watched films of the Titans game, Raider head coach Eddie Erdelatz said he was making some changes to the offense. The team would now use a split end and a tight end instead of the two tight end formation they had previously been using. Along with that change, Erdelatz announced a shuffling of the depth chart at the ball-handling positions. To wit:
Split end: Charlie Hardy, Alan Goldstein, John Brown
Tight end: Gene Prebola, Charles Moore
Flanker: Dan Edgington, Irv Nikolai, Brad Myers
Halfback: Tony Teresa, Jack Larscheid, Ron Drzewiecki
Fullback: Billy Lott, Buddy Allen, Dean Philpott
Despite the changes, the Raider coach had nothing but good things to say about his team’s performance, praising the interior of the offensive line — Jim Otto, Wayne Hawkins, and Ron Sabal — in particular.
“We played well as a team against the Titans,” he said, “It appears as though the way we practice is paying off. The kids could have gone another half had they needed to. This gang has great spirit. I’ve seen such hustle work wonders before and it looks like it’s happening again.”
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