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.

August 19, 1960

It was one of those late August evenings in San Francisco where the first hint of autumn chill reminded everyone that summer doesn’t last forever. A stiff breeze off the water was present as usual, but there was a thick fog filling the bowl of Kezar Stadium that refused to budge. It was hard to know if it was the weather that kept people away, or if it was simple disinterest, but just 6,521 curiosity-seekers came out to watch the Chargers play the Raiders in the first meeting of these California rivals.

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July 31, 1960

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).

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July 26, 1960

Now that two-a-days were done the players had time to indulge in a little team promotion. With an afternoon practice scheduled, the Raiders bused from Santa Cruz to Jack London Square in Oakland to participate in a “Welcome Raiders” parade. The front office expressed satisfaction with their local popularity in general and said tickets for the Texans game, a benefit for the Children’s Hospital of the Eastbay, were selling briskly with more than 20,000 already sold, according to PR man Gene Perry.

Head coach Eddie Erdelatz said the team appeared to have been inspired by the event and looked particularly crisp and spirited during their workout. Only non-contact blocking and tackling drills were performed, as the coaches hoped to prevent further injuries before the game.

Their hopes weren’t realized, though. Middle linebacker Tom Louderback, who was practicing with a bruised shoulder, exacerbated the injury and was pronounced doubtful for the upcoming contest. On the other hand, the Raider quarterback picture brightened immeasurably when Tom Flores was able to return to practice following treatment of his pulled calf muscle and third-stringer Bob Webb was seen on the field as well.

Looking ahead, the team provided a provisional depth chart for the game that included few surprises, aside from the absence of Flores and Webb. On the offense, Chris Plain and Don Churchwell were at tackle, Lou Byrd and Ron Sabal were at guard, and Jim Otto was at center. At the ends were Alan Goldstein and Gene Prebola. In the backfield behind Paul Larson were Buddy Allen, Tony Teresa, and Billy Lott.

On defense, the front four consisted of Carmen Cavalli and George Fields at the ends, Joe Barbee and Ramon Armstrong on the inside, Louderback at middle linebacker, flanked by Billy Ray Locklin and Bob Dougherty. In the defensive backfield were Joe Cannavino, Alex Bravo, Eddie Macon, and LC Joyner. Larry Barnes was the placekicker, while the punting job was up for grabs among Barnes, Wayne Crow, and Bob Fails.

Oakland Tribune

July 23, 1960

The Raiders held their second scrimmage of camp and this time owners Don Blessing, Ed McGah, Chet Soda, and Wayne Valley were there to observe. Tom Flores led the first-string “gold” squad while Paul Larson ran the second-string “blue” team. Observers thought Larson’s group performed slightly better, with Larson showing a knack for the bootleg run, but also thought both units showed real improvement since the first scrimmage, four days ago. Head coach Eddie Erdelatz singled out offensive linemen Wayne Hawkins, Jim Otto, and Ron Sabal, along with cornerback Joe Cannavino, for praise, and thought the defense in general showed good speed to the ball.

“It was a better scrimmage than last Tuesday”, according to Erdelatz, “but overall I would have to say it was just fair. The running was improved but we dropped too many passes. The defensive line pursuit was fine. We are getting better in all departments and, considering the short amount of practice, we don’t look too bad.”

Oakland Tribune

March 25, 1960

The team announced five additional allocation draft selections from the first round. No choice was made from the Denver roster as head coach Eddie Erdelatz wanted to make further inquiries before selecting a player. The status of Ben Donnell, the choice announced by league commissioner Joe Foss the day before, was uncertain. Erdelatz would not confirm the choice, but didn’t deny it either, saying the announcement had come from the league office, not from the team. The five new selections were as follows:

From Boston: Bob Nelson, a 6’5″, 245-pound center from Wisconsin. Drafted by Cleveland in the 20th round and by the Texans in the 1st round, he had already been something of a wanderer in the pro ranks. Before making his way to the Patriots from the Texans, he had entertained offers from the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL.

From Buffalo: Joe Cannavino, a 5’11”, 185-pound halfback from Ohio State. A 16th-round pick of the Colts, he aided his Buckeyes to a 10-7 win over Oregon in the 1958 Rose Bowl with two interceptions. Baltimore cut him in training camp in 1958 and he suffered the same fate with the Browns in 1959 before turning up with the Bills.

From Dallas: Marv Lasater, a 6’0″, 190-pound halfback TCU. An All-Southwest Conference selection with the Horned Frogs, he was drafted in the third round by the Chargers and the fifth round by the Colts, before eventually signing with the Texans.

From Houston: Billy Lott, a 6’0″, 200-pound halfback from Mississippi. He was an All-Southeastern Conference choice with the Rebels, he scored the winning touchdown in 14-13 win over TCU in the 1956 Cotton Bowl. A sixth-round choice of the Giants, he got a handful of carries with New York in 1958 before leaving the team in the 1959 preseason.

From New York: Jerry Epps, a 6’1″, 225-pound guard from West Texas State. He had been drafted in the 28th round by the Packers in 1959, but ended up playing the season with Edmonton in the CFL.

While the draft was taking the lion’s share of the team’s attention, they weren’t ignoring the more obscure corners of the football landscape. Gordon Tovani, a barefoot placekicker from Marin County, had caught the eye of Erdelatz by virtue of a rumored successful 83-yard field goal attempt in practice.

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