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.

One thing that was certainly true was that the Raiders squad, from top to bottom, felt a sense of aggrieved inferiority. Coming late to the AFL and having to pick from, they felt, the dregs of the available player pool, they both tried to play down expectations and develop a chip on their shoulder. Erdelatz, a rah-rah guy from way back, regularly complained to the press about shabby treatment by the league, but he also gave his players nothing but exhortation, telling them they were as good as anyone else and could win any game, provided they put in the effort. A 2-3 record must have come as quite a relief to a front office and coaching staff who feared they might be a laughingstock.

As it turned out, the front office and coaching staff put the team together pretty well, relative to the rest of the league. From a player personnel standpoint, the team was respectable. Of the starting 22, four players, Flores, Otto, Hawkins, and Parilli, would stay in the league long enough to see the merger, a total that put them in the middle of the pack.1 For all their fears, though, the Raiders would really be just another team in the AFL and nobody’s patsy. They would acquit themselves nicely in 1960. The following two seasons would be another story, but nobody knew about that yet.

  1. The Chargers (Jack Kemp, Paul Lowe, Dave Kocourek, Ernie Wright, Ron Mix, Paul Maguire) and Texans (Cotton Davidson, Abner Haynes, Jack Spikes, Johnny Robinson, Chris Burford, Mel Branch) led the way with six. Houston (George Blanda, Billy Cannon, Bob Talamini, Don Floyd, Jim Norton) and the Titans (Bill Mathis, Don Maynard, Larry Grantham, Art Powell, Mike Hudock) were next with five. The Patriots (Jim Colclough, Bob Dee, Tom Addison, Gino Cappelletti) matched the Raiders with four, and the Bills (Wray Carlton, Elbert Dubenion) and Broncos (Lionel Taylor, Goose Gonsoulin) brought up the rear with two each.

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