This article is for the fans of the AFC West. If you are a fan of these great teams, these players may be household names to you. It’s so important though that the history of the game is respected, and these great players are not forgotten. This article is in honor of them, and the fans that watched.
San Diego Chargers:
Many think the Chargers uniforms of the 1960’s and 70’s are the greatest ever made and it’s hard to argue with that. What also can’t be argued is their dominating win in the AFL Championship game in 1963 sealing their argument as one of the innovators of the modern NFL passing game that is seen today.
Sid Gillman may be the greatest football coach of all time. He is the only coach in history that is in both the NFL and College football Hall of Fame. His coaching tree is the greatest of all time bar none. Bill Walsh, Al Davis, Chuck Knoll, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, Don Coryell, Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Tom Flores, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and many others fall under his umbrella of greatness.
The vertical passing game of the Raiders was taken straight from him. Al Davis called him the Einstein of the NFL and he is the father of the modern passing game. There will never be another Sid Gillman. As John Madden recently said, “what some teams are just discovering, Sid Gillman was doing in the 60’s”.
San Diego’s version of Fred Biletnikoff was the great Gary Garrison. Lance Alworth gets all of the publicity but in reality the Chargers had another fine Wide Receiver. His nickname was the ghost. Sid Gillman literally called him an artist in regards to his amazing route running skills. One sports writer said it was like watching a figure skater on a football field; his routes were so precise.
He is 5th and 4th all time on the Chargers reception and yards list respectively. He has more receiving yards than Kellen Winslow and Wes Chandler. He averaged an amazing 18.6 yards a catch which is second all time for San Diego pass catchers with over 120 catches.
With Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln in the backfield, San Diego had one of the great 1-2 punches in pro football history. They helped lead the Chargers to their only championship in 1963. He is the 2nd all time leader in rushing yards for the Chargers. He was the 1965 UPI AFL MVP, 2 times AFL All Star, 2 times All AFL team. He was also voted onto the ALL time AFL team, 2 times comeback player of the year, and he’s the all-time AFL leader in average yards per carry at 4.9. And he still holds the NFL record for 6 straight 100 yard games with 14 or fewer carries.
Paul Lowe can still be seen today at the Chargers games. He is a season ticket holder and a fan favorite.
Kansas City Chiefs:
The Chiefs have had an amazing history of talented teams with some of the greatest players to play football. Buchanon, Dawson, Taylor, Lanier, Culp, Thomas, Holmes; the list goes on and on. When eclectic head coach Hank Stram allowed NFL films to record him during the Super Bowl, he became the first NFL coaches to wear a microphone. Stram brought in the triple stack defense to hide his linebackers. When he had several WR’s injured; and against the Raiders powerful pass rush and great DB’s; he used the T formation and ran 60 times for over 300 yards to a 24-10 victory over Oakland. Len Dawson complete 3 passes for 16 yards. In the AFL days they lead the AFL in playoff appearances tied with the Raiders. Hank Stram was as great as the players he coached.
Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Houston Oilers
Just the mention of his name can still bring a smile and a tear to some players and fans eyes. He was headed for greatness.
His acts of generosity and kindness are still of legend. So are his acts on the football field. A Raider beat writer once said, “There is fast and then there is Joe Delaney fast”. He was a game breaking type of player who could catch the ball and run like the wind. With a strike shortened season and an eye injury, he only played 1 ½ years but he was amazing. He had 196 yards rushing against Houston and ran for 1121 yards his rookie year while getting the Rookie of the Year Award and making the Pro Bowl.
He once ran 75 yards for a touchdown but it was called back. Two plays later he ran for an 82 yard touchdown. Sadly, while trying to save 3 boys that were drowning, Delaney drowned. He could not swim. Only 1 of the boys made it. Joe received the US Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan and should always be remembered.
His occasional wildness off the field gets some publicity at times but in reality Chiefs Running Back Ed Podolak was one heck of a football player. With his hooked bar helmet, he looked like a red bull chasing after people. He could catch, run and block. He was an all purpose back that could do it all including returning punts and kickoffs.
He is the 5th all-time Chiefs RB in regards to rushing yards, and the 10th leading pass catcher of all time. He was also a quality return man. His wars against the Raiders and their bulldozer RB Marv Hubbard were must see tv.
Nicknamed Thunderfoot, Jerrel Wilson was flat out one of the greatest punters of all time. Often overshadowed due to the greatness of Ray Guy, his booming and towering punts were a thing of beauty. Ray Guy and Wilson transformed the punting game into an offensive weapon in regards to controlling field position.
He was a 3 time pro bowler and on the all AFL team, and in one year avg. 46.1 yards per punt. His greatness should not be forgotten.
For a 25 year period, the Raiders winning % was far and away better than any professional sports team in the U.S. In their first 20 Monday night football games they were 18-1-1. In the greatest decade of the NFL; the 1970’s; they had the most wins. In the NFL.com fan poll of the greatest teams a few years ago, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were voted the greatest team of all time by over 5.5 million NFL fans.
For 3 decades 2 teams were almost always on top of the ratings charts in the NFL. The Cowboys and the Raiders. The 2 teams people loved to hate. For a time the Cowboys were America’s team but the Raiders were the renegades of the NFL with talent to back it up. Those days seem light years away. They moved to Los Angeles which slowly eroded their tough blue collar Oakland persona, and the violence at games along with the small crowds, eroded their mystique. Their style of play changed and they’ve never been the same. It’s sad because few teams in the NFL boast a higher level of talent in their great history.
“The greatest player I ever coached was Warren Wells. I never saw anyone that gifted and that fast”.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Madden
This is still one of Ronnie Lott’s favorite players. If you talk to any player of the 1960’s, the one player that always amazed them was Warren Wells. For a 3 ½ year period, he struck terror in the eyes of all teams.
He was as fast as lightning and just as gifted. Before the NFL changed the criteria, Warren Wells was the all time leader in yards per catch at an inhuman 23.3 yards a catch. In one year he caught 47 balls for an incredible 27 yards per catch. He and Daryle Lamonica; The Mad Bomber; were the originators of Al Davis’ feared vertical game.
Due to off the field issues and an ankle injury, Wells career was cut short. He straightened up his life and last year was honored by lighting the torch at one of the Raiders home games.
He was the anchor of the famous “11 Angry Men” Oakland Raiders defense of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tom Keating was one of the best defensive linemen in AFL history. He was a 2 time AFL all star and on the all time AFL 2nd team. He played so hard that a story was written about him alone when the Raiders played the Packers in Super Bowl II. He was a part of the famous 1967 Raiders defense that caused a record 667 yards in losses on 67 sacks. They remain one of the most unheralded defenses of all time.
He was talented and tough. Off the field he was a fan favorite and very happy go lucky. He was a bay area guy and lived and died here. Many feel that if he didn’t have such bad knees that he was a hall of famer for sure.
With Southern California looks and charm, this USC favorite son was also a great football player. Making most of his fame in Buffalo, Bob Chandler had it all. He was known for his great hands. The Raiders signed him after Buffalo let him go and he fit right in. He caught 4 balls in the Raiders Super Bowl win against the Eagles. Between 1975 and 1977 he led the NFL in pass catches. In a famous scene he was hit in the stomach stretching to catch a ball in Denver. His spleen was ruptured and he had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery which saved his life.
He once posed for Playgirl. He wrote books, hosted tv shows and eventually became a Raider announcer. Sadly; a non smoker; Chandler got a rare from of Lung Cancer and died at the age of 45. The Raiders and their broadcasting crew took the news hard. He was very well liked and should be remembered fondly and more often for his charisma and his great football talents.
A little known fact that may buy you a drink someday if you are a Denver fan is that many of the AFL teams didn’t have much money. The Broncos first uniforms were actually mustard yellow and brown. The reason they were that color is that the Broncos wanted to save money so they bought the used uniforms off of the University of Wyoming football team and used them for a year. Wyoming were upgrading their uniforms so they were available. They then got a designer to make a new uniform the following season.
If it weren’t for Floyd Little, there probably would not be football in Denver. Nicknamed “The Franchise”, his popularity helped keep the Broncos in Denver when their attendance and play on the field suffered. In the mid to late 1960’s, his popularity soared and it got Denver excited about football. The Broncos were the only team to never play in an AFL title game and the only AFL team to not have a winning season while a member of the AFL.
If you are a Denver fan; even a young one; and you don’t know the name Floyd Little then you need an education fast. He was the Allen Iverson of his time in regards to sports popularity. Because of his small size he was a fan favorite of kids from all over the country. He was fun and friendly off the field, but literally a nightmare on it. He was fast and could turn any play into a long gain.
He’s a 2 time AFL all star, 3 time Pro Bowler and a member of Pro Footballs Hall of Fame. From 1968 to 1973, Little gained more yards from scrimmage than any player in the NFL. The Broncos were not a very good team for most of his tenure there, so he never seems to get the publicity or the credit for how great he really was.
Most knowledgeable Denver fans will remember Odoms but many NFL fans don’t. He was before his time; a Kellen Winslow type of player who could stretch a defense vertically, or make the tough catches when needed.
He was a 4 time Pro Bowler and a 2 time All Pro Player. He is the 7th all time receiver in Broncos history and was a key member of their prominence in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s after their first 16 years of existence without a winning season.
Rich Tombstone Jackson:
Another guy that doesn’t get his due is Rich Tombstone Jackson. He was the first real great pass rusher in Denver history. He was very physical and Lyle Alzado of all people called him the toughest man he ever met.
He was a 2x AFL All Star, 2x AFL All Pro and voted second team on the all time AFL team. As with many players of his day before modern knee surgeries, he tore his knee and had to retire early from football. Many believe he was the best pass rusher of that era and that without injury he was heading into the NFL Hall of Fame.
With so many people lacking any knowledge of the past in our social media mentality of today, it’s important for all of us to remember the great players of yesteryear. The AFC west was a huge part of AFL and NFL lore, and their contributions should never be forgotten.