This article is for the fans of the AFL especially the AFC West. If you are a fan of these great teams, some of these players may be household names to you. It’s so important 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 the AFL.
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. I love the powder blue. What also can’t be argued is their dominating win in the AFL Championship game in 1963 sealing their argument as one of the great teams of the AFL era. Their innovative passing game was nixed for a power running game, and it worked to perfection as the Chargers beat the Boston Patriots 51-10.
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.
Paul Lowe & Keith Lincoln:
With Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln in the backfield, San Diego had one of the greatest 1-2 punches in pro football history. They helped lead the Chargers to their only championship in 1963. Lowe is the 2nd all time leader in rushing yards for the Chargers. He was the 1965 UPI AFL MVP, 2 times AFL All Star, and 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.
And oh by the way they had Keith Lincoln. He went to high school in Monrovia California and went to Washington St. Originally he was a QB, and he was so good that he got two awesome nicknames; the Monrovia Meteor and the Moose of the Palouse. He was a 5 time AFL All-Star, 2 time All AFL player, and is in the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
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 ever 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 coach to wear a microphone. Stram was innovative and brought in the triple stack defense to hide his linebackers. When he had several WR’s injured against the Raiders powerful pass rush and great DB’s; he used the T formation and ran 60 times for over 300 yards leading KC to a stunning 24-10 victory over Oakland. In that game, Len Dawson completed 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 and boy was he fun.
Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Houston Oilers
He was just good people.
If you would allow me an exception, I wanted to add a player that didn’t play in the AFL days, but someone who isn’t remembered enough. Just the mention of this players name can still bring a smile and a tear to some ex-players, coaches 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 never got out of the water and died. He could not swim but he could not sit by and watch them die and do nothing. Only 1 of the boys made it. Joe received the US Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan and should always be remembered as being a real man, and a person that the NFL and their fans can be proud of.
If you are a big fan of the AFL or a Chiefs fan, you are saying how come Ed’s on this list? Well outside of KC many of today’s fans are clueless to how great of a player Podolak was. His occasional wildness off the field after his playing days 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, return kicks, and block. He was an all purpose back that could do it all.
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 that made many clutch kick returns. His wars against the Raiders and their bulldozer RB Marv Hubbard were must see tv and some of the most physical games ever played.
Nicknamed Thunderfoot, Jerrel Wilson was flat out one of the greatest punters of all time. Often overshadowed in the all time punter conversation 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. He also did it in the clutch. To punt when your team isn’t very good or if nothing is at stake is one thing but to do in when it counts is another. 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 ever a few years ago, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were voted the greatest team of all time by over 5.5 million NFL fans.
In QB Daryle Lamonica’s first 45 games as a Raider (after a trade from Buffalo) the Raiders were an unreal 40-4-1. His successor; Ken Stabler; was 56-13 in his first 69 games.
For 3 decades 2 teams were almost always on top of the television 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 and 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. No team in history was more crazy, wild, talented, and colorful as the Oakland Raiders.
(below is the article on the 1976 Raiders chosen as the greatest NFL team of all time)
(please support and follow the AFL Godfather on twitter @NFLMAVERICK I got this video from his public page but I’d really appreciate if you’d support him. He has great stuff from the past! Thank you!)
“The greatest player I ever coached was Warren Wells. I never saw anyone that gifted and that fast”.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Madden
On December 6, 1970, Warren Wells made an unreal catch on the last field play of the game to beat the Jets 14-13. His catch against 2 Jet defenders would make Houdini applaud. Wells was that good.
This is still one of Ronnie Lott’s favorite all-time 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 unfortunately was one of only 2 NFL players who were drafted and made to go to the Vietnam war in 1965.
He was as fast as lightning and just as gifted. Before the NFL changed the statistic criteria, Warren Wells was the all time leader in yards per catch at an inhuman 23.3 yards a reception. In one year he caught 47 balls for an incredible 27 yards per reception. 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 after doing prison time during his younger days, and last year was honored by lighting the Al Davis torch at one of the Raiders home games.
He was the anchor of the famous “11 Angry Men” Oakland Raiders defense and was a key player 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 member. He played so hard that a story was written about him 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 greatest and 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.
There are many that feel Dave Grayson is a Hall of Famer. Dave played for Oakland between 1965-1970. He played for the Dallas Texans/Chiefs before that, and was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Grayson was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oregon. Tom Landry felt he was too small and not physical enough so he was let got and Hank Stram gave him a shot and he stuck.
Al Davis Traded for CB Dave Grayson in 1965 (he traded him for future actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) from the Chiefs and then traded for Willie Brown from Denver in 1967. This allowed the Raiders to play the physical bump and run style that has been a trademark of the team for years.
When NFL and former Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt was asked who were the 4 best cornerbacks in Dallas history his first 3 were not a shock. Mel Renfro, Herb Adderly & Deion Sanders. “I also include Dave Grayson. He didn’t play with the Cowboys but he’s so good I’m including him.”
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 to start with. The Broncos first uniforms were actually mustard yellow and brown. Why was that you say? 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. It saved them thousands of dollars. Wyoming were upgrading their uniforms so they were available. They then got a designer to make a new uniform the following season.
One of the many crazy and memorable stories of the AFL is the one about Bronco great Frank Tribucka. Tribucka was the father of Notre Dame and NBA player Kelly Tribucka. Frank was a Notre Dame legend. At 33 years old he had played for several teams in the NFL, Canada, and AFL and he came to the expansion Broncos to be a coach after retiring. During the last pre-season game they asked him to play to sell a few tickets. He then started the next week as the Broncos QB and played for the next 3 years.
In his first year he threw for 34 interceptions (still a Denver Bronco’s record) but also became the first QB in NFL or AFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season. Against the Bills he threw for over 447 yards in a game; a Bronco record that stood for over 38 years. Frank had a great personality and was very popular and will always be a part of the AFL lore.
Goose was as tough as nails. In a day and age where the game was so physical, he played in an amazing 61 straight games for the Broncos. He is third all time in the AFL for interceptions with 43 and has the AFL record for most interceptions in a game with 4. Gonsoulin is also still 2nd all time in Denver Broncos history in interceptions only 1 behind leader Steve Foley. He was a 6 time AFL all star and was voted on the AFL’s all time 2nd team.
In his first 6 years with Denver, he had an amazing 43 interceptions, 542 return yards with 2 brought back for touchdowns. A fun loving, true great of the AFL era.
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. Just another of the all time great players that never got his due. He was way before his time and mastered the head slap and many other moves to the dismay of the NFL.
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. While Deacon Jones got all of the publicity, Jackson quietly tormented opponents. It’s sad he’s never mentioned more.
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. These are players from the AFC West but obviously the AFL had amazing teams and athletes from New York and Buffalo to San Diego. My father talked to me often about the greatness of the AFL. From the Titans and Texans, to the Bills and Raiders, AFL lore has so many amazing players and stories. I hope that we never forget the greatness of the AFL and more and more groups are created to discuss such amazing memories that we enjoyed with our parents and grandparents.