TOM FLORES’ TIES TO THE OLD AFL DAYS

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Tom Flores.

I still remember the day when the onetime Oakland Raiders’ legend showed up at the University of Redlands.

Before Tom Flores’ speaking appearance that day, I’d been given an hour to sit with him in an adjoining room inside the school’s chapel. I grew up in Raider Territory, a town called Hayward, some 20 minutes south of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It allowed me a little background for this little chat.

“I’ll bet you,” he said, “that you can’t name the original eight AFL teams.”

“You guys started in Minnesota,” I told him.

Tom FLores (Silver & Black Pride)
Tom Flores, standing in front of his team in preparation for a game, led the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders to Super Bowl victories. In between those triumphs, Flores spoke at the University of Redlands (photo by Black & White pride).

Flores, who’d played collegiately at the College of Pacific in Stockton, smiled. I thought I had him.

Name the other ones, he challenged me.

I almost got them all. Buffalo Bills, Boston Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. Oh, and the New York Jets.

“Not perfect,” he said.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the Dallas Texans. The Jets were originally the New York Titans.

One of Flores’ memories: “I remember we were being paged over the intercom at the airport. They said, ‘Oklahoma Raiders.’

“They didn’t know if we were truck drivers or pro football players.”

The AFL weren’t exactly household names in those early 1960s. It was, he recalled, all-out war between the AFL and NFL.

After several minutes of taking on Flores’ trivia questions, he was introduced to a couple hundred audience members.

“There’s something about those stained-glass windows,” said Flores, noting the inner décor of the University of Redlands’ ancient chapel. “I had a few off-colored stories I was going to share with you, but I don’t think I’d better do that.”

He was part of pro football history. The part of the old American Football League that merged with the National Football League in 1970.

Flores had played QB for the Raiders. He wound up as an assistant coach to the legendary John Madden.

When Madden stepped aside as Raiders’ coach after the 1978 season, Managing General Partner Al Davis tabbed Flores as his head coach. What lied ahead were two Super Bowl championships, one in Oakland, the other in Los Angeles.

Flores’ visit to Redlands came in between those two titles.

“I don’t mingle in any of that,” Flores told me, referring to the conflict his boss, Davis, was having with the NFL and its commissioner, Pete Rozelle. “It’s hard enough to get a team ready to play.

“Teams don’t need all those other distractions.”

He was totally in Davis’ corner.

“I think he’s right. Six years ago, we had one of the best stadiums in football. Now, we’re one of the worst. Everybody has passed us by.”

That 27-10 Super Bowl win in New Orleans over Philadelphia in 1980 had some errant media coverage, he told that Redlands audience.

“We’re publicized as a team that has no discipline,” he said. “When we went to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, they publicized the fact that everyone on the team was out on Bourbon Street every night. Well, that wasn’t true at all.

“Only half the team was out.”

Audience members had questions.

On football’s best player:

“There are several and I should go position by position. But I think Walter Payton is one of the most complete backs in the NFL. He’d sure fit in with the Raiders.”

On the upcoming NFL draft:

“We’re not limited to a position in the draft. But I think we’ll look for an offensive back or receivers. If there’s one out there we like, we’ll take a dominating defensive player.”

On Davis:

“As long as I win, we get along great.”

 

PART 1 – A REAL REDLANDS CONNECTION

Tiger Woods
Image credit: Tour Pro Golf Clubs

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There seemed to be no master plan. Redlands has produced athletes. Coaches. Dramatic moments. Memorable moments. Historical moments. Connections beyond belief. Tennis & golf. Baseball & soccer. World Cup & the Olympics. Football & basketball. Bowling & auto racing. You name it. Children born to Redlands parents launched careers in various sports.

Sometimes, even outside legends came to the local area.

Think of Tiger Woods playing golf at Redlands.

Or these “connections”:

  • Pete Sampras played in a junior satellite tournament in Redlands.
  • Muhammad Ali never boxed here. But did he come to Redlands?
  • Former World Boxing Council welterweight champion Carlos Palomino did show up.
  • A couple of area second basemen – one from Redlands and the other from Colton – played against each other in the 1983 American League playoffs.
  • A Hall of Fame bowler once showed up once to roll a few practice frames en route to a PBA Arizona tournament.
  • Former NBA players John Block and Cazzie Russell, basketball’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966, brought in small college teams to coach against the University of Redlands.
  • Two years before Villanova won the NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball championship, the Wildcats played on the same court at Redlands.
  • Landon Donovan, pro men’s soccer. A homegrown.
  • Heather Aldama, pro women’s soccer. Another homegrown.
  • A future NBA coach brought a horrible Pomona-Pitzer College team to beat Redlands, then launched a Hall of Fame career in San Antonio.
  • A former baseball Hall of Famer watched his grandson play center field at the University of Redlands.
  • One of college basketball’s greatest coaches spent two seasons in Redlands.
  • The original “Lucky Louie” learned to drive in Redlands around 1919 – then won three times at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Redlands produced a track & field Olympian in 1920. Eighty years later, there was a men’s soccer Olympian, a female high jumper, plus a male cyclist.
  • For a dozen years, a professional football team launched its season from the local university. The nostalgia was surreal. Names like Ollie Matson, Les Richter, Norm Van Brocklin, ElRoy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Tom Fears, plus Jane Russell’s husband, Bob Waterfield, were among those that showed up on local turf. The numbers of Hall of Famers attached to that group, which includes Pete Rozelle, Tex Schramm and Joe Stydahar, is off the charts.
  • A veteran baseball player scouted Oakland so effectively that the scouting report he turned over to 1973 New York Mets’ manager Yogi Berra nearly helped topple the A’s dynasty in the World Series.
  • Wimbledon entries. Golf’s U.S. Open. PGA Championship. A Harlem Globetrotter? An area tennis coach once tended to a world-ranked star. Local photographers that shot Ben Hogan and Wayne Gretzky.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/21462832908/in/photolist-yGACtf-21QZTjP-am2XuR-am2ThR-am5AsJ-am2Ubz-am5FA7-am5TMu-am2UZa-am5Bfh-am5WXf-am5NoL-am2QEM-am2DpK-am5qTS-am5JSu-am38Ga-am5M5G-am5w3U-am5urq-am3842-am37mg-am2WCR-am2RWc-am5t8G-am38W4-am339p-am5LLG-am2Qz6-am2EDt-am5TvW-am2YUV-am2VVH-am2SGz-am33HV-am2YAr-am5qm3-am5P5A-am2VPM-am5EU5-am5CP9-am2LoH-am5x2G-am2YnH-am5Lg3-am2LPg-am5rvJ-am32Dz-am5HTq-am2M2k
Image credit: “Yogi Berra at Shea Stadium Closing Ceremonies” by slgckgc licensed, CC BY 2.0.

Heaven forbid, there’s so much more.

There is a good chance that most Redlands athletes aren’t included in this book. In fact, count on it.

There’s a Hall of Fame at Redlands High and another one at the University of Redlands. That’s good enough for multiple all-league, all-conference, All-CIF or NCAA Division 3 All-Americans in any sport.

There are great soccer midfielders, tremendous water polo goalies, ball hawking safeties on a football field, along with some catchers and pitchers, hurdlers and pole vaulters, hitters from both the gridiron and diamond, rebounders, shooters and great glove men, plus swimmers and tennis stars who won’t make it into these blogs.

Let’s not forget the golfers.

In over 100 years at Redlands High School and over a century of athletic tradition at the University of Redlands, some of sports’ most cherished and respected names have touched the lives of local spectators. Played memorable games. Won league or conference championships. Or barely missed. Many of those accounts made the local daily newspapers.

These blogs aren’t intended to list each All-American, every all-leaguer, local all-star, league MVPs, conference players of the year, or even the kids that had All-Pro or All-Star aspirations, only to hit a bump in the road. It’s not even to pay tribute to the mainstream coaches that have conceived, trained, managed, and inspired teams to impressive championship seasons.

The exceptions, of course, are these: If they reached the pro ranks, or major colleges, Olympics, World Cup, an All-Star game, a professional draft, or something of note beyond just their local community, well … They’re in! Hopefully. We’ve researched a ton.

It’s a long, arduous task to corral all the Redlands greats. We’ve got most of them.  I think.

MOTOR RACING, FOOTBALL, SOCCER,

AND SCARY VOLLEYBALL BANQUET

Would it occur to anyone that Redlands High product named Jim Weatherwax could count himself as one having been coached by both Vince Lombardi and Jerry Tarkanian?

Or that Redlands High’s Brian Billick can claim as onetime employers Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Lavell Edwards?

Gary Nelson, a classic grease monkey, got his start in auto racing working for a local legend, Ivan Baldwin, later serving as crew chief for NASCAR legends Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

That’s noteworthy.

As a Sports Editor whose time measured from 1981-2002, one of my biggest pet peeves was against pushy parents. Throughout the life and times of area news media, parents of even the top athletes fought for respect given to their much-decorated sons or daughters in print.

A classic example: Hours before the season-ending banquet for a CIF-Southern Section championship volleyball team, no less than three parents of athletes from that team contacted me by telephone at the local newspaper office.

They were upset about the way their daughters were “coached” by the author of this championship team. Their feelings was that he had been unfair. This coach, Gene Melcher, substituted their daughters in and out of matches, replacing their daughters with someone else’s daughter.

These telephone calls were made to reflect the fact that “something” might happen at the banquet, if not an actual boycott, casting a gray cloud over this championship banquet.

Wow! These parents waited until banquet night to settle a score with a coach? Settle a score with a coach who guided their team to the championship?

Talk about pushy parents. See? This is what you deal with on the sports desk of any newspaper – small, mid-size or major daily publication.

Since I was invited to attend, and speak, at the banquet, I could hardly wait to see what would take place. There could be an actual story for the newspaper. Imagine the headlines: “Parents disrupt team banquet!” I couldn’t wait to see if these parents had the bitterness to pull it off. It would have been off the charts for sheer gall. Imagine undermining an event at which they were celebrating the ultimate goal – a championship.

More than one observer has uttered the now-cliché phrase: “These parents wouldn’t be happy if God were coaching their team.”

During each of those phone calls, I gently tried calling out these parents, making a game attempt to talk them out of their funk. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than a parent who thinks their kid has been wronged.

Thankfully nothing out of the ordinary occurred. During my remarks, I was nervous over the fact that something might take place. In fact, the banquet went perfectly fine. Parents of these high school-aged athletes sat in complete celebration about the achievements of their daughters’ team.

Pushy parents can’t get their kids’ names into these blogs.

I can just hear some of those parents: “We’ll see about that.”

Read Part 2 here.