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 3 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

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

For Greg Horton, who blocked familiar foes on the Rams’ defensive line, that 1979 NFC 9-0 championship loss to the Rams was his final game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A contract dispute, a hold-out, apparently getting cut, all conspired to lead Greg back to the west coast.

Bucs’ coach John McKay, it seems, had fallen in love with University of Wisconsin guard Ray Snell, considered to be a fast player at that position. Between Greg’s hold-out and Snell’s promising prospective, there was a quick switch at left guard made between the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

Greg was gone – back to L.A., in fact, where he played two games with the Rams before getting cut.

Tampa’s offense went downhill in that 1980 season, finishing 5-10-1.

Tampa Bay’s Doug Williams’s play at QB improved in 1980. Who knows how well the Bucs would’ve fared if they’d have kept Greg on their line? A dozen sacks? In 16 games?

Incidentally, that wasn’t an NFL record. But it was close.

Four years before the Bucs protected Williams so well, the St. Louis Cardinals blocked a little better for their QB, Jim Hart. They surrendered seven sacks with a line that consisted of Dan Dierdorff and Conrad Dobler.

Unlike today’s NFL game, where QBs are throwing for yardage far beyond that in Greg’s NFL days. Defenses were built to stop running games, not rush QBs. Numbers like the Cardinals and Buccaneers would be off the charts in today’s game.

As for Greg’s replacement?

Snell, taken as the 22nd overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft, spent five seasons blocking for Williams, at times alternating with lineman George Yarno bringing in plays from the sideline.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, visits FedEx Field, where the Redskins Salute, the Washington Redskins’ Official Military Appreciation Club, hosts a Military Day for military service members and their families, Dec. 7, 2015. This year's military recognition was in conjunction with the Redskins' Monday Night Football game with the Dallas Cowboys. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Chuck Burden/Released)
Doug Williams, whose early career in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was supported by the blocking of Redlands’ Greg Horton. The pair came close to winning the 1979 NFC Championship in a game against the Los Angeles Rams, who won, 9-0. Photo by  U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chuck Burden of the Chief of Staff of the Army
derivative: Diddykong1130

Greg, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound blocker, re-appeared in the United States Football League where he spent 1982 and 1983 with the Boston Breakers. He blocked for the highly underachieving Marcus DuPree (Oklahoma) in that summer league.

It was Week 10 – Saturday night, May 7, 1983 – when the Breakers showed up at the L.A. Coliseum to play the Express. L.A. beat Greg’s team again, 23-20. A little over 16,000 showed up in that massive place to watch.

I’d been granted a field pass, something that never would’ve happened in an NFL game. Greg was gracious enough to visit with me during the game – and after.

Greg had a few games left in the tank, but his pro career was nearing an end.

So, for that matter, was the USFL.

FROM NFL BACK TO HOMETOWN

Greg, born in San Bernardino in 1951, didn’t leave all his good works on the football field. He returned to Redlands, working businesses, growing up his family – his wife, Shirley, and two daughters – and participated in coaching and went heavily into the city’s legendary high school booster club, The Benchwarmers.

Greg blocked against the likes of Alan Page and Carl Eller, Harry Carson and Randy White, plus “Too Tall” Jones – the player taken No. 1 overall in the same 1974 draft when Greg was plucked by the Bears.

He never played a down for the Bears, who were in transition from the Hall of Fame seasons from middle linebacker Dick Butkus and running back Gale Sayers. Gary Huff QB’d that Bears’ team – 4-10 under coach Abe Gibron in 1974. One year later, the Bears made a nice pick in the draft, picking up Walter Payton.

That second season, 1975, was coached by Jack Pardee – another 4-10 record – with no real future in sight. Payton had a blocking corps of Jeff Sevy, Mark Nordquist, Dan Pfeiffer, Noah Jackson and Lionel Antoine.

The Bears had some success from various state colleges: Butkus from Illinois. Sayers from Kansas. Horton from Colorado didn’t turn out to be a fit.

By Greg’s third season, he was in L.A., playing backup on a Rams’ offensive line that included four No. 1 picks – Dennis Harrah, Tom Mack and Doug France, plus John Williams (Baltimore) – surrounding center Rich Saul.

That line was good enough that Horton was expendable, traded to Tampa midway into that 1978 rebuilding season.

The Rams were memorable during that 1970s run – playoffs each season under Chuck Knox (54-15 between 1973-77). Except for that little spurt when Greg replaced injured Dennis Harrah, it wasn’t until his trade to Tampa that his career got interesting. Twenty-eight of his 34 career starts came in Tampa.

A curious note, an extra Redlands “connection” was this: On Sept. 9, 1979, Tampa Bay beat the Baltimore Colts, 29-26, in a Buccaneers’ home game. Standing on the opposing sideline was Brian DeRoo, another ex-Terrier like Greg.

“It was the only time,” said DeRoo, “we ever faced each other in a game. Early in the game, though, Greg got thrown out for pushing a referee. I think it was after one play.”

Also in that game, DeRoo caught three passes for 81 yards. One of those was a 67-yard bomb from Colts’ QB Greg Landry – a play that was highlighted one night later on ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football, narrated by Howard Cosell.

‘GUNNS’ DURING HIS BUFF DAYS

During his college years at Colorado – playing in the Big Eight Conference for the Buffaloes, Eddie Crowder head coach – Greg was a three-year starter for a team that finished 23-12 between 1971 and 1973. Future Oakland/Los Angeles Raider legend Cliff Branch was a Buffalo teammate.

On New Year’s Eve 1971, the seventh-ranked Buffaloes stopped No. 15 Houston, 29-17, in the Bluebonnet Bowl. A year later, the 13th-ranked Buffs lost the Gator Bowl to No. 6 Auburn.

As for the Big Eight, Oklahoma and Nebraska were the dominant teams.

While the Buffaloes dreamed of unsettling the legendary Sooners and Cornhuskers, Colorado might have been content to try and oust those schools from their top spots.

Colorado’s only two losses in a 10-2 season (1971) came against the No. 2 Sooners, 45-17, and No. 1 Nebraska, 31-7. Greg, a sophomore, blocked against the likes of Oklahoma’s Lucious Selmon, whose brother, Lee Roy, would be a future NFL teammate in Tampa.

Yes, future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers was on the field against Colorado in Nebraska’s victory over the ninth-ranked Buffs. The Huskers, 13-0 overall, wound up as national champions.

Fast forward a few decades. Past that 1974 NFL draft. Past his two non-playing seasons in Chicago. Past his initial years with the Rams. Past the main portion of his career in Tampa Bay. Past those two games in his Rams’ return, plus the USFL.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I sat across from Greg at the lunch table in that Redlands burger joint. His hopes to launch a local business into orbit was on his mind.

His didn’t want to talk football.

Greg wanted to talk big plans.

He didn’t want to rerun his football career.

Greg wanted to attract clients.

Greg Horton II
Redlands’ Greg Horton had a nickname — “Gunns.” Photo provided by Horton’s family.

All that football background – playing against a Heisman winner, college football’s top-ranked teams, NFL Hall of Famers, All-Pros, drafted by legendary George Halas, playing for legendary coach John McKay, nearly reaching the Super Bowl with a remarkable worst-to-first team – seemed like a distant memory.

Greg had a business to organize.

“When will this story run?” he asked.

I was Sports Editor, so I had the answer.

“Soon as I write it up.”

My hope was that the article came out all right.

PART 2 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

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

Greg Horton had been drafted by the Chicago Bears. It was 1974. Third round, 56th pick overall. Papa Bear himself, George Halas, supervised the selection of Horton, a third-round selection out of Colorado.

By 1976, Greg was a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Papa Bear had traded him there on April 2, 1974 for the Rams’ third round (Mike Fuller) and 10th round (Mike Julius) picks in 1975.

At L.A., Greg was teammates with Joe Namath, Ron Jaworski, Pat Haden, Lawrence McCutcheon, Heisman winner John Cappelletti, blocking against guys like Jack Reynolds, Isaiah Robertson and Jack Youngblood in practice.

Playing mostly special teams, Greg eventually took over for injured right guard Dennis Harrah midway through the 1977 season.

He played 63 NFL games, starting 34. Most of those came after he got traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the 1978 season.

Greg was part of football lore.

Tampa Bay coach John McKay, who coached USC to four national championships over 16 seasons, watched the Bucs start off losing their first 26 games beginning in their first season, 1976. Little by little, though, McKay started building a strong defense.

JOhn McKay
John McKay, whose career was built on great success at USC, coached Redlands’ Greg Horton in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Photo provided by USC/Wikipedia.

QB Doug Williams, who would eventually lead Washington to a Super Bowl about a decade later, took snaps for the Bucs. Side note: Tampa’s offensive coordinator in those early years was none other than Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ head coach when Williams QB’d them to the Super Bowl.

BUILDING BUCS’ OFFENSIVE LINE

Gibbs and McKay built Tampa’s offense from scratch. Its real strength might’ve been its offensive line.

Left tackle Dave Reavis had played for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh – drafted in 1973 by the Steelers.

Center Steve Wilson, right guard Greg Roberts and right tackle Charlie Hannah were original Bucs. Good enough to stick around for the upgrades.

McKay and Gibbs built that left side – Williams’ blind side – with Reavis and Greg, who blocked blitzing linebackers and safeties up the middle, nose guards and defensive tackles on every snap.

Williams, incidentally, had gone down just 12 times that season. Twelve sacks over 16 games! Incredible. Onetime Trojan Ricky Bell was racking up over 1,000 yards behind that stud line, too.

It had to be one of football’s greatest ironies that Tampa Bay would host the Rams for the right to play in the 1980 Super Bowl. It would be played in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, of all places.

McKay, who probably figured to be the Rams’ coach at one point due to his proximity with USC, watched the likes of George Allen and Chuck Knox coach the Rams during his Trojan years. Ray Malavasi had taken over from Knox.

Bell, of course, was the ex-Trojan playing against the pro team from his former college home town. Also for his former college coach.

newRickyBell-1
Ricky Bell, runner-up to Tony Dorsett in the 1976 Heisman Trophy race, was picked No. 1 overall in the NFL draft by Tampa Bay. He was the man that Redlands product Greg Horton blocked for when both became Buccaneer teammates in 1978 and 1979. Photo by Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Then there was Greg, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 260-pounder who grew up in Redlands – Rams’ country – before eventually getting shipped to L.A. by Chicago in 1976. He never played for the Bears. Eventually, he was traded by the Rams two games into the 1978 season, Greg found a home in Tampa.

This was a “worst to first” ride, one of pro football’s biggest turnarounds.

When Greg arrived in Tampa, the line consisted of Garry Puetz, a 12th round pick by the Jets in 1973, with 1975 Miami first rounder Darryl Carlton occupying right tackle. By 1979, Puetz and Carlton were no longer around.

Greg started out by playing left guard, eventually shifted to right guard to accommodate injuries to Hannah, plus any rebuilding taking shape under Gibbs and McKay.

Any team’s best defense is a good offense. During that era of ball control, clock-killing, run-oriented offenses is what kept the other team’s attacks on the sideline. It’s exactly what McKay had in mind with the Reavis-Horton-Wilson-Hannah-Roberts corps blocking for Williams and Bell (1,263 yards).

The Bucs were no different than Earl Campbell’s Houston Oilers. Or Walter Payton’s early days in Chicago. Line play had been huge around the likes of O.J. Simpson in Buffalo, Franco Harris in Pittsburgh, not to mention Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in Miami.

In Tampa Bay, Bell had been taken in the 1976 NFL draft ahead of Tony Dorsett, the Pittsburgh All-American selected by the Dallas Cowboys.

Defensively, onetime Oklahoma Sooner defensive end Lee Roy Selmon was named Associated Press MVP that season. Linebacker Richard Wood, another ex-Trojan that was originally drafted by the Jets, also played a key role on the Bucs’ defense.

BUCS’ PLAYOFF RUN

After a 10-6 regular season, it was Tampa Bay 24, Philadelphia 16 in the divisional playoff round – Bell bashing for 142 yards on 38 carries behind that Bucs’ line.

Suddenly, Tampa Bay, Bell, McKay, Greg, Wood & Co. had found themselves staring face to face with the Los Angeles Rams. The NFC championship was on the line.

From a 7-37 beginning to an 11-6 record heading into the NFC Championship, McKay had lifted the Bucs to pro football’s pinnacle.

Malavasi’s Rams finished 9-7, but stunned Dallas, 21-19, in the divisional round.

Their featured running back was UCLA product Wendell Tyler.

Vince Ferragamo had taken over as Rams’ QB from onetime USC shooter Pat Haden, who combined 24 interceptions with 16 TD passes.

Williams’ 24 picks and 18 TDs weren’t much better.

Each side would try and counter the other with ground games and staunch defense.

Surely, the Bucs’ defense would devour the Rams.

L.A. had a defense of its own – the Youngbloods, Reynolds, Fred Dryer, you name it.

The date was Jan. 6, 1980.

Both teams scored touchdowns.

Both were called back because of penalties.

It was a defensive slugfest.

Or an offensive bust.

The Rams’ defense stole the show, limiting the Bucs to a mere 177 total yards.

By contrast, L.A.’s Cullen Bryant ran for 106 yards. Tyler racked up 86 more. Ferragamo threw for 163 yards – no interceptions.

Williams gave way to backup Mike Rae, the pair combining for a total of 54 yards passing.

Rams’ placekicker Frank Corral hit field goals of 19, 21 and 23 yards.

Final score, Rams 9, Bucs 0.

After a dozen years of seeing the Packers, Colts, Vikings and Cowboys reach the Super Bowl, the Rams became the first NFC Western Division team to advance to the NFL’s title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Part 3 next week.