"Clemon Daniels and the Oakland Raiders"
HELMET REFLECTIONS FOR MARCH 2009
"CLEMON DANIELS AND THE OAKLAND RAIDERS"
By Dr. Ken
As a teenaged football player and fan, the birth of the American Football League in 1960 was one of the most exciting events in my lifetime. Even today I can recall receiving news that there would be a new professional league, more games to watch, and more players’ names, uniform numbers, and colleges attended to memorize. I was anxious to see the start of league play and even then, had a fascination with the helmet designs and uniform specifics. Despite close scrutiny, one of the teams that remained beneath the radar was the under publicized and rarely seen on television Oakland Raiders. Because they were so infrequently written or talked about on the East Coast, it was assumed that like a few of the AFL teams, they were horrid but I realized that they possessed a great rushing attack and in fact, at season’s end had placed just behind the league leading Dallas Texans. I recalled halfback Tony Teresa as a defensive player with the Forty Niners but had little knowledge of anyone else on the roster despite the fact that as a bonus to the strong running game, quarterback Tom Flores was the league’s top passer. Unfortunately, their defense was miserable, leading to an inaugural record of 6-8 and in truth, if I knew little about them, so did most who followed the league. The Raiders often played to crowds of 5000-9000 fans at their "home stadium" which was actually across the Bay in San Francisco, or on the road so they were far from one of the more popular AFL teams. I also believed that their uniforms were a drawback. On black and white television the Raiders looked to be wearing Chicago Bear hand-me-downs, retreads from another era. The all black tight-fitting Wilson helmets already looked outdated compared to the Riddell suspension helmets favored by most professional teams. The only “cool” uniform adaptation that made the Raiders stand a bit above the other AFL squads was the inclusion of both the first and last names on the back of their uniform jerseys. While the American Football League took a bold step forward by placing the players’ last names on their jerseys, only the Raiders found the available space and put forth the effort to allow for both names to be displayed for a number of their players.
Riley Matson #55 displays first and last name on jersey
Though it could be claimed that the Raiders were respectable in 1960, the bottom fell out in ’61 and ’62 as both seasons ended with a combined won-loss total of 3-25. Raider die-hards point to the 1963 arrival of Al Davis as the new head coach that allowed the Raiders to become the black-patched “Pride And Poise” and “Commitment To Excellence” Raiders that dominated many AFL and NFL seasons but in 1961, the acquisition of Clemon Daniels had much to do with the team’s turnaround.
Daniels won All Conference honors as a collegiate sophomore and junior and despite knee surgery which limited him in his final year, served as captain of the NAIA National Championship team his senior season at Prairie View A&M. He served in the United States military following his college graduation and this gave his damaged knees much needed healing time. He then signed with the Dallas Texans as a free agent but was an underutilized return man and defensive back. In 1960 he logged but three punt returns and one rushing attempt, though he did have three interceptions. Obtained as a free agent by the Raiders prior to the 1961 season, he was tried at both linebacker and cornerback until the Raiders threw him into their running back mix but the 6’1”, 220 pounder had but thirty-one carries. He became more of a mainstay of the offense in ’62 as he tallied 786 rushing yards but it was the arrival of Davis that allowed Daniels to also “arrive.” Seeing his talent, the young coach set the strong, fast running back loose and he led the AFL in rushing. As the Sporting News AFL Player Of The Year he gained 1098 yards and though a powerhouse between the tackles, he could also fly with the best of them as a former 9.8/100 yard sprint man in college. Despite immediately establishing the Raiders as a passing team, Davis had found his rushing mainstay. The 1963 squad improved to 10-4 and Oakland maintained winning records every season except 1964 while Daniels was with the team. An excellent receiver, he was named to the AFL All Star Game from 1963 through ’66, was an AFL All Pro in 1963, ’65, and ’66, and managed to accumulate three consecutive 800-plus yard seasons following his 1000 yard breakthrough. Only a broken ankle mid-way through the 1967 season brought an end to Daniels’ dominance and he completed his career in ’68 across the Bay with the NFL Forty Niners.
Clem Daniels stood out, not only for his hard-charging running style, but for his distinctive Raiders helmet. As the team switched from their non-descript black headgear to the iconic silver with Pirate logo, and the individual players updated their face masks, Daniels maintained his single bar mask. A gentleman on and off the field and typical of the era, in the off-season, Daniels held other jobs, teaching biology and health sciences in the Oakland high schools and serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve. Often lost among the names of other Raider backs like Hubbard, van Eeghen, Banaszak, Allen, and Craig, Daniels has maintained a great legacy. When the merger with the NFL was completed he was the All Time Leading Rusher for the American Football League and was named to its All Time team. His Hall Of Fame memberships include the Prairie View Hall Of Fame, the Southwest Athletic Conference Hall Of Fame, the California Black Athletic Hall Of Fame, and Texas Football Hall Of Fame. He served his community well as a member of the State Youth Employment Task Force and worked for the Governor of California’s office as well as the Oakland City Board of Commissioners For Parks And Recreation. A prolific fund raiser for children’s causes, Daniels has remained a part of the Raiders as the proprietor of a popular lounge that has served as unofficial headquarters for the current crop of players and their many fans. A true Oakland Raider star, Clemon Daniels and his furious runs remain an inspiration.