"The Earliest Raiders Part II"



The Earliest Raiders / Part 2


By Dr. Ken 

As noted in last month's column [ http://www.helmethut.com/Features/Dr.Ken94.html ] , the American Football League survived its inaugural season without having to designate any of its teams as “the really terrible one.” A case could be made that the Broncos, picking up the rear in the Western Division, decked out in their washed out mustard yellow jerseys and vertically striped socks were a hapless bunch, but their four-win season and the presence of a few obviously good players like Al Carmichael and Gene Mingo made them more than that. Despite having made the acquaintance of Raiders receiver Alan Goldstein one day, our group of young football fanatics lacked any sense of familiarity with the Raiders roster their first year or two. Their “household names” like quarterback Tom Flores, running back Tony Teresa, defensive back Wayne Crow (who I actually had known about when he played at Cal), and linebacker Tom Louderback were all west coast collegians with little traction in the New York area. The bottom fell out for the Raiders in the league’s second year of action as the team, still playing in San Francisco, lost their first two games by a combined 99-0 tally. Yikes, these guys really were as bad as we thought they had been all along. Raiders head coach Eddie Erdelatz who had been a popular choice as their first mentor [see HELMET HUT Navy write-up http://www.helmethut.com/College/Navy/MDUSNA49XX.html ]  became the first American Football League coach to be fired but elevating line coach Marty Feldman to the head job did little to improve the Raiders performance. Their 2-12 record sealed it for us. Despite Denver’s horrid uniforms and barely better than the Raiders 3-11 record, the Wilson helmeted Oakland team was officially the worst in the AFL.

By 1961 the Raiders had a few excellent players like Clemon Daniels and Jim Otto (number 00) but the bottom fell out from the won-lost record

The prognosticators had singled out the 1960 Raiders’ defense as the team’s weak point but '61's two game start and subsequent defensive performance no doubt left many gasping. As Scotty Stirling of the Oakland Tribune noted about the ’60 Raiders,

      “They could move the football both on the ground and in the air. In fact, they moved it well enough to finish the 14-game campaign as the league’s second best rushing team (trailing powerful Dallas by a scant 29 yards) and the fourth leading passing club; with quarterback Tom Flores topping the circuit in percentage (54.0) of passes completed. But when the other team had the ball, it was more often than not simply a case of shooting at a half-dozen or so Oakland weak spots.”

It wasn’t as if the Raiders staff was oblivious to their plight and it was believed that streamlining their untenable ownership mess from a gang of eight to three would allow for more efficient functioning. Unfortunately they gained little help by signing only six of their thirty draftees. One would have thought that if Joe Rutgens and Myron Pottios alone would have taken the plunge in the American Football League, their eventual combined experience of twenty-one NFL seasons and five Pro Bowls would have provided an immediate salve to the fractured Raiders defensive unit. 1961’s horrid defensive opening, with losses to the Oilers and Chargers by video game scores of 55-0 and 44-0 respectively led to the firing of Erdelatz and the elevation of Feldman. As previously noted, it didn’t help much as the defensive yield placed the team squarely on the bottom of the AFL rankings.


Front and rear views of the beautiful all black Wilson helmets worn by the Oakland Raiders in 1960 and 1961.

As the ’61 season unfolded, our small group of AFL followers could now roll our eyes and say, “Ha, told you so, they really are pretty terrible” because they were. Unlike most New York Giants fans, we took a liking to the Titans and they clearly were much better than the Raiders. It had only taken a season for the AFL to take on a distinct personality and for teams to find their level. It was obvious that the Oilers and Chargers were at the top of the heap and the Broncos and Raiders at the bottom. None of the Eastern Division teams were truly bad with the last place Bills a game off of .500 and the Titans completing the season with a 7-7 mark. Once again however, the Metropolitan New York newspapers focused most of their Titans related reporting on the team’s dismal financial condition and outlook. While Oakland slogged through a disastrous two win season and gave up an average of almost thirty-three points per game, the Titans news was all about the money, or the lack of it.

While there seemed to be an organized campaign to actively ignore positive Titans news in the major newspapers, owner Harry Wismer was taken to the verbal woodshed on a regular basis. Of course, he had earned most of the abuse heaped upon him. The horror stories from “exclusive player interviews” that detailed carloads of coaches and players stampeding to the bank in their practice uniforms in order to cash paychecks before the available funds were exhausted, became part of American Football League folklore. This more than overshadowed the at times excellent on-the-field work of the Titans and negative AFL media coverage was augmented by the threats of the Oakland owners that they would fold their team if they could not increase season ticket sales and find a home in their own hometown. With the Broncos still in their brown and mustard colored uniforms with the infamous vertically striped socks, it was easy to take potshots at what was still, in its second season, a new football league but closer inspection, something that our young group took the time to do, revealed that the good teams were in fact, nothing short of excellent and the overall quality of ball played seemed to be improving on a weekly basis.

Titans MacGregor helmet circa 1960, a masterpiece from today’s perspective though the team’s financial policy was quite a bit less than a masterpiece.

Of course, the Raiders were still taking the field with almost the entire team outfitted with black Wilson helmets. There were enough Titans wearing what looked to be MacGregor “bubble ear” models to give both teams an almost archaic appearance. This of course added to the perception, especially that of staunch NFL supporters, that the AFL was still rungs below their beloved league. While true improvement would not come for the Raiders until the arrival of Al Davis in 1963 and their 1962 results were even worse than the two win effort of ’61, they at least upgraded their helmets for the ’62 season. Almost all of the squad members wore the Riddell RK and TK models and the black shell was highlighted with a one-inch yellow gold center stripe.

The Titans also could mark the 1962 season as suffering the ignominy of bankruptcy but improved appearance as they too had almost every team member in a Riddell helmet, scuttling the older appearing MacGregors.

Both teams, unbeknownst to their fans and followers, were on the brink of improvement though the Jets, as the Titans new ownership would christen them, took a bit longer to battle to the top of the league standings. For many true American Football League fans however, the Wilson and MacGregor helmets of these early teams solidify memories of the underdogs that eventually changed history.

By 1962, all of the Titans were donned in Riddell helmets for their final season