One factor that was—and is—against Lee and against the novitiate, Trull, is that the Oiler veterans are almost solidly for Blanda, who was AFL Player of the Year in 1961 when he threw 36 touchdown passes. The Oilers put the blame for Blanda's comparative failure last season on poor pass blocking and sloppy running of patterns rather than on Blanda himself. "Our linemen were confused about calling their blocking assignments, and the other teams caught on in a hurry and red-dogged the hell out of George," said one player. "But when Lee came in, we just couldn't make ourselves want to go for him. He couldn't get us in a group and lead us across the street. He's cocky, like he wants us to think he's the man but deep inside he knows he's really not. But there's no doubt he has a great arm. Maybe when George is gone we can make ourselves play for Lee—for our own good. We'll just have to wait and see about Trull."
Blanda is prepared to wait and see about Trull—especially if Blanda should become the Oiler coach—but at the moment Blanda has no intention of surrendering his quarterback job. Blanda has been employed in pro football for so long that in 1950, while playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he intercepted one of the passes thrown by his current coach, Sam Baugh, who did not retire until Blanda's fourth year in the game. "It was the proudest time of my football career when I intercepted that Baugh pass," said Blanda. "I was a 190-pound flash then. Played linebacker, cornerback, safety. Played anywhere. Yes sir, a real 190-pound flash."
"Blanda looks like a guard now," said Baugh as the Oilers assembled on the $2.5 million, 6�-acre hunk of real estate they use for a practice field. Off to the south rose a portent of the future, the new Harris County Domed Stadium (SI, Aug. 10), its dome looking like waffled foil in the sunlight. The Oilers and the Houston Colt .45s baseball team will play under the dome next year. To the southwest were the light towers of the more-or-less temporary Colt Stadium. To the northwest stood the 18-story Shamrock Hilton Hotel. To the north, beyond the Towers Hotel and the APC Building which houses the offices of Oiler Owner Bud Adams, were the walls and lights of Rice Stadium in which the Oilers are forbidden to play. Surrounded by those symbols of sport, Baugh, the first top pro quarterback, rehearsed Blanda, a fairly successful one, and Lee and Trull, either of whom could become one of the next top pro quarterbacks. In those four men are represented at least 30 years of the game of pro football. But rather than get philosophical about it, Baugh turned his attention to what concerns him more urgently: Who is the quarterback of this day and hour?
"I'm sure gonna keep all three of them," Baugh said. "And I have to go with Blanda until somebody beats him out. But in the exhibition games I'll play Lee and Trull more than Blanda. The way for Trull to learn is to shove him in the game and let him make his own mistakes, and then if he is any good he will learn. On the bench you see mistakes but you don't learn until you're in the thick of it. That's where you learn to evade the rush, to get the ball off, to use patterns that will take advantage of what some linebacker is doing. The only way to improve a young quarterback is to stick him in the game even if he gets you killed. He'll learn more in two years of playing than he will in four years on the bench, if the fans can stand it.
"I like Trull," Baugh said. "He's smart, quick to learn, has good action getting away from the center. His only flaw is inexperience. I think his arm is strong enough."
If the arm is not strong enough, the Oilers have wasted considerable time and money. Houston drafted Trull as a future after the 1962 season, as did the Baltimore Colts of the National Football League. General Manager Don Kellett of the Colts made several courting visits to Trull—whose college coach, Bridgers, was once on the Baltimore staff—but the Colts did not ever come close to winning Trull's affection.
For one thing, Texas athletes like to stay at home if the money is anywhere near equal, and the Colts did not progress far enough to talk money with Trull. For another thing, Baltimore has Johnny Unitas.
"Unitas was the big reason I wasn't very interested in Baltimore," said Trull. "When Baltimore asked me how much it would take to get me there, I said never mind. My playing possibilities in Houston might not look good, but think how they would look in Baltimore."
Bud Adams, who could moderately be described as flamboyant, invited Trull into his underground office in Houston during the contract discussions. After Trull was properly awed by the black mahogany desk, the fountain, the llamaskin rug, the planter boxes of white gravel and Adams' life story inscribed on the wall in Cherokee (with ice tongs also painted there, for Adams' father was an iceman before getting into the oil business), Adams offered Trull a Lincoln Continental.
"What would I do with a Lincoln Continental?" said Trull. "That's not my kind of car. I only have one suit of clothes."