They settled for a Thunderbird. But more important was the $25,000 bonus. Because Trull had passed Baylor to a Bluebonnet Bowl win over LSU on December 21 and had thus become eligible to sign before the January 1 bowl games, the bonus could be paid in the tax year of 1963 at a large saving for its recipient. Part of the money went into stocks, but part of it went for the down payment on a $30,000 four-bedroom home in the Maplewood South section of Houston. A skeptical mortgage-loan man visited the Oilers to be sure rookie quarterbacks really make enough money to qualify for a loan. In Trull's case, they do.
Big rookie contracts are a morale problem for pro football teams and a source of some often brutal kidding for those who get the contracts. "They've kidded me a lot," said Trull, "but I don't think any of it has been sour. I sure hope it hasn't."
Trull is the sort who takes kidding easily and responds by laughing. In a huddle at Baylor a teammate looked up at Trull and said, "With all those teeth in that wide mouth you look like an alligator coming out of the swamp." After that, Trull was called "Gator," a nickname he still carries and grins about.
But Trull is not so amused by those who doubt his arm. "At Baylor we never went for the long ball," Trull said. "Most teams played us deep anyhow, so we went for the short ones, used finesse, set 'em up. It will take work, but I can throw deep."
Former Baylor End James Ingram, also an Oiler rookie, agrees. "I believe Don can throw the long ball if he works on it," said Ingram. "We used the long ball at Baylor only as a threat, and Don hit Lawrence Elkins (who set an NCAA record last season by catching 70 passes) once for 70 yards." Talent Scout Breen, who recommended Trull, said, "The day of the bomb is over. In the early years of the league [the AFL], you could throw the bomb for easy scores because our defensive backs weren't so good. Now you can't. You need it now as a reserve weapon, and Trull is adequate at it."
An advantage Trull does have to offset the period it will take to strengthen his arm is that he was trained in college as a drop-back, pocket passer of the type the pros favor. Mira, Beathard and Concannon were not, and while some observers think the pros may swing more toward roll-out passers eventually, it is still the pocket thrower who is winning. Trull walks as if he has pebbles in his shoes, but he has the ability to run if the Oilers' blocking pocket collapses.
That is an ability Blanda no longer has. Blanda is a tough leader and is a good thrower of the long ball, but he does not have the legs to run out of trouble and tends to throw interceptions (67 in the past two seasons) when under a thundering rush. Lee is excellent at the long ball and has the arm to rocket a pass 35 to 40 yards on a flat trajectory, an arm that has caused several other AFL clubs, Denver in particular, to try desperately to trade for him. " Lee is the best quarterback in our league and the best back-up quarterback in the game," said Denver Coach Jack Faulkner. But Lee does not yet have the confidence of his teammates and may never get it while Blanda is around.
"I might play another two or three years," Blanda said. "I get along all right with Lee. It's just that some guys are affable and some aren't. Me, I'm never mad at anybody. I don't know anything about Trull. I'm sure he must be good or they wouldn't have signed him."
The debates and the curiosity about Trull are liable to continue for some years. After the Coaches' All-America Game in Buffalo in June, one of Trull's receivers said, "I think if a guy is going to hold up a pro club for $100,000 his receivers shouldn't have to field grounders all night." But another of Trull's receivers said, "I think if Trull had played the whole game we would have won." Oiler fans are the ones who will carry on with such conversations. Even when the mano a mano between Blanda and Lee is concluded, Trull probably will merely move up another place in line. At his salary, there are worse jobs.