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At least the New York Jets now have a nice stadium to lose in. In the early days of the AFL New York was one of the league's three poor-boy franchises, did not bother to sign draft choices and had to play in the Polo Grounds. The new ownership is willing to spend money on players and promotion, has moved into Shea Stadium and reports a leap in season-ticket sales. But the Jets are still in dreary shape on the field. They need nearly everything, but they especially need a quarterback.
The Jets shocked the AFL in the last draft meeting by passing up Miami's George Mira, the obvious selection both as a gate-builder and as a quarterback. The other AFL clubs kept sitting and waiting for the Jets to pick Mira, but Coach Weeb Ewbank had other ideas and stood pat with 1963 future draft choices Mike Taliaferro and Pete Liske instead. Those two entered the job struggle with the fragile Dick Wood. Bake Turner and Don Maynard are good deep receivers when Wood has time to wind up and throw them the ball. But the Jets have no running game to balance their offense. Even if the Jets succeed in trading for Houston's Billy Cannon, there are too many weaknesses.
A wholesale trade with Denver brought in Tight End Gene Prebola, Linebacker Wahoo McDaniel and Safety Bob Zeman, among others. McDaniel, who wrestles under the name Chief Wahoo, was the key man as far as New York is concerned and will help Larry Grantham improve the defense somewhat.
In the Western Division the question that faces Coach Sid Gillman and his Chargers is: What can they do for an encore? The Chargers crushed Boston 51-10 in last year's championship game, and there is a sneaking fear San Diego may really be that much better than most of the other teams in the AFL. "Nonsense," says Gillman. "That score is not indicative of how we stand with the rest of the league. But we are a young team with good backs like Keith Lincoln [right], Paul Lowe and Lance Alworth, and ought to get better and better and better each year." If the Chargers improve very much, they are in the wrong league.
Gillman has three worries—health, incentive and Tobin Rote. Since the Chargers began on a strength program supervised by Alvin Roy, who put in the weights for Paul Dietzel at LSU, injuries have been at a minimum. Incentive may be more difficult. Several of the Chargers are notoriously temperamental and are coming off a very fat year, although the pace in training camp gave no indication of a loss in spirit. With Rote, though, there is genuine concern. Toward the end of last season the 36-year-old quarterback was sorely pained in the elbow of his throwing arm and kept the elbow in a cast for six weeks early this year. Rote's arm was bothering him again during exhibition season, and the quarterback job may go to John Hadl, who is throwing the ball farther and more accurately than ever before but still has to prove that he is accurate enough.
Other than at quarterback, the Chargers' offensive weapons are solid. In 212-pound Fullback Lincoln and 205-pound Halfback Lowe, San Diego has two runners with the speed and power to break up a game. Flanker Lance Alworth is exceptionally fast and sure-handed, although he has not yet learned the moves that could make him one of the best receivers in either league. Split End Don Norton is a fine one, and the offensive line—anchored by mighty Tackle Ron Mix—is of good quality, though perhaps a bit thin at guard.
"If we don't win the championship again it will have to be because of injuries, and the injuries will have to be to key people," said Lincoln. "The only way to play the Chargers is to gamble," said a rival AFL coach. "Nobody can oppose them strength vs. strength." Fortunately for the rest of the AFL, there is no rule that says you must run straight at the Chargers.