SI Vault
Alex Kroll
September 22, 1969
As the gun ended the 1969 Super Bowl, Larry Grantham, the New York Jets' linebacker, went into a spasm. Or was it a free-form dance? He quivered and leaped, sprinted and stopped dead, pirouetted, shook himself, sprinted again and jumped over the bench. All the while he was bellowing at the top of his lungs and pointing his right index finger to heaven. Isadora Duncan would have approved.
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September 22, 1969

The Last Of The Titans

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Grosscup, 13 years younger, showed up two days before the Oakland game. He had already been traded by the Giants and cut by the Vikings. His long mod hair and semi-hippie ways were six years ahead of the time, but our club decided to suspend judgment. We already possessed the two best wide receivers in the league, Don Maynard and Art Powell. Dick Christy and Mel West, at running back, had big-league credentials. Grantham was an all-league linebacker. And the offensive line had been known to throw serious blocks on occasion. A young, strong-armed quarterback might make us a contender. (Seriously, the team had never finished worse than 7-7.) So while we grimaced as Grosscup called plays "on the deuce" or "on the trey," we were all pulling for him.

But Bulldog started Butch because he knew more offensive plays. When the Raiders—surely the worst playing team in the league—intercepted two Songin softies, Bulldog raced Grosscup into the lineup. Although he knew little of the Turner system, he and Art Powell had played in a high school All-Star Game together. Grosscup's first play was a variation on a 1954 Santa Monica High School pass. Eighty yards—50 in the air. Touchdown to Powell.

Grosscup's second call was equally magical. A 19-yard pass to Dick Christy and another touchdown. His third touchdown pass iced a 28-17 win for us. Grosscup was ecstatic. So was the ball club. We stood 1-0, and we had our dreams. Not even the absence of paychecks could dampen them.

Two days later morale took a sudden turn for the worse. Harry telephoned from New York and ordered full pads for all workouts before the San Diego game. The Titans had never beaten the Chargers, and after our big win at Oakland, Harry could smell blood.

All we smelled was sweat. The second week in September was a boiler in San Diego. The temperature hit 90� every morning and worked up from there. Our practice field, 45 minutes by bus from the motel, could have been a training ground for the Afrika Korps—a high school field in a natural bowl, the clay baked solid. No blade of grass had ever shown its head there. The trip over was not too uncomfortable. But the return trip was something else. Yet a smelly bus is better than no bus at all.

After practice on Friday the bus didn't return for us. At first we deluded ourselves into thinking it was late. An hour later we faced the truth. A few of the veterans had already commandeered the cars of some high school girls who had been watching practice. Bulldog also defected. At the first scent of trouble he leaped into a sportswriter's car and yelled that he'd see us back at the pool. An hour later 25 or so Titans, dragging their pads, helmets and shoes behind them, trudged to the nearest main road.

The sight of 25 shoeless professional football players hitching rides through suburban San Diego was my first indication that the situation might be out of control. Bulldog reasoned the opposite—that the bus that never came (because the bus company hadn't been paid) was a boon to team spirit. "It makes you guys pull together," he said.

If so, it didn't show on Sunday. In the 90� heat at Balboa Stadium the Chargers performed a sort of mass execution. Grosscup, who had only been with us nine days, had already lost his touch. By his own admission, he called his alltime worst game. But our offensive linemen were the real villains. The Chargers' Ron Nery and Ernie Ladd laughed their way through the pass-blocking. It ended 40-14, but not before I got my big chance. Nery, at defensive right end, spent 2� quarters practicing his outside move on Jack Klotz, our left tackle. Klotz had a bad leg, and Nery was beating him. Bulldog called for Roger Ellis as a replacement. We carried seven offensive linemen, Roger being the second-string guard and tackle and me being the second-string center and guard. On his second play, Roger absorbed a blood-clotting kick on the calf and limped out. Now guess who?

"Me?" I said to Bulldog. "I never played tackle in my life."

"Christ, the score's 31-0," Bulldog said to me. "What difference can that make?"

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