Perhaps Nery had got tired from running around Klotz. Perhaps my absolute ignorance confused him. Whatever it was, I managed to keep Nery off Grosscup's back for the last quarter, while we scored twice. The next week Klotz and I split the game at tackle. And the next week Bulldog cut Klotz, who immediately made the team at San Diego. So, at 233 pounds, I became the proud owner of offensive left tackle. I owned it but I didn't know what to do with it. The team had no money for an offensive line coach.
Turner's Titans returned home. And went on strike. After dragging our duffel bags up three flights of stairs and sitting on the floor to watch game films because there were no chairs, the player representatives called a team meeting.
"The league rule," Guard Bob Mischak, our co-captain said, "clearly states that paychecks have to be delivered within 24 hours after a game." He looked at his watch. "Our paychecks are now 194 hours overdue."
We delivered our ultimatum to the coaches—"No pay, no play." They passed it on to Wismer, who exploded and delivered an ultimatum of his own. He forbade the coaches to coach and threatened to put the entire team on waivers. Bulldog passed the word. " Mr. Wismer said he'll fire us if we coach or even talk to you guys," he said. "But I'm not worried. You're professionals. You got pride. You know what to do."
"What?" someone said.
We sat on our equipment for several hours, playing cards, smoking. The truth is, a football player feels orphaned without his coach, and not practicing is a little like missing Mass on Sunday. Gradually the opinion grew that we ought to practice. Grantham and Mischak took charge. They suggested we all get dressed in sweat suits and get down to the field. Once there, the quarterbacks of the week worked out a game plan. It was the most spirited practice we had all season. The next day Harry paid up, and that Saturday we went out and beat Buffalo 17-6. "Let's get rid of the coaches for good" became the slogan of the week. "Let's stop practicing altogether" was another.
The Titans now stood 2 and 1 as we faced our home opener with the Denver Broncos. And the turning point of our season. Grosscup had survived the San Diego defensive line, but he couldn't survive our scrimmages that week. Traditionally pro clubs stop scrimmaging after the first regular-season game. Harry never let us stop. And we inflicted some awful damage on each other. Damage we might have saved for Denver.
Grosscup started the game with sprained ligaments. His mobility was so reduced that Bulldog had to resort to Songin. Butch moved the club fitfully, and with the score 13-10, their favor, we stood at the Denver nine-yard line on last down. The next scene, as the camera caught it, represented the turning point of the season. Had we scored and gone on to win we might never have known how bad we really were. Somehow winning and the confidence it brings breeds better performances. As it turned out, Butch's performance in the next nine seconds bred something else.
At the snap of the ball the left side of our line—myself, Mischak and the tight end—did something totally unexpected. We flattened the entire right side of the Broncos' defensive line. Then we managed to shove them into a leg-tangled mass and lay upon them, pummeling our helmets and elbows into the massed flesh. Meanwhile our flanker, Art Powell, slanted from left to right and cleared the left flat. Butch rolled out to the left. Imagine the scene. Butch Songin, 38 years old, standing 15 yards from the left sideline on the Denver 10 and no Bronco on his feet within 25 yards of him in any direction. Nobody stood between Butch and the goal line.
What would you have done? Butch stood in place, pumping his arm, waiting for an open receiver. For nine seconds! (We all counted each time we saw the film.) Butch was not one for improvisation. ("A pass play is a pass play," as he once said.) Finally, when the opposite side linebacker had run the width of the field to press him, Butch gunned a desperation pass, a line drive that bounced four yards in front of Don Maynard.