This lack of revenue made us the last of the one-projector teams. Pro football game films are exchanged in two parts. One reel shows the opponent's defensive plays, the other, the offensive plays. Being limited to one projector, half the club had to wait in the chill locker room, dozing, freezing, shooting craps, while the other unit huddled around the faint glow of the projector in a musty, broken-floored anteroom.
Naturally our Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings at the movies took twice the normal time. The management's refusal to buy a second projector was an economy measure. Thus when the projector broke before our next game in Houston, it was not surprising that no one would pay to get it fixed. The whole week became a nightmare of anticipation. "What kind of offense do they run?" John Dell Isola, our defensive line coach, inquired. "It's like ours, only better," came the predictable answer. Bulldog Turner, as head thinker, thumbed through an old Houston program, studying the personnel. "Anybody ever play against this guy Frazier?" he said. "He's a split end—or a flanker." Somebody had and volunteered that Frazier was fast, "He's fast then," Bulldog noted, and advised the defense to write down that telling information.
After losing to the Oilers 56-17 we got ready for Dallas. Here to combat the champion-to-be Texans, Bulldog devised a novel training tactic. He concluded from the Houston result that we were overtrained, so he cut practice sessions in half The projector also made a historic recovery after a bulb transplant. But Grosscup and I, who had intestinal flu, didn't. I huddled in the dark of my hotel room unable to eat or drink anything more solid than water. I rose only for our abbreviated practice sessions. We were bused to an old baseball park, where we messed around for about 40 minutes. But Bulldog prepared mentally. He devised a new play for this game, appropriately called The Dallas Special. Curiously the Dallas Cowboys run it to this day. It's merely a quick, flat pass to a stationary back set about 15 yards wide of the nearest lineman. From there, a fellow like Bob Hayes has the room to break the pass for a long gain. Of course, Bob Hayes was not with us that day. In his place we had Jim Tiller. Who could not catch. Who was smaller than Hayes but not as shifty. And then again not as fast.
I personally felt exactly like a pro football player who hasn't had contact with anything stronger than toast and tea for six days. But at 214 pounds I did feel quick. I felt like I was running in a fog, but luckily also felt impervious to pain. Nothing my opponent might hit me with could make me feel any worse. The unreality increased as we got a three-point lead. God knows why. The Dallas Special was picking up zero yardage. The Texans, seeing us gain on real football plays, dismissed it as an accident. The second and third series they went into a mild panic. They thought they were four touchdowns better than we, and being tied at halftime 10-10 seemed to crack their poise.
Between halves ABC-TV called me out of the dressing room early for my one and only interview on national television. I'd been planning a snappy statement for some time. But the unreal game situation, with the Titans in contention and me playing about 30,000 feet over my head, had left me in a daze. "What a difference," Paul Christman said. "Alex, how can a team be beaten so badly one week and come back and look like a totally different club seven days later?" A terrific question. Under calmer circumstances I could have done an hour on that one but, shaken as I was, trying to flex my muscles to fill out my pads, which were sized for somebody 26 pounds heavier, I was struck dumb. Finally I managed to offer my one and only pearl to the football fans of the nation. "Well," I said, faking a slight drawl, "this week we got a lot more jiniger." Jiniger! One jiniger, and Christman, looking cross-eyed, said, "Well, back to you, Curt."
Since Dallas scored in the last 51 seconds to win 20-17, our record was 2 and 5. Harry and Bulldog became desperate. Each Tuesday from this point on the roster changed radically. New white hopes and black hopes, freshly cut from the NFL or dredged up from the United League, arrived at the Polo Grounds. Some, like Ed Kovac, Johnny Green and Bob Scrabis, had been cut by the Titans before. (Kovac was cut and rehired five times.) But most were nameless fringe players, called from the darkness of the Newark Bears or someplace. Who knows where they all came from? They trooped into the locker room on Tuesday and most often disappeared by the following Tuesday. Without a trace. Without a comment by the coaches. Without even shaking hands.
Home from our near miss at Dallas, we found that our locker room had deteriorated. Heretofore we had clean jocks, socks and towels, and sweat suits were laundered on a regular basis. And if you dumped your gear on the floor, some elf picked it up. Nick Torman, autocrat of the clubhouse for the Titans, supplied shaving gear and other toiletries so a man might refurbish himself after practice. In return, each player tipped Torman $10 a week. With the bouncing of each passing paycheck, with no security that we would be paid at all in the future, it became harder and harder to dig up the 10 bucks. One week Nick's kitty came up empty.
Nick no longer supplied shaving cream. The blades and the elves disappeared. Sweat suits stayed overnight wherever they were thrown. Day after day we had to rely on the same musty towels, as our well-publicized indebtedness made laundries leery of Titan checks. Clean socks were available for games only. The showers turned cold. I began to shower at home. The locker-room floor was littered with broken glass. The mirrors over the sink became crusted with old shaving cream spelling out obscenities.
Our locker room had become the Tobacco Road of pro football. Where most clubs carry two trainers and several assistants, little Buddy Leininger carried the whole burden on his slopy shoulders. Tape ran low. It was like living under siege. Buddy had to set priorities as to who had the right to be taped before practice. Backs and ends first, linemen to the rear.
Few players trusted Buddy. He was rumored to be Bulldog's spy, and we thought of him as part of management. He played this role to perfection. He stood near the head coach whenever possible and even looked like a shrunken version of Bulldog. Barely five feet tall, Buddy bore the same paunch and he smoked the same big cigar. "Don't talk around Buddy" was the latest warning. So the New York Titans, by the eighth week of the season, had just about stopped being a team. The players distrusted the coaches. And Buddy. And Harry. The coaches distrusted Harry. We broke into mutually distrusting cliques.