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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At the bottom of this morass was the money problem. Being a professional has something to do with money. For example, one cold November day at the Polo Grounds the team was orphaned by the entire coaching staff. Wismer's financial picture had become so blighted that only one teller at one branch of the Irving Trust Company (at 39th Street and Madison Avenue) was authorized to cash Titan paychecks. As each player submitted his check, this teller subtracted the sum from Harry's balance. When he reached zero, which might be quickly if the quarterbacks and flankers got there first, he shut up shop. "First come, first served" was his consolation to latecomers.

On this particular day none of us had seen any real money for several weeks. But we practiced as usual. Suddenly Defensive End Ed Cooke noticed that the coaching staff had disappeared. "My God!" he shouted. "Paychecks!" With an animal roar we stampeded from our formations, scrambled up the rickety steps into the locker room, and there, sure enough, stood George Sauer, holding a stack of pay envelopes. Madness. Every man for himself. Skinny backs to the rear. Big linemen first. As each man received his check he made his break for the 155th Street subway entrance, depending upon his indebtedness and his personal-hygiene habits. Some showered and dressed in street clothes. Some merely dressed. Some just threw raincoats over their sweat suits and changed shoes. Then came the great race to 39th Street. The coaching staff probably had got a two-or-three-subway-stop head start on us, but nearly everyone received real money that day.

The Saturday before the second San Diego game the rumor moved from locker to locker that Harry was offering $100 extra per man for each touchdown we beat the Chargers by. Harry still smarted from the 40-14 television drubbing San Diego had inflicted on the Coast. The Chargers were not quite the same team this day. They had suffered a series of injuries to key people, and I don't think they really took us seriously. The defensive line had eaten us up a month before, and the Chargers looked like five-touchdown favorites to the oddsmakers. Finally, the bad-check situation had led to a domestic disturbance between my pregnant wife and me, which led to her refusal to cook a steak at 9:30 in the morning. (Pregame meals were not supplied by the club.) "I cannot stand the smell of steak at 9:30 a.m." was the way my wife put it. So I ended up eating my pregame meal in Ed Dwyer's saloon in Newark. Hanging around the morning drinking crowd did nothing for my mental preparation.

In short, the omens were bad. In the locker room bennies were passed as usual. With the tight money situation the price had inflated to 50� a capsule. On the surface morale seemed normal. That is, nonexistent. But way down deep the thought of $100 a touchdown churned along with Ed Dwyer's french-fried onion rings. Ron Nery, the right defensive end, was my man. He had one move and one move only. He charged quickly to the outside and then grabbed shoulder pads. If he got the tackle off-balance, he'd spring around him. I felt like a real pro knowing all that in advance, forgetting how humiliating it had been learning it. Nery and I squared off in the dust. The turf was long gone at the Polo Grounds, and nobody could afford to replace it or even to have the ground crew do more than line the field.

Both clubs shared the problem of playing on hard clots of earth, which had been chewed up in a rain game and baked into place by the sun. Both moved mechanically through the first period. Suddenly an interference penalty put us into Charger territory. Although we could only squeeze a field goal out of the drive, a frenzied spirit took hold of us. The idea of beating the Chargers became a real possibility. The off-field platoon stood screaming encouragement.

The half ended 3-3, and it was apparent that the Chargers had lost their poise. It happens occasionally when a superior team, by a series of freakish circumstances, is held even by a lightly regarded opponent. Then the better team is tempted to break from its traditional pattern of play. It tries massive retaliation. It's the sin of pride. Beating us was not sufficient, they had to slaughter us for the sake of their own pride. The Chargers went to the safety blitz.

Johnny Green, a quarterback from Chattanooga, had been recalled from limbo when Grosscup was injured. Every time the safety sneaked toward the line of scrimmage Green switched to the 80 audible—a quick slant pass to Maynard in the safety's vacant zone. Maynard, unhamstrung for the first time all year, left the Chargers eating dust. Literally. Huge dust clouds rose from the grassless field as Maynard zoomed in, took the pass and sprinted downfield. The Charger line spent the afternoon watching Green throw from a frustrating five or six yards away. Our backs knocked the safety blitzers silly. Maynard scored twice and Dick Christy ran a punt back all the way. That day, Oct. 28, 1962, stands as the high point of Titanic achievement. We beat San Diego 23-3. Nothing could dampen our newfound pride. Not even Harry, who failed to come up with a single $100 bill. Or even the regular paychecks. Instead, he installed Mrs. Wismer as president of the club. Presumably the money was now her problem. In spite of the management we rolled over Oakland seven days later, to give us a 4-5 record. And the Texans were due in New York next.

We were confident we could beat Dallas. We'd come within 51 seconds of tying them on their home field. But for that game Bulldog had refrained from coaching. This time he really got involved, which was more his style. Nonetheless the Texans carried a mere 28-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. Defense was not our strong suit.

In the second half we played them dead-even for a few seconds. Then on third down, from the 50, Len Dawson overthrew his receiver right in front of our bench. "Offensive interference!" Bulldog bellowed. And he stomped onto the field. Enraged, he smashed his hat into the turf, stepped on it, kicked it, roared at the officials and in general lived up to his nickname. The referee penalized him—and us—to the 35. Which gave Dallas a first down. Now Bulldog pulled out all the stops. Steam seemed to rise from his wet forehead. He ricocheted curses off the bleachers. He jumped over an imaginary skip rope, flailed his crumpled hat and shook his fist—all of which added up to 15 more yards and put the Texans at the 20, with another first down. Instead of fourth down at midfield, Dallas had first down at our 20. The defense collapsed. The idea of having stopped Dallas and the insanity of walking backward 30 yards had done them in. Final score: Dallas 52, Titans 31.

Eleven days later we took on the Broncos in Denver and beat them 46-45. We stood 5 and 6, and we were to play the Patriots in Boston next Friday night. Several weeks previously a succession of whiskey bottles had been cracked on the Texans' helmets when they had played in Boston. We were warned to keep our hats on and were told that the Patriot fans had developed a new goal-line defense. Dallas had moved inside the Boston 10 late in the game. On fourth down Dawson dropped back to pass and spotted Fred Arbanas open in the left corner of the end zone. Then, the game films revealed, a black shadow streaked between the passer and the receiver. Dawson stopped in midthrow. By the time he cocked again Arbanas was covered and the pass was incomplete. The dimness of the lights at that end zone made positive identification impossible, but it was certain that Boston had 12 men on the field for a second or two. The one wearing a long black overcoat was not on the roster.

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