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.
Grantham was in a frenzy. But it was understandable. His team was now No. 1 in pro football. Only a few years before it had been No. Last, the second team in a one-team town.
Grantham, Don Maynard, Curley Johnson and Bill Mathis had endured as the only leftovers from the Jets' predecessors, Harry Wismer's New York Titans. The Super Bowl payoff seems astonishing, considering that just seven years earlier this same Larry Grantham warned me about my first Titan paycheck, "Don't cash it with anybody you like." Larry's warning became the team slogan of the 1962 Titans. As "Run for daylight" used to motivate the Packers, "Don't cash it with anybody you like" unmotivated us.
Perhaps you recall this last of Wismer's football teams. The bouncing paychecks, the strikes and much else seem barely credible now. Yet only seven years ago Lee Grosscup, Hubert Bobo, Hayseed Stephens, Jim Tiller, Butch Songin and others of that cut carried the colors of the AFL in New York.
The Titans of '62 stand unchallenged as the worst-managed, most-unprofessional professional team of the modern era. We started working for that honor from the first day of training camp. We rallied in mid-July at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) State College. The school officials seemed surprised. Not once during that hot, dry summer had anybody watered the football field. (Had Harry told them we were coming?) Don Maynard's legs took six weeks to loosen up after sprinting on the concrete-hard surface.
There were other oddities. Sammy Baugh had been hired in 1960 as head coach, and his contract still had a year to run, but Harry announced to the press that Baugh had been demoted to "kicking consultant." The idea was that Sammy wouldn't show up and Harry wouldn't have to pay him. Sammy showed. In a more successful economy measure—and there were hundreds—Harry ordered George Sauer, the general manager, to become the backfield coach as well. That way, George was at the same time under and over the new head coach, Bulldog Turner.
What exactly was the chain of command? I was too much a rookie to know or care. I had the dubious honor of being the only draft choice Harry had signed. I was therefore entitled to a single room, but the spleen the veterans normally spread over all the rookies was devoted entirely to me. (When Defensive Tackle Dick Guesman broke my hand in a scrimmage he said, "Goddammit, I meant to break his arm.")
Still, the spirit at camp was pretty good. Harry had recently married the widow of Longy Zwillman, the New Jersey racketeer, and the team felt that Mrs. Zwillman's fortune would guarantee us financial security. Joe Foss, the AFL commissioner, who had had some well-publicized disputes with Harry during the '61 season, had stood as best man. So it appeared that the New York franchise had reconciled itself to the rest of the AFL. Or vice versa.
But the money problem raised its ugly head as soon as we swung West for our last exhibition game and the season opener at Oakland. Each player was supposed to receive $50 per exhibition game. The exhibition was played and lost with no sign of a check. We held our first team meeting and issued our first ultimatum. "No pay, no play," Curley Johnson said. It had a nice ring and it became our second team slogan.
However, we had got a bonus out West—Lee Grosscup. Al Dorow, the resident quarterback, had felt no affinity for Harry or for Bulldog and had been traded to Buffalo. Butch Songin, who had spent the '61 season with Boston, was on hand, but there was some concern about Butch's age (38), his stamina, his play calling and his passing. Interestingly, he was called Rag Arm by his teammates.