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"I had no idea we would have this kind of record this early," he said at breakfast in San Diego's Stardust Motel the day of the game. "I thought the early schedule would kill us. It seems to me that in the old days Bert Bell [the former NFL commissioner] used to work out the schedule so that the strong teams played each other early and the teams that weren't so strong were matched so that the suspense went on for at least the first half of the season. But we opened with Miami, then we get San Diego, Kansas City, San Diego, the Jets, one after the other—three of the best teams in the AFL four times in four weeks. Even Miami should be a stronger club than we are. You don't expect to beat veteran teams in your second season."
Sid Gillman, the only coach the Chargers have had in the 10 years of their existence, agreed wholeheartedly. Gillman is an outspoken admirer of Brown, but he wasn't reconciled to having lost the first Cincinnati game. "Paul is a great coach," Gillman said after the Chargers had gone through their final pregame workout. "He's in the Hall of Fame and he belongs there. All you have to do is look at his record. But no second-year team belongs on the field with a club that has been in operation for 10 years. You don't have time in two seasons to accumulate the talent, you don't have the experience you need."
In defense of Gillman, a fine coach in his own right, the Chargers operated under the nearly insuperable handicap of a lame-armed quarterback in their two losses. John Hadl had been slow recovering from a bruised elbow that he got in an exhibition game against the Rams, and he didn't throw well. Behind Hadl is Marty Domres, a promising rookie from Columbia, which despite its sorry record always seems to have a first-rate quarterback, but Gillman looks on rookie quarterbacks with the traditional suspicion of all pro coaches—except, perhaps, Brown.
"The kid is as smart as they come," Gillman said of Domres. "He's got the size and he'll have the arm. Right now his arm isn't quite strong enough, but it will be. Hadl had the same trouble when he came up. He used to throw the ball end over end, and our receivers were making diving catches. Now he puts a tight spiral on it. But it wasn't until the game last Sunday against the Jets that he could throw comfortably. I was scared silly that he was through, but we gave him a shot of cortisone and the elbow responded." Hadl completed 19 of 31 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns in San Diego's 34-27 victory over New York.
Hadl wasn't the Chargers' only cripple. Ron Mix, the All-Pro offensive tackle, missed most of the first three games with a pulled calf muscle. Before the Cincinnati game he went gingerly through the motions of practicing with the special teams—punting, kickoff, placekicking—then stood on the sideline. Mix is a thoughtful man who wears hornrimmed glasses and looks as intellectual as it is possible to look when you're 6'4" and weigh 260.
"I've been brainwashed all these years," he said, smiling. "Why, for six weeks now I've finished every game fresh and fit and able to take my family out for a nice dinner. My paycheck has been there anyway. Look at what I've been missing!" He looked slyly out of the corner of his eye to see if his audience had bought the put-on, then grinned. "I don't mean that," he said. "I'll go if I can. I played four plays last week. I'll try for eight against Cincinnati." (As it turned out, he didn't get into the game.)
The Chargers are a team with a number of superstars; the Bengals, obviously, are not. "Nobody on this team is getting rich," said Jess Phillips. "We're lean and hungry. And the lean and mighty shall win."
One who won't be hungry long is Greg Cook. A remarkable rookie who is leading the AFL in passing, Cook came to the Bengals from the University of Cincinnati, and his initiation into the pros has been made easier by the fact that Brown sends in the play calls via messenger guards, as he did with the Cleveland Browns. But Cook's college coach did the same thing, so Greg is used to it. " Paul Brown is 61 years old and at the peak of his career," Cook says. "Who am I to argue with him about calls? I'm just very happy to play for him—and, besides, we agree about 90% of the time."
Cook should be back this week when the Bengals play the Jets in Cincinnati, and it wouldn't be surprising if he outshines Broadway Joe. The Chargers play the Dolphins in Miami and Hadl is definitely hale. Against Cincinnati he threw the ball 27 times and completed 17 passes for 238 yards, and when he missed he was close.
"Hadl was tough," said Bengal Defensive Tackle Bill Staley. "We had a good rush. We were getting in, but he throws quick. Sometimes he threw with someone on him and the pass was still on target. He's great."