I broke my teaching contract that January to concentrate on kicking. Considering what Howell had said, I decided to do both: punt and placekick. Chandler couldn't last forever. In the morning I placekicked. During the day I was a waiter in Queens or took substitute teaching jobs. At night I punted.
The following May the New York Jets held a tryout on a field across from Yankee Stadium. I went. I kicked for all I was worth—and, sure enough, I had improved. I impressed George Sauer, the Jets' director of player personnel. He told me, "We're going to sign you."
I got so excited I didn't know what to do. I ran across the street to Yankee Stadium, and when I looked up at the TV monitor in the lobby I saw Dick Simpson legging out a double for the White Sox. I had played with Dick Simpson at Statesville in the Western Carolina League.
I hung around, waiting for Simpson. Then I saw him on the White Sox' bus. I yelled to him as the bus started to pull out. "Dick, hey, Dick, remember me? We played together, remember?" The bus was air-conditioned; he couldn't open the window.
I ran alongside the bus. "I'm signed," I yelled, "I'm signed. I'm going to be up there with you." It was all very emotional and yet curiously symbolic. There he was, up in big-league heaven on an air-conditioned bus, and here I was running along beneath him, reaching for what he had. I doubt if he understood.
The next day I went to the Jets' office and signed. George Sauer said, "How does $8,000 sound?" I was making $1.50 an hour waiting on table; $8,000 sounded great. Nothing guaranteed, of course. All it meant was I could go to camp.
Of the more than 100 players who checked into the Jets' camp in Peekskill, N.Y., only 36 would be kept. In a situation like that a man could easily get lost. I racked my brain for some way to get attention. It came to me. I clomped out wearing football shoes but no socks.
They noticed me, all right. They thought I was goofy. I tried to explain to one of the coaches, "I kick the ball better when I don't wear socks." He gave me a wondering look—wondering, I suppose, if I believed it myself.
I lasted three days. The first day I did some placekicking. Not good, not bad. That night I couldn't sleep. I was nervous. My feet hurt. Also, I had reason to fear for my life. I had the bunk below Billy Lazro, a 300-pound tackle. They were old Army bunks, and the springs were weak. I lay there in a sweat, certain that Lazro would come through any minute and flatten me.
Lazro was also giving me wondering looks. I was still having trouble with my eyes, but I had found I could get some relief if I supplemented my diet with olive oil. I kept a can in my locker—100% pure Filippo Berio imported olive oil—but I was in no position to make any salads at camp. So each time we went to the dining hall I brought back some rolls, soaked them in olive oil and ate them. I told Lazro they would help me gain weight. He said there must be an easier way. They looked and tasted awful. I could hardly get them down.