Bearded, his hair falling nearly to his shoulders, Ralph (Chip) Oliver sat on a mattress on the floor of his bedroom, an airy porch of a large Victorian house in Larkspur, Calif. that is the headquarters of a commune known as the One World Family of the Messiah's World Crusade.
Fifty miles away the Oakland Raiders, for whom Oliver played linebacker until he kissed the straight world goodby, were preparing for their game with the San Diego Chargers. But to Oliver, sipping a glass of freshly made carrot juice as he opened his mail, the team, the sport, the way of life seemed immensely distant.
"This isn't typical," he said, holding up a letter. "For the most part my mail is beautiful. People tell me it's good to see somebody quit such a material profession as football and get in the service of other people." The letter in hand was from San Leandro, a middle-class Oakland suburb. It read in full: "You weren't worth it anyway. The Raiders will be better off without you."
More likely the other way around. Oliver started against Kansas City in the 1969 AFL championship game, and Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, called him "one of the very finest young prospects in football." Oliver hardly returned the compliment. Last May he told Davis and Head Coach John Madden: "It's a silly game you're playing." He also said he was quitting.
"I've thought about going back only because people have asked me," Oliver said last week. "If I were left on my own I'd never even have given it a second thought. Hell, a year ago I was miserable. Today life is a joy."
It would be convenient to class Oliver with Linebacker Dave Meggyesy and Guard Rick Sortun of the St. Louis Cardinals who also quit football this year, but they're political heads. Oliver is strictly a classical hippie. "We're putting on a demonstration here," he explained. "We're showing people a new way of life. We're showing that as soon as you start loving and relating to people you'll find these people loving and relating to you."
Oliver, obviously, is a celebrity in the Family, and of late he has spent less time grilling macroburgers in the Mustard Seed, the commune's organic-food restaurant in Mill Valley, Calif., and more time promoting the Family. "I want to keep people aware of me," he says, "because I have a lot of things to say. I'm a channel to help bring about a new age."
The Crusade, a sect dedicated to transforming the world to true communism—in which people voluntarily give up their worldly goods and hold all things in common—has made a more pleasant person of Chip Oliver. Gone is the bitter, contemptuous attitude he carried through the 1969 season. (Gone, too, is a lot of excess weight. A vegetarian diet, periodic fasting and yoga have hardened his body at 180 pounds, 50 less than he carried as a linebacker.)
"Even my mother says she likes me much better this way," Oliver said. "So does my father [a retired Army sergeant], but he's afraid to admit it. He doesn't like me associating with 'Communists.' " Oliver can't say as much for his former teammates nor they for him. "Like I tried to talk to them about this," he said, "about the importance of getting in a higher state of consciousness, but like I got blank stares. It was 46 to 1."
He got no further with Al Davis. "Al told me what I was doing wasn't right for me," Oliver recalled, "when what he meant was it wasn't right for him. He also gave me that bit about how I could use my salary for the Crusade. But the Crusade doesn't need my money. It needs my energy. I can take my energy away from football, from hurting people and causing more conflict. Football dehumanizes people. They've taken the players and made them into slabs of beef that charge around and hit each other. But where is their esthetic soul, the feeling they can accomplish high things?"