Out of the shadow of the high profile of boss Al Davis, the subdued personality of Coach Tom Flores came into sharper focus today, the day after his Oakland Raiders scored their resounding triumph in the Super Bowl.
Flores is right out of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," about the immigrant fruit pickers in the San Joaquin Valley. He was called the "Ice Man," not because of being the unflappable one-time quarterback of the Raiders, but because he followed his parents into the fields until he was 15 years old and, like a character in Steinbeck's sociological epic, worked in the ice house where the pickings were preserved.
Now Flores is looking forward to a pause when he once more will have the leisure to pick up his guitar and strum a tune.
He reacted on cue like a professional when asked today what he will play first. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," he said.The hostage situation, of course, is the reason why Super Bowl XV will be a footnote to history.
Flores was the instant celebrity this morning, revisiting the Superdome for a television show. "It gives me a warm feeling all over. I got up at 5 a.m. and it was a lonely, strange feeling, too, because there were only six or seven people where there had been so many on Sunday," he said. "Now, I have a chance to reflect."
He has painful memories, and not just because he suffered nine broken noses during his playing career, plus several concussions. He played defensive back at the College of the Pacific. A shoulder injury there prevented him from playing with the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, and when he tried out for the Washington Redskins in 1959.
He gave up football and began teaching. He joined the Raiders as a quarterback in 1960 and led the old American Football League in pass completion percentage and with the fewest interceptions. But in 1962, he suffered a lung infection that sidelined him for the season. He became a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune and had to report on a Raider team that got into a 19-game losing streak.
He came back in 1963 and became a success, only to be traded to Buffalo in 1967 for Daryle Lamonica, and began his coaching career as an assistant at Buffalo in charge of the quarterbacks in 1971. The next season he was back in the Raiders' organization as receivers coach and was named head coach in 1979, when John Madden retired.
"I got the happiest feeling being a head coach rather than as a player," he said. "It's the team you molded and put together. I have the control of our design and practices, and I enjoy the relationship with the players. I spend most of my time with the offense. As the coach, this was the ultimate -- winning the Super Bowl in my second year. I still feel numb -- and proud.
"The key to our defensive improvement this year was keeping Ted Hendricks in the game for every play, because he is such a dominating player."
Did he turn to football as a youngster just to get out of the fields near his hometown of Sanger, Calif., (near Fresno)?
"No, it was just something to do. Basketball was my first love, then baseball. I started out as an end in football and then became a quarterback." b