The phone outside the Los Angeles Coliseum visitors' locker room rang at halftime today. The caller identified himself as Leon Hess, chairman of the board of the New York Jets, and asked to speak to Coach Walt Michaels.
"I should have known better. At that moment, Coach Michaels was just walking off the field into the locker room. So I called him over and gave him the phone. We get a lot of crank calls here," said Bruce Fitzpatrick, the part-time worker for the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission who answered the call.
Turns out, it wasn't Hess at all.
Right after the game, Jets Coach Walt Michaels was furious, convinced the call was a ploy by Al Davis, Raiders' managing general partner.
"A sick, rotten thing for the Raiders owner to make a phone call just to call me out of the locker room at halftime," said Michaels. In 1963, Davis became Raiders' head coach and fired Michaels, then an Oakland Raiders' assistant coach.
Over the years, Davis has been known to do just about whatever is necessary to guarantee a Raiders' victory. But in the home team's locker room late today, Davis denied Michaels' charge, saying, "I don't have a phone. He (Michaels) is an insecure man and they (Jets) are idiots."
The caller's identity was learned later: Larry Hammond, part owner of Winfield Inn, a bar in Queens. Hammond is an avid Jets' fan who called to exhort the Jets to victory in the second half.
However, it was not known until nearly an hour and a half after the game who had made the call. That is when Hammond called back from New York. He said he had heard Michaels talking angrily about the prank call on the radio after the game.
So Hammond said he called to vindicate Davis and to identify himself. The second time he called, Hammond passed through the Coliseum switchboard by identifying himself as a member of the New York City mayor's staff.
Fitzpatrick, the man who answered the phone, is a professor of earth sciences at El Camino Community College. He said, "It was common when Mr. (Carroll) Rosenbloom was owner of the Rams that he would call down to the locker room at halftime. When Joe Namath was quarterback here, we used to get a lot of crank calls, too. My intial reaction today was that it was not Mr. Davis calling.
"I'm very embarrassed about this whole thing," Fitzpatrick said.