Tag Archives: NFL


From NFL Hall of Famers to the corrupt 2016 Olympics

by Dell Franklin

COMMENT.SPORTING.ORLANDOOf late I have developed conflicted feelings about the sporting world and lost interest in teams and players, which has led me to boycott the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for the first time—except for the sprinting events. At the same time, for the first time ever, as the farthest thing from a football fanatic, who never watches college games and few pro games, I viewed the entire day-long National Football League Hall of Fame induction ceremony and found myself utterly absorbed and repeatedly in tears while listening to men who had come up from the very bottom of our socio-economic ladder in America and reached such heights in the bone-crushing and wildly emotional game of professional football.

Having sampled football up until the tenth grade and realizing it was for kids more gladiatorial than me, there is this respect and admiration for those who continue to play. My father, who played big league baseball and faced fire-baller Bob Feller without a helmet and was an amateur boxing champion out of tough Chicago, also found football simply too brutal in the stone-age era of the 1930s when he was recruited by the University of Illinois to play for the legendary coach, Bob Zuppke, whom he characterized as a “miserable goddamn heartless sadist.”

“Football players at that level are a different breed,” he always said, with a touch of awe. “They’re not like other people. They’re a select club of men.”

Nowadays, these men play for more money while enduring even more pain and brokenness because they’re bigger and faster and smash into each other with horrifying force, so much so I wince and hate to look at the players who after collisions lay writhing in agony, their magnificent athleticism temporarily and sometimes permanently crippled. To face such savagery, and even dare to be paralyzed, as in some cases, their courage is something us mortals cannot possibly relate to or understand, only stand in awe of.

And perhaps that is the reason I tried but could not hold back tears while listening to Orlando Pace, a black giant, talking about his mother, who raised him and his sister while working two jobs in Sandusky, Ohio, the camera panning to his mother and sister dabbing at tears as they sat under a warm Ohio sun.

John Madden, home and ailing, possesses such profound respect for these men he could hardly get through a taped introduction of the deceased Kenny Stabler, a slender Alabaman quarterback who, on badly damaged knees, stood the charges of thunderous defenders for over a decade and won games with guile and daring.

Kevin Greene, all-American boy and ex-Boy Scout, talked of his dad, a retired Army officer wounded in Vietnam, the camera panning to this man who struggled to keep his composure as Kevin gave him full credit for teaching him the military discipline to succeed in such a tough business.

The most impressive speech was by an ex-owner drummed out of the league, Ed Debartalo, a diminutive man so in love with his players that he immediately visited them, in the locker room after injuries and took care of their futures as family. His message to NFL powers that ran him out of the game was to treat these men as he had; a chastising of their greediness and ruthless inattention to the physical and mental debilitation these men suffer long after retirement.

If these men brought tears and cheers, Brett Favre brought roars and copious weeping. The toughest of the tough, he barely made it through his speech without breaking down, but brought down the house when talking about how hard his dad was on him, yet at the same time, behind his back, extolled his character and determination to his coach, something I think all jocks and their jock dads have experienced, including myself.

All of these speeches were delivered by a bunch of big old sentimental slobs. At times they were awkward, unpolished but always sincere, and always moving, boy/men still, thanking just about everybody who helped them get there, the memories so poignant, the game so dear to them, the teammates and coaches so valuable, that it wasn’t really about them, but the totality of the experience, from peewee football to the prized NFL that has broken the heart of so many gridiron stars trying to make it.

Small wonder American football fans are so crazy about these gladiators.


COMMENT.SPORTING.RIOThe 2016 Olympics in Rio are the accumulation of decades of the IOC turning a magnificent competition into a corrupt grab-bag of billionaires and politicians on the take. It is about the rich pushing around the poor, and in some cases taking their homes to build monstrous and soon-to-be obsolete sports complexes, as in countries like China and Russia. It’s about a broke country like Greece going broker. It’s about a country like Russia, caught red-handed in a colossal cheating scheme and then let off the hook by the political whores in the IOC knuckling under to the latest global bully, Vladimir Putin.

It’s about the Russians recruiting desperately impoverished migrants from Eastern Europe to build their complexes, withholding their pay, housing them in sheds, disposing them as lifeless carcasses when they’re sick and broken and used up—and dead. It’s about this very same country forcing their poorest people out of their homes and out of their turf, paying them nothing, essentially breaking them, while billionaire oligarchs become richer, and we in America, along with the IOC, stand by as we wave our flags of superior athleticism—another vehicle to buoy our image to ourselves and the world.

It’s about Brazil, a country caught in an economic tragedy so severe that people are literally starving to death, and protesting, somehow spending billions to put on the usual pomp and pageantry and the construction of soon-to-be abandoned venues as, like Greece, get fleeced by the greed-hogs from the IOC.

It’s about NBC manipulating the emotions of every American TV viewer with its saccharine music accompanying maudlin depiction of certain athletes and their heart-breaking situations, a literal soap opera, while two-minute commercials seizing on the gullible masses stuff their corporate pockets.

Every year, since I can remember, the Olympics arrived every four years as something great, but as time passed it became this monster of flag-waving, country-chanting hypocrisy, another money grab perpetrated by a pack of rapacious scoundrels known as the IOC, a group not unlike NFL owners whose entire goal in life is to stock-pile more treasure and territory and keep their foot on the neck of their slaves.

I just want to watch the sprints. §

Dell Franklin grew up in the rough-and-tumble of sports in Compton, Calif., where his father, “Moe” Franklin, a professional baseball player, built a shoe business and supported a family. Dell writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. Visit Dell’s website at dellfranklin.com.

Remembering Charlie Mitchell: Comin’ atcha!

When I first met Charlie Mitchell, he seemed bigger than life. He was larger than life. He’d look people in the eye, size them up in a wink, extend his hand in friendship, find out how things were going. He drove a big truck with a shit-howdy smile and hat, and everyone in town knew who he was. Charlie, after suffering from a massive stroke several years ago, died at his home in Cayucos, Calif., March 17, 2016. He was born in San Luis Obispo in May 1931 and grew up in Gorda, Cambria, and Cayucos. Dell Franklin and I caught up with him in early 2006, and sat with him at his home to talk about his life. We ran his story as a Rogue of the Month feature in the February 2006 edition of The Rogue Voice. This is what he told us.

—Stacey Warde

A marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man

Photo by Phil Klein

Photo by Phil Klein

by Dell Franklin

Charlie Mitchell, septuagenarian, in Western shirt, cowboy boots, and Levis®, has more ants in his pants than a row of teenagers in baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts lollygagging at the seawall in Cayucos. Old School? Not Charlie. Change is inevitable, he says, but he deals with it, like it or not, keeping his attitude, as always, positive, cheerful, exuberant, and youthful.

Charlie Mitchell is a rowdy, unapologetically profane, ass-kicking, barn-dancing, hay-bucking, pigskin-hauling kid in a 74-year-old body that has escaped eight close calls with death (he was nearly electrocuted), undergone a knee replacement, and owns a gizzard that finally, after sixty years of hell-fire social imbibing, has put a stop to his drinking.

“I started out when I was around twelve,” he says. “Haven’t had a drink in a month now. The old pancreas brought me to my knees, and the Doc said, no more. What the hell, if I can’t do it, I ain’t gonna miss it. No use letting it get me down. Nobody had more fun than I did. I can still go out to the bars and jaw with the boys and dance and flirt with the girls. Hell yes, I can!” he shouts, almost lunging at me, slamming me on the shoulder to make his point. “Hell yes!”

Charlie started out in a little shack with his family in Gorda on the Big Sur coastline. At six, they moved to Cambria, in those days no more than a cow town. At Coast Union High School, Charlie starred in all sports, stood out as a phenom in football, and ran a hundred-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. The world record at the time was 9.4.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with some future NFL great while in college.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with future NFL greats while playing at St. Mary’s College.

Charlie’s athletic prowess landed him at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. At that time, Bay Area colleges like USF, Santa Clara and Cal Berkeley were hotbeds for great football players. Charlie played with NFL legend John Henry Johnson, an All-Pro San Francisco 49er running back and one of the roughest characters on the field, and one of the wildest, most colorful off the field. Both men became fast friends.

“John Henry was a black man from Pittsburg. He liked to party—a fueler and a chaser, always wanted to take me to those black bars in Oakland, rough places. Well, hell, I wanted to go, but if Henry found a woman, which he was bound to do, and left me by myself, a white boy like me, in those days, I was liable to get my throat cut. So I stayed in. John Henry, he was about as mean as they came — you try and tackle him and he’d whack you good with forearm shiver, no straight arm. Helluva ball player.”

Charlie played against future Hall of Famers and NFL legends like Ollie Matson, Bob St. Clair (who ate two-pound steaks raw) and Ed Brown. He was offered pro tryouts, but declined.

“Pro ball wasn’t a big deal in those days. Hell, it wasn’t like now, with TV and all, where they were after you to turn pro. I just played to play. I quit St. Mary’s and played JC ball. I got married to Iona at twenty and went in the Navy and played some service ball before they sent me over to Korea on a destroyer escort.

“No big deal. I was no hero. I was just like a lotta guys. But those escorts, they really got bounced around. The seas got pretty rough and if you didn’t have a strong stomach you were in big trouble. Some of them boys were sick all the time. I didn’t like the service, but it didn’t hurt me, either. I’m glad I served.”

From working odd jobs all over the county, and for his dad, mostly on farms and ranches around Cayucos and Cambria, Charlie earned the reputation as a kick-ass worker. Later, he honed his skills as a heavy equipment operator/engineer, running loaders, scrapers, blades, etc. He worked for Madonna and various companies and helped build most of the county roads. He ran heavy equipment for 40 years.

In between this time, in the hurly-burly days when Morro Bay was a major fishing harbor and a sort of last outpost secluded from civilized society in San Luis Obispo, Charlie bought the notorious Happy Jack’s Saloon, known by fishermen and roughnecks up and down the coast and throughout the Valley as a place to raise holy hell and engage in intense fisticuffs,

Having worked Happy Jack’s myself for eight years, I was interested in comparing notes with Charlie.

“Yeah, I had a few fights. Hell, you had to,” he says, shoulders straightening, eyes suddenly agleam, and he paces like a seasoned panther in his kitchen. “I had to park a few guys who got too fueled up and challenged me. I never looked for fights. But when you own a bar and work it, guys are gonna come after you just for the hell of it. Sooner or later you had to go outside with ‘em. That’s the way we did it—go outside and settle things. Well, this one guy, I think he was from the Valley, he kept pestering me, wanting to fight, and so we went outside, and I parked him pretty good, went back in the bar to wait on trade and have a drink, and he comes back in, not satisfied, so we went back out and this time I really parked him good, and he didn’t come back in, and one of his friends told everybody in the bar that you better not mess with ol’ Charlie. After that they pretty much left me alone. I loved that bar. Had more fun. Now my wife, Iona, she pretty much ran the bar. Did the bookkeepin’. Took care of everything. There wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Run a home. Run a business. Great wife and mother. Clear out a bar…”

“Kind of a pioneer woman, Charlie?”

He lunges at me, pounds my shoulder. “Damn right! Married fifty years to Iona. What a woman!”

“What was the lowest point in your life?”

“Losing Iona four years ago. A tough time. Hell, I miss her yet.”

“What was the highest point in your life?”

“Marryin’ Iona in 1952. She was my high school sweetheart. I think about her every day. But you gotta go on. I got a family and a ranch. I keep busy. We got forty, fifty cattle. I know a lotta people. You gotta keep living, and I aim to do so.”

“You’re known as a guy who likes to spice up his conversation with a little cussing…”

“Goddamn right! Now, when Iona was alive, she didn’t mind my cussing, but there were a couple words she wouldn’t let me say, and I tried not to say ‘em.”

“Local legend is, you could stand next to a bar and, with no run, leap up and land on the bar — a four-feet standing jump.”

“Goddamn right!” he smacks my shoulder. “I made more goddamn money jumping on bars. I made other people money. People from the coast and the Valley, they’d put up money that I couldn’t do it. I did it about ten years ago but I had to cheat a little, grabbing the bar. These days I can’t jump much more than a foot. That’s still a pretty good jump, considering I’ve had a knee replacement.”

He shrugs. “At this stage of the game, I gotta admit I can’t do things like I could. I can’t go parking a guy if he’s outta line. No more fueling. But I can still have a damn good time. I had a good time New Year’s Eve drinking straight soda.”

“Anything you missed out on in life?”

“Hell no!”

Charlie Mitchell roars through town in a shiny big pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, and a big smile. Lots of guys these days do the same, but most of it is show. Charlie’s the real thing, no drugstore cowboy. He is testimony to the kind of man who grew up with very little and made more than a lot out of his life. Though born into the Great Depression, he never considers it a big deal, just something that everybody dealt with. He thinks Cayucos and Cambria are too big these days and can’t stand driving to SLO. He was happiest when fishing and hunting in this area as a kid, when there was nothing, not even a freeway to link Cayucos with civilization. He was grateful for work, worked hard, and the hard work developed his already indestructible constitution and transformed him into a man’s man: a marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man, who is possibly cagier than he puts on.

When you run into Charlie around town, he always shakes your hand right off, and if you’re not prepared, he might, without meaning to, break your hand with a grip that indicates inner adrenalin strength few men can match, whether they lift barbells or not.

“You a meat-eater, Charlie?”

“Goddamn right!”

“What if the Doc says no more meat?”

“Bullshit! He can go straight to hell. I eat meat every day. I LOVE meat. I’m goin’ down swingin’.” §

Graveside services were held for Charlie on Monday, March 21, at the Cayucos Cemetery. Dell Franklin continues to write from his home in Cayucos and posts original content at dellfranklin.com. Stacey Warde is publisher of TheRogueVoice.com

In your face, whitey!

Cam Newton and the Ali factor

by Dell Franklin

Cam, beyond movie-star handsome, has the rehearsed, dazzling smile of a born-to-be winner of unprecedented narcissism with dollar signs dangling like blinking neon.

Cam, beyond movie-star handsome, has the rehearsed, dazzling smile of a born-to-be winner of unprecedented narcissism with dollar signs dangling like blinking neon.

Cam Newton, you marvelous beast, us white folks so want black folks like you all to act like us, be like us, you know, more reserved, carefully spoken, modest, inhibited, supposedly respectful of opponents and fans and especially the institutions that for centuries, as a black man, gave you the royal shaft. I mean, it gets under our skin like a painful itch that won’t go away when we see a super-humanly talented black dude like yourself brim with confidence, strut your stuff, disdain our cultural traditions, conquer the stage of the most exalted sport in our realm—football.

It’s kind of like when the great Muhammad Ali conquered the then most exalted sport in the entire world back in the 1960s—boxing.

“I am the greatest!” Ali exclaimed with righteous fury as he danced around the ring, his opponent either crumpled on the canvas or blear-eyed on his stool. “I am champion of the world!”

And he was.

“I am beautiful,” Ali boasted. And to women, and I suppose white women, too—tsk tsk—he was. But to white men he was a source of bitter resentment and hateful anger that this cocky, uppity nigger, who was once Cassius Clay, had converted to Islam and changed his name to Ali and was knocking out and embarrassing white pugs all over the place, clowning and mocking them as he did so, showboating, and not saying it, but implying, “IN YOUR FACE, WHITEY!”


Cam’s got it down, like he made a study of it, first things first flashing a Magic Johnson-like smile to deter all negative thoughts, almost as if he talked to the Magic man who told him to keep on smiling, brother, and there ain’t nothin’ they can do, you’ll get ads, ads and ads and ads, and the kids’ll love yah, it’s hard to resist a smile, bro’, no matter how phony your spiel.

Thing is, Magic’s smile is utterly spontaneous and all encompassing while oozing sincerity and a nameless joy at living that includes everybody. And Cam, beyond movie-star handsome, has the rehearsed, dazzling smile of a born-to-be winner of unprecedented narcissism with dollar signs dangling like blinking neon.

So Cam, flashing that magnetic row of piano keys, mentions that as a black man, talented as he is, bigger than life that he is (kind of like Wilt and Shaq), he scares people, and I suppose he means us whiteys, because black folks sure as hell ain’t gonna be scared, and shouldn’t be, because, like Ali, he is theirs!

CULTURE.Muhammad_Ali_1966But he’s different than Ali in that although Ali’s clowning, mocking, poetry spewing and boasting and joshing with and scolding the press for disbelieving his beliefs and feats was part of an act; he did it with a twinkle in his eye, and a personality and wit so contagious, so endearing, you just had to love the guy. Ali had everybody in the press room in stitches half the time, was beyond comfortable on stage—in his glory, in fact—like a great comedian who had the audience transfixed on his every next word.

Cam, on stage, is a tortured, cringe-worthy attempt at acting that an acting teacher and class would crucify. Back a few seasons ago, when the Panthers were losing, his overly distraught sap sessions after losses were maudlin drivel, his moping, his blaming of himself, so uncharacteristic of an egomaniac used to total, unquestioned dominance and constant adulation.

This whole shtick, or schlock, is embarrassing. What’s more, unlike Ali, he is boring, like a knockout beauty queen so pursued and placed on an untouchable pedestal there was never time to form a real personality outside of fielding adulation and toady behavior from hopeful hat-in-hand suitors.

The trouble with a lot of athletes of his ilk.

Even his act of ripping off the Superman cape and joggling his head and saluting and giving away footballs to children after touchdowns seems a calculated PR move, the first act causing the squeamish emperors of the league in their luxury booths to wince at the over-the-top showmanship, but then to swoon with approval at the big black Adonis handing a football to a little white kid, another trick to make one think the NFL owners are good guys and not greedy criminals, that the entire bloodsucking organization of zillionaires and its employees are about humanity and community.

When Newton talks about being scary, does he mean big and black scary? You know, like the terrifying visage of a scowling Sonny Liston back in the 1960s, when Ali called him “The Big Ugly Bear?” Or Mike Tyson, slaughtering opponents with a cold-blooded calm, his face a mask of evil intent?

Come on, dude, who do you think you’re kidding? Ali scared white folks because he represented what was happening in all of sports—the black man taking over because he was fiercer, hungrier, more dynamic, bigger, faster, and goddammit, whether you like it or not, in many cases, smarter! And rubbing it in on the white hordes.

Black athletes were coming. They dominated Olympics track and field, baseball, football, basketball, and boxing. Marciano was gone and we had Ali, Frazier, Holmes. In baseball, Musial, Williams and DiMaggio were gone, and besides Mickey Mantle, we had Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Frank Robinson. And in basketball it was already confirmed black men reigned over white inferiors.

Most of those great black athletes were ingrained to remain humble and duty-bound appreciative for white club owners to give them a chance and in some cases were referred to as “Uncle Toms.”

But not Ali. His was an individual sport, and he was the greatest, was champion of the world, and although there is no proof whatsoever that this man who employed Ferdie Pacheco as his doctor and Angelo Dundee as his trainer had a problem with white people, he was telling the rest of us with the ferocity of a roaring lion, “I am a black Muslim man, I am not fighting your stupid war,  I’m seein’ black brothers getting killed by the bushel, so, In Your Face, Whitey!”

Cam Newton, you ain’t scarin’ nobody, and your act is so easy to see through that the more you win, and the longer you’re on the stage, the easier it’s going to be see what a complete phony you are, cheesy smile and all.§

Dell Franklin is a passionate sports enthusiast and writer who lives in Cayucos, Calif., where he laments the growing cancer of entitled pro athletes in clubhouses around the nation. More of his essays are available at dellfranklin.com.


by Dell Franklin


Mr. Kroenke wanted to show LA sports fans he is not a cold-blooded corporate prick, but a man who can cry over a football team. Boohoo.

Billionaire chiseler/phony Stan Kroenke, after shafting St. Louis and choking up over taking their football team away from them, is now in Los Angeles, which is about as opposite of St. Louis as day and night, and he is again all choked up over promising poor so-called pro football-starved Angelinos the wretched Rams that were stolen from them decades ago by a crew of chiseling phonies not worth mentioning.

The chiseler/phony with the old-country mustache also promises to build a $3 billion tacky Taj Mahal of a football stadium to rival the tacky one built in Dallas by fellow sentimental rival, Jerry Jones, a chiseler so canny, ruthless, and scarily predatory he’s intimidated the entire cabal of chiseling/phony NFL owners and their puppet commissioner, Roger Goodell, who during the meat appraisal NFL draft hugs first round picks like a cuddly uncle before turning them over to the ruthless chiseler/phonies.

Mr. Kroenke wanted to show LA sports fans he is not a cold-blooded corporate prick, but a man who can cry over a football team. Boohoo. If this guy ever ventured into a working-class tavern he’d be stoned within half an hour. He and his shark-like right hand man, Kevin Demoff, who would also be stoned in a working-class tavern within 30 minutes on looks alone, want you to think it’s ALL about boosting a poverty stricken black community like Inglewood and pleasing LA football fans, who are the most disloyal, distracted and superficial west of Miami Beach.

Fat chance.

Look, guys, LA sports fans have better things to do—like taking selfies 24/7 and admiring them…and shopping, primping, dressing, tanning, posturing, posing…and checking and rechecking those little hand phones to see who loves them.

The chiseler/phony already has number-one LA sports fan Magic Johnson in his camp. Magic’s going to buy season tickets. $100 just to get on board, and then we start very high up in the stratosphere of the Taj Mahal for $300, which means if there’s two of you it’s $600 just for games that are not exhibitions, so if you’re filthy rich like Magic you can dole out about $3,500 for one game and probably be close enough to a celebrity to share a selfie, unless of course they’re sealed into the hierarchy glass luxury cocoon where $100 wines and gourmet cuisine is shared by the chiseler/phony and his coterie of sycophants, who stand and cheer when he does, and sit down when he does, and stand again to turn thumbs down and deliver the kill sign when the team gets booed out of their tacky Taj Mahal.

Roman days indeed!


LA Coliseum, under construction in 1922, is in much need of upgrading, where returning LA Rams will play until their billion-dollars dream stadium is completed.

Does anybody who likes to watch a football game in a working-class tavern have a shot to go to these games? Most of the population of LA sports fans are so awash in hi-tech gadgetry they have the attention span of hummingbirds, which means that the day they enter the super hi-tech Taj Mahal they will be in hi-tech heaven and get to test out their own gadgets against the plethora facing them everywhere, a spectacle, really, lights flashing everywhere throughout the game, unless they’re waiting in line to gorge on junk food, quaff over-priced beer, or stand in agony in long lines trying not to pee in their pants.

Meanwhile, for the next three years, these dodos get to revisit the dreaded, dilapidated, uncomfortable Coliseum, where the urgent need for hi-tech gadgetry will be in short supply and the dodos will have to actually watch parts of a football game and see the replays on their own gadgetry; this after inching along on freeways and side streets for two hours, idling and lurching and gnashing their teeth in parking lots for 45 minutes, waiting to be searched for weaponry for 30 minutes, before finally being admitted into a bowl so distant from the field one will need high-powered binoculars or a mini-screen of their own to see what actually happens.

But it’s not all bad. There will at last be a NFL football team in LA. Though it is a football team coached by a lackluster wash-out with a losing record wherever he’s gone, without a quarterback or any semblance of an offense, a team about as boring as the place it came from—St. Louis. Will tattooed, spray-painted barbarian/zealot fans similar to Raider low-lives be allowed to form their own dog pound? Can they afford it? Who wants to rough-house in a glass-encased Taj Mahal surrounded by boutiques for the Rodeo Drive crew?

In any case, the true football fans/marauders can pool their money and barbecue in the parking lots just off the Coliseum starting at six in the morning and get so drunk by game time they’ll have to take saliva tests before entering, but once they’re in it will be like the old days, guzzling, screaming, hooting, cursing, booing, arguing, staking out territory, fighting, causing a panic, maybe drawing the cameras for a split second before the goody-goody boys in the production trailers and broadcasting booths pooh-pooh their discordant behavior and turn us back to the spectacle produced by America’s foremost chiseler/phonies this side of Wall Street—the PR hogwash of good citizenship and humanitarianism among people trying to dismember limbs and in the end immobilize brains—all for love of the game and a few bucks.

Yeh, LA sports fans demand a professional football team; deserve a professional football team; demand and deserve a winner, according to the chiseler/phony. So good luck, LA sports fans, surely you deserve this. §

Dell Franklin grew up in working-class Compton, Calif., at a time when professional sports, venues and players were mostly accessible to the roiling mass of fans/marauders who could then still afford to attend games. For more of Dell’s sports commentary, visit dellfranklin.com.

Slapping hats with Ted Hendricks

CULTURE.SLAP.hendrickshby Dell Franklin

I was sitting on a stool at the end of the bar at Brennan’s Irish Pub in Manhattan Beach, where I was employed as a bartender, and winding down from a two-day-plus binge celebrating my fortieth birthday, when, through the front swinging doors, Jim Plunkett entered, followed by Ted Hendricks, Dave Dalby, Bob Nelson, Steve Sylvester, and Matt Robinson, all of the Los Angeles Raiders, who had moved down here from Oakland and just broken camp in Oxnard and were experiencing their first sample of beach bar life.

It was a late Sunday afternoon toward the end of August, and beside me was Lita Colandrea, my most-of-the-time female companion who was trying to convince me to stop drinking before I killed myself, but I kept insisting on one more and the bartender, Donnie Sipka, continued to serve me beers and shots as he chuckled at my relentless mindlessness.

The Raider crew passed behind me and sat down five or six stools down, along the rectangular bar, facing the entrance. I told Sipka I had their first round and to welcome them to Brennan’s. After they were served beers, each new Raider raised his mug and nodded at me, thanked me, and after Sipka conversed with them for a few minutes, Ted Hendricks, all 6-feet-7 or 8 inches, stood and walked over to me and said, “I hear it’s your fortieth birthday.”

“That’s right,” I said

Hovering over me, he said, matter-of-factly, “Forty’s big.”

“Yes it is,” I agreed. “I’ve been at it for two days worth of big.”

He nodded. Then: “I like your hat.”

I was wearing my yellow cap with elongated bill, a very, very long duck bill. I had about ten other caps and goofy hats in front of me, as a person celebrating his fortieth needs a variety of headwear over the long haul.  

“Thanks,” I said.

Ted nodded toward my headwear. “I’m a hat man, too,” he explained.

“So I’ve heard. I have about thirty-some hats and caps, Ted.”

“I have around a hundred” he said, offering me his huge hand. “You know me, but I don’t know your name.”

“Dell, Ted. My name’s Dell.”

“Would you be too offended if I asked to try on your hat, Dell?” he asked. “I know I get irritated when people ask to try on my hats, but since we’re hat men, I thought it might be okay.”

“Sure,” I said. I handed him the cap. He tried it on, pulled it tight, and pointed to one of my many caps, which included a blue one with elongated bill but also with earflaps in red letters, “BULLSHIT PROTECTORS.” I often wore this cap when a woman was taking me to task, carping at me, and pulled down the flaps when they ranted, lifting them when I had my say. I explained this to Ted while I tried it on as Lita sighed and shook her head in a longsuffering manner and Ted nodded in complete understanding. Then Ted asked me to stand, if I was able, so we could slap bills. I stood, and big Ted leaned down and we slapped bills, bobbing our heads in rhythm, making a bit of a racket as his teammates looked on. When we finished slapping bills Ted motioned to Sipka and ordered two shots of wild cherry brandy and two shots of anisette. He turned to me. “For your fortieth.”CULTURE.SLAP HATS.DELL

“Ted,” I said. “I’m on my last legs, man.”

He issued me a look I’m sure terrified all offensive players in the NFL for almost 15 years and said, “Forty’s big,” and lifted his shot of wild cherry. I tinked his glass with my shot and we downed our shots, and repeated the process with the anisette. Then he took off my cap and handed it to me. I told him he looked good in it and could borrow it if he wanted to, as I was content with my earflap cap, but he said, ”No, I can’t because those guys over there and the guys in the locker room’ll destroy it. But thanks.”

“I understand completely, Ted,” I said. “Thanks for the shots.”

He wished me a happy birthday and returned to his teammates who, on the second round, sent me down a beer and a shot, and I pulled the earflaps tight and raised the shot and downed it while Lita tried to get Sipka to cut me off.


A week or so later,  Lita—a New Yorker and person without peer as a thrift store scavenger finding treasures—and I were in Santa Monica visiting old-world clothing stores. In one of these stores she discovered, among a batch of headwear, a ball cap with the exact elongated bill as my yellow one, only in black, with silver letters on the crown that read MADDEST HATTER. Silver and black were the Raider colors and I quickly purchased it and brought it to the bar and placed it in one of the cupboards.

By this time, Ted had found an old, very used limousine and hired a rumpled, usually out-of-work handyman local to serve as his chauffeur who parked it across the street from Brennan’s at the more upscale Pancho’s while Ted did his drinking in both bars. On an early Monday evening, this limo pulled up across the street and Ted got out, accompanied by a pretty lady, and started to go into Pancho’s. I bellowed out his name from my station behind the bar. He turned and spotted me through the open doorway and I motioned him over. He came across the street with his gal and when he arrived at the bar I placed the black cap before him.

“For you, Ted,” I said.

He looked at the cap. He picked it up. He looked at me. He read the crown. He looked at his lady. He looked at me. He seemed unable to find words. Then: “You actually thought enough of me to buy me this great hat?”

“I saw it, and it said Ted Hendricks all over it,” I explained.

He tried it on. A perfect fit. He looked at his lady. She nodded her approval, smiling. He looked at me. “Thank you,” he said, pulling out some bills. “I’d like to pay you…”

“It’s on me, Ted. Us hat guys, we stick together.”

His lady caught my eye and issued me an understanding look that was somehow confidential. Ted said, “You still have that yellow hat around?”

I wore a variety of headwear at work on weekend band nights because all of us bartenders were clown acts and borderline comedians and chameleons, part of the scene at a very hot bar. So I retrieved the cap and put it on and Ted said, “Let’s slap bills.” I leaned forward and Ted leaned down and we slapped bills, renewing our perfect rhythm as we bobbed heads up and down while the crowd looked on. Then Ted placed a big bill on the bar and said, “Two wild cherry brandies and two anisettes.”

I poured out four shots. We tinked glasses twice and downed them all and then Ted very quickly turned and headed across the street toward Pancho’s, leaving the big bill. His very classy and pretty lady looked at me and said, “You have no idea how moved he is that you thought enough of him to buy him that beautiful hat. He loves it.”

I watched big Ted, known as “Kick ‘em in the head Ted,” and “The Mad Stork,” which he hated, enter Pancho’s, future Hall of Famer, rated as one of the two or three greatest outside linebackers in the history of the NFL, a man so notoriously hostile on the gridiron that he’d become a living legend.

“I thought he might cry,” I said.

“He’s that way,” she said, and walked across the street to meet him. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. For more of his work, visit his website, dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.