The monotony of camp was so oppressive that without the diversions of whiskey and women, those of us who were wired for activity and no more than six hours sleep a night might have gone berserk. I was fortunate to have four let’s-party-hearty roommates to pal with most of my years in Oakland. The roomies were halfback Pete Banaszak, wide receiver Freddy Biletnikoff, defensive end Tony Cline, and middle linebacker Dan Conners. We lived for the weekly football games and the football-player nights in between. I liked to think of us as “The Santa Rosa Five.”
John Madden knew he was coaching a gang of distinctive individuals. Characters, some called us. Others called us ruffians, mavericks, renegades, oddballs, intimidators… and there’s no point in mentioning the curse words. But all the labels were fair enough. And I think John decided with the types of people we had that it was necessary to give us a certain amount of room to roam. We had more characters than any other team and John realized that we didn’t care for a lot of restrictions, were happier without them, and as a result played better. John handled individuals very well, and I feel that was a prime reason why the Raiders had the best won-lost record in pro football while he was coaching the team.
Most of the Raider players who were not married drank hard and chased women harder. It relieved the monotony of training camp and the pressure of the games. And, goddamn, it was fun. I was married twice while a Raider, but I never felt like a husband. Perhaps because both of the women I married were more like sparring partners than wives. Obviously, the fault was not all theirs. But I was never deterred from the endless game of prowl-and-party.
“The Circuit” consisted of hitting at least five bars before we had to be back for the 11:00 PM curfew. The Circuit started each night at Melendy’s the nearest bar, and we never missed stopping at The Music Box, where the best looking women usually hung out. Every year during training camp the women of Santa Rosa turned out in droves to greet the Raiders, may bearing dance cards that just had to be filled in. At each stop on The Circuit we’d check out the women who appeared to be what we called “players.” As we had to be in by curfew, all cars parked, dates would be set for eleven-thirty. The experienced female players knew the routine. They would drive to the El Rancho, pick you up, and haul you to their place or to another motel. There were a few tireless spirits who would attend to all five of us, they were known as “The OT Girls”.
Many nights we’d go right back out after curfew, and many times I didn’t return until just before breakfast. We left and returned the same way—through a back door and a hedgerow of bushes rimming the driveway. IF I had a midnight date, she would pull in, turn off the headlights, then slowly circle the driveway. Meanwhile I’d creep through the bushes in a crouch and look up the driveway for her—and usually see about fifteen other veterans hunched down waiting for pickups.
The collecting of female undergarments became an annual rite of training camp for many of the Raiders. Someone called us the “Fredericks of Santa Rosa.” I liked to tack my collection up on the walls, drape the bras and panties on the mirrors, lamps, wherever. Over the years we came to judge our preseason success not by how many passes were completed or receptions caught, or by how much yardage was gained. The bottom line was: How much lingerie did we collect?
One night we suffered a terrible disappointment. The two girls were so cute I about felt my eyeballs sweat. Both girls were wearing white short-shorts that did little to disguise their real selves. They were also unencumbered by bras and walked into our doorway like players of the first rank. But when the redhead opened her mouth, it was like we were two TD’s down to the Steelers with thirty seconds left to play.
“Are you guys serious?” she said with sarcasm you could chew on. Her eyes scanned the room. “Did you really think we’d be a couple more of your playthings?” If looks could melt, all of the gadgets and lingerie would have gone up in smoke. “Well, you’re not hanging these up there,” Red said. She hooked a finger under the lower edge of her panties, tugged it down on the side of her thigh, and let is snap back. Her girlfriend turned, bent, and mooned us through her shorts, saying, “Enjoy yourselves.” Then they were gone.
“”Win some, lose some,” I thought. But within ten minutes we were out on the prowl again. No way we could stay in after that simmering short-short show.