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Q & A : JACK KEMP

Times Staff Writer

Jack Kemp, the congressman from Buffalo who quarterbacked the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, has the documentary proof that “we played wide-open football” that year, he said recently.

Q: Looking back, was Los Angeles a pleasant place to be for a 1960 quarterback?

A: Professionally, the crowds were terribly disappointing when you consider how hard we worked and how well we played. Personally, my wife (Joanne) and I loved Los Angeles. I’m a (Los Angeles) native, I went to school in L.A., and got my first job there, and when I was playing for the Chargers, we bought our first house there, in Costa Mesa.

Question: How did you get the proof?

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Answer: My son Jeffrey (a Ram quarterback) gave it to me last year as a Christmas present. It’s a 25-minute highlight film of my (10-year) career in the American Football League. Jeffrey put it together with Ed Sabol of NFL Films.

Q: What does the film show?

A: It shows, first, that as a quarterback I wasn’t as hot as the way I remember it. Second, we had a very advanced passing concept under (Charger Coach) Sid Gillman in 1960. We played interesting, explosive football both years (including 1961) that I was with the Chargers.

Q: You were the AFL passing champion in the league’s first year. What do you remember about that?

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A: I remember that Coach Sid said I threw a salvo every time. He said I was a hard thrower but not the touch type.

Q: What was it like playing pro football in 1960?

A: The salary scheme was a little different. Most of the fellows had outside jobs and practiced football whenever they could get away.

Q: Do you remember your 1960 salary in Los Angeles?

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A: Yes, after bouncing around the NFL for three years after graduating from Occidental, I signed a two-year contract with the Chargers for $11,500 and $13,500.

Q: What was your outside job when you were here?

A: Ron Mix (the Hall of Fame blocker) and I worked in Charger public relations. We went around making speeches for the team. Most of (the content) was football, of course, but I remember making my first public remarks on the economy at that time. They were sort of captive audiences, and I had my strong feelings on the economy, so I spoke out a little.

Q: As a Los Angeles quarterback, what did you learn that has helped you in your subsequent career?

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A: Accountability--to put it in a word. In those days, the quarterbacks called the plays on football teams, and you were held responsible for what you called as well as for what you did on the field. It’s similar for me today. I’m held accountable for my views and my votes. Quarterbacks in the 1960s took charge and made decisions. And all that was helpful for any other kind of career.

Q: Looking back, was Los Angeles a pleasant place to be for a 1960 quarterback?

A: Professionally, the crowds were terribly disappointing when you consider how hard we worked and how well we played. Personally, my wife (Joanne) and I loved Los Angeles. I’m a (Los Angeles) native, I went to school in L.A., and got my first job there, and when I was playing for the Chargers, we bought our first house there, in Costa Mesa.

Q: Paying how much

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A: Well, I had signed with the Chargers quite a while before the (1960) season, and I used $500 of the advance to make a deposit on the house. The full payment was $15,500. We had a 5 1/2% mortgage. Jeffrey was born when we lived in that house. He was born in a Santa Ana hospital not far from where the Rams play today.

Q: You said your first job was in Los Angeles. Doing what?

A: My (three) brothers and I worked summers for my father and his brothers in the family company, a small trucking company on Central Avenue in Los Angeles--the California Delivery Service. We worked on the docks.

Q: How did you happen to leave the Chargers?

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A: I was throwing a pass to Lance Alworth in a scrimmage at training camp in 1962 when I banged my hand on a linebacker’s helmet. The injury was to the middle finger. I couldn’t hold the football, let alone pass it. When they put me on 24-hour injured reserve, I was claimed by both Denver and Buffalo.

Q: Did you choose Buffalo yourself?

A: No, no. That year, that kind of thing was determined in a coin toss by the commissioner, Joe Foss, the former governor of South Dakota. When he tossed the coin, it came up Buffalo. I retired after the 1969 season to run for Congress with two years left on my Buffalo Bills’ contract.

Q: Suppose Foss’ toss had come up Denver. Would you be a congressman from Colorado today?

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A: Joanne and I have often wondered about that. But we’ll never know.


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