It required more than two silver trophies for Tom Flores to get a gold jacket.
It took a (pirate) shipload of patience too.
Just wait, baby.
Flores, the soft-spoken Raiders coach who was at the helm for two of the club’s three Super Bowl victories, was inducted Sunday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a fitting capstone for a trailblazing career that began more than 60 years ago. He was a quarterback and one of 20 men to play all 10 years in the American Football League.
During his induction speech Sunday, someone in the crowd cheered at his mention of his Central California hometown of Sanger, just east of Fresno.
“Oh, people from Sanger here?” he said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Long way to come. You ever try to get here. Not an easy place to get to.”
Former Rams star wide receiver Isaac Bruce was among the players who entered the Hall of Fame on Saturday, a year late because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, to laughs from the crowd, the 84-year-old coach quipped: “I’ve been trying a long time to get here.”
Although he was wheeled onto the stage in a chair, Flores stood at the lectern on his own strength. He was presented on video by Carol Davis, widow of longtime Raiders owner Al Davis. Their son, Raiders principal owner Mark Davis, presented the coach in person.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Flores was the NFL’s first Latino coach to win a Super Bowl, then — with the Seattle Seahawks — first to be a general manager and team president.
All met with … a shrug.
“It wasn’t a big thing when I first started,” said Flores, who was the first person to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach, a feat later matched by Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. “I never thought about it. I never thought I was hired because of my ethnic background. I was hired because of what I could do on the field as a player and as a coach. I still feel that way.”
Whereas fellow Class of 2021 inductees Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson and Charles Woodson got in on the first ballot, Flores had a far more circuitous path, narrowly missing multiple times before finally getting in on his third go-round as a coaches candidate, which requires being out of the league for at least 25 years.
Some people have a direct path to greatness. The Flores route was as meandering as Marcus Allen’s back-and-forth Super Bowl run against Washington.
His pro career began as one of 11 quarterbacks at training camp in Santa Cruz for the inaugural season of the Oakland Raiders.
“We were just a bunch of guys who didn’t have a home stadium,” he said. “Most of the guys in training camp had no idea where Oakland was. I had to tell them. We were playing in San Francisco. That new league gave us all an opportunity to play football and continue.”
Flores was a junior high teacher, but he found the kids too crazy — imagine that, too crazy for a future coach of the Raiders.
He sold fireworks, got his real estate license, even worked as a sportswriter when tuberculosis sidelined him for the entire 1962 season. He was 25 at the time, with no insurance and year-old twins at home.
“I actually wrote an article once a week for the Oakland Tribune,” he said. “I went to the home games and wrote what I saw, and they published it. I couldn’t get any pay for it because I was in disability. The sports editor paid me off in store credit, so I was able to have a Christmas and buy toys for the kids.”
Sure, he didn’t have much. But that was no different from the way he grew up in Sanger, where his parents insisted Tom and his younger brother, Bob, speak English at home.
“I did as many things as I could in high school,” Flores said. “I played football, basketball, baseball. I was in the band, the orchestra and the choir. My voice was good enough. Played the trombone in the marching band. In a little town you could do all that because the competition is thin. You go to a big school, by the time you join the one thing there’s 200 kids ahead of you.”
Now, he’s in rarefied air.
“My mother cried when I told her I was going to play professionally instead of coming home to be a teacher as I had studied for in college,” he said with a slight catch in his voice. “But in the end, she was the proudest of all, because I followed my passion.”
Not surprisingly, Flores reserved part of his 10-minute speech to thank his family, and in particular his wife.
“Barbara and I dated for five years,” he said. “It took me five years to convince her that I was the guy. Now we’ve been married for 60 years. Barbara, I’m so grateful for you every day. You know me, good parts and bad parts. You put up with the bad parts, you’re my biggest fan and my best friend.”
Flores played a role in bringing Al Davis to the Raiders. When the franchise needed a new coach in 1963, owner Wayne Valley asked Flores what he knew about Davis, who at the time was an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers.
“I remember hearing about Al when I was at College of the Pacific and he was at USC,” Flores said. “Some of the things I heard were not very good. When Wayne Valley asked me about him, I said, `What I’ve heard is he’s a different guy, a tough guy.’ I think Wayne liked that. That was the kind of guy he wanted, I guess.”
Davis would not only coach the Raiders, but would maneuver his way into becoming their controlling owner.
Flores, who was a backup quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, coached wide receivers for the Raiders from 1972-78, winning a Super Bowl as part of John Madden’s staff in 1976, and taking over as head coach three years later.
Coaching the Raiders first in Oakland then in Los Angeles, Flores led his teams to Super Bowl victories at the end of the 1980 and ’83 seasons. He is the only coach to win Lombardi Trophies for the same franchise representing two different cities.
Former Raiders coach Tom Flores is the lone coach finalist for the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame class.
“Today on this stage we’re all on one team,” he said, referring to the Hall of Famers surrounding him. “One team of gold jackets. This is a very emotional day for me. I’ve been blessed with a great life, doing work that I love, with people I love and adore.
“I was always happy in the world of football, and now because of this honor, I’ll be part of it forever.”
There was another big NFL development when the Hall of Fame festivities were happening. Firebaugh’s Josh Allen, who grew an hour’s drive west of Sanger, signed a deal with the Buffalo Bills for an average of $43 million per season.
Must be the Central Valley’s second-happiest quarterback.
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