The story of the Oilers’ AFL glory days could not be told without a chapter about one of their most prolific receivers.
At Heidelberg in 1958, Groman led the nation in receiving touchdowns with 19 and garnered All-American honors. He was inducted into the Heidelberg College Hall of Fame in 1986.
After going undrafted by the NFL, he taught for two years in Perrysburg, Ohio, before being persuaded to try out for the Houston Oilers in 1960.
Groman’s impact in Houston was immediate as he flourished in the high-flying Oiler offense, racking up 1,473 yards and 12 touchdowns on 72 receptions, which earned him All-AFL honors.
That yardage record still stands as the most receiving yards posted by a rookie in professional football, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined his bronzed cleats from that season as a testament to his efforts.
From his position at left end (now commonly tabbed the “X” receiver), Groman immensely benefited from an offense that ran an obscene amount of fly (aka, go) routes.
Firing out of a three-point stance with his hand planted in the dirt like a lineman allowed Gorman to gain an explosive initial advantage over the cornerback.
This advantage had been honed during Groman’s days as a track star.
When applying tight coverage to Groman, defending corners could not swivel their hips and turn to run backward quickly enough to keep up with his acceleration.
Opposing defenses would try to counteract Groman’s explosiveness by loosening their coverages, which gave him plenty of space to get open with a curl route.
Groman would plant his outside foot toward the sideline at about 10 yards, then run back toward the line of scrimmage for two or three yards.
The corner would not have enough time to flip his hips a second time to catch up to Groman, creating an easy 8-to-10 yard gain.
Alongside Oilers teammate Charlie Hennigan, the two were affectionately called “The Long-Distance Twins.”
Unfortunately, Groman’s brilliant AFL career was derailed by injuries.
In the Oilers’ 1961 AFL championship game against the Los Angeles Chargers, his knee was struck by a helmet, and he would never fully recover from the torn ligaments he sustained.
However, Groman’s impact on pro football would be profound, as he accounted for 3,481 yards, 174 receptions, and 36 touchdowns during his six seasons (three for Houston, one for the Denver Broncos, and two for the Buffalo Bills) .
The majority of this production came during his three Oiler seasons, when Gorman accounted for 2,976 yards and 32 touchdowns.
In the six years he played, Groman’s teams won four AFL championships (two for the Oilers, and two for the Bills).
After his playing career ended, Groman had a short stint as a stockbroker before being persuaded to return to pro football as a scout for the Bengals, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Chargers, during which he tabbed such notable prospects as Doug Williams and Jamal Anderson.
Although relatively short, Groman’s mark on the AFL and the Oiler franchise’s early success was nothing short of remarkable.
Groman passed away on June 17, 2020, at age 83.
Dillon Holloway is a native Mississippian currently residing in central Oklahoma. He is a rabid football fan and a historian of the sport. He is a husband, a military officer, volunteer teacher and football coach, and emerging guest speaker. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s in English and a minor in aerospace studies. He played football from pee-wee through high school, winning the 2A Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) state championship and was named first-team all-district guard in 2011. Since his first football practice, he has always made the sport a part of his life in some fashion, and writing for Miss Ya Blue! allows him to continue to do so.
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