The 1961 Season, Part 2

“Off-Season Shenanigans & the Preaseason”

By ED WETTERMAN

PREVIOUSLY – The 1961 Season, Part 1: “Things Heat Up Before the AFL’s Second Season”

The Houston city fathers wanted The Bayou City to have a professional baseball team, and Major League Baseball awarded one in October 1960.

This new baseball team needed a stadium, so a $22 million bond was placed before Houston voters.

A side elevation blueprint of the stadium that would come to be known as The Astrodome

Most expected the bond proposal to fail or barely pass, so the Houston Sports Authority courted the AFL-champion Oilers franchise to curry favor with voters.

The bond election was close, but it passed, and the vote paved the way for construction of the Harris County Domed Stadium, later to be known as the Astrodome and touted as The Eighth Wonder of the World.

The Dome would be home to the Colt .45’s (later rebranded as the Astros) and the Houston Oilers, although built chiefly for baseball.

The baseball team received the master lease, and the Oilers were a secondary tenant, a position they’d increasingly occupy in that building for the rest of the franchise’s existence in Houston.

Wally Lemm as an Oilers assistant coach

Nailing down a new domicile was but one spectacle that Oilers management faced before the 1961 campaign began.

Quite abruptly, assistant coach Wally Lemm resigned from the Oilers’ staff and became a sporting goods salesman.

Lemm coached at Lake Forest College and Montana State University from 1949-1955, then coached as a defensive assistant for the Chicago Cardinals in 1956.

After one season, he returned to Lake Forest for the next two years before bouncing back to the Cardinals in 1959 as an assistant coach.

In 1960, Lemm left the Cardinals to join the Oilers coaching staff, which greatly missed him for the first few weeks of the 1961 season.

Oilers owner Bud Adams decided to move the team’s training camp from Ellington Airforce Base in Houston to Hawaii.

Head Coach Lou Rymkus, a hard-nosed, old-school coach, positively hated the idea, stating, “We’re just last year’s champions, but when a tropical moon is out, and the palm trees are swaying, and you can hear the surf crashing against the beach, and you know that the restaurants and bars are full of horny school teachers from Iowa, and it’s 10:30 p.m., how in the hell can I convince the players that they ought to go to bed?”

Rymkus proved prophetic about the camp’s location and its negative effects on the team.

In an apparent effort to run down their batteries, Rymkus was extra-tough on the players during the camp.

Tight End/Wide Reciever Johnny Carson (not the late-night talk-show host) quit, and rookies Walt Suggs and Tom Goode left the camp and would not play in the 1961 season.

Three of the remaining rookies rolled a jeep into an irrigation ditch, and the team lost the first pre-season game to the formerly-Los Angeles/now-San Diego/later-to-again-be-Los Angeles Chargers in a blowout, 46-28, after being behind 39-0 at halftime.

Such an odd, discouraging start would become common for enduring Oiler fans, who seemed to witness such strangeness every year of the Oilers’ existence in Houston.

UP NEXT – The 1961 Season, Part 3: The 1961 Roster

UP NEXT – The 1961 Season, Part 4: Ain’t That a Kick – The Regular Season

UP NEXT – The 1961 Season, Part 5: The Championship Game

Ed Wetterman is a native Houstonian and lifelong Oiler fan/historian. He is a teacher, genealogist, game creator, and writer who lived and died on Sundays with the Oilers. Ed has created many games such as “East Texas University: Degrees of Horror” and written short stories such as “HellFighter,” published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Football has always been one of his greatest passions. He experienced the highs and the lows of being an Oiler fan, and like many others, he was crushed when the Oilers left Houston. Writing for Miss Ya Blue! gives him an outlet for his Columbia Blue love.

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