The 1966 Season, Part 3

“Operation Cross-Check”

By ED WETTERMAN

PREVIOUSLY – The 1966 Season, Part 1: “The Cat’s Out of the Bag, Bones is Gone, and Wally’s Back”

PREVIOUSLY – The 1966 Season, Part 2: “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em”

The 1966 Oilers training camp proved to be, in one understated word, interesting.

Oilers Owner Bud Adams became convinced that undiscovered, undrafted football talent was scattered throughout the nation and sent scout Don “Red Dog” Ettinger on a secret mission to find it, hoping to compensate for the lack of young talent the team had failed to sign for the past six years in the draft.

The mission was expensive (about $250,000), involved spies, and a phony team in Arizona so Adams could surprise and shock the American Football League (AFL) with Operation Cross-Check.

Ettinger had played for the New York Giants from 1948 to 1950, then spent four years in the Canadian Football League before becoming an AFL scout.

Historically, he is credited for inventing the defensive blitz strategy.
Due to Operation Cross-Check, 127 players showed up to Oiler training camp.

Unfortunately, this invasion was unannounced to a flabbergasted Head Coach Wally Lemm and the Oiler coaching staff, but they drained the overstocked talent pool quickly.

None of Operation Cross-Check invitees made the team. Not one. Lemm cut 29 of them the first day of training camp.

Veteran quarterback George Blanda observed that it was the first time that “a team cut [players] by the busload.”

With the Oilers coming off a 4-10 campaign in 1965 and three consecutive losing seasons, Lemm knew he had to change the attitude of a losing team, and despite many fans and reporters wanting a new quarterback, Lemm decided to stick with Blanda, who would face boos almost every time he took the field in 1966.

Lemm also cut Bill Groman and Tony Banfield who had never truly recovered from injuries, as well as draft pick Hoyle Granger, but the Oilers quickly re-signed the rookie.

Aside from those few cuts and signed draftees, very little talent change came to the Oilers roster in 1966, and as Houston Post sportswriter Jack Gallagher pointed out, “Twenty of the 22 starters who participated in three successive losing seasons are still on the roster.

This was the first-string 1966 Oiler roster:

Offense

Defense

Sadly, this roster would be in for another bumpy ride during the 1966 campaign.

UP NEXT: The 1966 Season, Part 4

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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