With apologies to any free agent trying to make this year’s Chiefs team, it was tougher in 1960, when Smokey Stover was trying to catch on with the then-Dallas Texans.
Stover came out of Northeast Louisiana State College as an undersized linebacker, who harbored a concern for his small frame to the extent that he later taped weights to his body during training camp, in order to disguise his true size from the Texans coaching staff.
He got his shot in pro football, interestingly enough, following a special tryout camp in 1960, when the Texans were preparing for their first year of play, in the newly formed American Football League.
Tryout camps were always an amalgam of off-the-street wannabe’s, aging vets, who couldn’t cut it in the big leagues anymore and young just-out-of-college players, to whom playing professional football was little more than a dream, at least until this new league came along. This sort of camp would be repeated years later, when the World Football League and United States Football League came on the scene.
Stover, who had received a recommendation from his coach Jack Rowen, had been invited to attend the camp by Will Walls, a Texans scout at the time, who had sent out feelers to various colleges looking for players for the new league.
On July 5, 1960, 129 players reported to Dallas Jesuit High School.
As the lengthy list of players began taking physicals, one particularly “large guy,” to hear Stover tell it, had a blood pressure level that was so high that the attending doctors had to have him recline on a bed, fearing he might have a heart attack. “And we hadn’t even started working out yet,” Stover remembered.
Overseeing the camp, was the full slate of Texans coaches including Hank Stram (pictured above), Bill Walsh, Ed Hughes and Tom Catlin. Staffs were small then but all took turns leading the horde of prospective players in calisthenics.
As the practice progressed, more and more players began dropping out as temperatures soared. Stover recalled as many as 60 players calling it quits in the first hour and a half, of the first day.
The two-a-day drills continued for 10 days and although the players were working with no pads, the number of participants continued to dwindle. By the time the camp ended, Stram and company had selected only 17 players out of the original 129 and the survivors were off to Roswell, New Mexico and the “official” start of training camp.
“We looked like prisoners of war,” Stover recalled, as he and his fellow survivors started off to New Mexico. Of the 17 who migrated to Roswell, only Stover and Al Reynolds made the team from the earlier camp, a testament to their perseverance, not to mention their play. Stover went on to play for the Texans and then the Chiefs for six years, including Super Bowl I.