Desire, dedication, and determination characteristics which best define accomplishments of Tom Flores during his exemplary career from high school to all levels of college play to the punishing ranks of professional football. Flores was a barrier-breaking rarity during two decades of competition at a time when very few Mexican-Americans were quarterbacking teams anywhere at any level. After making his mark as a player, Flores became a highly successful assistant and head pro coach, undertaking administrative responsibilities in the front offices of two professional teams.
How does one best describe a man whose ultimate success would be highlighted by earning four Super Bowl rings; his first with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1970, his second as an assistant with John Madden's Oakland Raiders in 1977, and with two more as Madden's successor in 1980 and 1983? No one could have put it more accurately than Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Joe Horrigan, when he commented, "Tom was a player, coach, and general manager. He's the hybrid of al hybrids." Only one other person, Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears, has rings as player, assistant coach, and head coach.
The saga of how Fresno-born Flores and football became synonymous with fans began at Sanger High School where Flores excelled in football, basketball, and baseball, developing leadership qualities that encouraged his teammates to elect him the team captain in all three sports during his senior year. He quarterbacked conference championship teams at Fresno Junior College in 1953 and 1954, then transferred to the College of the Pacific (now UOP) for the 1955 and 1956 seasons. Flores continued to display his athletic versatility as a collegian, playing both football and baseball for COP where as a senior in 1956, his passing proficiency earned him a national ranking. Incidentally, this was the same year that Heisman honoree Paul Hornung was quarterbacking Notre Dame and Johnny Majors was a triple-threat tailback for the University of Tennessee.
After being drafted and released by the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League in 1958, Flores had a tryout with the Washington Redskins in 1959, but failed to make the team due to a severe shoulder injury. His perseverance to play pro ball paid off in 1960 when the American Football League charter member Oakland Raiders signed Flores and he became their starting QB by mid-season. Historically, he became the first Mexican-American pro football quarterback. Flores' first year as a pro saw him complete fifty-four percent of his passes for 1,738 yards and twelve touchdowns, but his best season was during 1966 when his completion percentage was lower (49.3), but his yardage (2,638) and TD (24) totals were higher over a fourteen-game span. During the 1962 season, Flores guided the Raiders to a 10-4-0 record. Tom Flores is the fifth leading all-time passer in the history ofthe American Football League.
He led the AFL in completion percentage (54.0) and fewest interceptions (12) in 1961, the year George Blanda of the Houston Oilers led the league in passing. During the 1962 Raider season, Flores passed for six touchdowns against the Oilers with ninety-three touchdowns during six years as a Raider signal-caller. His combined career record with the Raiders, along with stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills toward the end of his career, totaled 838 completions of 1,715 passing attempts for 11,959 yards and ninety-two touchdowns plus five more rushing TD's. His resume as a competent competitor plus his ability to assume leadership gained Flores admittance through another pro football door with a new title-assistant coach. Buffalo signed his checks during 1967 and 1968 and Oakland put him to work with a whistle and clipboard from 1972 to 1978.
His greatest accomplishments were when he succeeded Madden as head coach of the Raiders in 1979 that led to winning three AFC Western Conference championships (1982, 1983, 1985) and Super Bowl triumphs in 1980 and 1983. Spread over a dozen years, Flores-coached Raider teams compiled a 105-90-0 record. But the story behind the Raiders' success, both in Oakland and in Los Angeles, was the "Chicano Connection,"matching Mexican-American coach Flores and Mexican-American player, Jim Plunket. Plunkett led the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins, 27-10 over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV and 38- 9 over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII. Raider fans were closely allied with Flores and Plunkett, both of whom were from first generation Mexican-American families. The bicultural identity between faithful followers of the black and silver grid gladiators was especially prominent in Los Angeles and Oakland, both cities with huge Hispanic populations. Suddenly, a sea of black T-shirts proclaimed, "Orgullo y Porte," which translates to "Pride and Poise." Flores was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2021.
Tom still works with the Oakland Raiders as the "voice" of the team, doing color commentary on their radio and television broadcasts. With his four Super Bowl rings, many awards, and national recognition, Flores is known as a warm and friendly man who never forgets his family, friends, and hometown. Whenever possible, he comes to the Valley and fits right in with his many friends attending Sanger High football games as just another fan of the Apaches, who play before huge, enthusiastic crowds at Tom Flores Stadium.