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.
The handsome Santa Cruz-born Kenneth "Kenny'" Gleason was what some would call a "natural."It didn't matter what sport he tried; he excelled in football, basketball, and track at Santa Cruz High School and football, basketball, and baseball at Fresno State. After his playing days, Gleason turned to coaching. He coached several sports at Fowler High School for four years, then played football for the U.S. Naval Pre-Flight School at St. Mary's in 1942. Three years later, Gleason tutored the unbeaten U.S. Naval Air Station in Hutchinson, Kansas. After his discharge, he returned to Fresno State in 1946 to assist James "Rabbit" Bradshaw.
When Bradshaw decided to become the Director of Physical Education for Fresno County in 1947, Gleason was given the head job. Bill Robinson booted a last-second field goal to beat San Jose State 21-20 in Fresno to save a 3-6-2 season. In 1948, the Bulldogs were 3-3-1. Gleason returned to an assistant's job and used his knowledge of offensive football to eventually help Clark Van Galder, Cecil Coleman, and Darryl Rogers turn the Bulldog program around. The highlight was the 1961 unbeaten 10-0 season capped by the 34-6 Mercy Bowl win over Bowling Green University in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Gleason was a true triple-threat back. He was an adept passer, a slippery runner, and an excellent punter who perfected the coffin corner kick. Gleason enrolled at Fresno State in 1935 and helped the Leo Harris-coached Bulldogs win the Far West Conference title. In 1937, Gleason led the Bradshaw-coached team to an 8-1-1 FWC championship and a thrilling 27-26 Little American Bowl win over Arkansas State in Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles. Gleason also was Pete Beiden's only assistant coach during a fabled career.
On top of all that, Gleason richly earned his nickname, "Fish." He was recognized by the fly fishing fraternity as one of the finest practitioners of that sport in the western states. Gleason would make a thousand casts on his favorite Umpqua River in Oregon just to get one fish, knowing that it would be a twenty-plus pound steelhead. He was an outspoken adherent for catch and release fishing. Gleason even taught a fly fishing class at Fresno State. After retiring from coaching he moved to Oregon to live in the Umpqua.
Darel Newman was voted the #l sprinter in the world in 1965-1966 and is one of the few people who defeated Bob Hayes and the great Russian Olympian, Valeri Borzov. Twice, he tied the outdoor 100-yard or 100-meter world records. He set a 60- yard indoor world record. Newman ran five consecutive 9.3s in the 100-meter in 1964. Despite being only 5'9" and 150 pounds, the "Bald Bullet" from Selma bested the powerfully-built Hayes during a 60-yard indoor race in San Diego. Newman had to tie the then-world 100-meter record of 10.1 to best Borzov during the dual U.S. versus Russia meet in Kiev Stadium during the height of the Cold War. It was the first time that Newman ran in a race with electronic timing. It also was the first time an event was seen on American television via satellite. "My mom was able to watch me run, but she had to get up at 3:00 a.m. to see the race." Newman said.
Newman tied the 100-yard world record of 9.2 while running for Fresno State in the 1964 Fresno West Coast Relays. The same year, he set the indoor world record of 5.9 for 60 yards in the San Francisco Cow Palace, won both the NCAA Division I and Division II 100 races and the NCAA Indoors 60. He said he can't recall ever losing an indoor race. Newman gained his nickname as a result of losing his hair after contracting Valley Fever while still at Selma High School. Newman recalled that his first sprint medal came in the elementary school division of the West Coast Relays. As a freshman at Selma High, he won the Class CICF section 75 and 120-yard sprints. In his senior year, Newman clocked 9.7 for the 100. Reedley College coach Bob Lehman recruited.
Newman rewarded the Tigers With back-to-back conference, Northern California division, and state victories in the 100. He lowered his best time to 9.5 which resulted in a number of scholarship offers. Newman liked Fresno State coach Dutch Warmerdam's low-key approach and decided to stay home. He concentrated on the 100. "I only ran the 200 or 220 occasionally, mainly to pick up points in a dual meet,"stated Newman from his Bakersfield home. "I liked the indoor meets because with my start, 60 yards was a breeze. I remember the problem for Sam Workman and myself was finding a place to practice for the indoor events. We couldn't use spikes on the North Gym floor because that was where the basketball team played and practiced. Coach Red Estes made us some shoes with rubber soles and they worked pretty good."
Estes was chosen by Warmerdam to be his assistant the same year that Newman was a senior. "Darel had an explosive start, so the shorter the race, the better," Estes said. "He beat the best. He was a real competitor. He was the anchor for our sprint relay team and it was an excellent team [Sam Workman, Sid Nickolous and Marv Bryant]." Newman said he did have a good start when he came to Fresno State, but he and the coaches made a science of becoming better. They studied his start from every angle. "When I was in Russia, the Russian coaches and sprinters really studied my start. So when Borzov won the Olympic gold, he had copied my start almost perfectly," Newman said. In the 1964 Olympic trials, Newman finished third. "Today, that would have put me on the team, but at that time only the top two were chosen. Now, the first four are put on the team for the sprint relays and the second four are able to form a back-up relay team. Not making the Olympics is about the only regret I have. I did set a Master's 60-yard indoor world record of 6.5 in the over-forty division. If it hadn't been for my disease, I probably would still be running." For thirty-two years, Newman coached and taught at Santa Ana High School and became director of the Santa Ana Relays, the oldest high school meet in the state. "Dutch was a real good coach. He had a lot of confidence in me and when he told me I would win, I knew I would."
Hoover High School has produced many multi-sport athletes over the years and Rod Perry was one. He was quick on the basketball floor and on the track as well as an all-round performer on the football field. Rod decided to pursue football at the college level because it's the game that he loved the most. When he was a junior, he intercepted nine passes en route to All-City and All-Northern California honors. During his senior year, he was set to be one of Fresno's best, but things can change in an instant on the field. In a game against South Bakersfield, Rod returned an interception for a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and ran for a touchdown from the scrimmage line when he blew out his knee. It was a shock for the rising star and possibly the end of a promising football career. All of the ligaments and cartilage were gone in his knee and the doctor couldn't promise that he'd play again. He still had his dreams and that never faded.
Who would believe that five months later Rod Perry won the 100-meter dash in the All-City track meet as he qualified for the State Championship in 1971. The next year, he enrolled at Fresno City College where he helped lead the Rams to a state championship in 1972. He was also named to the Junior College All-American team and had many big schools recruiting him. Rod chose the University of Colorado in Boulder where he was an All-Big 8 performer for the Buffaloes and had a stellar career there to make him a 4th round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1975 NFL draft. Playing in the defensive backfield for the Rams really was a dream come true for Rod. He played eight years for the Rams and was a two-time Pro Bowler, intercepting twenty-eight passes and making it to the Super Bowl in 1980.
In one of the most memorable plays in the history of the Super Bowl, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a terrific pass, Rod Perry made a fantastic defensive play, and the Steelers wide receiver made an incredible reception that proved to be the game-winning play for the Steelers. Football fans talked about "The Play" all over the world. Bradshaw could not have thrown the pass any better, Perry could not have made a better defensive play, and Stallworth made a great catch and run. The image still shows up today on many television shows and it even made the cover of Sports Illustrated to show how close and precise the play was. Rod Perry spent two more years with the Rams and then finished his ten-year career in the NFL as a player with the Cleveland Browns. "I was thrilled to have played with so many great players and teammates during my career," Rod stated, "Merlin Olsen, Jack Youngblood, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, Fred Dryer, Nolan Cromwell, Lawrence McCutchen, and Jackie Slater and many others were all great friends and teammates."
Rod also developed close relationships with NFL coaching luminaries such as Chuck Knox, Sam Rutigliano, Marty Shottenheimer, and Don Klosterman. Rod Perry began is post-NFL coaching career at Columbia College in New York, then came back to Fresno and coached at Fresno City College for a year, Fresno State for two, and then embarked on a nineteen year coaching career in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, the LA Rams, the Houston Oilers, the San Diego Chargers, and the Carolina Panthers. Born and raised in Fresno, he and his wife, Patrice, have two sons, Rodney, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and now works for the NFL Network; Ryan, who plays football at the University of Hawaii; and a daughter, Miranda.
From 1963 to 1964, Martha and the Vandellas, a Motown singing group, once had a hit record called Dancing in the Streets and the lyrics proclaimed, "They're dancing in Philadelphia, PA." About the same time, Jimy Williams was playing baseball for Fresno State College and graduating with a degree in agri-business. Martha and her pals were still singing in 2008 and the City of Brotherly Love was dancing in the streets in October of that year, celebrating the Philadelphia Phillies' World Series victory-and Jimy Williams was still in baseball and part of the party, as the bench coach of the world champions. Jimy was a slick-fielding infielder under legendary coach Pete Beiden at Fresno State College in 1963 and 1964. He originally signed to play with the Boston Red Sox, but was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Jimy worked his way to the majors quickly, making the Midwest League's All-Star team in 1965. In 1966, he made his major league debut for the Cardinals in a game against the Dodgers. In his first major league at bat, he faced Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and struck out. Jimy had his first pro hit a few days later against another Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal. Although his professional playing career was short, Jimy Williams, has been in the game for forty-four years as a player, scout, roving instructor, coach, and manager.
In 1974, he began his managing career in Quad Cities, Iowa in the California Angels farm system. In 1980 after managing a Springfield, Missouri Triple A team for the Angels, he was named the third base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, working for six years under Bobby Cox. When Bobby, a fellow member of the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, was tapped by Ted Turner to be the manager of the Atlanta Braves in 1986, Jimy was promoted to the manager's spot for the Blue Jays. He helped develop the team that would eventually win two world championships. Unfortunately, by that time, Jimy had given way to Cito Gaston who managed the Blue Jays to the titles. In 1991, Jimy wound up working with Bobby Cox again, as the third base coach for the Atlanta Braves until 1996. In 1997, he took the manager's job with the Boston Red Sox where he skippered the BoSox for five years; finishing 4th in the AL East in 1997, and went on to four consecutive 2nd place finishes behind the New York Yankees.
The "Sawks" made it to the ALCS playoffs in 1998 and 1999 with wild card berths, Boston's first back-to-back playoff appearances since 1915 and 1916, but they couldn't manage to get past the powerful Yankees. For his effort in 1999, Jimy was named the American League Manager of the Year. In 2002, Jimy took the manager's job with the Houston Astros where he led the Astros to respectability in the National League Central. In nine full seasons as an MLB manager, he had a record of 910-790. In 2006, he served as a roving instructor for the Tampa Bay Rays, working with many Rays' players who went on to win the American League pennant and made it to the World Series in 2008.
Over the years, many players have praised Jimy for his help in getting them to the major leagues with his teaching and innovations. Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Scott Hatteberg. and Eric Bruntlett are just a very few of his fans. In October 2006, Jimy was named the bench coach for the Phillies, working with another long time baseball friend, Charlie Manue the Phillies' first World Series title since 1980 and there surely was dancing in the streets.
Leroy Zimmerman was one of the greatest two-sport athletes in United States history. The venerable late football coach, Dudley DeGroot, who coached Zimmerman at San Jose State and with the NFL Washington Redskins, stated: "Zimmerman was the best football player I ever coached." That was high praise as DeGroot also coached NFL Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh. Zimmerman led the Redskins to the NFL Championship in 1942 and the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club named him the MVP of the NFL.
As good as Zimmerman was in football, he was even more dominant as a fast-pitch softball pitcher, which he started playing in 1930, but didn't take up seriously until he was thirty-two years old. Zimmerman was inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame in 1970. Zimmerman changed softball pitching with his rise ball, drop ball, and pinpoint control. The big right-hander pitched in twelve ISC national championships and his team won ten times. Three of those wins were with the Fresno/Selma Hoakes and seven with the Long Beach Nighthawks. At a Hoak Packers reunion, team manager Hal Masini recalled when Les Haney, the other half of the Hoak pitching combo, had loaded the bases with no outs in the 1952 national tournament game in Texas. Fresno's Hal Britton remembered the game well. "Zim came off the bench. Masini told him he wanted three strikeouts. He smiled at Masini, threw nine pitches and fanned all three batters." That was typical for Zimmerman, who once struck out thirty batters in a fourteen-inning game and nineteen in a seven-inning game. His national tournament record was 50-3. He hurled one perfect game (seven no-hitters), was voted the top pitcher in seven tournaments, and was a ten-time All-American.
Zimmerman was born in Tunganoxie, Kansas, but moved to California as a child. He attended Monrovia, Arcadia, and Duarte High Schools where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was recruited to San Jose as a three-time All-Conference player. As a senior, he was an Associated Press Litle All-American after leading the Spartans to an unbeaten season. During the 1939 San Jose-Fresno State contest, both teams were unbeaten and the game was nationally broadcast. Zimmerman played sparingly until the last quarter, when he intercepted three passes and ran each for a touchdown, leading to a 42-7 rout. "Zimmerman was a nightmare for us," stated the late Al Radka, an All-Conference guard for the Bulldogs.
In 1940, Zimmerman was chosen the Best Back for the West in the East-West Shrine game. He was inducted into San Jose's Hall of Fame in 1981. Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions, his nine-season career found him passing for 4,801 yards and forty-four touchdowns, leading the league in interceptions in 1945 with seven and a total of nineteen career picks. His career punting average was 39.8 yards. In 1944, he was named to the NFL All-Pro team.
Upon retirement from the NFL, Zimmerman moved to Madera, teaching and coaching at Madera High School for fifteen years. After he retired from teaching, he held free softball pitching clinics in his backyard. His top female students included Fresno State's four-time All-American Amanda Scott and Madera High stars, Mitzi and Nikki Zenger. Zimmerman died in Madera on August 22, 1997, the same year that the Madera High softball field was named Zimmerman Field.