Long before it was fashionable, Earl Faison understood what a value pick was in the NFL draft … because in 1961 he became one.
Drafted both by the NFL’s Detroit Lions and the American Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers, Faison was spirited off the Indiana University campus where he’d become an All-American two-way player and flown to L.A. by Chargers’ owner Barron Hilton.
Housed at a fancy Beverly Hills Hotel and hidden from the Lions, Faison was wined and dined by Chargers’ head coach Sid Gillman and Gillman’s wife, who took him onto a hotel balcony overlooking the lights of Hollywood and told Faison, “This can all be yours if you sign with the Chargers.’’
Always an advocate of education, Faison doubted that. But he understood math. So did then-Chargers’ coach Al Davis, who would later be compared to Darth Vader because of his ruthless obsession with winning and with defeating the NFL both on the field and in the corporate board rooms.
When Faison came off the balcony, Davis took him into the bedroom of the hotel suite. Lying on the bed were 15 $100 bills and a message from Davis.
“At that time in my life I’d never seen a $100 bill,’’ Faison once recalled. “There were 15 of them. Al was standing there, chewing gum, telling me, ‘All that’s ours if you sign the contract. I put my name on paper and jumped in the bed!’’
It would turn out to be one of the best signings in Chargers’ history, as Faison went on to become AFL Rookie of the Year and a five-time AFL All-Star (1961-65) during years where he was one of the AFL’s most athletic and feared pass rushers.
Teamed next to defensive tackle Ernie Ladd, Faison came off the edge like a speeding bullet, but his athleticism was evident in other areas as well. Faison had a remarkable six interceptions during a six-year career cut short by back and knee injuries.
“He must have tipped or batted down 25 passes during the 1961 season,’’ once claimed then-Chargers’ line coach Joe Madro. “I’ve never seen a rusher get his hands on the ball as often.’’
That rookie season was only the beginning. Despite playing in only eight games the following year due to back problems, Faison was named to the AFL All-Star team. It was the only season in his six-year career that he was not also named first-team All-Pro.
Perhaps it was the shortness of his career, which lasted only 73 games, that has precluded Faison’s consideration for the Hall of Fame. Perhaps that is also why he was mysteriously left off the all-time AFL team, even though he had more All-Pro seasons than three of the four players selected at his position.
Whatever the reason, Earl Faison was a force on a Chargers team that won the 1963 AFL championship, trouncing the then Boston Patriots 55-10, and played four championship games in his first five seasons after grabbing those 15 $100 bills off a hotel bed. It was a bargain for the Chargers, although at one point they seemed to forget that.
After holding out for a new contract, Faison and Ladd were both traded to the Houston Oilers on January 15, 1966, but the deal was nullified four days later because of tampering charges filed against Oilers’ owner Bud Adams. Ladd threatened to jump to the Canadian Football League but eventually re-signed with the Chargers in late July, while Ladd was eventually traded to Houston.
Already struggling with ongoing back problems and disenchantment with football’s business side, Faison was released by the Chargers in October and signed by the expansion Miami Dolphins. The following June he was part of a seven-player trade with the Denver Broncos, but Denver returned him, saying he could not pass their physical.
Miami then released Faison, who sued the team for breach of contract, seeking the final $60,000 of the three-year, $90,000-deal he’d originally signed with the Chargers July 29, 1966.
Earl Faison lost that lawsuit and never played again, but he didn’t walk away from football. He began a long career in education in the San Diego area as a teacher, coach and principal. His first stop was Lincoln High School, where he became head coach in 1975 after a student boycott over poor educational conditions led to many teachers leaving. One of his first players was a kid named Marcus Allen, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy at USC and a Hall-of-Fame career in the NFL.
Ironically, much of it was played for Al Davis, the same guy who many years earlier taught Earl Faison and the NFL the value of well-placed $100 bill.