Pro Football Hall of Famer Al Davis' fingerprints are on the careers of many men who played in the NFL and the AFL.
The start of former Jets guard Dan Ficca's career had Davis' fingerprints and well, as it would turn out, his bootprint, as well.
Their relationship began when Ficca, a Mount Carmel, PA, native, was recruited by Davis to play college football at USC. In 1961, Ficca was drafted by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles and the AFL's Chargers, who then had Davis on their coaching staff.
"I signed with San Diego, and I'm down there three or four days and I called my father. I said, 'Dad, I came out here to play football, but I didn't graduate. I switched majors so many damn times that I don't have a diploma.' He said, 'Well, if I were you, I'd go back to school. You went to California to play football and get a diploma,'" Ficca said.
"The mistake I made was not telling Al Davis what my plan was, That I was going to go back to school for one more year, and then join them. Well, that was a big mistake because he got pissed off and traded me to the Oakland Raiders.
"I get to Oakland and it's like Grand Central Station. Everybody and his brother getting cut from other teams were there. But as time went on, I got to play a little bit. And then what happened was, Uncle Sam put his two cents in and I had to join the Army.
"So, I'm in the service, and Al Davis called and says, 'I just traded your ass to the New York Jets.' The next thing you know, (New York's head coach) Weeb Ewbank calls and says, 'You're now the property of the New York Jets. Make sure you're in shape.' And I told him I'm not going to get out until mid-September. He said, 'Oh, (damn). Al Davis pulled a quick one on me.'"
After completing his tour in the Army National Guard, Ficca made his way to New York, and joined the first-year Jets for the 1963 season. He started at left guard that season and the next when the team moved from the Polo Grounds to brand-new Shea Stadium.
"Oh, it was great. It was beautiful," Ficca said. "My favorite story about that is nobody came to the games (at the Polo Grounds). We said, when they introduced the team, we'd just run out onto the field and go up into the stands and shake hands with the fans. That was a joke, but it's about the way it was. Nobody came to the games, but that changed."
Things changed for Ficca in 1965, when an injury took him out of the starting lineup. And, coincidently, the year before that he recalls when a rookie hoped to put him on the bench.
"I go to practice and there's this guy there, Dave Herman," Ficca said. "He says, 'Where's Dan Ficca?' I said, 'I'm over here.' And he comes over and pulls out a measuring tape. He measures my arms, legs, neck, chest, every damn thing but my ding-dong. He says, 'I'm bigger than you in every way. I'm going to beat your ass. You're going to be second-string.'
"So, we go through the practice season and everything was OK. And then we came to the first game, the first quarter, and I got hurt. I'm out for four weeks. The next thing you know, Dave Herman's first string. There was no way he was better than I was in every way. And so anyway, I sat on the bench for the next three years."
With the Jets for four seasons from 1963-66, what are among Ficca's memories from his time wearing the Green & White?
"I should put it this way, you get paid to do your job. So, the memories that you have are the times that you don't do your job," Ficca said. "We had a field goal we were going to kick. The score was 3-0, we were losing. So, we went to kick the field goal, and somehow, I got pulled out of the damn position and they got in and blocked it.
"And not only did they block it, but they picked it up and ran in for a touchdown. I went to the sideline and Chuck Knox, my line coach, says, 'Hey! What the hell happened out there? Now instead of the score being 3-0, it's 10-0. You can spend the rest of the day on the bench.'
"The only other time I got in trouble was when I got interviewed once. We had to play San Diego, and they asked me about playing against (the Chargers' 6-foot-9, 290-pound defensive tackle) Ernie Ladd, and I said, 'Oh, he's going to be a load, but I'll do my best.' The coach gave me hell. 'All you're doing is giving him more energy by saying he's a load.' So, no more interviews for me."
After Ficca hung up his shoulder pads and walked away from the game, he went into sales and demonstrated the same admirable work ethic he had as a player.
"I got a job with the Genesee Brewing Company selling beer. So, I sold there for 15 years and then took another job later on with International Paper, and I worked there for 15 years," Ficca said. "I sold all over Pennsylvania, and then I moved into Jersey and then into Maryland. I've got to brag a little bit; I did an excellent job. I got in at the right time and we became No. 1.
"I went to work every day on time no matter where I had to go. And I had to drive two and a half hours (each way) every day to meet the salesmen that I was going to go out with. Those were long days for me, but I enjoyed work. I loved my jobs, I always did."
Now enjoying retirement with his wife, Phyllis, Ficca lives in Hummelstown, PA, where he has taken up a unique, as well as, a constructive hobby.
"You're going to laugh when I tell you what I do. I'm a big Legos fan," Ficca said. "I went out one day and bought two damn bins. They're like two feet deep. It must have taken me six months to separate the son of a (guns). I have 15,000 Legos on tables in a spare bedroom. I call it my Legos room."