Hispanic pioneer Tom Flores still waiting for spot in Canton – Oakland Raiders Blog

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The family story is nearing its 100th birthday now, but to Tom Flores, the Oakland Raiders’ two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, it never gets old.

Not when it’s such a point of pride for Flores and his familia.

Flores’ father, Tom Sr., was 12 years old in 1919, one of seven children whose family worked in the hills of the pueblo of Dynamite in the Mexican state of Durango. There, they mined for materials to make explosives — when they were not ducking for cover with marauders claiming loyalty to Pancho Villa ransacking the village.

“They didn’t fight them off, but they had to avoid them,” Flores said of his forebears. “My dad and his brothers had to lay on the floor as the bullets came flying through the windows. My grandma and my dad’s two sisters went down the hill and hid because they were afraid of the bandits.”

Nearly a century later, many think Flores has been robbed of his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Flores, known as “The Iceman” as a player for his cool demeanor, was the first Latino quarterback in pro football history, the first QB in Raiders franchise history when the AFL began in 1960.

And until 2007, when Tom Brady tied him, Flores held the record for most touchdown passes in consecutive games with 11 in 1963 (Ben Roethlisberger passed them with 12 TDs in 2014).

“I wasn’t a great quarterback, but I was one of the better ones,” said Flores, the fifth-leading passer in AFL history with 11,959 yards, despite missing all of the 1962 season with tuberculosis. “I was one of the few to play all 10 years in the AFL.”

Traded to the Buffalo Bills with Art Powell in 1967 for Daryle Lamonica and Glenn Bass, Flores ended up with the Kansas City Chiefs as Len Dawson’s backup for the Super Bowl IV champs in 1969. That’s when Flores won his first Super Bowl ring.

But Flores truly made his bones as a coach. He was the Raiders’ receivers coach in the press box when he noticed the Baltimore Colts showing a certain defensive tendency in a 1977 playoff game and called down to John Madden what would become the “Ghost to the Post” play. Flores added a second ring on Madden’s Super Bowl XI-winning staff.

Promoted by Al Davis to replace Madden in 1979, Flores coached the Raiders to Super Bowl victories after the 1980 and 1983 seasons, the former making him the first minority coach to win a title — 26 years before Tony Dungy, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Rings Nos. 3 and 4 made Flores the first person in NFL history to win Super Bowl championships as a player, an assistant and head coach (Mike Ditka would join him later).

“People are always giving guys credit for their X’s and O’s,” Marcus Allen told NFL Network in 2006. “But being a head coach is just much more than that; it’s managing people. The thing that really created closeness was that he trusted us — ‘I taught you all you need to know, now go out there and play.’ ”

“How could that not endear you to a head coach?” the late Todd Christensen added in the same show. “As opposed to the usual, ‘Get out of here, I’m in charge.’ It was never anything like that. I can’t emphasize this enough — I think that what he contributed as a head coach is understated.”

And this from Howie Long: “Tom was the perfect fit.”

Flores was a combined 69-31 (.690) from 1980 to 1985, including the postseason, and was the 1982 NFL Coach of the Year.

“Tom Flores isn’t just a great coach in our league,” Davis said after the Raiders thumped defending champion Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII, “he’s one of the great coaches of all time.”

Flores’ record against Don Coryell, the architect of the “Air Coryell” passing game, was 11-5. With the Raiders, Flores went 6-0 against Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history.

Perhaps the way Flores’ coaching career ended, rather than the pioneering manner in which he broke so many barriers, is what has kept him from sporting a gold jacket.

The Raiders went a combined 13-18 in 1986 and strike-shortened 1987 and, fearing burnout, Flores resigned. He did resurface as the first Latino president and general manager in league history with the Seahawks in 1989 and returned to the sidelines in Seattle three years later. After going 14-34 in three seasons, he was fired.

Or maybe the domineering personality of Davis turns off voters who believe the former iconoclast owner was the Raiders’ true coach, even if Madden dealt with the same perception, and was inducted in 2006.

Flores spoke of his relationship with Davis and the game plan with Sports Illustrated in 1984.

“Sometimes he doesn’t even want to see it,” Flores said. “He says, ‘I want to be surprised.’ But we do discuss general concepts — this tackle doesn’t match up well, we can work on this cornerback. And the overall Raiders’ concept is his. He just wants me to coach the hell out of it. I always have the last word on game-to-game strategy. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to be a household name, like Al is. But I figure if I keep winning, sooner or later someone’s gonna say, ‘Hey, Flores must be doing a hell of a job.’ ”

That Flores is, for the ninth time, among the now-102 Modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 is commendable, though he has yet to make it to the semifinal list, which is 25 deep. A momentum seems to be growing; the Raiders honored the 81-year-old Flores with a Hispanic Heritage Game halftime ceremony that included an artist painting a portrait and video tribute on Sept. 30. He, Jimmy Johnson and George Seifert are the only eligible coaches with two Super Bowl titles not in the HOF.

“I’m trying to keep my emotions low-key because that’s the kind of person I am,” Flores said. “But down deep inside, it grinds on me because I haven’t even made the first cut yet in all the nine times. I see some of the people that have and gone further and, you know, I’m envious of them. I don’t degrade their situation; I’m just envious that they’ve gone that far. And I think I’ve done as much, if not more, than some of them, but I’m looking at it through my eyes.”

Indeed, can you write the definitive book on the NFL without mentioning Flores?

Dick Enberg waxed poetic as the cameras zoomed in on Flores in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XV on Jan. 25, 1981.

“You have to be happy for that man,” Enberg said on the NBC broadcast. “Talk about Cinderella stories — Chicano, worked at 6, 7 years old in the fields, became a fine athlete, on to Pacific, had a fine pro career and now, maybe the most important moment in his life.”

Flores’ father came to central California to work in the fields and met Nellie Padilla, who was born near Fresno, though her family was from Jalisco, Mexico. They would marry and have two boys. Tom Jr. was the baby, born on March 21, 1937, as the family lived on the “Courtney” family ranch for which they worked in the Fresno county town of Del Rey.

“The house was almost a shack, which wasn’t much housing, but still it was a place to sleep and live and work,” Flores said. “My dad followed the crops when the season was over there.”

But when World War II began, the Flores family moved into a “real” house outside of Sanger, “with real floors, indoor plumbing, mainly because [my father] and my grandfather sharecropped the farm.

“The people that lived there before were Japanese and they were put in internment camps. So [we] were able to take over and live there throughout the war and did well farming. Everything was cash in those days. And then when the war was over, they had to move out because the owner had promised the Japanese, ‘When this is over, you can come back.’

“And he honored his commitment. What an honorable thing.”

Flores, who was 4 years old when his family moved into the “real house,” was in the fourth grade when they moved to Sanger and he was already, as Enberg noted, doing his part.

“I remember growing up working, playing and sleeping in the fields,” Flores said. “Because that’s what you did when you’re 1, and 2 and 3 years old — you go with your parents while they work, and you pretend to work, and then you eat and you run around the fields and then you take a nap under the vines and then you get up and you pretend to work again and you pick maybe a half a tray of grapes and then you go home at night and do it all again the next day.”

When he was older, though, it was all work and some play. The work ethic he got from his parents, who also operated a tienda, a family store, seemingly all hours of the day, seven days a week, all while Tom Sr. became a U.S. citizen. The athletic skill came naturally and surprisingly. Flores and his older brother, Bob, did not discover football until junior high school — the family knew next to nothing of the game, as they did not have a television — and then starred at Sanger High (the football stadium there is named after him) before playing his college ball at Pacific.

Both Tom Sr. and Nellie lived into the 21st century, “So they were able to go on this journey with me,” Flores said. “They were fans, but they were quiet fans.”

In 2017, the League of United Latin American Citizens honored Flores with the National Trailblazer Award for his “advocacy for Latino representation” in the NFL and a Lifetime Service Award for his “support for comprehensive immigration reform and work for inclusion and diversity in government,” while Flores, along with Plunkett, is seen as having made the Raiders popular in Mexico.. There, they’re known as Los Malosos , the Bad Boys.

“Anytime a Hispanic is doing well, I feel like we always pull for each other,” said Eddy Piñeiro, the Raiders’ Nicaraguan/Cuban kicker, who is on injured reserve. “I always pull for any Latino — Mexican, Nicaragüense, Cuban, Puerto Rican — I always pull for anybody. It’s hard. It’s hard to make it when you’re Hispanic.”

It was at the LULAC awards where Flores told the story of Pancho Villa’s raiders having a lasting effect on an Oakland Raiders icon, and the sense of orgullo, pride or self-worth, that enveloped him from generations ago.

“It gives me a feeling of pride, in a way, because they survived,” said Flores, whose family story has been passed down from him and his wife of 57 years, Barbara, to their children, Mark, Scott and Kim, all of whom are in their 50s. Five grandchildren can also expect to hear the tales of the Flores familia surviving Pancho Villa’s bandits. “Gives me a feeling of gratitude because they came to California.”

Now if only Flores can get to Canton.

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Brian Flores is the New England Patriots’ next coaching star to emerge from Bill Belichick’s tree

MINNEAPOLIS — Brian Flores will be the next coaching star of the New England Patriots, and to understand why is to understand where he is from. He grew up in the housing projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn, maybe the toughest neighborhood in New York, so there was nothing about Bill Belichick or the Patriot Way that could ever shake him.

Life had roughed Flores up early, prepared him for full-contact drills inside the NFL’s most demanding environment.

“I never backed down from anybody,” Flores said. “If people see you’re scared, or as somebody who backs down, you’re going to deal with it every day. That was my thing. I didn’t back down from anybody or any situation. Football, school, anything.”

Long before the 36-year-old linebackers coach became a Patriots scouting assistant in 2004, or a defensive coordinator-in-waiting, he was the son of Honduran immigrants who lived with his four brothers 20 stories above a community that could be perilous to navigate. His younger twin brothers, Luis and Danny, each had knives pulled on them in separate mugging incidents on their way to the local video-game store. Luis, now a fourth-grade teacher in the South Bronx, said he saw chalk outlines of bodies outside their building more than once, and that almost every night the Flores family heard the not-too-distant sound of gunfire.

Brian, the second-oldest, prefers not to offer the same details on similar confrontations. “I was tested many times,” Flores said, “and I want to leave it at that.” Flores knows what people often think about Brownsville and what journalists from far different places often write about Brownsville. He didn’t need to read in a 2012 Time story that his neighborhood had the nation’s highest concentration of public housing. He didn’t need to read in a 2014 New York Times Magazine piece that there were 72 shootings and 15 murders the previous year “in an area spanning about two square miles that many people never leave.”

Flores lived it every day. He lived amid the high poverty, crime and unemployment rates. And he loved his community all the same. “It shaped me in a lot of ways,” he said. “It made me tough. I learned how to deal with adversity, and it motivated me to get out of there. … It’s a tough environment, and there’s violence and drugs. But it wasn’t the wild, wild West. There are a lot of good people there too. I was fortunate to be around a lot of them.”

It takes a village, after all. “And it takes a big village when you come out of Brownsville,” Flores said. His father, Raul, was a merchant marine who was out to sea as many as 10 months out of the year. His mother, Maria, stayed home to stand guard over the five boys, including the youngest, Christopher, who has autism. Maria ruled with two iron fists. Unless her sons were traveling to and from school or practice, or running an errand, they were expected to be off the streets and inside their three-bedroom apartment in the Glenmore Plaza projects.

“A bunch of our friends from middle school were in gangs,” said Danny, now an equipment manager and graduate student at Columbia University, “and our parents didn’t want us involved in that culture and lifestyle. I was leaving school once and saw a kid running for his life from a gang member. I went straight home. That’s a hard thing to see when you’re 13 years old.”

On a beautiful fall day when Flores was 12 years old, his uncle Darrel Patterson stopped by the apartment to find the Flores boys watching TV. Maria didn’t want them out of the building, but Patterson, a Jets fan and Brooklyn firefighter, had an idea. A cancer survivor, Patterson had been on medical leave on September 11, 2001, when he lost six colleagues from Ladder 118 at the World Trade Center. But football was Patterson’s joy, and he told Maria he was going to load the boys into his car to drive them to a Queens park used by the Lynvet youth football league. A coach there timed Flores in the 40-yard dash and couldn’t believe the kid’s speed. He pointed Flores toward a parked van and told him to go inside and pick out the equipment he wanted to use. The young Flores put his first pair of shoulder pads on backwards, and the rest is football history in a basketball town.

Flores became a Lynvet prodigy as a defensive end and running back, and as an eighth grader, he was spotted by former NFL nose guard Dino Mangiero, who was coaching at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day, a private high school attended by the children of New York elites. Flores was a grade-A student, and the school allowed Mangiero to admit a number of athletes from low-income backgrounds as part of its Jordan Scholars program. Before its campus was rocked by reports that a previous coach had sexually abused students between 1966 and 1991, Poly Prep was seen as an idyllic sanctuary in the affluent Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn. Flores and the younger brothers who followed him from P.S. 332 to Poly Prep, Danny and Luis, thought it was really something after a 90-minute commute by train and bus to see a pond full of ducks and a parking lot full of luxury cars. They were a long way from Brownsville in every literal and figurative way.

By his sophomore year, Flores was starting at tailback and safety for the varsity. Unbeaten Poly Prep was down big at halftime to a strong team from the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey when Mangiero challenged his team to show its heart. On a fourth-and-1 near midfield in the second half, Mangiero had decided to punt before Flores, then a sophomore, started to plead his case during a timeout. Over his headset, Poly Prep assistant Craig Jacoby heard Flores tell the head coach: “Give me the ball. I’ll get a first down.” Flores ran through a tackle and scored a 51-yard touchdown in what would be a 38-38 tie. Jacoby said it was the only varsity game over Flores’ three years that Poly Prep didn’t win.

Flores scored a reported 1,140 on his SAT, and picked Boston College over a wide circle of major college programs offering him a full ride because of its academic standing and proximity to home. The BC coaches saw in Flores what the Poly Prep coaches saw: grit, intensity and, more than anything, humility. Flores redshirted his first year with the Eagles and eventually moved from safety to linebacker. Bill McGovern, now the New York Giants‘ linebackers coach, was Flores’ position coach at BC, and he couldn’t get over Flores’ aptitude for the game and how quickly he applied a lesson from the meeting room to the field. McGovern would speak at clinics and use tape to support his teaching points, and over time he noticed something about his film clips: Flores kept showing up in them. His feet and eyes were always in the right places, and his technique and execution were all but ripped out of a textbook.

The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Flores was BC’s second-leading tackler in 2003, and would have landed in an NFL camp if not for a torn quadriceps muscle that required surgery and knocked him out of the Eagles’ bowl game. Flores had all the makings of a perfect Patriots player — selfless, undersized, overlooked — and suddenly he had to make himself a perfect Patriots staffer. Scott Pioli, vice president of player personnel, hired Flores as a gofer before later teaching him how to judge talent. Belichick taught Flores how to develop that talent once he transitioned from scouting to coaching in 2008.

Belichick’s offensive and defensive coordinators, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, are now preparing to take over head-coaching jobs in Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively, leaving some major holes at the top of the New England staff. After interviewing for the head-coaching vacancy in Arizona and impressing Cardinals officials, Flores is expected to fill Patricia’s role. Flores doesn’t fit the profile of past Belichick protégés — small-college, small-town grinders who were long-shots, yes, but who never confronted the type of odds facing a kid from Brownsville. If the camera finds Flores next season as often as it found the bearded Patricia, it will do a great service to young men around the country who are forced to deal with hopelessness and despair below the poverty line.

“I hope it’s a powerful image,” Flores said. “I hope they look at me and hear my story, and there’s a hope and an understanding that they can do it too. That would be exactly what I would want them to feel. To see that regardless of what your circumstances are, or where your parents are from, of where you live … you can write your own story. I’ve written my own story.”

Raul and Maria were Flores’ co-authors. They arrived from Honduras in the 1970s unable to speak a word of English, and by making education the household’s No. 1 priority beyond physical safety, their sons Raul Jr. (Virginia Tech), Brian (BC), Danny (Albany) and Luis (Bucknell) all graduated from four-year universities. Flores earned his undergraduate degree as an English major and then earned his master’s in administrative studies, all while playing big-time football and, when home on breaks, tending to Christopher’s special needs.

People in the community took notice. “Brownsville is the trenches,” said Lance Bennett, the athletic director at New Jersey’s Mater Dei Prep and a childhood friend who became a prominent young musician and a kick returner at the University of Indiana. “And Brian was like a rose growing out of the concrete. At 14 years old, he had this grown-man demeanor about him. I’ve never seen him show emotion or any sign of weakness.”

Another childhood friend, Chris Legree, who played quarterback at Poly Prep and then at the University of Maine, said Flores could put their neighborhood on the map for a reason other than boxers who fought their way out — Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Shannon Briggs among them. Legree recalled Flores as a unifying force at home and again at Poly Prep. “He was really the first black person I’d seen mingling with white people,” Legree said. “And it was a cool thing.”

Legree also said he’d never met anyone who was prouder of being from Brownsville than Brian Flores. As a schoolboy football star, Flores was protected, to some degree, by friends and strangers alike. Even most drug dealers knew to stay clear of him. He was a designated golden child, a kid with a chance to make it out, and if something unlawful or dangerous was about to go down in a park or on a street corner, someone usually rushed Flores out of there, according to Flores and his brothers.

“But at the same time, I still had to watch my back,” Flores said. He described his early-morning walk to the train station as ominous enough to “look like a movie scene where you’re about to get robbed.”

His life experiences made him a hell of a football coach. He learned how to survive in Brownsville. He learned how to interact with people with different socioeconomic backstories at Poly Prep. He learned how to overcome adversity — in the form of his leg injury — at BC.

Belichick has been tough on Flores, just as he’s tough on all the young assistants who he’s groomed through the system. But Belichick has nothing on Maria Flores, who once grabbed her young son by the ear and forced him to immediately start reading the phonics book he’d just pushed to the side.

“Myself and my brothers are what our parents dreamed of having when they came to this country,” Flores said. “We are the American dream.”

Two years ago Flores moved Raul, Maria and Christopher out of the projects and bought them a condo in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, two miles from his home. Flores’ own American dream, as a kid, was to make it as an NFL player and buy his parents a home so they never again had to walk up 20 flights of stairs when the elevator broke down, which happened every couple of weeks. Flores made that dream happen as an NFL coach, instead.

Raul and Maria are close to their three grandchildren, Flores’ two boys and girl, and Christopher, 25, is enjoying a local special-needs program that keeps him active in flag football, basketball and softball. It isn’t crazy to think that Flores will remain in Foxborough for many years, that he might even someday replace a retiring Belichick, considering Patriots owner Robert Kraft is said to adore Flores, and since the timing — three, four or five years from now — might make him a logical candidate.

But Flores is a Patriot, and so the only future he wants to talk about is his Sunday date with the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. A few years ago, Flores made a name for himself in the closing seconds of New England’s indelible Super Bowl XLIX victory over Seattle by ordering onto the field Malcolm Butler, who only pulled off perhaps the greatest goal-line play in league history.

Flores is about to become a bigger name in New England and beyond. No matter what happens with the rest of his coaching career, Flores said he will honor what he called his neighborhood’s mantra: “Never ran, never will.”

Bring on the Eagles, and then a much bigger role in Belichick’s cabinet. This proud product of Brownsville will never run, and he will never back down.

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