Interview with Bob Mischak Jr.

Bob_Mischak_1963_Raiders

Bob Mischak Sr., 1963, Raiders

Bob “Roberto” Mischak Jr. is the son of Robert Michael Mischak, who played G and TE in the American Football League for the New York Titans and the Oakland Raiders and later coached the TEs for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders from 1973 to 1987 and again during the 1994 season. Readers of this site know how much I love the AFL and I’m very happy to talk with Bob about his father and “The Other League”. 

(NOTA: la versione in lingua italiana dell’intervista la trovate in questa pagina)

Raiders Italia: Hi Roberto, thank you very much for this opportunity to interview you. I would like to introduce you to our readers. How old are you and where do you live?

Bob_Mischak_JrBob Mischak Jr.: Grazie Mako. What a pleasure to meet you and spend some time talking about the AFL and my father’s storied career. This is my sixth decade on planet earth and have lived with my wife Melissa for the past 25 years in Alameda, California, which coincidentally is the same town where the Raiders currently have their training facility.

RI: What do you do for a living?

BM: My time is divided between being a business consultant/investor and a world traveler. I have been to all 7 continents including Antarctica and just returned from visiting my 49th of 50 US States. My hope is to someday take a ride into space on Virgin Galactic…Vedremo!

RI: Have you played sports in college?

BM: While at Georgetown University (Washington, DC) I was so busy with my studies that I had little time to play intercollegiate sports. You could consider me a secchione, however, since childhood personal physical fitness has remained a significant part of my life.

RI: What’s your favorite sport? What’s your favorite team?

BM: Football is still my favorite sport, however, I do not follow it to the same extent that I did when I was younger. My interest is confined occasionally to viewing to the NFL Red Zone. Gotta love the “Quad Box”!

RI: What are your favorite players (you can name former or current players)?

BM: Aside from my father I was a big fan of Joe Namath, Fred Biletnikoff, and Ken Stabler. I had the good fortune of having spent some time with each of them.

RI: Let’s talk about your father. Bob Mischak Sr. played collegiately as an All American Army tight end and in 2017 was enshrined into the Army Sports Hall of Fame (video). He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 1954 NFL Draft but did not play because he had to serve a three-year tour of duty in the Army. He returned to the Browns in 1957 but missed the season because of some injury. He was traded to the New York Giants in 1958 and was a starter at guard for the team that reached the NFL Championship, losing in overtime to the Baltimore Colts. He missed the 1959 season after an appendectomy and in 1960 he joined the New York Titans in the fledgling American Football League. He was voted All-Pro guard in the first two years of existence of the AFL with the Titans (1960 and 1961) and was selected twice for the AFL All-Star game (1961 and 1962). He played three more seasons (1963-1965) in Oakland for the Raiders, one as a tight end and two as a guard. After his playing career Mischak returned to Army and served as the OL coach for the football team from 1966 to 1972 and then joined the Raiders coaching staff as the TEs coach from 1973 to 1987 and again in 1994.

What led your father to the American Football League?

BM: He chose the AFL for two reasons: 1) the excitement of something new 2) Economic. They paid more than the NFL.

1962_AFL_Buffalo_Bills-New_York_Titans_Art_Powell-Bob_Mischak

Buffalo Bills vs New York Titans, 1962 – Art Powell (84) and Bob Mischak (67)

RI: What did your father say to you about the first three years in the AFL? I know that Harry Wismer, the Titans owner, had some financial problems and even collecting the paychecks was not easy.

BM: He absolutely loved his time with the Titans and was forever proud of being an original AFL player. Worth noting that he is the first All Pro in NY Jets’ franchise history. Harry was a notable American sports broadcaster and certainly a character. The team was coached by two former Hall of Fame players: Sammy Baugh and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner. Of course, HOFer Don Maynard would come over from the Giants with my father, further adding to the color of the squad. Needless to say there were countless stories which have been chronicled in numerous books and articles.

RI: Was he concerned that the AFL might not succeed?

BM: Sure, he had a few concerns. I know my mother did! Yet, he was a very loyal guy and preferred playing football to working in an office.

RI: Your father arrived in Oakland in 1963, the same year Al Davis became head coach and changed the destiny of the franchise. What can you tell me about his time playing for the Silver & Black?

BM: My father and Art Powell were two of Al Davis’ earliest trades with the NY Jets. Much like his experience with the Titans, he had a great time as a player for the Silver and Black. Playing in Frank Youell Field, with its bleacher seating and intimate relationship with the fans, was a special memory for him. The 1963 team won its last 8 games, finished 10-4 and made an amazing turn around from the previous 1-13 season. Davis was named Coach of the Year.

Davis’ arrival certainly did change the destiny of the Raiders and Pro Football. In the same way, Al’s trading for my father changed the destiny of his career, too.

RI: Who were his closest friends among his teammates?

BM: My father played with a lot of great guys. He was associated with something like 30+ Hall of Famers and 5 Heisman Trophy winners. He was recruited to go to Army by Vince Lombardi and later played for him at the Giants.

Bob_Mischak_1958_NY_Giants_Vince_Lombardi

Bob Mischak (62) and Vince Lombardi (right) with the NY Giants in 1958

NY Teammate Roger Ellis stands out as someone that stayed in close contact with my father. Following his pro career Ellis served and ultimately retired as a US Secret Service Agent, working on the protection details for several Presidents. Prior to his death, Roger gave me his complete collection of “every” NY Titan game program. Good man.

RI: If I understand it well, your father suddenly announced his decision to retire during the 1966 Training Camp. Why did he choose to retire?

BM: He had had a couple of knee surgeries and realized that he could no longer play at a high level. Although disappointed, my father was very realistic about the end of his playing career. He was not a man that lived with regrets.

RI: What kind of player was he? I read some very positive comments about him in William Ryczek’s book “Crash of the Titans”. It seems he was well regarded by his teammates.

BM: Bob, Sr. was a very intelligent, determined, and unselfish team player, a respected leader (team captain), and a coach on the field. He was a gifted, natural athlete… very fast and deceptively strong. Worth noting that in 1951 he lead the NCAA in kick off returns with a 31.3 yard average.

Although he did not fit the personality of a stereotypical football player, he was unquestionably deserving of all his accolades. Boston Patriot DL great Jim Hunt considered him the best of whom he ever played against and upon his passing former Raider WR Morris Bradshaw noted that Bob was most definitely a “baller”.

RI: Thousands of former players are now dealing with the consequences that come from playing football. Your father died when he was 81. Did he show any sign of mental decline that can be connected to head trauma suffered during his football career?

BM: My father played in the era where the equipment was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. He wore a leather helmet with no face mask in high school and moved onto the plastic suspension version minus a face mask at Army, suffering a vicious broken nose in one game.

Bob_Mischak_1949_w_Buck_Walters

Bob Mischak (62) at Union (NJ) HS in 1949 with Buck Walters (courtesy of Bob Mischak Jr.)

His body definitely exhibited the strains of many collisions. He suffered from considerable arthritis. Towards the last few years of his life he showed signs of short term memory loss and following an autopsy of his brain, he was officially diagnosed with CTE.

He never expressed any regrets nor assigned blame for his football-related health issues.

RI: Were there racial problems when your father played for the Raiders? Were blacks and whites treated the same?

BM: I asked him about segregation of players on road trips and he mentioned that the black players on the 1958 Giants were required to stay in hotels apart from the squad. Interestingly enough he said those players really did not mind it as they were not subject to curfew and coaches’ supervision. They were free to have a little fun.

Keep in mind Al Davis had a well-documented history of being quite accepting of minorities. My father’s thoughts about his teammates were always geared towards their playing ability and personal character. Honestly, he really did not see color.

RI: Did your father have an offseason job when he was playing?

BM: Excellent question! Yes, he had several jobs. The player salaries in those days were not even close to today’s wages. My mother liked to remind people that he got paid $50 for a pre season or exhibition game as they were called then.

As for jobs, he worked for my Italian grandfather’s construction company doing concrete work, was a substitute school teacher, a stock broker, a telephone company lineman and most interesting of all… he cleaned out the inside of brewery tanks at the Budweiser plant in Newark, NJ.

RI: What were your father’s thoughts about the merger between the AFL and the NFL? Was he in favor of it? I know some of the players wanted the AFL to continue on, to have two leagues like in baseball.

BM: He was accepting of the merger and saw it as means for players potentially to make more money. Like so many former AFL players, he was forever proud of being part of its history and was definitely quite happy to see the Jets, his old team, beat the Colts in Super Bowl III which truly validated the league’s quality of play and talent.

RI: How was your father’s relationship with Al Davis? Can you tell me some funny anecdotes?

BM: My father had a decades long relationship with Al Davis. They were different people yet had a strong mutual respect for each other.

As a side note, I, too, worked for the organization during their historic move to Los Angeles in 1982. Serving as Financial Controller, I worked very closely each day with Mr. Davis. E’ stata un’esperienza veramente indimenticabile!

As for funny anecdotes, there are many, however, I will answer your question by saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.

Mako, I will, however, share this note with you… proof that “AD” did pass requests to his coaches in the press box during the games.

Al_Davis_note_Raiders

Al Davis note to coaches. (Courtesy of Bob Mischak Jr.)

RI: What do you personally remember of the time your father played/coached for the Raiders? Did you become friend with some of the players?

BM: Che nostalgia! I remember so many things… the players/coaches, the great games, the Super Bowls, of course the endless stories. So much fun! I could go on and on. I was so lucky to be able to experience all of this from the inside and during an epoca unlike today, far more intimate and less commercial. Truly great memories!

Sadly a few of the players that I became friendly with have passed away: Todd Christensen, Derrick Jensen and recently David Humm. I do, however, occasionally cross paths with some of the other fellas.

RI: Your father was an assistant coach in all three Raiders Championship seasons. What were his fondest memories? Which Super Bowl had a special place in his heart? Why?

BM: I distinctly recall his excitement of winning Super Bowl XI since it was his first championship and achievement of his first ring. The two other title teams, however, were equally memorable for him. They were all great Raider teams with so many notable players who participated in such memorable games.

He was quite modest about his successes yet deep down was quite proud of being a Raider and part of these three teams. They were certainly a unique group of guys.

Bob_Mischak_1994_w_Andrew_Glover_Raiders

Los Angeles Raiders TEs coach Bob Mischak and TE Andrew Glover in 1994

RI: What kind of coach was he?

BM: He exhibited many of the same traits that he had as a player: teacher, leader, intelligent, respected, disciplined, team-oriented and demanding. At the pro level he was less vocal yet when he spoke everyone listened.

He truly was a presence. Players were aware of his career successes and understood that he was a coach who could make them better.

His rather wry sense of humor is worth noting. I am reminded of a quote before Super Bowl XV where a reporter was asking him about his mercurial TE Todd Christensen… Bob, Sr. said, “Todd answers to the beat of a different drummer, however, sometimes I hear that drum, too.”

RI: From the NFL to Europe. What led your father to the Munich Falcons (he was the head coach in 1990 according to his Wikipedia bio)?

BM: My father had been stationed in Germany after graduating from West Point. He saw this an interesting chance to become a head coach in a country that he had previously lived in and spoke the language. One of his assistant coaches was former Raider TE Derrick Jensen who recently passed away.

RI: After a stint as an assistant coach for the London Monarchs in 1992 your father returned to the NFL with the Raiders in 1994 and then became the head coach for the Ravenna Chiefs here in Italy in 1995. Why Italy?

BM: My parents loved to travel. Since my mother’s family was from Italia, the choice only seemed natural. They loved their season in Punta Marina Terme (Ravenna) and made many wonderful friends. I am still in contact with some of the players from the Chiefs. Forza!

Bob_Mischak_1984_w_wife_Doris

Doris and Bob Mischak, 1984. (Courtesy of Bob Mischak Jr.)

RI: Your mother was Doris Marinelli. Do you know from where her family originated in Italy?

BM: Her parents were from the small village of Marruci di Pizzoli which is a few kilometers from L’Aquila in Abruzzo. They immigrated to the US in the late 1900’s, raising a family of 9 children in New Jersey. Despite having family still in Italia, neither nonni ever returned to visit their homeland. My grandmother never learned to speak English and she forever missed the sight of her beloved Gran Sasso.

RI: You are fluent in Italian. How long did you live in Italy? What did you do here?

BM: I began my journey with the Italian language as part of my degree in International Business. For the last 15 years my wife and I have been staying 2-3 months a year in Perugia. We consider Italia our second home. I still have family living in Abruzzo and Roma. Interestingly I will return to Italia this fall and visit Basilicata which will mark my having been to all 20 regions. My consulting practice includes assorted Italian businesses and individuals.

RI: How was Robert Michael Mischak as a man, as a father?

BM: My father was a very good man. He deeply loved his wife Doris. He was a man of integrity whose sincere modesty was unparalleled. He was someone who always kept things in perspective. He was true to himself, very genuine, never phony or arrogant. One always knew where you stood with him. He was a man of many interests beyond football. Dare I say kind of Renaissance guy?

As a father I always had tremendous respect, admiration and most importantly love for him. Melissa and I considered it a great honor to look after him during the last five years of his life. We miss him very much.

Bob_Mischak_2013_w_Bob_Jr_Union_HS_Hall_of_Fame

Bob Mischak Sr. and son Bob Jr. in 2013, Union HS Hall of Fame

RI: You live in the Bay Area. Do you still have some relationship with the Raiders?

BM: As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I live in the same town where the Raiders have their current headquarters. Yes, I still have occasional contact with a few folks that still work there.

RI: What are your thoughts about the Stadium issue in Oakland and the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas?

BM: Like my father I am pretty realistic about such things. We live in very dynamic times. NFL teams are no different than any other business and in order to thrive they need to seek out the best economic opportunity for their survival, even if it is unfortunately at the expense of their diehard fanbases.

I have had a charmed life and feel fortunate to have had so many wonderful memories of my father’s career with the Silver and Black whether that was in Oakland or Los Angeles. To me the Raiders will always be synonymous with the city of Oakland. I do wish them well.

RI: One last question… Do you think AFL players are being snubbed by the Hall of Fame voters?

BM: Perhaps. Sadly we live in a world where the notion of history is considered something from a few moments ago. The AFL-NFL merger was agreed to in 1966 and finalized in 1970. Almost a half century has passed since that event which in today’s mindset is considered “prehistoric”.

Fewer Hall of Fame voters have a visceral connection to the AFL and since these deserving players are competing for 1 spot with modern day veterans, their odds of selection are probably remote.

Hall of Fame recognition can be quite political. My father’s enshrinement in the Army/West Point Sports HoF took years of a concerted campaign to achieve that goal. I can only imagine how much tougher it must be for an AFL player from 50+ years ago to be recognized by NFL voters. In bocca al lupo!

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