The First San Diego Charger Draft Pick
After playing for one year in Los Angeles, the Chargers moved to San Diego and rebranded the team. In the 1961 AFL draft, the Chargers selected Faison, an All-American lineman out of the University of Indiana with their first pick. In a way, Faison was the FIRST San Diego Charger. The Chargers started 3 rookies and 1 player with 1 year of experience on the d-line that year. Faison was the AFL's rookie of the year and a First Team AFL All-Pro, joining Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd and Ron Nery as AFL All-Pro's.
He was an imposing physical specimen for his day. At 6'4" and 270 pounds he was larger than the typical lineman of the day. He used his strength to defeat the frequent double and triple teams he drew. Even with the talent around him, he stood out as the man that could ruin an entire offensive game plan and every AFL offense took him into account. He still dominated more often than not. His nickname was "Tree" due to his size and inability to be moved. George Blanda remembered him as one of the best pass rushers he played against; "you could put two guys on him and it didn't even faze him".
He would also earn All-Pro honors in 1963, 1964, and 1965. At the end of the 1966 season he would be out of football. A back injury cut short a career that was headed to Canton. The Chargers traded him to the expansion Miami Dolphins halfway through his last season, but the injury had sapped him of his overwhelming strength.
More Than On The Field
In the early 1960's, most parts of the U.S. would be unrecognizable to most of us. Jim Crow Laws were still in effect in large parts of the country. The African-American football players on many pro-football teams could not stay in the same hotels as their white teammates. The AFL got around those laws by virtue of the Chargers being owned by the man that also owned Hilton Hotels. The black players still could not go to the same movie theaters, restaurants, or bars as their white teammates.
Faison talked about those times 5 years ago in a report published by Tales From American Football League. My own team history talked about the boycott of the 1964 All-Pro game in New Orleans. Faison and the other African-American players (and the fans that had to sit in segregated seating in Houston and Dallas) had a much different environment than the African-American players in the league today. There is a great interview as part of the "Heart of San Diego" series produced at SDSU in the 90's - believe me, it is worth a half hour of your offseason.
His last two years in football would have embittered most men. Faison got on his with his life. After dabbling in Hollywood (he appeared in a couple of episodes of the Beverly Hillbillys and Six Million Dollar Man), he returned to San Diego. Putting his College degree to good use, he got a job as a teacher at Lincoln High School. He also coached the football team, eventually coaching future Heisman Trophy and NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen. He was later the Vice Principal and then Principal of Lincoln High School.
After his retirement, he moved to Arizona. Earl Faison has two daughters and five grandchildren. A sister and brother still living. No definite funeral arrangements have been made yet.
Faison is a member of the Indiana University Hall of Fame, was the 12th member of the Chargers Ring of Honor, is enshrined in the San Diego Hall of Champions, and was a part of the All-American Society. I have no memory of seeing him play, but I do remember my Grandpa Frank swearing bitterly at the TV once about the "defense has been garbage since you dumbers let Big Cat and Earl go!"
If my grandad thought you were a great player, you were a great player. Godspeed, Tree. And if you scrimmage against a 5'6" 260-pound fire hydrant of a man named Frank playing center, please tell him Bobby says hello and I ain't making that trip myself for another 20 -30 years and after I see at least one Lombardi Trophy won in San Diego...