Albert Veytia Interview (Jan. 2009)

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Gamblers Asst. Equipment Manager, 1984-85 


Anthony: I believe you were born in El Paso, and your first equipment manager job was with the University of Texas at El Paso?


Albert: Yes, my first equipment manager job was student manager at UTEP. I stayed there a total of eight years, first as student manager, then as the equipment manager.


Anthony: Didn’t you also have a radio show while at UTEP?


Albert: My last year there I did a daily show, which was pre-recorded most of the time, and broadcast on a daily basis. One of the guys I featured on the show once was Steve Young, who of course went on to play for the L.A. Express. The first time we played the Express, I went up to Steve before the game and said, “Hey, do you remember me? I was at UTEP and you were on my radio show.” He said he remembered, and we chit-chatted for a while. He asked me if I had a radio show with the Gamblers, and I told him, “No, I haven’t gotten that far yet.”


Anthony: Were you able to salvage any of those tapes from your radio days?


Albert: No. Unfortunately, I took way too much for granted back then and didn’t keep anything. After all this time, I’m sure the tapes are long gone from the radio station I did them for.


Anthony: How did you hear that the Gamblers were looking for an equipment assistant?


Albert: Actually, the way it happened was one of my good friends who played football at UTEP was getting a tryout with the Memphis Showboats. He found out that they had an equipment manager opening and I sent in a resume. The Showboats basically told me I had the job, then called me back two or three days later and said they decided to hire someone locally. But they also told me that Houston’s equipment manager, Pat Marcuccillo, was looking for an assistant, and they had already told Pat about me. I then contacted Pat and had a phone interview, and he hired me.


Anthony: I would imagine that Pat probably had his method of doing things, and some of these methods were different than those you employed at UTEP?


Albert: Pat was a true professional; if there was one way to describe him, it would be that he was very organized. He really taught me the way to order the equipment, the way you handle road trips, the way you set up for games… His biggest contribution to me was showing me how to organize things much more than I ever did while at UTEP.


Anthony: And you’ve basically been working as an equipment manager ever since?


Albert: Just about. There was a four year period between 2003 and 2007 when I was an account executive in the freight business, but I got back into this two years ago with Kansas State.


Anthony: I know you’ve been with many teams since the Gamblers, but do you remember who the Gamblers used to perform the repairs on jerseys and equipment?


Albert: The jersey repairs were done by Oshman’s Sporting Goods. Albert Lubetkin was one of the Gamblers’ owners, as well as Oshman’s CEO.


Anthony: Was it your job to redo the helmets every week?


Albert: Yes, I did the helmets and Pat did the shoulder pads. I would usually have to re-stripe the lineman and linebacker helmets every week. The logo decals on the sides didn’t need to be replaced nearly as often.


Anthony: From what I understand, you have to re-stripe helmets by hand. There’s no other way to do it…


Albert: It’s a tedious labor of love.


Anthony: Did you and the equipment travel with the team, or did you travel separately to get to your destination early?


Albert: Everything went with the team on the charter.


Anthony: What were a few of the unexpected problems that popped up for Pat and you?


Albert: Our first training camp in Huntsville, Texas was held during an unusual cold spell, and we had to try and put the sleds together during this cold, bitter weather. The cold continued throughout the first week of training camp, and we didn’t have the thermal wear we needed. We didn’t move into our new facility until the second week of the season… Basically, it was a lot of growing pains.


Anthony: I think that cold spell carried over to week two of the 1984 season, when you played against the Gunslingers in San Antonio. That was the game where the stadium lights went out and there was a huge delay before the fourth quarter.


Albert: I remember that night being cold, but the one that really stands out to me is the time we spent in Chicago for week three. We went out for practice our first day there, and Mouse Davis had me go downfield to catch some punts. The wind was blowing, there was a light snow, and it was just frigidly cold. I remember catching those punts, and it was like catching bricks. The next day was sunny, and the wind wasn’t blowing as much, but I think it was still below zero during most of the game. It might be the coldest game of my career.


Anthony: Did you have a typical daily schedule?


Albert: Every day was pretty much the same when the team practiced. We’d arrive in the morning and do what we did in the equipment room while the players were in meetings. We might be fixing helmets or working on shoulder pads. I would take jerseys to Oshman’s, or shoulder pads to get fixed at a shoe repair place that was close by in Bellaire – every day I’d usually have to go to at least one of those two places. I would re-stripe some helmets early in the week if I knew they weren’t going to get scratched during practice, and the day before we played – or left to play – I’d re-stripe the ones that were left. On average, we probably had to re-stripe about twenty helmets a week.


Anthony: If a player joined the Gamblers during the season, I would assume you had extra jerseys available in the clubhouse? Where would the nameplates come from?


Albert: We would get the nameplates printed at Oshman’s, and they would also sew them on for us. To have players go in and out every week was a regular part of the season, because we were an expansion team in a new league… Players were always coming in and out.


Anthony: So Russell Athletics would send you a complete jersey minus the nameplate?


Albert: Russell would send us blank jerseys that only had the stripes on the sleeves. Oshman’s would screen the numbers on them, and also create and put the nameplates on them. More often than not, when a new player came in we’d just take the old nameplate off a jersey and put the new player’s name on it. It might not be the new player’s choice of number, but we did it as a convenience for ourselves.


Anthony: How many jerseys did the team typically create for a player each season?


Albert: Each player had two black jerseys and two white jerseys.


Anthony: Did the team create extra Jim Kelly jerseys for any reason, like to give to VIPs or charity auctions?


Albert: As far as I remember, we didn’t order extra Kelly jerseys. There were probably the four per year, and I’m sure Jim Kelly has at least one. I believe Pat Marcuccillo also has one.


Anthony: How did you identify a specific player’s helmet?


Albert: There was a little decal on the inside with the player’s jersey number.


Anthony: As far as where these helmets are today, I believe they were sold at auction along with other equipment, such as jerseys and pants.


Albert: I believe we sold the helmets we never used to Texas Tech. These were blank helmets without any decals.


Anthony: You knew in advance that the Gamblers would be merging with the Generals before the 1986 season, so what did you do with the equipment after the ’85 season ended?


Albert: We took everything with us, with the exception of the jerseys and pants. I don’t know what the team did with them, because I wasn’t living in Houston at that time. The movers came and took everything, and I joined the team up in New Jersey probably six months later. The move wasn’t something that happened overnight – it was a long process. Donald Trump bought the team, and we moved up to New Jersey and lived in two different hotels. The first was a Sheraton in Secaucus, and then they moved us over to the Marriott right across the street from the Meadowlands. That’s where we lived during a couple of mini-camps.


I know all the equipment was with us in trunks – shoulder pads, shoes, etc. Like I said, the jerseys and pants didn’t come with us, and I believe the unused helmets were sold to Texas Tech.


Anthony: Were you able to keep any memorabilia from the Gamblers, or any other team you’ve worked with?


Albert: I’ve got a helmet from every team I worked with, and I’ve got one Gamblers jersey – Kevin McLain, who was a linebacker and deep-snapper (McLain retired as a player to become the special teams coach in 1985). Like I said earlier, looking back now I see that I took way too much for granted. Very rarely did I keep many souvenirs other than a helmet from each team. I’ve been with the USFL, NFL, NFL Europe, CFL, XFL, and NCAA. From NFL Europe I do have both of Lawrence Phillips’ jerseys from Barcelona. I also have a blank jersey from the CFL when I was with the Birmingham Barracudas, and a blank jersey from UTEP.


Here’s a great story… During my time with the Gamblers, I took a ball and had every quarterback we played against sign it. You can imagine the players who signed it – everyone from Doug Flutie to Doug Williams, Jim Kelly, Rick Neuheisel, Steve Young, Brian Sipe… Then, after a while, I got other guys to sign it like Herschel Walker and Mike Rozier.  Someone broke into my apartment when I was living in Kansas City, and the ball was one of the things they stole.


Anthony: Which Gamblers game was the most exciting, in your opinion?


Albert: The Gamblers versus the Express at the L.A. Coliseum in 1985. It was probably the greatest game we ever played. We were down probably by twenty points with about six minutes to go in the game, and I remember that Jim Kelly was having just a horrible day. One of the Express players said something to Kelly that really pissed him off, right as they were getting ready to replace him with backup quarterback Todd Dillon. Kelly told offensive coordinator John Jenkins to keep him in the game, and it was a spectacular six minutes there at the end of the game – we won it. Both Jim Kelly and Steve Young threw for over 500 yards, and the last time I talked to Steve Young he told me it was probably the greatest game he’d ever been a part of.


Anthony: I have a copy of the game, but it isn’t a television broadcast. I think it’s the feed that the stadium cameras used for the scoreboard screen.


Albert: The game wasn’t televised, and it was played back when the coliseum held over 100,000 people. The contest was featured in Sports Illustrated the next week, and I believe they called it “the greatest game no one saw.” There were maybe 12,000 fans in a 100,000 seat stadium, and we’re talking about a game with over 1,000 passing yards.


Anthony: After being in the business for so many years, when you look back on your time with the Gamblers, how do you feel about the people you associated with?


Albert: It was a special team, because the camaraderie was high compared to just about any other team I’ve been a part of – it was a team that played together both on and off the field.


To this day, there are several people from the Gamblers organization I’m still close to. I went on to work with Jack Pardee in the CFL with Birmingham, as his equipment manager. The team was only around for one year, but Jack Pardee and John Jenkins were both on the staff. I still consider Pat Marcuccillo one of my best friends. I’ve kept in touch with Todd Dillon, Tony Fitzpatrick, Scott McGhee...


I’ve visited Mike and Andy Hawkins a few times. As a matter of fact, when Tony Fitzpatrick got married to Sherri Kieth (Gamblers’ Administrative Assistant), they got married in Sherri’s home town of El Campo, Texas. Todd Dillon and me went to the wedding together, but we couldn’t find a hotel room in El Campo – so went drove one town over, to Bay City, where Mike and Andy Hawkins lived. We couldn’t find Andy there, and his brother Mike told us that Andy was out of town. So Todd Dillon and me broke into Andy Hawkins’ house, and that’s where we stayed. Two days after we broke in, Andy came home in the middle of the night and thought he recognized my car sitting in the driveway. He came in with a baseball bat, and we just kinda looked up at him and asked how he was. He asked what the hell we were doing in his house, and we replied, “We’re sleeping here… Would you mind turning the lights back off?”


That’s how close we were.


Anthony: It’s nice to know you had a great time during and after your Gamblers days. I know near the end of the team’s existence your paychecks may have not quite been on time…


Albert: (Laughs) We didn’t have a paycheck until Donald Trump bought the team, then we got paid.


Anthony: And today you’re still making a living in the profession you seem to love…


Albert: Yes. This is the twenty-fourth season that I’ve worked in football.