PINE VALLEY — Tom Dahms' friends remember his days as a lineman at San Diego High and San Diego State. And they remember his days as a player with the National Football League champion Rams of 1951. And they remember his days as an assistant coach with the Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders of 1977.
They don't remember much about Dahms since then, because Tom Dahms had seemingly disappeared from football.
He worked as a health studio instructor who taught adults how to lift weights, as a manual laborer who put chairs together for the San Diego city schools and as an insurance salesman. Dahms was an assistant with the semi-pro Yuba City Cougars and with San Diego City College, but that was the extent of his involvement in football during the past eight years.
All the while, Dahms went from town to town and job to job looking for a team to coach.
Tom Dahms now has a team.
When talking to Dahms' friends and colleagues this week, they all wanted to know where Tom is. How Tom is. What is Tom doing.
At 59, Dahms is head coach of the Mountain Empire Redskins.
Who? Where? What?
Mountain Empire High is about 50 miles east of San Diego in Pine Valley and has an enrollment of 400. The Redskins play in the Mountain-Desert 1A League.
They are 0-8 and have been outscored, 209-56, with one game remaining against Calipatria Nov. 15.
"I would love to win every game," Dahms said. "I don't like to lose at anything."
But at 59, after what he terms a "miserable" eight-year stretch--both professionally and personally--Dahms is trying to put life and football in perspective.
"I think I'm fortunate to still be alive," Dahms said. "I went to college and was in the service. I wanted to play pro football. I coached for 20 years. What else can you say? That's a pretty good career."
John Madden, the former Raider coach, remembers assistant coach Tom Dahms as a gruff man who once spent an entire night practicing blocks on assistant coach Ray Malavasi.
"They were talking about a stance at a coaches meeting," Madden said. "Those guys were still arguing when I left and the other coaches left at about 1 in the morning. Tom and Ray stayed. They started blocking each other. The next morning I came in the meeting room and it looked like a scene from a John Wayne western. Both Tom and Ray had black eyes."
Tom Fears, the great wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950's, remembers Dahms as a rookie on the Rams' 1951 National Football League championship team.
"Tom was a big ol' boy," Fears said. "He had a hard time making the team. Believe me, he didn't have the ability.
"He wasn't a great athlete, but he worked at it and worked at it. He worked at his back shuffle on pass blocking. He barely made the team, but he became one heck of an offensive lineman."
As a senior for San Diego State in 1949, Dahms received a standing ovation from the College of the Pacific fans in Stockton when he was taken out of the game with just minutes remaining and the Aztecs losing, 62-14.
"The fans, who had been bloodthirsty throughout the game, gave Dahms a standing ovation," said Bob Ortman, who covered the Aztecs for the Tribune. "That's quite a tribute for a lineman who isn't usually recognized by his family."
Dahms, 6-5 and 215 when he was in college, was All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. as a lineman for Aztecs in 1948 and '49. Before that, he played both offense and defense for San Diego High during their glory years in 1944 and '45.
Those were the good days for Dahms, who played with the Rams from 1951-54, Green Bay in '55, the Chicago Cardinals in '56 and the San Francisco 49ers in '57. He was an assistant coach at the University of Virginia, coached with Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-62 and with the Raiders from 1962-1978.
After the 1978 season, Dahms was released by the Raiders.
"John Madden retired and Al Davis was making moves to get rid of the old coaches," Dahms said. "I was the first to go. I don't think it's because I wasn't doing my job."
Said Madden: "Tom was one of those guys who was a real dedicated hard working coach. He stood up for his players, but there was never any real closeness. He would get on them. Tom Dahms never babied them or took it easy on them. He was a little like Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia. At first they don't like him, but then they realize what he did was for their own good."
Madden enjoys telling stories about how he would scream at officials until he was about to get kicked out of the game. At that point, he would tell Dahms to take over.
"Tom was even more vocal than me," Madden said. "He was the designated yeller at officials."
At 51, when he was released by the Raiders, Dahms was determined to get another job in the sport he loves.
"I tried all over," Dahms said. "Canada, the USFL. Every time a new team started up, I tried to get in. But if they--quote, unquote--feel you're not capable of coaching, you'll never get a job.