It's been 47 wonderful years.
That's how Oscar Lofton looks at his football career, which included playing, coaching and, most recently, scouting for the San Francisco 49ers. It all began in 1960 when the he signed on with an upstart franchise in the brand new American Football League. The team was the Boston Patriots. He was 22 years old…
On July 30, 1960, in the first game the Patriots played – a preseason contest at Buffalo – Patriots Hall-of-Famer Bob Dee scored the first ever AFL touchdown by recovering a fumble in the end zone. Later, Oscar Lofton scored the second touchdown in franchise history on a 60-yard catch-and-run.
"The goalposts were in the front of the end zone back then," he remembered in a recent interview. "Tommy Greene threw it. I grabbed it and took off."
Now known primarily as "tight end," Oscar's position back then was officially listed as "offensive end."
"I wasn't very offensive, I promise you," he quipped. "The defense will attest to that. But I could catch and I could run. Back then we ran 40s in shoulder pads and helmets and everything, and we didn't run it on the track either. I ran it in 4.73 seconds. I was an old quarter-miler. I could catch the ball, and I'd outrun most people cause I was scared they'd hit me when they caught me."
One thing Lofton couldn't outrun was the military draft in 1961.
"I was with the team the full year in 1960. Then in '61, during the Berlin Crisis, I got drafted into the Army while I was in training camp," he explained, noting that the ownership and coaching staff at the Patriots did everything they could to keep him around. "I talked to the lady who was in charge of the draft board. She said she would move my name back because I'd just gotten married. She said, 'We're not taking any married guys. Don't worry about it.' But she went on a two-week vacation and the Berlin Crisis broke out, so I got moved up. I had a knee problem and a shoulder problem at the time, and I figured I wouldn't make it. But that didn't work either."
When he returned to New England then-Head Coach Mike Holovak and owner William Sullivan were glad to see him return. Lofton had lost 10 pounds, however, and Holovak was looking to switch him to flanker. He joined the team at Phillips Academy in Andover for training camp in 1963, but disaster struck again.
"I pulled a hamstring that training camp and then, in three weeks, came back and tried to make a run at it. I pulled it again. I'd never pulled a muscle before so it was a new thing for me."
Realizing the injury was serious, coach Holovak along with then-secondary coach Joe Collier – father of current Patriots secondary coach Joel Collier – suggested that Lofton try his hand at coaching. Holovak set him up with an interview at Holy Cross College.
"They hired me," he said. "I guess based on Mike's recommendation. That started my college-coaching career.
Lofton continued to play semi-professional football during the mid '60s, while coaching college but never played in the pros again. He coached for 28 years at the high school, college, military, and semi-pro levels and spent another 21 years scouting – six for National Football Scouting and the past 15 for the 49ers. A recent 49ers.com article suggested that Lofton reviewed nearly 2,000 players for San Francisco during that time.
"He's got this huge mainstay of players he can recall who he's coached or scouted, before I was in even in the profession, and he can compare players to certain guys who have been in the league before," San Francisco Vice President of Player Personnel Scot McCloughan told 49ers.com.
"I owe what success I have had in the league to both Mike Holovak and Lou Saban," said Lofton.
Lofton retired from scouting this offseason, and he's gotten calls from the Canadian Football League and other programs already. He says he may continue to scout on a part-time basis, but for now, he's happy to be home in Louisiana with his wife of 46 years, Billie Jean.
"It's been a good ride for me," reflected Lofton. "Football's been real good to me. I can't complain at all. Somebody said it ain't all fun but it beats working for a living. I made some great friendships with the Patriots. Guys like Jack Davis and Gino Cappelletti. I still talk to them on a regular basis."