Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for us to recognize the accomplishments of top Hispanic trailblazers in sports and in that vein, Tom Flores rises as one of the most recognized figures in the NFL.
Flores, the son of Mexican parents, went from school teacher to being the first Latino starting quarterback and then the first Mexican coach in the National Football League (NFL) while winning four Super Bowls trophies, and later as the first minority general manager with the Seattle Seahawks in 1989. He was also inducted this year into the NFL Hall of Fame.
The road to fame for Tom Flores was a long one, and included a bout with tuberculosis in 1962, which sidelined him while playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, where he became a starter in his first season in 1960.
During that off-time, Flores began selling fireworks and dabbled in real state, activities that forged his hard work and discipline. He resumed his career on the field and regained his starting position with the Raiders in 1963, but was later traded to Buffalo Bills in 1966.
Tom Flores first Super Bowl ring was as a player
At the peak of his playing days, the Mexican-American athlete couldn’t say goodbye to the game on the field without a championship ring. That opportunity would come at the close of the 1969 season, in Super Bowl IV with the Kansas City Chiefs, while as a reserve quarter-back along with John Huarte (the first Latino Heisman trophy winner), for starter Len Dawson. It was the fourth and final AFL-NFL World Championship Game, and was played on January 11, 1970 in New Orleans, as the Chiefs defeated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings 23-7. This victory for the Chiefs and the AFL, evened the Super Bowl series at two games each with the NFL, after which the two leagues merged into one, creating the National Football League we all know today.
Flores forged his prestige as a coach with two championships
Flores started his coaching career as an assistant with the Buffalo Bills and, later was hired by the Raiders where he won a ring for Super Bowl XI under head coach John Madden. Following Madden’s retirement in 1979, Flores became head coach for the next nine seasons, from 1979 to 1987. There he won two more Super Bowl titles starting in 1980 where as a wild card team, the Raiders won Super Bowl XV over the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. They were the first wild card team to ever win a Super Bowl title.
Flores and the team moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and the following year he led the Raiders to another Super Bowl victory, this time against the Washington Redskins 38-9. That year he was named AFC Coach of the Year.
With these two Vince Lombardi Trophies in hand, Flores added to his legacy as the only coach to win two titles with the same franchise in different cities: Oakland and Los Angeles.
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Additionally, he and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka are the only two people in the NFL to win titles as a player (1970), assistant coach (1977) and head coach (1980 and 1983).
Tom Flores later became President and General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks, the first minority in the NFL to do so. He then went on to coach the team (1992-1994), although he had disappointing seasons before leaving the NFL. His legacy as a player and coach were already cemented, however.
After 20 years and three rounds of voting Tom Flores finally reached the Hall of Fame with 80% of the votes required for enshrinement this August in 2021.
“My legacy in the NFL is that I was a professional. I treated everything with respect: training, playing, commenting, because I love the game of football. It’s my life, we have enjoyed the trip all together,” said Tom Flores to the Los Angels Times.