Coach and General Manager Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders was watching a game film of the Kansas City Chiefs early in 1967 when he couldn’t believe his eyes.
So he ran the film back and saw the same thing again.
“It looks like (wide receiver) Otis Taylor is on both sides of the field,” Davis said.
Davis and the Raiders did some investigating and learned that the other receiver was Warren Wells, who was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 12th round (No. 160 overall) of the 1964 NFL Draft out of Texas Southern.
As a rookie, Wells caught two passes for 21 yards, but then was drafted into the U.S. Army and served a two-year stint. When he returned, Wells signed with the Chiefs and when they tried to sneak him through waivers after Davis saw him on film, the Raiders grabbed him.
The 6-1, 190-pound Wells didn’t make an immediate splash, catching 13 passes for 302 yards in 1967, but showed what was possible by scoring six touchdowns, and was almost unstoppable the next two seasons.
In 1968, Wells caught 53 passes for 1,137 yards, a 21.5-yard average, and 11 touchdowns, and followed that up with 47 receptions for 1,260 yards a whopping 26.8-yard average, and 14 TDs.
“He was probably the best receiver I’ve seen,” Raiders Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff said. “ … I believe that he was that talented. To this day there are not too many people that are so impressive, even these nowadays players.
“I always go back to Warren, think about him playing and seeing how he moved out on the field and around the field. He could run, he could stop, he could run everything. He was just an amazing player.”
Hall of Fame cornerback Emmitt Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs called Wells, “My worst nightmare.”
Sadly, Wells played only one more season with the Raiders, making 43 catches for 935 yards, a 21.7-yard average, and 11 touchdowns, finishing his four seasons in Oakland with 156 receptions for 3,364 yards, a 23.3-yard average, and 42 TDs.
“If he could have played long enough, he could have been the greatest wide receiver who ever played,” Raiders Hall of Fame Coach John Madden said.
Wells caught a 94-yard touchdown pass from quarterback-kicker George Blanda against the Denver Broncos in 1968, and in 1970 at Shea Stadium he caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Daryle Lamonica to beat the New York Jets, 14-13.
During Blanda’s incredible five-week run in 1970, when he led the Raiders to a 4-0-1 record on late heroics with his arm and leg, the Cleveland Browns had a 20-13 lead with a few minutes left at the Oakland Coliseum.
During a timeout, Blanda went to the sideline talk with Madden, who had some ideas about what play to call from Cleveland’s 14-yard-line.
But Blanda interrupted him and said: “Let me run three post patterns to Warren Wells and I guarantee you will have a touchdown.”
Said Madden: “If you guarantee it, then do it.”
First down, incomplete. Second down, touchdown to Wells, and minutes later the Raiders won, 23-20, on Blanda’s 52-yard field goal with three seconds left.
Unfortunately, Wells had problems off the field, with drugs and alcohol.
Following the Pro Bowl game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Jan. 24, 1971, Wells was met by police in the locker room and arrested on a warrant for a probation violation originating from his conviction in 1969 for aggravated assault against a woman.
Wells had pleaded guilty to after being accused of attempting to rape the woman, and in 1970 he violated his parole by drinking in a bar, where he was involved in a fight during which another woman stabbed him in the chest.
Shortly after, Wells was sentenced to a year in prison and was released after 10 months.
As part of his sentence, Wells was to spend the next six months at a drug rehabilitation center known as Synanon.
When he returned to the Raiders, he was nothing like the athlete he had been.
“He seemed to be emotionally void,” former Raiders tight end Raymond Chester said in a documentary called “Split End: The Curious Case of Warren Wells.”
Said Madden: “He came back and was never the same.”
Wells was released by the Raiders before the 1971 season and returned to his childhood home of Beaumont, Texas, where he was arrested for robbery in 1976 while panhandling. However, later in life, he kicked alcoholism.
Wells returned to Oakland in 2017, when he attended the 50th reunion of the Raiders’ 1967 AFL Championship team and was honored along with his teammates during an on-field ceremony.
In 2015, Wells lit the Al Davis Memorial Torch before a game against the Green Bay Packers.
However, Wells suffered from dementia and died of a heart attack in 2018 in Beaumont at the age of 76.
The story of Warren Wells is one of brief triumph, but mostly of tragedy.
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