The Bills win 1964 AFL Championship
The Buffalo Bills, after an explosive start in the 1964 regular season, played like a super-team, winning their first nine games. But it took a victory over the Boston Patriots on the final day of the regular season, and a tackle by Mike Stratton for Buffalo to win its first AFL Championship.
Cookie Gilchrist and Jack Kemp celebrate after the Bills win the AFL Championship game against the San Diego Chargers |
The reason for the booing was the playoff game the Bills had lost to the Boston Patriots for the Eastern Division championship the December before. The fans were tired of having a loser. They felt that Sabin had done a poor job in coaching the team, and that he was responsible for the Bills failure. Everything he did seemed to turn against him. Little did the fans, nor Sabin know that this luck would completely reverse itself.
Lou Sabin had a new and different plan for the upcoming season. Instead of playing his regulars in the preseason games as he had done in the past, he decided to give the rookies as much a chance as possible to prove themselves during the exhibition games.
"I don't care what our preseason record is," Sabin said when the 1964 training camp opened. "I intend to take a long look at the new faces. We know which veterans can do the job."
The final result of his rookie preview was the league's second poorest exhibition record (2 wins, 3 losses).
The best example of the "Sabin rookie Theory" would be Buffalo's exhibition game with the Oakland Raiders. The Bills were out in front 31-7 with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter. Sabin substituted the defensive unit with three rookie defensive backs, three rookie linemen, and several second stringers. Rookies Hagood Clarke and Butch Byrd were, at separate times, put one-on-one against All-Pro End Art Powell. The result was three touchdowns by Powell and a Raider victory. But it was better that the rookies make their mistakes in the exhibition games rather than during the regular season.
Cookie Gilchrist tore up the league in 1964. Here he is ready to explode for another long gain |
The Bills had never won a season or home opener before in their four year AFL history, and they were anxious to put an end to that jinx against the Kansas City Chiefs. And it came to an abrupt end when Buffalo scored 31 points in the first quarter, and ended with a 34-17 victory over the Chiefs. This game was to prove as a warning to the rest of the league of what was in store for the remainder of the 1964 season.
As the season wore on, it became apparent that Buffalo's "Hot & Cold" quarterback system was a fantastic success. In seven out of the Bills' first nine victories, Daryle Lamonica came in and bailed out veteran Jack Kemp after he had gotten into trouble. So in those seven games, Lamonica either saved or won the game for the Bills. (He became such a great reliever, that there were rumors that the Yankees had scouts at the games)
| The Bills programs sold for only 50 cents back in 64. This program was for the Broncos game which the Bills won. |
Then there was the fifth game of the season when the Bills blasted Houston by a score of 48-17. That was the night that Jack Kemp threw the "long bombs", the longest of which was a 94-yard touchdown pass to Glenn Bass. The total passing yardage for the Bills that night was 405 yards, and Kemp was responsible for all of it.
The Buffalo Bills showed that they could come from behind as they did in their 34-24 victory over the New York Jets. At one point in the third quarter, the Jets were in front 24-10. Out went Kemp and in went Lamonica. The Bills ran up 24 points in a little more that 15 minutes, after Daryle took over the controls.
George Blanda, Houston's ageless quarterback, gave it all he had during the second meeting with the Bills, but that wasn't enough. Blanda threw 68 times and completed 37 of them, both All-Pro records (at that time). All the Oilers could muster up from all this offense were 10 points, and they lost the contest 24-10.
A crowd of 61,929 turned out at Shea Stadium to see Buffalo extend its victory skein to 9 straight. Just about every Bill starred in that game except Jack Kemp. Kemp was taken out earlier than he had ever been in the season. He just didn't have it that day, and Lamonica came through in great style as the Bills won going away 20-7.
Kicker Pete Gogolak was a key element in the Bills offense in ‘64 season |
With the Boston victory over Buffalo, the Bills seemed to be in trouble, even though their record was a gaudy 9-1. The Pats were 1 ½ games out, but they had a much easier schedule ahead of them than Sabin's squad.
Buffalo's next opponents were the San Diego chargers, whom the Bills had defeated in their first meeting, 30-3. But the Chargers were injury ridden then. Now they were healthy and raring to go. Both teams exchanged the lead, but then the Chargers took a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter. A series of penalties and a safety made by Mike Stratton helped Buffalo rally to tie San Diego. Then, with three seconds remaining on the clock, the Hungarian soccer-style kicker Pete Gogolak kicked a 33-yard field goal and Buffalo had its losing streak snap at one.
while the Bills had one week off in preparation for the Thanksgiving Day game in San Diego, Boston picked up a half game on them by bumping the Denver Broncos, 12-7.
Jack Kemp had on of his worst games ever the following week in Oakland. The game was low scoring, and Kemp was taken out after the Raiders had picked up a 10-0 lead. Lamonica came in and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Elbert Dubenion, which turned out to be the Bills first and final touchdown of the game. The Bills appeared to have the game won, however, after Pete Gogolak made a 24-yard field goal which gave them a 13-10 lead with only 2 minutes left. But the Raiders came back quickly, and Art Powell made a leaping touchdown catch just as the final gun fired. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the Patriots had just beaten the Chiefs 31-24, thus giving them a tie for first place with Buffalo.
The Bills had two games remaining, while Boston had only one - with Buffalo. Buffalo's next game was with the Broncos in Denver. It had no great importance whatsoever, even though (if the Bills won) it would give the Bills a half game lead over the idle Pats. They would still have to defeat or tie Boston to win the Eastern Division title. So Sabin played the Bronco game as if it were only an exhibition. He benched Jack Kemp, the Bills No. 1 quarterback, in favor of the second stringer Daryle Lamonica. Glenn Bass was replaced on the starting lineup with Ed Rutkowski at split end.
The Bills had a holiday of errors. Fumbling seven times, Buffalo gained only 221 yards offensively. But the defense picked up where the offense left off, and Buffalo had a 30-19 victory. Wray Carlton, playing in his first game in three months, bursted 57 yards on 15 attempts. Little did anyone know that Carlton would be of major importance in the Bills drive for the championship.
On his use of three new starters in the game, Sabin replied, "Everything we did was to get us ready for the Boston game." He started Lamonica because "We wanted to know what he could do when he had to take control of the club from the start. Now we know."
Like the previous year, a "playoff game" had to decide who was to advance to the AFL championship game. Buffalo had hosted the official Eastern Division playoff game in 1963, only to lose miserably to the Patriots. In his plans for the 1964 Eastern Division championship game with Boston, Sabin decided to start Glen Bass. He also gave Wray Carlton the starting position at halfback, figuring that he, along with Gilchrist, could block Boston's blitz.
After studying films of the Patriot defense, Sabin said, "We know that they haven't used the safety blitz nearly as much this year as in the past, but if they try it Sunday, we'll be prepared for it."
A snowstorm struck the city of Boston during the morning of the Eastern Division championship game. But that didn't dampen the spirits of the 38,021 who snuggled into Fenway Park. They were just waiting, as the game was delayed a half hour so that the plows could remove the snow and hay which was spread on the field, for the Patriots to "destroy" Buffalo. The Boston newspapers had been using propaganda against the Bills the entire week before the championship game. They stated how "Buffalo just didn't have the talent to win" and how "lucky they have been to have gotten this far." stories like these were appearing day after day in the Boston press until game time.
Lou Sabin, playing his own little game, didn't announce (before the game) who his starting quarterback would be. Jack Kemp was given the nod just as the game started.
The snow was finally cleared off the field. The Patriots won the coin toss and elected to receive. But after they got the ball, they couldn't do anything with it. So Babe Parilli punted to Hagood Clarke, who got to the Buffalo 42. After Cookie Gilchrist ran for a yard gain, Kemp went back to pass. As he did, the Boston blitz was on and - wham, wham - Gilchrist and Carlton stopped it like a brick wall! This was to be the case for the entire game, as Buffalo's big backs gave Kemp all the time in the world to throw. With time to think, Kemp spotted Elbert Dubenion in the clear. His toss reached Dubenion just as he crossed the Patriots 20 yard line. With a quick twist to the left, he was out of Chuck Shonta's reach and was on his way toward pay dirt (or snow in this case). The play covered 57 yards in all and Buffalo was in front 7-0.
The Patriots came right back, going 72 yards in seven plays, to score. Knowing that a tie would cost them the game, Boston went for the two-point conversion. Babe Parilli, Patriot quarterback, got behind his center and took the snap. He rolled to his right, looking for Gino Cappelletti and found him heading toward the right corner of the end zone. The ball went sailing in that direction, but no one was there to catch it - Cappelletti had slipped and fallen on the snow. That was the turning point of the game, and actually the turning point of the season. From there on, the Bills were in complete control.
Wray Calton scores against the Chargers in AFL title game |
Kemp made up for it, though. In a little more than a minute, the Bills had retained the ball. The 9 year veteran quarterback quickly hit tight end Ernie Warlick for 44 yards and another first and goal. After Gilchrist hit for three yards, Kemp carried the ball twice - scoring on his second try.
Kemp had one more successful long pass. This one was to split end Glenn Bass, who raced 33 yards before receiving the ball. The Bills couldn't move against the Boston wall, so Pete Gogolak came in and booted a 12-yard field goal to up Buffalo's lead to 17-6, and actually win the Bills the Eastern Division championship on that kick.
The Bills wound up with a 24-14 victory over their arch-rival Boston Patriots. No one was happier, after the game, than Lou Sabin. Lou had been fired as head coach of the Patriots during the middle of the 1961 season. And he had never won a big game against his former team, until now.
Bills head coach Lou Sabin leads the celebration in locker room after winning Bills first AFC Championship. To the right of Sabin are kicker Pete Gogolak, QB Jack Kemp and RB Wray Carlton |
[Photo by Robert L. Smith]
The Bills were still in a post-celebration haze when Keith Lincoln romped 38-yards on an opening draw play. It took only three more plays before San Diego had 7 points on the scoreboard. After learning that it had taken the Chargers only 2 minutes and 11 seconds to score, Sabin shook his head and said, "That didn't take long, did it?"
Then came the play that reshaped the game and gave the Bills the actual championship. The Chargers had regained the ball and had a second down, when Tobin rote, San Diego quarterback, decided to go to the air. Mike Stratton, Buffalo's big, blonde linebacker, was covering the area in San Diego's left flat.
"I keyed on rote," explained Stratton. "I could see that he was looking for a receiver down field, but couldn't find him. As soon as I saw that, I sprinted for Lincoln."
Jack Kemp gets pass off in AFL Championship game against the Chargers |
[Photo by Robert L. Smith]
"One second earlier and it's pass interference," Stratton said. "One second later and it's a missed tackle."
"He rolled over and I heard him groan. I thought he had the wind knocked out of him. But then, when he didn't get up, I knew he was really hurt."
Lincoln had a broken rib and was through for the rest of the season.
That was the spark that ignited the engine. The Bills knew they had the Chargers. From then on it would only be a matter of time before Buffalo had its first AFL championship. The score was still San Diego 7 and Buffalo 9, but the Bills knew that victory was theirs.
With the loss of Lincoln, plus the fact that All-Pro Lance Alworth was out with a "hyper-extension" of the left knee resulting from a collision with another player in the last regular season game, the Chargers were just too weak to score again.
Meanwhile, the Bills played a ground control type of game. Thus, they gnawed away at the San Diego defense and ate away time in doing so.
Pete Gogolak got Buffalo on the scoreboard with a 12-yard field goal. It came after a long Buffalo drive that was halted by the San Diego defense in goal-to-goal territory.
The game winning touchdown for the Bills came after a drive of 56 yards in 8 plays. It was first and goal on the Charger four yard line. Jack Kemp handed off to Wray Carlton, who, aided by blocks from Gilchrist and Billy Shaw, went in for the six pointer. Form then on, it was just a matter of minutes and seconds. The Bills eventually wound up with a 20-7 victory and their first American Football League championship.
Cookie Gilchrist, playing his last game as a Buffalo Bill, rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries. Although he had gained better yardage in past performances, this had to be Cookie's finest hour. And he couldn't have picked a better way to end his three-year stay with the Buffalo Bills.
Jack Kemp was just as great in this game as he had been in Boston the week before. Kemp went to the air twenty times and completed exactly half of them for 118 yards. But it was the blocking by his two running backs, Carlton and Gilchrist that gave Kemp the time to pick his receivers.
After the game, in the locker room Ernie Warlick best expressed the Bills feelings. "It is just hard to believe! It hasn't gotten through yet."
From the other end of the dressing room, the players chanted, "We're world champions .....we're No. 1 !"
"I still don't believe it," Warlick insisted. But whether he or any other Bill believed it or not, the Bills were the AFL Champs.
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