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         The 2024 season is the SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the Buffalo Bills' first American Football League Championship.  For unexplained reasons, the Bills organization evidently chooses not to make any public mention or acknowledgement of that accomplishment, the first of only two major league championships ever won by a Buffalo major professional sports team.  This is a travesty.  My homage to that team, as my thanks for the pride they brought to Buffalo, is at 1964 AFL Champions

        THIS page is to honor the 1965 BUFFALO BILLS, the last Buffalo team to win a major league championship.

        At the bottom of this page is an article by Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News that indicates the Bills management may finally be waking up!

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       Nineteen sixty-three was the first of a string of four consecutive years in which the Buffalo Bills participated in post-season play, the only American Football League team to accomplish that feat.  They lost the 1963 AFL Eastern Division playoff to their arch-rivals, the Boston Patriots.  But that taste of post-season action served them well, and they came back to make 1964 their first championship year, defeating the favored San Diego Chargers 20-7.
      In 1965, the same two teams met for the championship, this time on the Chargers' home field.  The Bills' 1964 victory was discounted by some as a fluke, or as the result of the loss of the Chargers' Keith Lincoln early in the game.  In the 1965 Championship game the Bills, now without Cookie Gilchrist, were again the underdog.   But the 1965 Bills showed that they were as formidable a team as the previous year's squad.
     This page is a tribute to that 1965 team. 


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The Bills wore throwback jerseys
from the 1964 and 1965 Championship years for two games in 2005.


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       Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist was a fiery competitor and a handful to coach.  During 1964's confrontations with Bills' head coach Lou Saban, he had benched himself, had been cut and then reinstated, and the handwriting was on the wall.  Before the 1965 season, he was traded to the Denver Broncos for the 1964 AFL Rookie of the Year, Billy Joe.  
       "It had to happen," Lou Saban said. "The situation between Cookie and the Bills had become impossible. He has been a great player, I wish him well in Denver."
       So the Bills played the 1965 season without their first true superstar, the first AFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, the first pro to rush for over 240 yards in a single game.


Note: The football cards reproduced below are from the 1966 Topps set, but the photos and uniforms shown on these cards were from 1965 or earlier.   Click on the photo for a larger image or click on the player's name for a view of the back of the card.




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Click on images or clippings for a larger view


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    "Charlie Warner steals the ball from intended receiver Lionel Taylor.  It was one of three interceptions by the Bills cornerback in Buffalo's 30-15 victory."

      Billy Joe seemed the better deal in the trade, as he scored on a short pass in the first Denver game, and went 78 yards on a pass play for a TD in the second.
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    The Bills had a costly victory as their All-Star receiver Elbert Dubenion sustained a knee injury and was lost for the remainder of the 1965 season.

     "Charley Warner (22) bats ball away from surprised Dee Mackey (89) to save Jets' touchdown late in game.  Hagoode Clarke (45) is in background."

     The Jets won the second meeting, 14-12.  The Bills had clinched the Eastern Division Championship, and played a sloppy game.  Three passes from center on placekicks went astray, and Gogolak went scoreless his first time as a pro.   In the loss, Warner had two TDs.
      Joe Namath had a good day, throwing two touchdown passes to Don Maynard.
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     In the first four weeks of the season, the Bills lost both their starting flankers, Elbert Dubenion and Glenn Bass.
     "Ed Rutkowski snuggles ball as he completes important first down pass from Jack Kemp in final minute of game with Raiders."

     The Raiders got off to a fast start, with Clem Daniels running strong, but the Bills slowed him in the second half.  Butch Byrd held Art Powell without a reception, and Paul Costa made a tough catch to set up the winning field goal with 9 seconds to go.
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     "This is the fabled Lance Alworth.  After taking short sideline pass from John Hadl, 'Bambi' demonstrates open field running ability as he leaves Harry Jacobs grabbing air. Hagoode Clarke (45) and Mike Stratton (58) set to make their attempts.  George Saimes was eventually successful after 18 yd. gain."

     "In two weeks on the west coast against the two toughest teams in the AFL, Buffalo came within 13 seconds of two defeats, avoided both, and clinched no worse than a tie for their division championship. - - - Nobody spots Lance Alworth 5 yards and catches him from behind, but Booker Edgerson did it in the third quarter."    ~ Steve Weller
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More on the Thanksgiving Game

     "On the fourth play from scrimmage, linebacker John Tracey of the Bills got to Charger fullback Gene Foster before John Hadl's pitchout.  Tracey caused a fumble and Jim Dunaway recovered fr the Bills on the San Diego 45 .  The Bills scored in five plays, with Kemp firing a 6-yard roll-out pass to Wray Carlton."      ~ Larry Felser 

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     Pete Gogolak, the AFL's leading scorer, added 11 points on three field goals and two PATs.
     "After a Short gain, Mack Lee Hill is swarmed by the Bills' defense: JohnTracey (51), Tom Sestak (70), Harry Jacobs (64), and Gene Sykes (23).  Jim Dunaway (78, number not visible) makes the tackle."
     "Buffalo defense -- led by a perfect safety blitz by George Saimes -- keyed a 23-7 victory. 
     Saimes jolted the ball loose from quarterback Pete Beathard, scooped it up and raced into the end zone for a touchdown."

     "Middle Linebacker Harry Jacobs signals a Bills fumble recovery after QB Len Dawson is dropped."
      Bo Roberson covered admirably for the injured Dubenion and Bass, catching TD passes of 66 and 18 yards from Jack Kemp.  Gogolak added another ten points on 2 FGs and 4 PATs..
     The Bills' victory was clouded by a knee injury to Chiefs running back Mack Lee Hill, a promising second-year player from Southern University.  He underwent routine surgery for the injury but died on the operating table in Kansas City on December 14, 1965, of acute heat stroke.
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     In a poorly played Hallowe'en game, Buffalo's TDs came on a 4 yard run by Billy Joe and a 2 yard dive by Wray Carlton.   Pete Gogolak added a 39 yard field goal. 
     George Blanda acounted for 18 of the Oilers' points, with field goals of 31, 30, 13 and 7 yards, and a 10 yard TD pass to Ode Burrell - - the PAT was kicked not by Blanda, but by Jack Spikes!

     Trading long plays, Bo Roberson scored on a 74 yard pass from Daryle Lamonica and the Oilers' Dick Compton caught Blanda's pass for a 95 yard TD.  On the ground, Wray Carlton took Lamonica's handoff on the Bills' 20 and with Billy Shaw blocking downfield all the way, and a devastating block by Roberson, went 80 yards for the score.  The win clinched the Eastern Division title for the Bills.
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     So the Bills finished the 1965 regular season with the American Football League's best record, 10-3-1.   The AFL Championship Game would be a rematch with the San Diego Chargers, who were 9-2-3.  Though the Bills had the better record, they were underdogs: Dubenion, Bass and Keating had all had season-ending injuries; during the season, the Chargers had tied the Bills in one game and crushed them 34-3 in the game at War Memorial Stadium.

       Most importantly, the Bills no longer had the player who had punished the Chargers for 122 yards on only 16 carries in the 1964 Championship Game - Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist.    In 1965 Billy Joe, who had replaced Cookie, ran for 377 yards and gained 271 on pass receptions, for a total of 648 yards.  Cookie, meanwhile, had 954 yards rushing and 154 yards on receptions, totalling 1,108 yards . . . but Cookie was in Denver.

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     "This, in addition to being the first shutout in AFL championship game history, was every bit as crushing as was the Charger's pasting of Boston two years ago."   ~ Jim Peters

     "The Bills limited Paul Lowe, the AFL's rushing king, to 63 yards on 12 carries.  He gained 47 yards on one breakaway, but was otherwise completely neutralized."   ~ Jim Peters


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     "The Chargers couldn't get moving after the first Buffalo score and Hadl booted a high, soaring punt to Butch Byrd on the Bills' 26. 
       'Henry Schmidt and Tommy Janik gave me big blocks after I caught it' he reconstructed.  'I stepped inside and tried to stay along the sidelines.  The referee said I stayed in bounds by about a half inch.'
       'Paul Maguire knocked down two guys at about the 10.  Man, he really hit 'em.  That sprung me'."   ~ Larry Felser

     "'We used a double tight end offense (with Warlick replacing Ed Rutkowski at split end, then closing in to the line of scrimmage) with the idea of controlling the ball.' said Offensive Assistant Johnny Mazur.
       The amazing part of the drive was that the Bills operated with three strangers in the middle of their line.  Al Bemiller had started for the injured Dave Behrman at center and Joe O'Donnell replaced Bemiller at right guard.  George Flint replaced the injured Billy Shaw."   ~ Larry Felser


     During the 1965 season, I designed this "charging bison" Bills logo.  Ralph Wilson Jr.'s autograph is on the lower right.  Click the image to enlarge it.


More to come ~ last update 02 March 2024


Photo Courtesy of the Bleacher Report   


        FRONT ROW: Paul Maguire, Wray Carlton, Pete Gogolak, Hagood Clarke, George Saimes, Booker Edgerson, Willie Ross, Glenn Bass, Charley Warner, Tom Janik, Sullivan "Pete" Mills, Bobby Smith.

       SECOND ROW: Trainer Ed Abramowski, Ed Rutkowski, Bill Groman, Butch Byrd, Mailon Kent, Jack Kemp, Head Coach Lou Saban, Daryle Lamonica, Floyd Hudlow, Gene Sykes, Don Stone, Tom Day, Assistant Coach Joel Collier, Assistant Coach Jerry Smith.

       THIRD ROW: Equipment Manager Tony Marchitte, Assistant Coach Johnny Mazur, Dave Behrman, Joe Auer, Billy Joe, Dudley Meredith, Ron McDole, Jim Dunaway, George Flint, Bill Laskey, John Tracey, Paul Costa, Ernie Warlick, Remi Prudhomme, Assistant Equipment Manager Ron Krauza.

       FOURTH ROW: Woody Ward, Doug Goodwin (taxi squad), Co-Captain Billy Shaw, Al Bemiller, Tom Keating, Mike Stratton, Co-Captain Tom Sestak, Joe O'Donnell, Dick Hudson, Harry Jacobs, Stew Barber, Charley Ferguson, Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Davidson, Henry Schmidt.

        MISSING FROM PHOTO: Elbert Dubenion, Fred Moore, Bo Roberson.

Photo by Robert L. Smith

Photo Courtesy of Denny Lynch, Buffalo Bills Archivist


1965 Buffalo Bills


              Remi Prudhomme, a 1965 Bills draft choice, was injured for the entire 1965 season and didn't play a game.  However, he was such a hard worker, and so popular, that the Bills voted him an AFL Championship ring.  He later earned a 1969 AFL Championship and a World Championship ring with the Kansas City Chiefs.


  Byrd     Stratton     Saimes         Jacobs         Clarke         Tracey      Warner
                      Day              Sestak        Dunaway        McDole
. . . . . . . . . . .
17 Straight games without allowing
a rushing touchdown.


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Tom Day, Tom Sestak, Jim Dunaway and Ron McDole
above, in 1965; below, in 1985 at the 25th Anniversary of the
AFL's start.


          The 1965 Buffalo Bills continued the on-field excellence of the previous year.  Their defense extended a string that began in the 1964 season, to seventeen straight games without allowing an opponent to score a rushing touchdown.   Two members of the 1965 squad were eventually named to the American Football League's All-Time Team, five to the second team, and fifteen are in the American Football League Hall of Fame.  The only player ever inducted to the "pro football" hall of fame, without ever playing in the NFL, was a member of the 1965 Bills; guard Billy Shaw.


1965 Buffalo Bills Statistics

Passing Comp Att Comp %Yds Y/Att TD Int Rating
Jack Kemp 179 391 45.8 2368 6.06 10 18 54.8
Daryle Lamonica 29 70 41.4 376 5.37 3 6 37.6
Rushing Rush Yds Avg TD
Wray Carlton 156 592 3.8 6
Billy Joe 123 377 3.1 4
Bobby Smith 43 137 3.2 1
Donnie Stone 19 61 3.2 0
Jack Kemp 36 49 1.4 4
Daryle Lamonica 10 30 3.0 1
Paul Maguire 1 21 21.0 0
Joe Auer 3 19 6.3 0
Charley Warner 1 2 2.0 0
Receiving Rec Yds Avg TD
Bo Roberson 31 483 15.6 3
Billy Joe 27 271 10.0 2
Wray Carlton 24 196 8.2 1
Paul Costa 21 401 19.1 0
Charley Ferguson 21 262 12.5 2
Glenn Bass 18 299 16.6 1
Elbert Dubenion 18 281 15.6 1
Ed Rutkowski 18 247 13.7 1
Ernie Warlick 8 112 14.0 1
Donnie Stone 6 29 4.8 0
Pete Mills 1 43 43.0 0
Charley Warner 1 11 11.0 1
Jack Tracey 1 2 2.0 0
Jack Kemp 1 -9 -9.0 0
Bobby Smith 0 12 0.0 116
Kick Returns Ret Yds Avg TD
Charley Warner 32 825 25.8 2
Ed Rutkowski 5 97 19.4 0
Floyd Hudlow 2 36 18.0 0
Bo Roberson 4 59 14.8 0
Paul Maguire 1 5 5.0 0
Punt Returns Ret Yds Avg TD
Charley Warner 1 16 16.0 0
Hagood Clarke 1 13 13.0 0
Floyd Hudlow 1 12 12.0 0
Ed Rutkowski 11 127 11.5 0
Butch Byrd 22 220 10.0 0
George Saimes 0 1 0.0 0
Punting Punts Yds Avg Blocked
Paul Maguire 80 3437 43.0 0
Kicking PAT
Pete Gogolak 31 31 100 28 46 60.9 115
Interceptions Int Yds Avg TD
Hagood Clarke 7 60 8.6 0
Butch Byrd 5 119 23.8 0
Charley Warner 5 84 16.8 1
Booker Edgerson 5 55 11.0 0
George Saimes 4 24 6.0 0
Mike Stratton 2 19 9.5 0
Ron McDole 1 24 24.0 0
Jack Tracey 1 8 8.0 0
Tom Day 1 0 0.0 0
Harry Jacobs 1 0 0.0 0

Generated: 11/27/2002
Source of this information: John Troan


1965 League Leaders
Field goals made: Pete Gogolak – 28
Team Defense: Bills – 226 pts
Team Interceptions: Bills – 32
Rushing TDs Allowed: Bills – 4


Monday, June 29, 2015
Copyright 2015 by the Buffalo News

It's time to put old resentments to rest and honor Saban, Gilchrist at the same time as the two championship teams

Door may be ajar to honor Bills’ greats Saban, Gilchrist


Jerry Sullivan
 News Senior Sports Columnist

The Bills haven’t made it official yet, but plans are in the works for a ceremony to commemorate the 1964 and ’65 AFL championship teams at the home opener against the Colts on Sept. 13 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The celebration will mark the 50th anniversary of the Bills’ second AFL title. The team waited a year to hold the event, partly because of the change in ownership after Wilson’s death and because they wanted to honor all the players from both of Buffalo’s only major professional sports champions.

This is a wonderful idea, and one that would be even better if the Bills added a gesture that is long overdue – adding Lou Saban, the coach of those title teams, and Cookie Gilchrist, the team’s first superstar, to the stadium’s Wall of Fame.

“I think it would be wonderful,” said Barbara Saban, Lou’s daughter. “How do you celebrate those players if you don’t celebrate their coach at the same time? Seeing their coach up there is validation for all those guys who will never see their names up on that wall. I think the City of Buffalo would be thrilled.”

Saban, a psychotherapist in Colorado, said she said sent two letters to Terry Pegula, but didn’t get a response. Ange Coniglio, a long-time AFL archivist who has a website called RemembertheAFL and a Facebook page, Bills of the Sixties, said he sent a letter to the owner and cc’d to Rex Ryan, but also heard nothing back.

Evidently, someone at One Bills Drive got the message. A Bills source said the team has reconsidered its plan not to put anyone on the Wall this season and will convene a special meeting of a revamped Wall of Fame committee during training camp to vote on possible additions.

That would almost surely include Saban and Gilchrist, two iconic figures from the Bills’ early days who have been left off the Wall since its inceptions for reasons that have nothing to do with their contributions on the football field.

Saban won two AFL titles and turned a bad team around when he returned in 1972. But he quit twice, after winning in ’65 and five games in the 1976 season. Wilson, who sat on the committee, never forgave Saban for quitting twice. He said Saban failed to meet his loyalty standard and would never go on the Wall during his lifetime.

Gilchrist was actually honored on the Bills’ now-defunct “Wall of Honor” in 1970. He was the first player selected and came to Buffalo for a ceremony, where he received a plaque. But the Wall of Honor never really took off and faded away.

Wilson had his issues with Gilchrist, a proud, intelligent and often difficult man, a self-described “iconoclast.” He was named the AFL’s MVP in 1962 and led the AFL in rushing in the ’64 title year. But Wilson was so weary of dealing with Gilchrist, he traded him to Denver after the season.

Over the years, Wilson softened on Gilchrist. But as Cookie became increasingly erratic and unreliable, the committee decided not to vote him onto the Wall out of fear that he wouldn’t show up for the ceremony, or that he would embarrass himself by launching into one of his rambling, resentful rants.

There were questions about whether Gilchrist qualified for the Wall, having played only three years with the Bills. There was supposedly a rule that said you had to be a Bill for five years to be eligible. But any rule that would keep Gilchrist off the Wall is worth modifying.

About seven or eight years ago, the committee stopped voting on Saban and Gilchrist altogether. Saban died in 2009, Gilchrist in 2011, Wilson in 2014. It’s time to put old resentments to rest and honor them at the same time as the two championship teams.

“I know there’s a lot of fans out there who feel the same way,” said Coniglio, who pushed hard for the NFL to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL in 2009. “There’s new ownership. This is something that can bring the community and team together. Booker Edgerson, Ed Rutkowski, my friend Ernie Warlick who died last year ...

“These people aren’t going to last forever. Let’s do it while they’re around, and honor the team and honor two of the biggest components of those teams.”

Saban was football’s restless itinerant, a man who coached in 21 places over 52 years. Saban coached in high school, at big and small colleges, in the arena leagues. Until his death, he gave long-distance coaching tips to his grandson, Jay, a high school coach in Denver.

“My dad was no saint,” Barbara Saban said. “But for crying out loud. For the people of Buffalo and for his teams, the ’64-65 teams, Dad did right. He did right by those guys. Talking to those men at Dad’s memorial service, I found he had done things for those guys that we never knew about. Dad would go above and beyond for his players.”

I spoke with Saban once, after Marv Levy became Bills general manager at age 80 in 2006. Saban was 84, but out of coaching for only three years. He felt he could come back and coach, and he had fond memories of Buffalo. He said he held no ill feelings toward Wilson, whom he considered a good football man.

The late Larry Felser revered Saban and Gilchrist. Larry and Jack Kemp both called Gilchrist the greatest all-around football player they ever saw. Felser kept in touch with Saban through the years and visited him in Tampa before the Bills’ first Super Bowl.

Larry walked in Saban’s house and saw two sculpted Bisons above the TV set, a cushion with a Bills’ logo on it, and a coffee mug with an old Courier-Express story about O.J. Simpson going over the 2,000-yard rushing mark in 1973.

“For all the football jobs he’s held, for all the cities in which he’s worked, Saban never got the Bills or Buffalo out of his blood,” Felser wrote in 1991.

Twenty-four years later, Saban’s daughter agreed. She said Lou’s time with the Bills was extremely dear to him, and that he felt a powerful bond with the people of Buffalo. He understood the town’s essential blue-collar ethos.

“Oh, absolutely,” Barbara Saban said. “It meant a great deal to him, because Dad was a real working-class kind of guy at heart. He understood what it was like to work those steel mills, to live that hardscrabble kind of life. He knew what it meant to work hard to provide for your family bring home that paycheck.

“He grew up poor. Dad went to work when he was 8 years old. He worked in the gravel pits outside Chicago. Eight years old. He was the guy that ran the dynamite lines into the gravel pits. Then lit the fuse and ran out. Which of course in these days would be child abuse. But that’s what you did in the Depression.”

Yes, at heart, Saban was a Buffalo guy. He would have appreciated it when Rex Ryan mentioned Cookie and the old AFL days in the Rockpile during his introductory press conference at the Ralph in January. When he talked about the connection between the team and the community, you realized that Ryan gets it.

Terry Pegula seems to get it, too. He cried when he saw Gil Perreault on his first day in town. He cried at his first press conference as Bills owner talking about going to see football games as a little boy. Pegula has forged a strong connection with the town. He must understand what Saban and Gilchrist mean to fans here.

So this should be no-brainer. Just imagine, a ceremony to honor the Bills’ two AFL championship teams at the season opener, with Lou and Cookie finally going onto the Wall of Fame, with the living players from those two teams looking on proudly.

There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, including the owner.


Jerry Sullivan's commentaries appear regularly on the Sports pages of the Buffalo News


       The Buffalo Bills Alumni Foundation held a great celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Bills' AFL Championship teams.  Click HERE for the Alumni press release.  This was an Alumni affair.  Not a word out of the Bills' management about honoring the teams until a week before the event.  Then they held a short ceremony at halftime of the opening 2015 game against the Indianapolis Colts.  They couldn't figure out that maybe they should have do ne it when the Bills played a former AFL opponent.  No memorabilia honoring the AFL Champions was offered by the NFL or the Bills management.  They did, at long last, add iconic head coach Lou Saban to their Wall of Fame (click here).

       The Alumni Gala was a marvelous event.  In attendance were many former Bills, including the guests of honor from the 1964 and 1965 American Football League Champions:
Stew Barber,  George Flint,  Mike Stratton, Ron McDole, Ed Rutkowski, Al Bemiller, Harry Jacobs, Billy Shaw, Booker Edgerson, Glenn Bass, Willie Ross, Daryle Lamonica, Butch Byrd, Paul Maguire, Charlie Ferguson, Wray Carlton, Bobby Smith, long-time trainer Ed Abramoski, and the families of the late Tom Day, Jack Kemp, Ernie Warlick, Cookie Gilchrist and Lou Saban.
        Click the image below for a video of the gala, by former player Jeff Nixon (Bills 1979 - 1984).


     For more images from the Alumni Gala and photos of the Bills and their children, go to Children of CHAMPIONS.


December 26, 2015
Copyright 2015 by the Buffalo News


         The AFL title 50 years ago ranks among the Bills franchise’s top moments,
          when Lou Saban's team surprised the favored and overconfident Chargers,

                  winning their second straight AFL title in dominating fashion


uffalo Bills punter Paul Maguire was at a party with a bunch of the San Diego Chargers players two days before the 1965 American

Football League Championship Game.
     It was not strange at all that Maguire would be hanging out with the opposition. The Bills spent the week practicing in San Diego. Maguire had spent his first four AFL seasons with the Chargers, and as anyone who knows Maguire can attest, he’s a lively party guest.
     “So all night long they’re just telling me how they’re going to wax us,” Maguire said. “I went back to our guys and just nonchalantly went around the locker room and said, ‘Jeez, they’re going to kill us, that’s what they’ve been telling me. You should have heard them.’ Our guys were just absolutely nuts, fired up for that game.”
    “The defense was so high all week, I was talking to the kneecaps,” recalled Bills defensive coordinator Joe Collier.
    What happened over the next three hours in San Diego’s Balboa Stadium was one of the greatest performances in Bills history.
    The Bills shut out the AFL’s most prolific offensive team, 23-0, for their second straight league championship under head coach Lou Saban.
    “The Comeback” against Houston in 1993 is the greatest Bills game ever. Most fans would rank the 51-3 victory that put the Bills into their first Super Bowl right behind it. After that? It’s hard to argue against the ’65 AFL Championship as the third greatest Bills game of all time. Saturday marks the game’s 50th anniversary.
     Despite beating San Diego in the 1964 AFL Championship, the Bills were seven-point underdogs to the Chargers. Buffalo was playing with a duct-taped offense after losing both star receivers – Elbert Dubenion and Glenn Bass – to injury early in the season. The Bills’ No. 3 receiver, Charley Ferguson, also was out. The Bills didn’t have superstar running back Cookie Gilchrist, who helped them lead the AFL in rushing in 1964. He had been traded in the offseason, and without him the Bills’ run game ranked just sixth out of eight in ’65.
      Sports Illustrated picked the Bills to lose

to the Chargers by two touchdowns.
“In ’64 we were a complete team both on offense and defense,” recalled Bills quarterback Jack Kemp in an interview with The News in 2005. “In ’65 we had lost Cookie and had so many injuries. We won with defense and a never-give-up attitude in ’65. We won with character in ’65, and that’s what made that championship so special for all of us.”
The offense
    The Chargers led the AFL in 1965 in points scored, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards. Their defense allowed the fewest yards both rushing and passing.Their head coach, Sid Gillman, eventually would be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So would their defensive coordinator, Chuck Noll, who went on to coach the 1970s Steelers to four Super Bowl victories.
    The San Diego offense included two other Hall-of-Famers, receiver Lance Alworth and left tackle Ron Mix. Its halfback, Paul Lowe, led the AFL in rushing in 1965 and was named to the AFL all-decade team in 1970. Gillman is the father of the modern passing game. The early 1960s was a time when the majority coaching position still maintained three things can happen when you pass and two are bad (an incompletion or interception)
    Gillman’s Chargers led the wide-open style that set the AFL apart from the established, staid NFL. From 1960 to ’65, AFL games averaged 2.2 more points and 30 more passing yards than NFL games.
    “The big play comes from the pass,” Gillman said. “God bless those runners because they get you the first down, give you ball control and keep your defense off the field. But if you want to ring the cash register, you have to pass.”
    Gillman believed in stretching the field both vertically and horizontally, and he did so by often lining up his receivers outside the numbers. He put five receivers into the pass pattern and sent running backs on downfield patterns. He put the onus on the quarterback to counter the pass rush by hitting a quick outlet (now known as the “hot” receiver).
    Gillman was an early proponent of the “best-located safety” principle, which directs the QB to throw to the receiver farthest from either safety. He aligned receivers at precise distances from the offensive tackles so that the distance the QB threw the ball could remain exactly the same on numerous routes. All of this was the foundation of the West Coast offense, which Gillman protégés Don Coryell and Bill Walsh brought to full bloom a decade later.
    San Diego had a space-age offense in 1965.
.The defense
The Bills caught a break in beating the visiting Chargers, 20-7, for the championship in 1964.
    That was the prevailing opinion in San Diego. Alworth missed the game with an injury, and Chargers running back Keith Lincoln was sidelined early in the game due to a thundering hit from Bills linebacker Mike Stratton.
    “The first time we played them they had some injuries that hurt them, and we had our nice, muddy field that the fast guys couldn’t maneuver too well on,” recalled Collier, 83, from his home in Colorado. “So we had a couple advantages. The second one, it was a nice sunshiney day in San Diego, and they had all their players. It was a tougher situation.”
San Diego whipped the Bills, 34-3, in the first regular-season meeting in 1965, and the two teams tied the second meeting, 20-20. San Diego outgained Buffalo in the two games, 819-481, and Alworth had combined for 15 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns.

    The 1965 season was Alworth’s greatest. He caught 69 passes for 1,602 yards, a total no receiver would equal for another 30 years – until the 1995 NFL season.
    Something needed to change for the Bills, and Collier was just the man to figure it out.
    If there was a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches, Collier probably would be in it. His Bills defense led the AFL in points allowed in ’64, ’65 and ’66. He went on to coach the Denver Broncos’ defense for 20 years, helping that team to three Super Bowls.
    Collier was the architect of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense in the 1970s, which was ground-breaking in its use of multiple fronts. The “Orange Crush” was the first team to play a base 3-4 front but at times morph to a 4-3 look with the same personnel (called a “3-4 over”). The multiple fronts now used by Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan can trace their origins to Collier’s Denver defenses.
    “The guy was outstanding,” Bills cornerback Booker Edgerson said of Collier. “I don’t like to call people geniuses. But he just knew things. He showed you things. He knew what people had the ability to do. Everything that he pointed out during the week would come true, and it made you a better
    Collier was blessed with talent in Buffalo.
    The Bills had a dominant front four, with Tom Sestak and Jim Dunaway at defensive tackle and Ron McDole and Tom Day at defensive end.
    Sestak, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was named to the AFL all-decade team. Knee problems cut his career short at just seven seasons. If he had played longer, many think he would be in the Hall of Fame.
    “I don’t have any problem with that; I think that’s true,” said famed NFL general manager Ron Wolf, inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer. Wolf was a scout for Al Davis’ Oakland Raiders in the 1960s.
    “He was a big guy who was a dominant inside player,” Wolf said. “It’s hard for me to come up with a true comparison. One that comes to mind is a guy who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, either, Alex Karras. … But Sestak in his way he was unique. He could do both, control the line of scrimmage and stir it up.”
    McDole was a run-first defensive end with the quickness to rush off the edge. He wound up playing 240 games over an 18-year career, which was sixth most in NFL history at the time of his retirement. Too bad sack totals weren’t kept before 1982, because McDole probably had more than 100 for his career. Dunaway was a 285-pound, two-time All-America for Ole Miss who was the No. 3 overall pick of the NFL Draft in 1963. He was a massive run-stuffer. Day was a 252-pound athlete, a converted guard with quickness.
    The Bills’ linebacking corps of Mike Stratton, Harry Jacobs and John Tracey played 67 straight games together in the mid-’60s. Stratton is a Bills Wall-of-Famer.
    “He was a big tall guy and extremely fast for a linebacker in those days,” Collier said of Stratton. “Tougher than nails and understood defenses. He could do a lot of things. When we were playing the regular 4-3 defense, he was one of our top blitzers.”
    In the secondary, George Saimes was the strong safety on the AFL’s all-decade team. He was a great blitzer and the best tackler in the secondary the Bills ever have had. Edgerson was the team’s shutdown corner. Butch Byrd was a punishing, physical corner on the other side of the field. All three are on the Wall of Fame. The free safety was Hagood Clarke.

How good was the defense? The Bills went 17 straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown, from the middle of the ’64 season through the eighth game of ’65. That still is the longest in pro football since 1933.
The game plan
While the 4-3 was the Bills’ predominant defense, Collier was at the forefront of pro football by using the 3-4 intermittently throughout the ’64 and ’65 seasons. Wolf recalls the Raiders doing it a little those years. Maguire recalls Kansas City using it a bit. But it was a rarity. The 3-4 wouldn’t become a base NFL defense until Chuck Fairbanks brought it from Oklahoma to New England in the 1970s.
    “I got the idea from watching a couple colleges utilize it,” Collier said. “I think Oklahoma was one of them. There wasn’t anybody in pro football using it at that time. It was frowned upon, so to speak.”
    Collier decided rushing three and dropping eight into coverage would be a big part of the game plan. That helped in double-covering Alworth. The Bills were mostly a man-to-man team.
    “We played a lot of 3-4 defense with a zone behind it in that game,” Collier said. “We doubled Alworth. If he was on the strong side as a flanker, we’d double him with Hagood Clarke and Booker. If he was a split end, we’d double him with George Saimes and Booker.”
    “We put Butch Byrd over Don Norton,” Collier said, referring to San Diego’s other wideout. “I knew Butch could handle Don the whole game by himself.”
    Another wrinkle the Bills used was to move Stratton out wide on some third downs to get a chuck on Alworth at the line of scrimmage.
    “If they ran certain formations on my side of the field, I would try to go out and take the quick inside pass away from their receiver,” Stratton said. “So that would give the defensive backs time to find out where the receiver was going and have a better chance of covering them.”
    It was the undersized, intelligent Jacobs – not Collier – who called every defensive play during the game.
    “Nobody signaled defenses back then,” Collier said. “So consequently during the week, me and Harry spent a lot of time together going over calls and situations. Then when the game came, Harry called all the defenses. He was the quarterback, and he did a great job.”
.The domination
Bills star guard Billy Shaw – a future Hall-of-Famer – was knocked out on the opening kickoff and sat out the entire first half.
    Recalled Maguire from his home in South Carolina: “The defense really realized they had to step it up. I remember going to the bench and Sestak, McDole, Dunaway and Tippy Day all sat together and they looked up and said, ‘Hell, they’re not even gonna score.’ ”
    Said Kemp in the 2005 interview: “Would Paul tell an apocryphal story? The answer is no, of course. … It may be true.”
    The News obtained a video of the game that includes about three-quarters of the plays. The highlights:

• It didn’t take long for the Bills’ defense to assert its dominance. On San Diego’s second possession, Lowe took a quick toss and ran 47 yards to the

Buffalo 44. But on the next play, Stratton blitzed out of a 4-3 front and chased quarterback John Hadl into Day’s arms for a 3-yard loss. The Bills switched to the 3-4 on the next play, and Sestak used his power to shove guard Gary Kirner aside and sack Hadl for an 8-yard loss. End of threat.

• The eight-in-coverage scheme forced the next Chargers drive to stall at the Bills’ 28. Then Dunaway blocked a field-goal try.

• The Buffalo offense unveiled a new wrinkle of its own, a rarely used two-tight end formation. It paid off early in the second quarter. Kemp hit veteran tight end Ernie Warlick on an 18-yard post pattern for a touchdown. It was a sweet moment for “Big Hoss” Warlick, who had been benched the final nine games of the season in favor of Paul Costa. It was a great throw by Kemp.

• Seven minutes later, Byrd returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown to put the Bills ahead, 14-0. Maguire wiped out two Chargers downfield to clear Byrd’s path to the end zone.

• San Diego’s deepest penetration came at the end of the first half when it reached the Bills’ 24. But San Diego had to rush onto the field for a last-second field-goal try, and it missed from 31 yards.

• The Bills used the three-man rush on at least 15 plays. Collier used the nimble McDole to drop back a lot during the mid-’60s. But in this game, Day was always the one dropping back as the fourth linebacker. The video shows eight Bills sacks. Sestak and Day had two apiece. The safety blitz by Saimes was effective, too. He had one sack and several pressures.

• Good schemes are nice. Great players are better. The Bills got good pressure from Sestak, McDole and Dunaway and three sacks when rushing only three men. And the Bills’ front seven made San Diego one-dimensional. Aside from the 47-yard run, Lowe and Lincoln combined for 26 yards on 15 carries, a 1.7-yard average.

• The Chargers did not adjust well to the Bills’ tactics. Hadl continually looked deep downfield for Alworth.

“We just never could get anything going,” recalled Chargers backfield coach Tom Bass, from his San Diego home. “And that frustrated Sid a great deal. Coach was great at a lot of things, but being frustrated wasn’t one of them.”

• The Bills played ball control thanks to a reshuffled offensive line that saw Al Bemiller move from guard to center for injured Dave Behrman and Joe O’Donnell and George Flint sub at guards. Buffalo gained 260 yards. San Diego managed just 223.

• Late in the game, as the Chargers offense huddled, Tracey stood at his left linebacker spot and did the twist. “Come out and we’ll show you some defense,” he taunted.

The Chargers had never seen anything like it. The Bills haven’t had one as dominant in the 50 years since.




A blog by former Bill Jeff Nixon about the Bills 1965 Championship team.


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