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50 years ago, the Bills won it all

On Dec. 26, 1964, the Buffalo Bills faced the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs of the American Football League -- and won, 20-7.

Coverage in The News was extensive. Below is the game story, written by Larry Felser, and a sampling of related content.

"KO tackle by Stratton foretold Bills’ victory"

By Larry Felser

Almost 90% of the American Football League championship game remained to be played in dark and misty War Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon. But what was left was mere formality.

The 40,242 roaring fans sensed the Bills were the new AFL champions. The Bills knew. So did San Diego, though Buffalo hadn’t even scored up to then.

Two field goals by Pete Gogolak, a 4-yard blast by Wray Carlton and a short quarterback sneak by Jack Kemp put the points on the scoreboard for Buffalo’s 20-7 victory.

But Mike Stratton, the handsome, blond linebacker, knocked the crown off San Diego’s head with just 6 minutes and 41 seconds of playing time gone when he dug a muscular shoulder into Keith Lincoln’s mid-section and broke one of the Charger fullback’s ribs.

“I keyed on Rote (San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote),” explained Stratton in the Bills’ happy dressing room. “I could see that he was looking for a receiver downfield but couldn’t find him.”

‘I knew he was hurt,’ says Stratton after tackle

“As soon as I saw that, I sprinted for Lincoln.”

Rote’s swing pass hit Lincoln’s fingertips just a flash before 238-pound Stratton dove into the 212-pounder. The ball was jolted out of his hands and Stratton carried him back several yards by the momentum of the tackle.

“One second earlier and it’s pass interference,” said Stratton, in pointing up the split-second nature of the game of pro football. “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.”

The Stratton tackle.

The Stratton tackle.

Loss of Lincoln, Alsworth stifles Chargers offensive

The Chargers trainer, Fred Van Deusen, worked over Lincoln for about 5 minutes on the field. Finally, Keithwas helped off and then left for the dressing room. He made a valiant try to come back in the second half, kicking off for San Diego, but he was unable to go further.

While he lay there, his teammates faced the gloomy facts:

With flanker Lance Alsworth unable to dress for the game at all due to a “hyperextension” of the left knee, and now Lincoln obviously in pain, their offense was just about obliterated. This was especially try since Rote was starting to throw the ball like a skittish rookie rather than a 15-year veteran playing his last football game. The Bills’ pass rush gave little sign of giving him any rest.

Then there was the Buffalo defense. The Chargers scored four plays after the opening kickoff, but the Bills have acquired maturity this year. The quick score wasn’t accompanied by a loss of poise.

Bills’ ‘Oklahoma Defense’ stops San Diego shotgun

San Diego even came up with a new passing formation. It was a sort of shotgun, with the quarterback kept in T formation. It tested the Bills’ pass defense with five potential receivers.

“We adjusted to it by using our Oklahoma defense (the three-man front, sometimes called the prevent),” said Defensive Coach Joel Coilier. “We hadn’t planned to use the Oklahoma much, but when they went into the shotgun, it looked like the thing to stop it.”

Just how effectively it stopped it is shown in the statistics. The Chargers, who picked up 106 yards in their first few series, gained only 153 yards all the rest of the game.

Gilchrist gains 122 yards; Kemp again ‘magnificent’

But it would be unjust and inaccurate – and ridiculous – to say that this was a defensive triumph.

Not when Cookie Gilchrist punished the Charger line for 122 yards in 16 carries, Wray Carlton ripped for 70 in 18 trips and Jack Kemp played his second straight magnificent game at quarterback.

There wasn’t much finesse in the running game. The Bills thought they could move Charger tackles George Gross and Ernie Ladd, and they did, 219 yards worth, by just pounding at them time after time.

Linebacker dropping back invites running by Bills

“They were using double coverage on Duby and Bass (flanker Elbert Dubenion and Glenn Bass),” analyzed Kemp. “That meant their linebacker had to drop back to cover in the middle, which invited us to run.

“They used zone defense most of the game and you beat that by throwing at the seams (the hash marks dividing the field into thirds, which are used by almost all teams as the border lines of the various zones in pass defense).”

Kemp’s most successful pass was one to Bass in the fourth quarter. It covered 50 yards and set up the last Bills’ touchdown on the one-foot line.

happy fans

The photo that accompanied Felser's story Dec. 28, 1964.

Bass runs ‘little deeper’ to get behind linebacker

“Jack called for a post pattern,” remembered Bass. “I told him I was going to run it a little deeper than usual to get behind the linebacker. It worked pretty well.”

For the second straight week, Kemp received almost flawless protection from his offensive line and the two bull-moose running backs, Carlton and Gilchrist. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 188 yards.

Cookie, besides enjoying a sensational day running and blocking, set up the first touchdown with a good catch of Kemp’s 14-yard pass on the San Diego 4. On the next down, Carlton popped into the end zone and Pete Gogolak kicked the point to give Buffalo a 13-7 lead, and the Bills never lost it.

Gilchrist set up Gogolak’s second field goal by racing 39 yards to the Charger 8. Pete finally connected from the 17. His earlier three-pointer covered 12 yards.

Warner, Stratton inject two vital interceptions

Aside from Stratton’s crunching tackle of Lincoln, the other defensive plays of the game were Charley Warner’s interception of a poorly thrown Rote pass and Stratton’s interception of a pass Rote intended to throw out of bounds to stop the clock.

Warner’s steal came in the first quarter, when San Diego had a second down on Buffalo’s 32. Tobin was chased out of the protective pocket. Instead of getting rid of the ball with a harmless throw out of bonds, Rote fired across field and Warner raced back to clutch it on the Bills’ 20.

--Rote’s bid to stop clock backfires in key situation

Just before halftime, the Chargers had a first down on the Buffalo 15 with less than a minute to go and the score [was] Bills 13, San Diego 7.

Rote took the snap from center, straightened up and three for the sidelines to stop the clock with an incomplete pass. Out of nowhere came Stratton to pluck the ball for an interception. The amazed Rote stood there with his hands on his hips, helpless.

That’s how the Bills left the whole AFL this year.


Further coverage of the game:

The sports section published Monday, Dec. 28, 1964.

The sports section published Monday, Dec. 28, 1964.

Dec 28 1964 more

More post-game coverage published Dec. 28, 1964.

Preview coverage published Dec. 26, 1964.

Preview coverage published Dec. 26, 1964.

Dec 26 1964 initial coverage

The cover of The Buffalo Evening News published just before the game ended.

Dec 26 2964 more bills

Pregame coverage published Dec. 26, 1964.

Dec 28 1964 pic page

The picture page published Dec. 28, 1964.

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