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Erik Brady: Beating Chiefs would help satisfy 1966 Bills, who lost to KC in AFL title game

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Game changer (copy)

Taron Johnson's pick-six against the Baltimore Ravens joins one by Carlton Bailey in the 1992 AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos as being two of the most impactful in franchise history.

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Come Sunday, the Buffalo Bills can make amends for their 1966 forebears, who lost out on a chance to play in the first Super Bowl before it was even called that.

“Avenge ’66!” shouts Ed Rutkowski, the Bills’ jack of all trades of that era.

Today’s Bills can get to Super Bowl LV by beating the Kansas City Chiefs, the same franchise that denied them 54 years ago. But don’t think of it as one for the Gipper. It’s more like win one for the Slipper – meaning Dudley Meredith, who put the dud in Dudley in the American Football League championship game on New Year’s Day 1967.

The Bills came in as the two-time defending AFL champs, playing at the Old Rockpile, their crumbling home sweet home. They won the toss – and then it all went downhill.

The Chiefs kicked off short. Meredith, a bulky backup defensive tackle who was a wedge blocker on the return team, tried to field it. He fumbled instead. The Chiefs recovered and scored a touchdown three plays later.

Rutkowski, now 79, says, “I don’t know what Dudley was thinking.”

Charley Ferguson, 81, was a tight end on those AFL title teams. “That kickoff took a lot out of us,” he says. “Dudley just couldn’t get a hold of it.”

The Chiefs would go on to win, 31-7, and then lose to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10, in Super Bowl I. So if today’s Bills should beat Kansas City on Sunday, and then beat Green Bay, should it defeat Tampa Bay, in the Super Bowl – giving Buffalo its long-dreamed-of super ending – well, what could be more symmetrical than that?

“That would be a ton of revenge for me,” says Billy Shaw, 82, the Bills’ Pro Football Hall of Fame guard. “I often tell people – and I’m serious – that the loss to the Chiefs is my worst memory from my career as a Bill. That hurt so bad. And it still hurts.”

Meredith’s gaffe gave the Chiefs a quick 7-0 lead. Then Bills quarterback Jack Kemp hit wide receiver Elbert Dubenion on a 69-yard bomb to tie it at 7. The Chiefs held a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter when the Bills drove to the Chiefs’ 11-yard-line, where Kemp threw to wide receiver Bobby Crockett, who had beaten his man. But safety Johnny Robinson read the play and intercepted at the goal line, returning it 72 yards to set up a field goal. Instead of a 14-14 tie at the half, the Chiefs led 17-7.

“I read Kemp’s eyes,” Robinson said, “and I got lucky.”

“I put everything I had on that pass,” Kemp said. “It was as hard as I can throw.”

That type of turnaround should sound familiar. Taron Johnson made a similar play for the Bills when he returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown in last week’s divisional-round win against the Baltimore Ravens. Booker Edgerson, 81, reveled in that moment, because Johnson wears No. 24 – Edgerson’s number.

“I was watching,” he says. “A lot of the guys from our teams were watching, and we like what we see.”

Just don’t tell Paul Maguire, 82, the Bills’ punter/court jester of the 1960s, that Robinson’s interception was the game’s turning point in that long-ago loss.

“I’ll tell you what really turned the game around was Dudley Meredith, as a 325-pound tackle, deciding he’s going to catch the ball. I don’t know what he was thinking. It was kicked up in the air, he was in the wedge, and he moved up to try to catch it. When he came to the bench, Joe Collier, our coach, said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I thought I could handle it.’ And Joe said, ‘You aren’t supposed to handle it!’ ”

Super Bowl I came two years too late for the Bills, who would have played in the first two if only the game between rival league champions had come sooner. Not surprisingly, the Bills of old think they would have matched up well with the NFL champs of that era – the 1964 Cleveland Browns and the 1965 Packers.

“I think we would have won both of those games,” Ferguson says.

“I’ve always said we would have beaten the Browns and the Packers,” Edgerson says. “The NFL wasn’t ready for the bump-and-run we played in the AFL.”

“It would have been a hell of battle,” Maguire says. “We were good then – really, really good.”

The Browns’ Jim Brown and the Packers’ Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor were historically great runners; all three are in the Hall of Fame. But the Bills possessed a historically great run defense. They went 16 games – a full calendar year, Oct. 24, 1964, to Oct. 31, 1965 – without giving up a rushing touchdown. That remains the record, and one unlikely to be broken.

“No one could run on us,” Rutkowski says. “And we had Cookie.” (Gilchrist, the Bills’ legendary fullback, played on the ’64 Bills, but not on the ’65 Bills.)

Edgerson doesn’t see the possibility as some sort of super payback.

“I never wish that something happened if it didn’t,” he says.

And Maguire figures that if the Bills beat Kansas City, it doesn’t matter which Bay they play next – Green Bay or Tampa Bay – “as long as Buffalo wins it.”

Rutkowski agrees. “It would be revenge either way,” he says. “Against the Packers or against Brady,” meaning Tom, the Bucs’ QB — and the Bills’ longtime tormenter.

Shaw would love to see the Bills beat the Chiefs on Sunday and then the Packers in the Super Bowl.

“It’s eerie how it’s setting up,” he says. “I think it is our time.”

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