Off On the Right Foot

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September 4, 2000
Off On the Right Foot

by Ric Sweeney

Oakland Raidersat Oakland (September 11, 1960)
Site: Kezar Stadium
Records: Oilers (0-0); Raiders (0-0)
Attendence: 12,703

Prior to its inaugural season in 1960, the AFL had garnered sparse attention and even less respect. That changed when renegade owner K.S. "Bud" Adams met Billy Cannon in the south end zone of the Sugar Bowl and signed the Heisman Trophy winner to his first pro contract only moments after finishing his collegiate career. The fledgling league had its first marquee star and its first marquee team.

The Oilers, as built by chief scout John Breen, were a perfect mix of well-known NFL cast-offs, highly-touted rookies, and free agent nobodies. The cast-offs were led by the cantankerous QB George Blanda; the no names WR Charlie Hennigan and OL Bob Talamini. In between were college gamers like QB Jacky Lee and DE Don Floyd. They were, on paper, a formidable team. And the AFL, desperate to make a name for itself, took notice of the roster Breen was forming. If the league was going to make a name for itself, it was going to do so on the shoulders of the Houston Oilers. 

Thus, when the AFL prepared to kick off its debut season, it tapped Houston’s opener against the Oakland Raiders as its showcase game. The matchup was broadcast to a national television audience but few watched. Even fewer actually bothered to show up (12,703) as Oakland was forced to open its season across the bay in San Francisco. They would miss what would soon become a common occurrence in the early days of the AFL: an Oiler victory, 37-22.

It wasn’t easy. Houston’s offense stumbled at the outset and took nearly a full quarter to register points. Led by Blanda, the Oilers marched 85 yards in just five plays, culminating in a 43-yard catch-and-run score from Hennigan. As the first quarter closed, Houston led, 7-0

After Charlie Tolar fumbled an early second quarter punt, Raider QB Tom Flores hit Tony Teresa for the 13-yard tying score. The teams ended the first half knotted at 7, an uncharacteristically low-scoring first half for a league that would soon build it’s reputation on high-flying displays of offense.

The Raiders took a seven point lead early in the third quarter when Blanda threw his one and only interception, which Eddie Macon returned 35 yards for the score.

But Blanda and the Oilers fired right back, led by FB Dave Smith who converted a key fourth and 2 to preserve the drive. Blanda took advantage of the reprieve, finding Bill Groman on the receiving end of a 32-yard pass. The Oilers botched the PAT though and still trailed, 14-13. 

With six minutes left in the third quarter, Houston took the lead for good as Smith once again carried the load, moving Houston 54 yards before Blanda found Johnny Carson on a 3-yard pass. Blanda’s PAT made the score 20-14.

With the lead, it was time for Houston’s defense to make a stand. After a Raider stop deep in Houston territory, punter Charley Milstead, standing in his own end zone, shanked his punt, setting Oakland up at the Oilers’ 8-yard line. But Floyd and Fred Wallner held the Raiders at bay forcing a turnover on downs. Blanda seized the opportunity, driving Houston to the Oakland 11 before booting an 18-yard field goal. Early in the fourth quarter, Houston led, 23-14. Moments later, Houston would ice the game.

On the ensuing kickoff, Houston recovered an Oakland fumble, leading to Smith’s 8-yard touchdown rumble. The Oilers were up, 30-14. The teams would swap late touchdowns (the Oilers’ score coming on Blanda’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, an 11-yarder to Carson), preserving Houston’s first win in franchise history.

It was, quite obviously, a game of firsts for the team. Hennigan scored the first touchdown in Oiler history while Blanda kicked its first field goal and PAT. By season’s end, Blanda would total 115 points, second most in team history.

Smith, and not the highly touted Cannon, became the team’s first-ever 100-yard rusher, finishing the day with 104 yards on just 19 attempts (averaging 5.4 yards per carry). He also scored the Oilers’ first rushing touchdown. Cannon finished with just 59 yards but had two 15-yard gains wiped out by penalties. 

Groman, and not Hennigan, one of the franchise’s most prolific receivers, recorded the first-ever 100-yard receiving day totaling 115 on just six catches. Hennigan was well on his way to the century mark, and might have hit the plateau by halftime, but left the game for good in the first quarter. The receiver dislocated his shoulder at the end of his end zone sprint. At the time of his injury, Hennigan had 4 catches for 85 yards.

Ironically, the high-flying Oilers would have to wait eight weeks before Blanda finally cracked the 300-yard passing barrier. In his debut, he would total 279 on 19 of 37 passing. The Oilers failed to intercept the Raider quarterbacking duo of Flores and Babe Parilli, and sacks were not officially kept in the NFL until 1982.

The two teams would meet two weeks later in Houston with the Raiders winning, 14-13. It would be one of only two games in 1960 in which the Oilers were held to fewer than 20 points.

And with that, the AFL began, as did the tumultuous franchise we all came to both love and hate — the Houston Oilers.

GAME STATS Oilers Raiders First Downs 25 11 Rushing Yards 152 27 Passing Yards 279 268 Passes 19/37 15/34 Interceptions 0 1 Punts 8/33.3 11/33.2 Fumbles lost 3 1 Penalty Yards 42 44

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Week 1 Dave Smith Dave Smith became Houston’s first-ever 100-yard rusher. Final Score Houston Oilers 37 Oakland Raiders 22 Game Notes

Desperate for able bodies, the Oilers activated assistant coach Fred Wallner prior to their debut to play both OL and LB. Wallner thus became the first and only player-coach in team history.

The Oilers were 18-19 all-time in week 1 contests despite winning the first three in franchise history. The Oilers allowed only 27 yards rushing in their franchise debut, setting the tone for the 1960 season when they would finish with the fewest rushing yards allowed in team history (1,027). The Dream Season Week Opponent Result 01 @ Oakland 37-22 02 @ Cleveland 16-7 03 NY Jets 26-20 04 @ Cincinnati 30-27 05 Denver 42-14 06 @ New England 28-14 07 @ Buffalo 28-16 08 @ Pittsburgh 24-17 09 Washington 41-17 10 NY Titans 49-13 11 @ New England 26-23 12 Miami 35-30 13 @ Dallas 30-24 14 Pittsburgh 31-6 15 @ San Francisco 10-7 16 @ Baltimore 24-21 17 Bye Week N/A 18 @ Cleveland 24-23 19 @ San Diego 17-14 20 LA Chargers 24-16  RETURN TO THE DREAM SEASON