October 16, 2000
Blanda Buffaloes Bills
by Ric Sweeney
at Buffalo (October 29, 1961)
Site: War Memorial Stadium
Records: Oilers (2-3-1); Bills (3-4)
George Blanda’s honeymoon did not last long. Despite leading Houston to the first-ever AFL championship just a year earlier, the grizzled veteran was benched just five games into the Oilers’ defense of their title by coach Lou Rymkus.
Rymkus’ move appeared to be one of genius as Blanda’s replacement, Jacky Lee, in his first game as a starter, set an AFL record with 450 passing yards. But Lee would need a Blanda field goal with ten seconds left in regulation to secure a tie, 31-31.
Neither Lee’s record, nor his stint as the Oilers’ starter, would last long.
In week 6, on a hunch from new coach Wally Lemm (replacing the fired Rymkus), Blanda replaced Lee early and blitzed the Dallas Texans, 38-7. Blanda carried the momentum into his week 7 match-up with the Buffalo Bills, at the time, the AFL’s second stingiest defense. They would prove no match for Papa George.
Blanda hit Charley Hennigan on a 56-yard scoring strike on the game’s first play. The Oilers would not trail again. After a 37-yard field goal by Buffalo’s Joe Hergert, Houston increased its lead, once again on the strength of Blanda’s right arm. After converting a third and 17 from their own 45 with a 23-yard strike to John White, the Oilers found pay dirt when Blanda hit Bill Groman across the middle for a 32-yard score. At the half, Houston led, 14-3.
Buffalo struck quickly in the third quarter thanks in large part to some special teams trickery. On fourth and six from its 44, Bill punter Bill Atkins kept the snap and rumbled untouched 56 yards to bring Buffalo within four, 14-10. It was the second time in three weeks an Atkins fake punt had fooled the Oilers.
As rain began to pound the fans in attendance, Buffalo nearly took the lead moments later. After stuffing the Oilers’ offense, Glenn Bass returned Houston’s punt 44 yards to the Oilers’ 12. But Buffalo could not find the end zone on three consecutive attempts and Hergert’s 17-yard field goal attempt failed. Blanda and Hennigan would make the Bills pay.
Rolling to his right, Blanda found Hennigan and hurried a badly under-thrown bomb. Hennigan stopped, adjusted, and used a well-timed block from White downfield to sprint the final 30 yards of the 80-yard score. Midway through the third quarter, Houston had survived a brief Buffalo scare and led, 21-10.
Meanwhile, the Oilers’ defense stiffened. In a game that will long be remembered for Blanda’s passing, Houston did not allow Buffalo a first down on five of its seven second half possessions. Buffalo quarterbacks completed just 19 of 51 pass attempts on the afternoon as they tried to play catch-up from the get-go. But the fourth quarter began with the defense’s one and only lapse in the second half and it was a big one. QB M.C. Reynolds led Buffalo 98 yards, sneaking in for the one-yard score to bring the Bills within five, 21-16.
But Blanda responded again, this time hitting Groman on a 68-yard scoring strike on the very next offensive play. Leading 28-16, Blanda then marched Houston down the field on their next possession but the quarterback failed on a sneak at the one and then threw an interception in the end zone, thwarting the threat. It was one of four interceptions on the day for Blanda, all coming deep in Buffalo territory. He also missed a field goal from the 17-yard line. Obviously, the final score was rather misleading, as Houston’s offense moved the football at will against the Bills’ highly-touted defense.
Blanda would finish with 464 passing yards, a new AFL record, eclipsing Lee’s two-week old mark. The number would remain the AFL’s most prolific passing day and would stand in Oiler annals until Warren Moon shattered it in 1990 with 527 yards against Kansas City.
But Blanda’s big day had a much deeper impact on the team than it did the record books. It reestablished him as the Oilers’ leader and helped ignite a previously sagging football team. The 1961 Oilers would win their next seven games, ending the season with a nine-game win streak. It would reach ten when the Oilers knocked off the 12-2 San Diego Chargers in the AFL’s second championship. Unbelievably, talk of an Oiler dynasty began to spring up in the summer of 1962. Alas, it would be the Oilers’ last championship.
For his efforts, Blanda would be named the AFL’s Player of the Year in 1961. His 3,330 passing yards was the franchise’s benchmark for 23 years while his 36 touchdowns remain the single-season record. He scored 112 points in 1961 (including PAT and FG’s), one of only three Oilers to score 100 points in a season.
GAME STATS Oilers Bills First Downs 17 22 Rushing Yards 50 99 Passing Yards 464 274 Passes 19/32 19/51 Interceptions 4 4 Punts 4/44 5/42 Penalty Yards 70 30
Week 7 George Blanda came off the bench to earn the MVP in 1961. Final Score Houston Oilers 28 Buffalo Bills 16 Game Notes
Houston’s victory over Buffalo was the first of five consecutive wins against the Bills. In their history, the Oilers beat Buffalo 21 times in 36 games, though were 0-2 in the postseason.
Lou Rymkus, who had been fired after week five, is still the winningest coach in franchise history with a .625 winning percentage. Wally Lemm, who left after the 1961 season a perfect 9-0, returned in 1966 and went 29-40. Charley Hennigan and Bill Groman combined for 2,291 receiving yards in 1961. It would take 34 years, and the advent of the 16-game schedule, for a tandem to break that mark. 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