November 6, 2000
A Giant Among Titans
by Ric Sweeney
vs. New York (November 19, 1961)
Site: Jeppesen Stadium
Records: Titans (5-3-1); Oilers (5-3-1)
George Blanda, banished to head coach Lou Rymkus’ early season doghouse and forced to shoulder much of the blame for his team’s disappointing 1-3-1 start, was climbing out of his hole and bringing the Oilers with him.
In week six, Rymkus’ replacement, Wally Lemm, played a hunch and brought Blanda off the bench against Dallas to replace Jacky Lee, who a week earlier had set an AFL record with his 450 passing yards. Blanda sparked a second half rout, and neither the quarterback, nor the team, looked back. With Blanda back in charge, the team reeled off four consecutive victories, beating their opponents by a combined score of 148-51. Along the way, Blanda eclipsed Lee’s still-wet single-game passing record with 464 yards against Buffalo and was only warming up. He was about to etch his name permanently into the annals of pro football history.
In front of the AFL’s second largest-ever crowd, Blanda and the Oilers scored early and often and buried the New York Titans under an avalanche of offense, 49-13, to claim their fifth consecutive victory and control of the AFL’s Eastern Division.
The Oilers would score on three of their four first quarter possessions, the first an 80-yard drive capped by a 28-yard grab at the back of the end zone by Charlie Hennigan. The Oilers would strike again quickly, turning Bill Mathis’ fumble, recovered by Julian Spence, into another score as Blanda hit Billy Cannon on a six yard swing pass to increase Houston’s lead, 14-0.
Cannon, who was enjoying his best season rushing the football, was arguably Houston’s hottest offensive player. Against Denver and Boston the previous two weeks, the former Heisman Trophy winner had run for 197 yards, placing him third among AFL backs. And while the Titans were geared to stop Cannon on the ground (holding him to just 41 yards), he had one of his best days as a receiver, grabbing 7 passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns, the second of which was a 78-yarder that increased the Oilers’ lead, 21-0.
Almost before the National Anthem had ended, the Oilers had jumped on top of the Titans, taking away their most explosive offensive weapon, running back Mathis, and ending any hope the Titans may have had of winning the Eastern Division, let alone the game.
As the second quarter began, the Titans started to show more fight, literally. First, Sid Youngelman, who was having his fill of Oiler Al Jamison, snapped. After alerting the official to Jamison’s blocking tactics, which Youngelman claimed were illegal, he screamed for Jamison to be thrown out of the game. When referee Red Boerne refused to comply with Youngelman’s request, he questioned the official’s integrity. That earned him an automatic ejection. Tempers continued to flare throughout, centered around Jamison. In the final quarter, with the game long over, Titan Mike Saidock grabbed the Oiler tackle from behind and attempted to place Jamison in a headlock. Jamison responded by throwing Saidock to the ground and kicking the Titan in the head. Both players were immediately ejected for their skirmish as both benches cleared.
For their part, the Oilers, specifically Blanda, retained their cool and continued to dismantle New York.
Don Maynard’s touchdown catch early in the second quarter cut into Houston’s lead, if only briefly, 21-6. (Don Floyd blocked the extra point, his eight such block of the season.) Blanda immediately answered, hitting Bill Groman on a 66-yard bomb. Groman finished with 5 catches for 152 yards and 3 TD’s. With Hennigan grabbing 123 receiving yards, the Oilers had three receivers with over 100 yards in the game.
The Oilers’ final score of the half came courtesy of a Jim Norton interception deep in Houston territory. It was one of only two times New York moved inside Houston’s 48-yardline in the first half. Blanda orchestrated his second 80-yard drive of the half, ending in another six yard touchdown toss to Cannon. Houston led at the half 35-6 and Blanda had wiped out the previous AFL record for touchdown passes in a game (4) with his five first-half strikes.
Next up, immortality.
Blanda opened the second half with an interception. The Titans moved to Houston’s 8 before Ed Hussman made three consecutive stops to put New York back to the 16. Their field goal attempt missed and back came Blanda.
He hit Groman for 46 yards for his sixth touchdown pass of the day. The only suspense remaining in the game was just how many touchdowns Blanda had left in his arm. The veteran quarterback stood just one shy of tying the all-time record of seven, held by Adrian Burk and Sid Luckman.
In the fourth quarter, Blanda took Houston on a nine-play, 84 yard drive that ended with an 11-yard scoring pass to Groman, giving Blanda a share of the pro football record (and complete autonomy over the AFL record) for most touchdown passes in a game. It is a record that still stands.
And it was a record-setting day all around for the Oilers. In addition to Blanda’s heroics, the team combined with New York to amass 193 yards in penalties, tying the AFL record. Houston accounted for 128 of those yards.
The team won its final 10 games in 1961, including their second AFL Championship. The offense would score a team record 513 points, in only 14 games, a mark not even the 16 game schedule nor the run-n-shoot could match, let alone best.
Houston scored 40 or more points in four of their final five games in 1961. For the season, Houston hit 30 or more points eight times; crossed the 40 plateau six times and scored 50 twice. The Oilers would put 30 or more points on the scoreboard six more times in 1962, putting them at 30 or more points an incredible 14 times in just 28 games.
Not surprisingly, Blanda established a single-season high for touchdowns in 1961 with 36, while making only 11 starts.
GAME STATS Titans Oilers First Downs 25 24 Rushing Yards 107 148 Passing Yards 239 407 Passes 21/47 21/38 Turnovers 4 1 Punts 5/49 5-40 Penalty Yards 65 128
Week 8 George Blanda fires off another pass against the Titans. Final Score Houston Oilers 49 NY Titans 13 Game Notes
The three players ejected from the game (Sid Youngelman, Mike Saidlock and Al Jamison) each were assessed the league’s maximum fine for ejection: $50.
Bill Groman’s three touchdowns marked the eighth consecutive game in which he had scored at least once, an Oiler single-season record. Going back to the final two games of 1960, Groman caught TD passes in 10 consecutive games. Adrian Burk, who co-held the pro football record George Blanda tied with his seven touchdowns, was the Oilers’ color commentator on their radio broadcasts in 1961. 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