By Dr. Ken


Every February, members of the HELMET HUT staff, like all football fans, have their attention drawn to the Super Bowl. The media of course feeds the frenzy and invariably television, radio, and the Internet are lit up with debates and discussions about the past games, controversies, great plays, and outstanding players. All of this makes the weeks leading up to the game more interesting and one can predict a few “inevitables” that will be part and parcel of Super Bowl countdown. One of these certainly will be the ongoing disagreements regarding “The Best Super Bowl Ever” and though not a Super Bowl, the NFL or “World Championship Game” of 1958 is usually part of that discussion. Known as The Greatest Game Of All Time or The Greatest Game Ever and immortalized in books and documentaries, there is no doubt that the 1958 Baltimore Colts versus New York Giants game at Yankee Stadium ushered in what is considered to be the modern era of professional football. The actual introduction of the Super Bowls following the 1966 season of course changed the perspective on what constituted the “World Championship” but among the best of the Super Bowls, the 1958 NFL Championship Game remains part of the broader conversation. 



Lost among the great championship games however, is the 1962 American Football League Championship Game that under any circumstances deserves more attention than it has received through the decades and arguably is the game that foreshadowed and hastened the eventual merger of the NFL and AFL. It won’t be debated that there were more NFL than AFL football fans on December 23, 1962 but this specific game received a great deal of attention from NFL supporters and television viewers as much of the East Coast was fighting snow and temperatures in the twenties that kept fans inside of their homes and swelled the game-watching audience. That it proved to be one of the most dramatic and exciting football games of all time should place it at the forefront of exposure in any Super Bowl week.

Unlike the modern palaces that now host each Super Bowl the venue for the AFL game was modest Jeppesen Stadium, home to the Eastern Division Champion Houston Oilers as well as the city high school teams. Jeppesen Stadium was first opened in 1942 as the Houston Public School Stadium and served as the site of its title, hosting football games and other athletic events for the city school district. The University Of Houston utilized it as their home football field for a five year period following World War II. In 1958 it was renamed in honor of Holger Jeppesen, a school board member who was behind the drive to build the stadium with its 20,500 capacity. Despite its limited seating, as the epicenter of African American high school football for the region, crowds would top an estimated 40,000 at times for city and state championship games as well as the annual Thanksgiving Day Yates High School vs. Wheatley High School Turkey Bowl contest. Kenneth “Bud” Adams, owner of what was then the new Houston Oilers, leased the stadium for the AFL’s inaugural season in 1960 while increasing seating capacity to 36,000. Unfortunately, the fan accommodations were still very much those of a high school stadium with painfully long lines standard for concessions and bathroom purposes. The stadium was also known for flooding when it rained and flooding from dysfunctional plumbing and the necessity of playing on frequently muddy fields. As described by Dallas Texans head coach Hank Stram, Jeppessen Stadium “on a dry day, it’s like concrete, poorly laid concrete. But it’s worse when it rains, then the field is nothing but mud”.



Water from above, water and mud from below, a typical rain-affected battle at Jeppeson Stadium


Despite the limitations of the playing venue, the All-Texas match up sold out within three hours more than a week prior to kickoff. With 37,981 tickets collected prior to actual kickoff, it was obvious that the game was oversold! The Oilers stocked their initial clubs with many talented players and appeared in the 1960, ’61, and ’62 AFL Championship Games, winning the first two which helped to install them as six-and-a-half point favorites. Throughout the league a number of National Football League cast-offs became stars and eventual members of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame with the opposing quarterbacks for the 1962 title game the most obvious. The Dallas Texans and Houston Oilers, both having completed the regular season at 11 - 3 made the game an intriguing affair as some viewed it as a contest between perceived NFL failures George Blanda and Len Dawson. Both teams featured future All Time All AFL stars and great players. The Texans rostered Dawson, E.J. Holub, Curtis McClinton     [see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/Chiefs/McClinton.html ], Fred Arbanas, Jim Tyrer, Abner Haynes, Jerry Mays, Sherrill Headrick [ see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/Features/Dr.Ken148.html], Dave Grayson, and John Robinson. The Oilers countered with Blanda, Billy Cannon, Charley Tolar, Charlie Hennigan, Walt Suggs, and Don Floyd. If some of the names are not immediately familiar to younger readers, it would serve them well to do a bit of historical reading. As a reminder of how outstanding some of the “lesser known” AFL stars were, keep in mind that Pro Football Hall Of Fame defensive back Willie Brown was initially signed by the Oilers but was released because he specifically could not cover Hennigan in practice. Hennigan, who set pro football receiving records that held up for more than three decades in some cases, entered the 1964 game against the Denver Broncos needing nine receptions to join Lionel Taylor as the only professional players to catch 100 passes in a season. With Willie Brown, now a Bronco starter covering him, Hennigan succeeded. As Blanda pointed out, “Willie’s in the Hall Of Fame, Charlie should be too.”    


The Oilers came in with a lot of offense. The Chicago Bears had utilized Blanda as a defensive back, linebacker, and kicker as well as a quarterback but even on a quarterback-loaded squad most felt that he was not given the opportunities he deserved. He retired after the ’58 season but jointed the Oilers upon the formation of the new AFL. His offense paced the league with 4971 yards with the thirty-five year old Blanda throwing for 2810 of those. League-wide star Billy Cannon’s low back injury limited his rushing attempts and eventually moved him to tight end and the Oakland Raiders but fullback Charley Tolar more than made up for the loss of Cannon by garnering All Pro status and finishing third in rushing with 1012 yards, closely following Cookie Gilchrist and Abner Haynes. The Oilers second-ranked defense was often overshadowed by the Double and Triple Wing offense of their new head coach for ’62, Frank “Pop” Ivy, one of the first to introduce a shotgun formation with the Edmonton Eskimos in the mid-1950s. The defense however was solid with stars Floyd, Tony Banfield, and Jim Norton.



Oilers All Star halfback Billy Cannon played the entire game with a back brace to support his significantly injured lumbar spine


It was said that when the Texans came out for pre-game warm-ups, Stram “nearly gagged” as he surveyed the field, worn almost bare by the Houston high school teams that played there. The overflow crowd in attendance was less concerned with the constant drizzle than they were having the opportunity to enjoy what appeared to be a terrific match up. As good as the Oilers offense was, the Texans had churned out but 109 total yards less for the ’62 season. While the Oilers passing game behind Blanda was their ticket to the top, the Texans balanced Dawson’s fine work with a great rushing attack led by Haynes and McClinton. With the best defense in the AFL and a split decision in their two 1962 match-ups with Houston, Dallas, with the youngest roster in the AFL, was more than confident to take the throne from the two-time league champions. One newspaper summed the contest up as "the well-balanced Dallas Texans” against the "pass-minded Houston Oilers."


As expected the great Abner Haynes starred for the Texans in the first half, here outrunning the Oilers Bill Wegener


The game, which began with honorary referee and astronaut Gus Grissom placing the ball on the tee, did not disappoint although the Texans’ surge to a 17 – 0 lead was a surprise as Stram solidified his reputation as an offensive innovator. He played with two tight ends to blunt the Oilers expected blitz, placed the AFL’s second leading rusher Haynes wide, as a flanker or wing back with McClinton and “the other fullback” Jack Spikes as rushers and allowed the fans to watch Haynes score twice. The Dallas defense held Ivy’s Double and Triple Wing formations in check and appeared very much the dominant team at halftime. The best Oilers scoring opportunity came early but fizzled from the Texans nine yard line when linebacker E.J. Holub intercepted Blanda’s pass at the goal line and ran the ball out to his own forty-eight. Overall, the first half predicted a positive outcome for Dallas. If Stram “nearly gagged” coming on to the field for the start of the game, one can only wonder how horrified he was as the second half began with a feared Texas Blue Norther smothering the region and an accompanying temperature decrease of twenty-five degrees in the brief rest time between halves.  This unusual weather phenomenon describes a cold front literally blowing in from the north and contacting the warm, humid temperatures already existing. The resultant dark skies can literally turn black and the entire event is marked by very sudden and precipitous drops in temperature, as much as forty degrees in fifteen minutes and over sixty degrees in less than twelve hours. The winds often become dangerous and have been associated with tornado formation. Add rain and it is certain that the players felt as if they had opened the doors of Hell for the final part of their battle and it was a battle. The Oilers defense got a handle on Dawson, dropping him for forty-three yards in losses and as Stram noted in retrospect, the Texans defense was hurt playing a conservative zone against the Oilers Slot Double Wing, trying to preserve their lead in the precarious weather. Blanda mixed passes and runs to produce a touchdown pass to Chicago Bears defector Willard Dewveall, the first NFL player to jump leagues.


Dawson found the going much tougher in the second half, sacked and harried by the animated Oilers defense



Entering the fourth quarter with a 17 – 7 deficit, Blanda continued to find success on the now muddy playing surface, kicking a field goal and then driving the team so that fullback Tolar could run over right tackle for the tying score with less than six minutes remaining. As the Oilers defensive line continued to dominate the Dallas offense, Blanda again placed his team in position to win. With less than three minutes remaining and his latest drive stalled, he attempted a forty-two yard field goal but the rain, wind, and a great effort by Sherrill Headrick which blocked the kick did not allow it. The Texans had the ball with just over three minutes on the clock, controlled the time, but could not move to scoring position. They opted to punt with seven seconds remaining in the game and now the American Football League, having played an exceptionally hard fought and entertaining championship game, got to display its first “Sudden Death” title match. If the drama had not yet equaled that of the great Colts and Giants match of 1958, the somewhat bizarre overtime coin toss for this AFL game would.



With ABC television sideline reporter Jack Buck standing next to Haynes for the overtime kickoff coin toss, the extensive viewing audience was allowed “up close and personal” coverage of a unique event. The scene was set and further described; “The sky was now a pearl gray, the rain had turned to a fine mist, and the stadium lights had been switched on. A tricky wind of about 15 miles per hour whistled out of the north, toward the scoreboard clock perched above the south end zone seats.” The spectators on site and television viewers were treated to the sight of Texans coach Hank Stram draping his arm around the shoulders of team captain Haynes and as if going through a final movie scene rehearsal, instructing, “If they win the toss and want to receive, we kick to the clock.” Muttering the instructions to himself as he went to the middle of the field, Haynes was prepared to insure his coach’s wishes to either take the football on kick off or keep the wind at their team’s back to assist his defense and enhance the chances of offensive success.   

With the wind gusting, a record television audience on hand, and the great AFL crowd screaming, Haynes repeated to himself the instructions he had received. A cheer went up when indication was given that the Texans had won the toss, followed by a startled excitement by Buck, standing nearby. Noting wind direction, stadium orientation, and the instructions, Haynes stated “We’ll kick to the clock,” meaning the end of the field where the scoreboard stood.  Oilers co-captain and tackle Al Jamison immediately complained, “He can’t do that, he can’t decide whether to kick and which direction he wants.” Official Harold “Red” Bourne, microphone pinned to his referee’s shirt so that all could hear, agreed and ruled that Haynes initial utterance of “We’ll kick” determined his choice and allowed Houston to both receive the kick and “take the wind”. Thus Dallas won the toss but gave up the ball and wind advantage to the Oilers! Of course with Buck standing on the spot with his own microphone in hand, the entire nation heard this play out and one can only imagine fans calling to others in their households who had not yet watched what had already been a tie-ending championship game, complete with severe weather and a great comeback, to catch the conclusion of this history making event.   

As Buck and game announcer Curt Gowdy repeated, “Abner made a mistake,” the overtime, “Sudden Death” period began with tremendous tension that perhaps only Texans owner and league founder Lamar Hunt missed out on as he had taken his young son to the bathroom during the coin toss calamity. Needing Haynes to continue his stellar on-field performance, Stram addressed his sideline huddle prior to the kick-off, stating, "Abner listen. Forget about it. Everybody, forget about it. It's ancient history. We still got to win the game. That's the only thing that's important. Win the game!” The overtime quarter went back and forth and as Blanda attempted a trick play lateral pass, Cannon displayed the effects of his low back injury, being unable to bend over to reach for the ball which bounced off of a thigh pad. At that point announcer Gowdy informed the audience that they were now viewing “the longest professional football game in history” as the clock exceeded that time for the ’58 NFL Championship Game. The Texans’ Haynes perhaps felt as if a burden was lifted as the overtime quarter ended, Houston had not taken advantage of the wind, and Dallas defensive end Bill “The Incredible” Hull had grabbed an errant Blanda pass attempt at midfield just prior to the start of the sixth quarter. As the 6’7” former Wake Forest basketball star Hull described it, Stram may have ordered one of the earliest versions of what came to be called The Zone Blitz. Hull said “We were rushing only three guys against their spread so I dropped off to become a fourth linebacker, kind of a strange position for me, a little uncomfortable but Stram would do things like that and they worked. George Blanda threw the ball right to me, he had no idea I was there. It surprised me, but I wasn’t about to drop it.”

Dawson took his offense down the field with fullback Jack Spikes, the former TCU star, foreshadowing the Packers Chuck Mercein late game performance in the 1967 Ice Bowl Championship Game against the Cowboys. Spikes had been the starter but had given up the position after the season’s fourth game after sustaining a lower extremity injury, and to the continuing maturity of Curtis McClinton. On a pass reception and then a slashing run, Spikes, later named the game’s Most Outstanding Player, moved the ball from just over the midfield stripe to the Oilers nineteen yard line. Bogged down, Dawson snuck to the seventeen and insured that the ball was in the center of the field for kicker Tommy Brooker.



The Alabama rookie defensive end, like most players of his era, doubled as the team’s kicker but it was said that “he didn’t have great range or consistency.” The muddy field and swirling wind did not insure a twenty-five yard automatic field goal but Brooker told Stram, “I’ll kick that sucker right through there.”  His confidence was at the same high level in the huddle as he stated, “Boys, it’s over, we’ve got this.”  With two minutes and fifty-four seconds gone in the game’s sixth, and second overtime period, Brooker did just that, making the Dallas Texans the new American Football League Champions with a 20 – 17 victory over the reigning champion Oilers, a full seventy-seven minutes and fifty-four seconds after the game’s initial kickoff.  



After the game Stram said, “This was the greatest team effort I have ever seen. This team never gave up, they just stayed in there and fought…I’ve never seen a team work harder to win a football game.”  Known as an offensive innovator, many would be surprised to know that Dawson threw but fourteen passes in the entire game, completing nine for eighty-eight yards and with his losses, only thirty-eight net passing yards! This paled compared to Blanda’s 261 yards but much of that was negated by five interceptions. This was a game that had everything any fan would want and more, “spiced up” with the Haynes memorable coin-toss blunder. Yet it has taken a back seat to far less entertaining Super Bowl contests. It’s time that the modern era media hacks learned a bit of true football history!