“Pats Rout Bills, 26 – 8, for Title”; Oh, Out of Place, Out of Time?
"Pats Rout Bills, 26 – 8, for Title”; Oh, Out of Place, Out of Time?
By Dr. Ken
After a November delay of a week in the American Football League schedule due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Eastern Division Championship was also delayed, settled in a playoff game in Buffalo, one pushed into their fully expected snowy and frigid climate. The result found the Patriots, as the headline quoted in this column’s title from the December 29, 1963 Boston Globe noted, “routing” the Buffalo Bills. Yes, my frame of reference is a bit off relative to upcoming Super Bowl LIII but from the author’s perspective, the 1963 Eastern Division title playoff game was a heck of a lot more enjoyable than the basketball-type scores of the NFL’s 2018 season. Oh, you wanted the January 20, 2019 Kansas City Chiefs and Patriots cited, what has become a “defense dominated game” that somehow resulted in a less-than-defensive-battle 37-31 Patriots victory. Any 26-8 game of today might be considered an off-day for the losing team but by no stretch of any fan’s imagination would this game’s result be considered a “rout” as the newspaper headlines claimed. Oh no, old guy whining. Perhaps but I will enthusiastically take the Patriots of the 1960s and the brand of ball they played, in fact the brand of ball everyone played, to the high-flying results of today’s football.
Football the way this author liked it best; hard-hitting, run dominated, and in the elements. Patriots quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli led his team to the 1963 AFL Championship game by defeating the Buffalo Bills
The “starting point” moaning out of the way, there is no doubt that Tom Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick are absolutely great by any standard, any era’s standard, and will be deserving of the Hall Of Fame memberships they will receive. There is no doubt that there are skilled athletes that displayed their abilities as the Los Angeles Rams and Patriots battled their way through the weekend and into the latest manifestation of the Super Bowl. However, there aren’t a lot of truly skilled football players on the field despite having truly great athletes on the field and the games to decide the latest Super Bowl participants were no different. The 1963 Boston Patriots by contrast were probably not of the same high-end athletic caliber that today’s Pats are but they were a tough group of very good football players. Their mediocre record, somewhat similar to most of the present-day NFL teams that enter the end of season playoff run with the possibility of finishing at 9-7 or 8-8, at least reflects “modern football” as we know it. The Patriots’ 7-6-1 record which left them tied for first place in the Eastern Division with the Buffalo Bills belied a resolute and confident group of men. That modern NFL look included an Eastern Division race very similar to recent seasons of NFL football with the Patriots, Oilers, and Bills winning, losing, and remaining just above or just below the .500 mark for most of the season. By 1963 the wayward Patriots who had difficulty finding a permanent home stadium, had captured the attention of a growing fan base in New England although they were still “Number Two” relative to the glut of New York Giants fans. Once the Boston Braves/Redskins departed for Washington D.C. after the 1936 season, Boston area and New England fans despite the possible disbelief of current Boston Red Sox fans turned to the Giants as their “local favorites.”
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Larry Eisenhauer followed his outstanding Long Island high school career with a similar effort at Boston College and then as a pro with the Patriots
The “extra” or playoff game between the Patriots and Bills was scheduled for December 28 following the end of the regular season in the frigid weather of Buffalo. It promised to be hard-hitting due to a regional animosity between the participants that seemed to be natural. The Patriots jumped out early scoring ten points in the first quarter and adding two field goals in the second. The Bills got it going in the third quarter as receiver Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion completed a ninety-three yard pass/run play with one of Daryle Lamonica’s bombs followed by a successful two point conversion. A fourth quarter touchdown and field goal put the Pats into the AFL Championship Game for their first time against the very potent San Diego Chargers. The 1963 playoff game offered real football with good defense against a surprising amount of offensive firepower. Despite putting only eight points on the board, Bills’ quarterbacks Lamonica and Jack Kemp tallied 279 net passing yards. The Bills running attack however, was stymied by the Patriots excellent defensive front seven which included Second Team All AFL All Star Nick Buoniconti, totaling but eight net rushing yards, seven by the great Cookie Gilchrist. There were days when holding Gilchrist to seven yards on any single carry was an accomplishment as earlier in the season he had rushed for a record 243 yards against the Jets and as he had in all of his three seasons with the Bills (1962-1964), led the AFL in scoring.
Patriot back Larry Garron, a four time AFL All Star (All Pro) including the ’63 season, ripped off a touchdown run vs the Bills in the playoff game. Garron had played for Patriots’ head coach Lou Saban at Western Illinois, was cut in the team’s inaugural camp, but came back thirty pounds of muscle heavier in 1961 to give the team nine productive seasons. He was also an accomplished martial artist whose sons played at the University Of New Hampshire
Coincidental to the playoff game’s results, Vince Lombardi’s Packers were relegated to the 1963 Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, better known as the NFL Runner-Up Bowl Game or “Playoff Bowl.” While the winners of the National Football League’s Eastern and Western Conferences squared off for what was seen as the “World Championship Of Football,” the second place squads were more or less forced into a post-season game that had little meaning. In both ’63 and ’64 Lombardi was forced to participate in the game following three seasons of championship game runs, famously stating after missing out on the 1963 NFL Championship Game that the Packers were playing in “the Shit Bowl, a losers’ bowl for losers.” He also noted in a criticism of the AFL that his team’s 40-23 victory over the Browns, one that brought no solace to what he saw as a failure to reach the title game, that “this was an American Football League game, no defense.” Following the Packers participation in the following season’s bowl for second place squads, he more famously stated that it was “…a hinky-dink football game played in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players. That’s all second place is, hinky-dink.” Needless to add, the coaches and players of the American Football League noted the reference to their supposed lack of defensive ability but those ‘63 Patriots would have ranked third in the NFL in points allowed, trailing only the record setting lock-down Bears who won the NFL title, and Lombardi’s Packers.
After battling their way to the AFL Championship Game, the Patriots could not contend with Keith Lincoln’s record-setting day and the other stars of the 1963 San Diego Chargers
Unfortunately for Patriots fans they had to finish the season with what remains one of the most lopsided losses in championship annals. The exceptional offense of the San Diego Chargers led by versatile back Keith Lincoln destroyed them by a 51-10 margin. It was 31-10 at the half and of course, was a record-setting day for Lincoln who rushed for 206 yards and added 123 in receptions, keeping him second on the post-season individual performance list behind the Chiefs Ed Podolak. Thus, while the Patriots had risen to the top of the East after being a team without a stadium although very much a yearly contender after their inaugural season, the 1963 American Football League Championship Game would remain a low-water mark for the franchise for seasons to come. The 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in the ’85 Super Bowl was perhaps not as humiliating as “everyone” knew that the Bears were a special and especially talented team. Needless to add, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have altered anyone and everyone’s perception of the Patriots with no thought of them being a losing or humiliated franchise.