October 5, 2010

1975: Goal-Line Stand Preserves Bengals Win Over Oilers & “White Shoes” Johnson

The matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Oilers on October 5, 1975 at the Astrodome promised to be a good one. Both AFC Central teams had won their first two games heading into the Week 3 contest. Cincinnati, under 67-year-old founding Head Coach Paul Brown, was coming off of a disappointing 7-7 season in ’74 after having won the AFC Central with a 10-4 mark in 1973. QB Ken Anderson (pictured at right), a precision passer who led the NFL in that category in ’74, was off to another fine start.

Meanwhile, the Oilers were on the rise under a new head coach, Bum Phillips. After back-to-back 1-13 records in 1972 and ’73, they had risen to 7-7 under the guidance of Sid Gillman, who chose to turn over the head coaching duties to Phillips, a veteran assistant coach who had most recently been Houston’s defensive coordinator; later he also inherited Gillman’s position as general manager.

The first quarter was scoreless. Cincinnati finally got on the board in the second quarter when Anderson tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to RB Lenvil Elliott. However, Houston WR Billy “White Shoes” Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards and RB Fred Willis (a former Bengal) capped the possession with a dive into the end zone from a yard out to tie the score.

Johnson struck again before the half when he returned a 53-yard punt by David Green for 30 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Skip Butler that gave Houston a 10-7 halftime lead.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati missed opportunities to score further in the first half as Anderson tossed an interception and FB Boobie Clark fumbled the ball away on the Houston 19 yard line.

There was just one score in the third quarter, but it was once again a big play by Houston’s Johnson as he returned a punt for a 63-yard touchdown. The Oilers were up 17-7 thanks to the heroics of the 5’9”, 170-pound wide receiver/kick returner from Widener who had set up both first half scores and directly produced the third.

However, Houston turnovers set up two fourth quarter touchdowns by the Bengals. First, CB Ken Riley recovered a fumble deep in his own territory and returned it 43 yards. Six plays later, RB Stan Fritts caught a pass from Anderson for a 17-yard touchdown that narrowed the Oilers’ margin to three points. Then, LB Al Beauchamp recovered a fumble at the Houston 41 on the Oilers’ next possession. Anderson tossed another TD pass, of six yards to WR Isaac Curtis, seven plays later. With less than nine minutes remaining to play, the Bengals were now ahead by 21-17.

The lead hardly appeared to be safe when the Oilers, thanks to a long pass interference penalty, found themselves with a first-and-goal situation at the Cincinnati one yard line. In the key defensive stand of the game, the Oilers attempted four straight runs into the center of the line and came up empty. Bengals MLB Jim LeClair (pictured at right) made two of the tackles on his own in the goal-line stand, and assisted on the other two. With 5:18 remaining in the game, Cincinnati took over on downs.

On the first play after the change of possession, Anderson was tackled in the end zone for a safety that narrowed the Bengals’ lead to two points. But later Riley intercepted a pass to thwart Houston’s last effort, and Cincinnati escaped with a 21-19 win.

Ken Anderson said afterward, “The only thing we didn’t want to do was panic. We were only down by 10 and you can come back from that.” The Bengals led in total yards (262 to 176) and first downs (18 to 13). They lost 107 yards on seven penalties and Anderson was sacked seven times for a loss of 34 more, but the Oilers suffered five critical turnovers.

Anderson completed 19 of 28 passes for 210 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Neither club ran the ball effectively, and of Cincinnati’s 86 yards on 37 carries (2.3-yard average), Boobie Clark contributed the most with 29 yards on 13 attempts; he also caught the most passes with 5, for another 29 yards. Stan Fritts added 28 yards on 8 carries and Lenvil Elliott 27 yards on 6 rushes. Elliott also had the most receiving yards, with 49 on three catches that included a TD.

The biggest contributor for the Oilers had been Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who had 263 yards in kick returns for the day (136 on four kickoffs and 127 on six punts); he added another 19 yards on two pass receptions. QB Dan Pastorini was successful on 11 of 23 passes for 93 yards with two of them intercepted. Rookie FB Don “Jaws” Hardeman ran for a team-leading 33 of Houston’s 83 rushing yards, on 16 carries. WR Ken Burrough led the receivers with four catches for 47 yards.

In the highly competitive AFC Central, Cincinnati went on to win its first six games and finished with an 11-3 record, second to the 12-2 Steelers and good enough for a wild card spot in the playoffs. In Paul Brown’s last game as a head coach, they lost a close Divisional playoff contest to Oakland. Houston recovered to win its next four games and came in third with a very respectable 10-4 tally, the club’s best since 1962.

Ken Anderson again led the NFL in passing with a 93.9 rating and also topped the league with 3169 yards and 8.4 yards-per-pass attempt. His 60.5 completion percentage ranked second, as did his low 2.9 percentage of interceptions.

As this game exemplified, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (pictured below) in his second year had established himself as one of the most exciting players in the league. He ranked fourth in the league with his 1820 all-purpose yards and was the top punt returner with a 15.3-yard average on 40 returns, which included three touchdowns.