December 23, 2009

1962: Dallas Texans Defeat Oilers in Overtime for AFL Championship

It was a gray, blustery day on December 23, 1962 as the Houston Oilers hosted the Dallas Texans in the AFL Championship game at Jeppesen Stadium. The Oilers, champions of the Eastern Division with an 11-3 record, had won the first two league championships and were looking to make it three straight. Under Head Coach Frank “Pop” Ivy, the team’s third coach in spite of their success, Houston had started slowly and was 4-3 at midseason, but won seven consecutive games to complete the regular season and get past the Boston Patriots. 34-year-old veteran QB George Blanda passed for 27 touchdowns, but also threw an astounding 42 interceptions. Stubby FB Charley Tolar (5’7”, 198 pounds) ran for 1012 yards and flanker Charley Hennigan led the receivers with 54 receptions for 867 yards and 8 TDs.

The Dallas Texans, owned by AFL founder Lamar Hunt, easily won the Western Division for the first time, also with an 11-3 tally (the second place Denver Broncos were a distant 7-7). Head Coach Hank Stram benefited from the arrival of QB Len Dawson, who led the league in passing after having ridden the bench in five NFL seasons. The Texans also had a thousand-yard rusher in flashy HB Abner Haynes (1049 yards and 13 TDs) and a well-balanced squad on both sides of the ball.

There were 37,981 fans filling the small stadium as Dallas dominated the first half. After Tommy Brooker booted a 16-yard field goal to give the Texans a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, Haynes (pictured at left) scored twice in the second quarter, first on a 28-yard pass from Dawson and then on a two-yard run. The Texans used two fullbacks in the backfield, Jack Spikes and rookie Curtis McClinton, with Haynes often moving out to the flank, and the combination provided excellent ball control. The half ended with the Texans holding a 17-0 lead.

However, in the second half it was all Houston. Blanda threw a 15-yard TD pass to TE Willard Dewveall in the third quarter and kicked a 31-yard field goal in the fourth period. When Tolar scored from a yard out with six minutes left, the score was tied at 17-17, and after a last-ditch Blanda field goal attempt was blocked by Texans LB Sherrill Headrick, that was how it stood after 60 minutes of play.

When it came time for the coin toss to start off the overtime period, Haynes made an error that could have cost Dallas the game. Due to concerns regarding the kicking game, Coach Stram had decided to kick off to start overtime, and instructed Haynes, the offensive captain, to take the wind advantage if he won the toss. The Texans did indeed win the toss, but when asked by referee Harold “Red” Bourne what his choice was, Haynes responded “We’ll kick to the clock”. Only the “we’ll kick” part mattered, and Houston was now able to get both the ball and the wind to start the “sudden death” overtime.

Blanda came out throwing, but on the first possession was intercepted by Dallas safety Johnny Robinson. The Texans were unable to capitalize and punted the ball back to the Oilers, and Blanda used short passes to methodically move the Oilers downfield. With time winding down in the fifth period, the veteran quarterback had the team in field goal range at the Dallas 35 yard line – Blanda was also one of the better kickers in the league, and with the wind at his back victory appeared to be in reach. But a second-down pass intended for Hennigan was intercepted by DE Bill Hull, who returned it 23 yards to midfield.

The first overtime period ended after the Texans ran their first play, and as the game continued into another extra period, they began to move down the field and now had the wind at their backs. On a crucial third and eight play, Dawson passed to Spikes for 10 yards to the Houston 38 yard line. Dawson then handed off to Spikes, who ran 19 yards for a first down at the 19, easily in field goal range. After a couple of short, safe runs to help line up the field goal, Brooker successfully booted it from 25 yards at 2:54 into the sixth period of play (pictured at top), and the Dallas Texans were the AFL champions with a 20-17 win.

Going 17:54 into overtime, the game was longer than the first postseason contest to go into “sudden death” (the 1958 NFL Championship game). That record fell in 1971, and was ultimately bested in turn by a 1984 USFL playoff game that went 33:33 into overtime.

Houston outgained Dallas by 359 to 237 yards. Dawson played conservatively, completing 9 of 14 passes for 88 yards and a TD – and most importantly, with no interceptions. The Texans, however, ran the ball effectively, accumulating 199 yards on 54 attempts; Spikes (pictured at bottom) led the team with 77 yards on 11 carries, with McClinton doing more of the heavy work at 24 rushes for 70 yards. Haynes led the receivers with three catches for 45 yards and a TD (and dodged a place in sports infamy when the Texans pulled out the win).

Blanda went to the air 46 times, completing 23 for 261 yards and a score, but also threw five interceptions. TE Dewveall and HB Billy Cannon both caught six passes, with Dewveall leading all receivers with 95 yards and scoring once. The Oilers gained just 98 yards on 30 rushes, with Tolar being limited to 58 yards on 17 attempts and a TD.

The AFL championship victory was the end of the road for the Texans; after battling the NFL’s Cowboys for attention in Dallas for three seasons, Lamar Hunt chose to move the franchise and they became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963. The loss for Houston also signaled a change; the team had losing records over the next four seasons before returning to a league championship game in 1967.