November 16, 2011

1969: Long Lamonica-to-Wells TD Gives Raiders Win Over Chargers

The Oakland Raiders were 7-1-1 and battling the Chiefs atop the Western Division of the American Football League as they took on their West Coast rivals, the San Diego Chargers, on November 16, 1969. Oakland had won the division the previous two seasons (and put together an outstanding 25-3 regular-season record in doing so) and, under first-year Head Coach John Madden, was looking to win one last AFL Championship before the scheduled merger with the NFL. QB Daryle Lamonica (pictured at right) directed a dynamic passing attack on offense and the defense was intimidating and effective.

The game marked a noteworthy milestone for the Chargers, for it would be the first in franchise history without Sid Gillman as head coach. While he remained as general manager, a bleeding ulcer had forced him to hand over the coaching reigns to assistant Charlie Waller. Doubtless it had not helped his condition that the talented club was 4-5 and had lost its last three games, including one at home against the Raiders. Typically known for their offensive prowess under Gillman, the Chargers had failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last two contests.

There were 54,372 in attendance at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Chargers implemented a zone defense to try and shut down Oakland’s aerial attack, at one point going to six defensive backs to thwart the outside passing game. As a result, the Raiders offense sputtered much of the game, but the Chargers weren’t able to capitalize despite inspired defensive play.

Following a scoreless first quarter, San Diego CB Speedy Duncan intercepted a Lamonica pass and made a spectacular 72-yard return, shaking attempted tackles by virtually all of the Raiders on the field along the way.

Oakland came back and Lamonica completed a 19-yard scoring pass to WR Fred Biletnikoff that, with the successful extra point, evened the score at 7-7. The defense put the Raiders ahead before the half when LB Dan Conners pulled the ball out of TE Willie Frazier’s hands and ran 25 yards for a touchdown. Oakland was ahead by 14-7 after thirty minutes of play.

The Chargers drew closer in the third quarter thanks to an 18-yard field goal by Dennis Partee that made it a 14-10 game. Partee made it a one-point contest with a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but San Diego continued to miss opportunities on offense. An apparent five-yard scoring run by HB Dickie Post was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty on rookie OT Gene Ferguson, who was subbing for injured star Ron Mix.

Another opportunity was lost when Partee missed a 31-yard field goal attempt after the Chargers recovered a fumble by Raiders HB Charlie Smith at the Oakland 17. San Diego twice made it inside the Oakland 15 in the fourth quarter, but came away with just three points

Still, the Chargers took the lead on Partee’s third successful field goal of the game, from 14 yards out, that capped a 53-yard drive highlighted by five runs by the scatback Post, one of 42 yards up the middle, that got the ball to the Oakland six. Waller chose to kick rather than go for the touchdown despite the success the Chargers were having running the ball

The ensuing kickoff was returned 21 yards by WR Rod Sherman and the Raiders lost a yard on the next play (a draw by Charlie Smith) before Lamonica threw long to WR Warren Wells, who ran between CB Bob Howard and FS Jim Hill and caught the ball in stride at the San Diego 20. The well-thrown pass traveled some 60 yards in the air and Wells took it in unmolested for a spectacular 80-yard touchdown. Lamonica’s foot had slipped before throwing, and Howard and Hill, thinking that he had been sacked, backed off for a critical moment, allowing the speedy Wells to get past them.

With 5:41 remaining to play, the Chargers regained possession but couldn’t get beyond their own 23 and had to punt. Oakland sought to control the ball, and with 1:15 remaining, Lamonica completed a 14-yard pass to Biletnikoff on a third-and-six play from the Oakland 39. It allowed the Raiders to run out the clock and win the hard-fought contest by a score of 21-16.

Oakland outgained the Chargers by 309 yards to 224, but San Diego led in first downs, 17 to 13. The Raiders gained just 74 yards on 28 running plays and turned the ball over four times, to three by the Chargers.

Daryle Lamonica had a generally subpar performance as he completed 15 of 29 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and had three intercepted, but he made the big plays when he had to. Most of the completions were to FB Hewritt Dixon on flares and screens, and he ended up with 8 catches for 49 yards while also leading the club in rushing with 64 yards on 14 carries. With the long scoring play, Warren Wells (pictured at left) had 105 yards on two completions. Fred Biletnikoff added three catches for 47 yards and a TD.

For the Chargers, QB John Hadl went to the air 32 times but had only 12 completions for 127 yards, although he threw no interceptions. Dickie Post had an outstanding rushing performance as he gained 113 yards on 20 carries. Oakland’s cornerbacks Willie Brown and Nemiah Wilson were effective in keeping San Diego’s star WR Lance Alworth bottled up, and he had just 3 catches for 25 yards and with no TDs. As a result, TE Jeff Queen led the team in passing yards with 59 on his two receptions. WR Rick Eber also had three catches, for 28 yards.

“Good teams - teams that win championships - win close games like this one,” Oakland’s Coach Madden said afterward. “You’d like to win them by big scores but sometimes you win on 80-yard pass plays. The important thing is that you win.”

“This was the first time in 35 years I was up in the stands while a team of mine was playing down on the field,” said a wan Sid Gillman, who suffered through the game while sitting with Chargers coaches up in the press box. “It was, to put it mildly, a little tough on me. But I'll get used lo it. I'll get used to anything – except losing.”

“Boy, it really hurts,” summed up the 47-year-old Charlie Waller, a loser in his first game as a head coach. He added, “Our defense gave us good field position, but we didn’t have any punch. We couldn’t get the touchdown and then we missed a 30-yard field goal, too.”

The Raiders won the remainder of their games to once again win the Western Division with a 12-1-1 record. In the playoff format for the AFL’s final season, the division winners faced the second place teams in the opposite division in the first round, and Oakland easily dispatched the Eastern Division’s number two club, the Houston Oilers, by a 56-7 score. However, the Chiefs, who finished second in their division to the Raiders, defeated the top team in the East, the defending-champion New York Jets. While Oakland had beaten Kansas City twice during the regular season, the Chiefs came away with a 17-7 win in the AFL title game.

As for the Chargers, the loss to the Raiders marked the third straight game without an offensive TD. However, they rallied under Coach Waller to win their last four games and ended up third in the Western Division at 8-6.

Daryle Lamonica was named AFL Player of the Year by UPI as he led the league in pass attempts (426), completions (221), yards (3302), and TD passes (34). On the downside, he also led the AFL by throwing 25 interceptions. He ranked second in passing (79.8 rating), yards per attempt (7.8), and completion percentage (51.9).

Warren Wells had 47 catches for a league-leading 1260 yards, 26.8 per-reception average, and 14 touchdowns. His 1284 yards from scrimmage also led the AFL.

Dickie Post, the diminutive halfback (5’9”, 190 pounds), led the AFL in rushing 873 yards on 182 carries (4.8 avg.) and six touchdowns. His 1182 total yards ranked seventh and he was an AFL All-Star for the second time.