March 14, 2012

1967: Raiders Obtain Daryle Lamonica from Bills

Concurrent with the first combined NFL/AFL draft, there were several major trades. Perhaps the biggest occurred on March 14, 1967, the first day of the draft, as the Oakland Raiders dealt QB Tom Flores, split end Art Powell, and a second round draft choice to the Buffalo Bills for QB Daryle Lamonica, split end Glenn Bass, and two draft picks (third and fifth round).

The 25-year-old Lamonica (he turned 26 prior to the ’67 season) had been taken by the Bills in the 24th round of the 1963 AFL draft out of Notre Dame (he was chosen by Green Bay in the NFL). He proved to be an effective backup to veteran Jack Kemp with the Bills and, with ideal size (6’3”, 215), a strong arm, and outstanding ability as a long passer, often relieved Kemp if a change of pace seemed in order in his first few seasons. He was also mobile and, even in a part-time role, led AFL quarterbacks in rushing with 289 yards in 1964. By 1966, however, he was seeing less action and was restless in Kemp’s shadow.

Meanwhile, Tom Flores, a week short of his 30th birthday at the time of the trade, was an original member of the Raiders in 1960 and was coming off a very solid year for a team that went 8-5-1. He ranked third in passing and achieved career highs with 2638 yards and 24 touchdown passes, earning selection to the AFL All-Star Game. However, there was a sense that the team’s managing general partner, Al Davis, and head coach, John Rauch, had concluded that Flores was not the quarterback to take the team to the next level.

As for the two receivers involved, Powell had been one of the best in the AFL since joining the New York Titans in 1960. After moving to the Raiders in ’63, he had never scored fewer than 11 touchdowns in a season (with a high of 16 in that first year) and had been over a thousand yards receiving in three of four years, including 1026 on 53 catches in 1966. Considered temperamental, he was nevertheless highly talented.

By contrast, Glenn Bass had caught just 10 passes for 130 yards in ’66. While he had 82 receptions in his first two seasons and had pulled in 43 throws for 897 yards and 7 touchdowns in 1964, Bass had been having physical problems, including a major ankle injury in 1965, and lost his starting job to rookie Bobby Crockett in ’66. At age 27, there were certainly doubts regarding his future.

At the time, the trade was viewed as a major gamble by the Raiders, who were giving up two experienced and accomplished players for a backup quarterback and injury-prone receiver. Meanwhile, Buffalo had topped the Eastern Division for three straight years, but after back-to-back AFL Championships, the Bills were badly beaten by Kansas City for the ’66 league title. The trade with Oakland, in conjunction with other deals, seemed likely to strengthen the club for a possible Super Bowl run in 1967.

In fact, the results proved to be very different and, ultimately, very one-sided for the Raiders. Bass failed to make the team, but Lamonica more than made up for it with a MVP performance. The player who came to be known as “The Mad Bomber” proved to be an excellent fit in Oakland’s offense with his ability to throw deep and also displayed strong leadership skills. Despite the lack of a legitimate deep threat, flanker Fred Biletnikoff, split end Bill Miller, and TE Billy Cannon performed capably. The Raiders went 13-1 and won the AFL Championship, succumbing to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

Things did not go as well for Buffalo. Flores initially gained the starting job but had arm problems and, even with Kemp playing erratically, saw limited action – he threw a total of 64 passes, none for touchdowns but with 8 of them intercepted. Powell played in only six games and went down with a knee injury, catching 20 passes for 346 yards and four TDs. Instead of contending, and despite the efforts of a still-formidable defense, the Bills fell to 4-10.

Lamonica and the Raiders were 24-3-1 over the next two seasons, although they fell short of another AFL title both times. Still, Lamonica remained one of the league’s best quarterbacks and again received MVP recognition in 1969 as he passed for 3302 yards and 34 touchdowns. The arrival of fleet WR Warren Wells provided an effective deep threat to pair with Biletnikoff.

With the AFL merging into the NFL in 1970, Lamonica was still the starting quarterback for the Raiders and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the ’70 and ’72 seasons. However, the team, while still fundamentally strong, was not as successful and zone defenses began to neutralize the strong-armed quarterback. He began to yield playing time to the younger Ken Stabler and signed with the World Football League’s Southern California Sun, where he ended his career. It was an outstanding one – in eight years in Oakland (six as the primary starting quarterback) he passed for 16,655 yards and 148 TDs and the team went 62-16-6 in his starts and qualified for the playoffs in five of those first six seasons.

As for the Bills, the decline in ’67 continued through 1972, long after Tom Flores and Art Powell were gone. Flores appeared in one game in 1968 after being injured during the preseason, was dealt to the Chiefs during the ’69 season to provide veteran insurance when QB Len Dawson missed time due to injury, and retired afterward. He would eventually return to the Raiders as a head coach, leading the team to two NFL titles. Powell was gone in 1968, catching one pass for the Minnesota Vikings before his career also came to an end.

As for the draft choices the Raiders received, the third round selection was used to take Bill Fairbrand, linebacker from Colorado, and the fifth round pick went for LB Mike Hibler of Stanford. The second round choice the Bills got from Oakland was used for TE Jim LeMoine from Utah State. None of them were of consequence.

A risky trade that worked far better for the team that took the bigger chance proved a dud for the club that was seeking to retool and remain successful with veteran acquisitions. For the Oakland Raiders, it meant going from a promising team to a champion – and with a quarterback whose style of play came to define the franchise. But for the Buffalo Bills, it symbolized a descent from championship-level play to mediocrity.