August 31, 2012

1947: Improved Bills Upset Yankees in Season-Opening AAFC Contest

The New York Yankees, defending champions of the All-America Football Conference’s Eastern Division, opened their second season on August 31, 1947 at Buffalo. New York, running a single-wing offense under Head Coach Ray Flaherty, had gone 10-3-1 before losing a close-fought title game to the Cleveland Browns to cap the AAFC’s first year. The Yankees lost veteran tailback Ace Parker to retirement but still had the league’s best running tailback in Spec Sanders. They also had plenty of talent across the board and had also added a talented rookie in the diminutive (5’5”, 170) but fast HB Buddy Young out of Illinois.

Buffalo was 3-10-1 in 1946 but had made some changes. While still coached by Red Dawson, the team’s nickname had been changed from Bisons to Bills. A promising rookie quarterback had been signed in George Ratterman (pictured above), mostly a backup to Heisman Trophy-winning Johnny Lujack at Notre Dame but a star in the College All-Star Game upset of the Chicago Bears, the defending NFL Champions (Young also was a key player for the All-Stars). He had good ends to throw to in holdover Fay King and newcomer Al Baldwin, and there was talent at running back, most notably up-and-coming HB Chet Mutryn.

There were 32,385 fans at War Memorial Stadium in what was at the time the largest pro football crowd in Buffalo history. A Sanders pass to FB Eddie Prokop reached the Buffalo four yard line to set up New York’s first touchdown of the game as Prokop then carried for the remaining four yards. However, later in the first quarter Buffalo LB Vic Kulbitski intercepted a Sanders pass to set up the home team’s first TD. Ratterman passed to Mutryn for 19 yards and finished the series with a one-yard quarterback sneak.

The teams traded touchdowns again in the second quarter, this time with Buffalo scoring first when Ratterman connected with King on a 39-yard pass play. Sanders ran for a 17-yard TD and, with all extra points successfully added, the halftime tally was even at 14-14.

In the third quarter, Buddy Young showed off his speed in the open field as he took a pass from Sanders for a 50-yard touchdown. Following the long scoring play, the Bills responded with a scoring drive. End Alton Coppage made two outstanding catches of Ratterman passes, the second moving the ball to the New York one from where HB George Koch powered in for the TD.

With the score tied at 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter, tailback Frank Sinkwich passed the Yankees into scoring territory and Harvey Johnson kicked a 15-yard field goal to put New York ahead.

Ratterman led the Bills back on a drive that concluded with a fourth down scoring pass of eight yards to Mutryn in the corner of the end zone with six minutes remaining. The touchdown proved to be decisive, but the finish was dramatic as the Yankees again drove into Buffalo territory with time running down. A pass from Sanders moved them to the 10 yard line but a throw intended for FB Lloyd Cheatham at the three fell incomplete as time ran out. The Bills pulled off the upset by a score of 28-24.

George Ratterman had a successful debut, completing 9 of 13 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. For the Yankees, Buddy Young (pictured at left) rushed for 81 yards on 13 carries and added the 50-yard pass receiving TD.

The Bills continued to both play and draw well and were in contention until losing badly to the Yankees in New York by a score of 35-13 in the next-to-last week of the season. They finished second with a record of 8-4-2. New York was 11-2-1 to again top the East – and again fell to the powerful Browns.

Ratterman went on to have a solid rookie season, throwing for 1840 yards with 22 touchdowns. Chet Mutryn rushed for 868 yards while averaging 6.2 yards per carry and leading the AAFC in kickoff returns (32.9 avg).

Spec Sanders had a spectacular season, rushing for 1432 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns while generating 2265 all-purpose yards. Buddy Young put together a fine first year, running for 712 yards on 116 carries (6.1 avg.) and catching 27 passes for 303 more yards. His rushing total placed fifth in the league, behind the fourth-ranked Mutryn who also finished second to Sanders in total yards with 1933.