The American Football League’s New York City franchise, called the Titans in its first three seasons, was a financially precarious team that produced modestly on the field. Beginning in 1963, a new ownership group led by David “Sonny” Werblin began to radically transform the club. The team was renamed the Jets, given new Kelly green and white colors, and a new head coach in Weeb Ewbank, who had built the NFL Colts into a champion. There were some useful veterans on both sides of the ball, to be sure, most notably flanker Don Maynard, LB Larry Grantham, and safety Dainard Paulson. But Ewbank feverishly worked to supplement the roster – there were 23 personnel changes in the week prior to the opening game. FB Mark Smolinski was brought over from the Colts, forcing the shift of the proven Bill Mathis to halfback, and another little-known ex-Colt, Bake Turner, was acquired to help fill the loss of departed veteran split end Art Powell.
The Jets got off to a 3-1 start but had settled back to 4-5-1 as they faced the Kansas City Chiefs on December 1, 1963, in a game that was postponed a week due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Chiefs, known as the Dallas Texans from 1960 to ’62, were defending AFL Champions, but were having a rough year in their new location. The preseason death of rookie flanker Stone Johnson following an on-field injury cast a pall over the team. HB Abner Haynes was only a shadow of the player he had been in his first three seasons as he dealt with a variety of ailments and injuries on the offensive line made star QB Len Dawson vulnerable to blitzes. The defense was sound but couldn’t overcome the offense’s sudden lack of scoring punch. Head Coach Hank Stram was making adjustments, but thus far to little avail – the Chiefs were at 2-6-2 and had not won since the fourth game of the year.
There were 18,824 fans in attendance on a chilly afternoon at the dingy Polo Grounds. The Chiefs had the first possession and started auspiciously when FB Jack Spikes carried twice for a total of 17 yards, but the series faltered and the visitors had to punt. The Jets went three-and-out and, following a punt, Kansas City started at its 36. The drive appeared to be promising for the Chiefs after Len Dawson threw to flanker Frank Jackson for 16 yards to the New York 36. But after advancing another four yards, the Chiefs were set back by an offensive pass interference penalty and ended up punting from near midfield.
Neither team got out of its own end of the field until the Jets took advantage of two carries by Mark Smolinski and a pass from QB Dick Wood to TE Dee Mackey to reach the KC 42 as the opening period ended. However, they came up empty when Dick Guesman missed a field goal attempt from 45 yards early in the second quarter.
Dawson threw to TE Fred Arbanas for 17 yards and Spikes ran effectively as the Chiefs moved into New York territory for a second time, but a field goal attempt by Spikes was short and safety Bill Baird returned it 60 yards to the Kansas City 33. The Jets made the most of the good starting field position as Wood converted a third-and-six situation with a completion to Smolinski for nine yards and, after two more passes fell incomplete, a throw to Don Maynard in the far corner of the end zone was good for a 20-yard touchdown. Guesman added the extra point and New York was ahead by 7-0.
The Chiefs crossed midfield on their next series and had to punt, but regained possession at the New York 11 when the immobile Wood fumbled when hit from behind while preparing to pass. FB Curtis McClinton ran for seven yards, but after the second-year fullback gained another two yards, Spikes fumbled while hitting the middle of the line. Dawson recovered for the Chiefs and they attempted to convert on fourth-and-two. Spikes tried again, this time heading around end, but was stopped by CB Clyde Washington for a four-yard loss and the Jets took over on downs. Having dodged a bullet, the Jets ran the ball three times and punted. Kansas City ended the half with Spikes trying for a 52-yard field goal that fell short.
The Jets took the second half kickoff and drove into Kansas City territory. Wood completed two passes to Maynard, for 16 and 10 yards, and Smolinski had a ten-yard carry along the way. But they came up empty when Guesman missed on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Dawson immediately went to the air and his pass was intercepted by Dainard Paulson, giving the Jets good field position at the 50. Wood went to the air six times and had two completions, one to Mackey for 16 yards in a third-and-five situation, but when the Jets went for it while facing fourth-and-inches at the KC 19, Smolinski was stopped for a loss.
Eddie Wilson was now at quarterback for the Chiefs and had even less luck moving the team than Dawson. Following an exchange of punts, Wilson was picked off by Paulson, who lateraled to CB Marshall Starks. Starks reached the Kansas City 32 and the Jets got another 15 yards thanks to a personal foul. Taking over at the KC 17, the Jets took six plays to score, five of them runs by Bill Mathis. The last was good for a one-yard TD and, with Guesman’s successful conversion, New York took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Jets added three more points on a 37-yard Guesman field goal on their first series of the final period. The Chiefs moved impressively as Wilson completed passes to Arbanas for 18 and 26 yards, but after a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the New York one, HB Bert Coan fumbled and CB Tony Stricker recovered for New York to end the threat.
The defense was pressed again as, following a punt by the Jets, the Chiefs took over at the New York 44. But after reaching the 35, Wilson threw an incomplete pass and the Jets regained possession on downs. It proved to be Kansas City’s last serious threat to score, and New York came away with a shutout, winning by a final score of 17-0.
In a game that was primarily a defensive struggle, the Chiefs actually outgained New York (296 yards to 179) and had more first downs (13 to 10). But they also turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by the Jets, and missed two scoring opportunities inside the New York ten yard line. Kansas City was penalized on seven occasions at a cost of 103 yards, to one flag thrown on the Jets. Neither team had much luck on field goals, combining for one success in five attempts.
Dick Wood completed 13 of 29 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Mark Smolinski rushed for 65 yards on 21 carries and gained another 26 yards on three pass receptions. Don Maynard had four catches for 46 yards and a TD and Dee Mackey also caught four passes, for 37 yards. Dainard Paulson intercepted two passes.
For the Chiefs, Len Dawson was successful on 6 of 13 throws with one intercepted before yielding to Eddie Wilson, who completed 7 of 22 for 137 yards, also with one picked off. Frank Jackson had 6 catches for 110 yards and Fred Arbanas contributed four receptions for 68 yards. Jack Spikes paced the ground game with 55 yards on 13 carries and Curtis McClinton added 31 yards on 11 attempts.
The teams moved in different directions over the last three weeks of the season. The New York defense that shut out the Chiefs gave up 45 points to Buffalo the next week and the Jets lost all three games to end up with a 5-8-1 record, placing last in the weak Eastern Division (they were still in the race for the division title until the next-to-last game of the season). The loss to the Jets proved to be the nadir for Kansas City as the Chiefs erupted to put 135 points on the board in sweeping their final three contests – including a 48-0 payback to the Jets in the finale. The Chiefs ended up with a 5-7-2 tally and placed third in the Western Division.