In the opening week of the American Football League’s third season, two of the new circuit’s more problematic franchises faced each other on September 9, 1962. The New York Titans and Oakland Raiders had both suffered from difficulties in the front office, on the field, and at the gate.
The Titans had broken even at 7-7 in each of their first two seasons. Mercurial owner Harry Wismer replaced Head Coach Sammy Baugh, once an all-time great quarterback in Washington, with another ex-NFL great in Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, formerly of the Bears. The team had outstanding receivers in flanker Don Maynard and split end Art Powell, but veteran QB Al Dorow was dealt away and replaced by 38-year-old Butch Songin, obtained from the Patriots. Just a few days prior to the opener, Lee Grosscup (pictured above) was picked up after being waived by the Minnesota Vikings. Grosscup was a highly-touted passer out of Utah who failed to make the grade with the Giants and, cut by them at the end of July, had only been with Minnesota for a short time before his release.
Oakland had the AFL’s worst record the previous year at 2-12. Marty Feldman replaced Eddie Erdelatz as head coach during the season and was still at the helm. One positive change was that, after playing in San Francisco the first two years (Kezar Stadium in 1960, Candlestick Park in ’61), the Raiders finally had a home field in Oakland. A temporary stadium called Frank Youell Field had been erected until a projected new facility was ready. However, promising QB Tom Flores was out for the year with tuberculosis and Don Heinrich, formerly of the Giants and Cowboys, had been signed to take his place. Like the Titans, the Raiders had difficulty in signing rookie draft choices, thus making it all the harder to become more competitive.
There were 12,893 fans in attendance for the first Raiders home game actually played in Oakland. The teams traded punts to start the contest before the Raiders, starting at their own 38, drove deep into New York territory. HB Clem Daniels had a 12-yard run and a 12-yard reception on a swing pass from Don Heinrich, but after reaching the 18 yard line, Jackie Simpson’s 25-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right.
On the next play, Butch Songin threw long and was picked off by safety Tom Morrow, who returned it 29 yards to the New York 16. However, the Raiders again came up empty when they once more had to try for a field goal and Simpson missed from 16 yards.
The game remained scoreless heading into the second quarter. A fumble on a lateral gave the Raiders possession at the New York 41 and, spurred by a six-yard carry by HB Bo Roberson and an eight-yard run by FB Alan Miller, they drove 20 yards. This time Simpson successfully kicked a 28-yard field goal to stake the home team to a 3-0 advantage.
Following the kickoff, it was Lee Grosscup replacing Songin at quarterback for the Titans. With the ball at his own 20, he made a quick impression by going long for Art Powell (pictured below), who pulled the ball in at the Oakland 35, and the fleet receiver continued on for an 80-yard touchdown. Bill Shockley added the extra point for a 7-3 lead.
It didn’t take long for the Titans to regain possession and strike again. On the first play after the kickoff, LB Larry Grantham sacked Heinrich for a nine-yard loss and then a bad pass was intercepted by safety Billy Atkins to give the Titans the ball at the Oakland 19. Grosscup threw to HB Dick Christy, who was wide open on the left, and it was good for another TD. Shockley added the PAT and, in just two plays, Grosscup had accounted for two scores and New York was ahead by 14-3.
The Raiders moved methodically down the field on their next series, with M.C. Reynolds now in at quarterback. He completed two passes and had a nine-yard scramble, but again it came down to a field goal attempt by Simpson, and he missed badly from 36 yards. The score remained unchanged at the half.
Butch Songin was back behind center when the Titans started off the third quarter and, taking a cue from Grosscup, he threw to Powell for seven yards before connecting with Maynard, who broke an attempted tackle by CB Fred Williamson for a 64-yard touchdown. Shockley added the extra point and the tally stood at 21-3.
Miller fumbled the ensuing kickoff and DB Wayne Fontes recovered for the Titans at the Oakland 34, but the Raiders got the ball back on the next play when Songin’s throw was intercepted by Simpson, a linebacker as well as placekicker. Oakland had to punt, and Grosscup was back in at quarterback for the Titans, but this time the visitors were also forced to kick it away.
Taking over at their 17, the Raiders came alive on offense after Miller ran for four yards up the middle. Heinrich, returning at quarterback, fired a pass to end Max Boydston that picked up 58 yards and, on the following play, he threw to HB Gene White for a 21-yard touchdown. Simpson kicked the extra point and New York’s lead was cut to 21-10.
The Titans again had to punt following their next possession and Oakland moved into New York territory, helped by a pass interference penalty. Heinrich threw to HB Charley Fuller for 25 yards, but a throw into the end zone was dropped by Roberson. Three more passes fell incomplete and it was New York’s ball on downs. Four plays later, Grosscup once again went long for Powell, and it was complete for a 64-yard TD. Shockley added another extra point.
Oakland wasn’t finished yet, however, and in a series that ended early in the fourth quarter, Miller blasted into the end zone from a yard out. Simpson converted to narrow the margin to eleven points. On their next series after a punt by the Titans, Daniels took off for a 50-yard gain to the New York 14. But from there, the Titans took control on defense. Roberson was trapped for a six-yard loss, Heinrich was sacked for the loss of another 14 yards, a pass was incomplete, and on fourth-and-30, Heinrich’s pass intended for White was knocked down by safety Lee Riley.
The Raiders got the ball back on an interception at their own 26, but Heinrich was picked off by Fontes and the Titans were able to run out the clock, winning by a final score of 28-17.
New York had the edge in total yards (424 to 313) although the Raiders accumulated more first downs (20 to 13). The Titans hurt themselves with five turnovers, to three suffered by the Raiders, and they also drew 11 penalties, at a cost of 111 yards, while Oakland was flagged only twice. However, New York also registered six sacks on defense while giving up three. The Raiders were further hurt by their inability to reach the end zone when they had opportunities, and those failures were compounded by Jackie Simpson’s three missed field goals in four attempts.
In limited action, Lee Grosscup completed 5 of 8 passes, but they were good for 186 yards and three touchdowns, while he gave up one interception. Butch Songin was 7 of 16 for 114 yards and a TD as well as two interceptions. Art Powell had 5 catches for 175 yards that included the two long touchdowns and Don Maynard gained 85 yards on his three receptions that also included one for a score. Dick Christy ran for 106 yards on 10 carries and added another 40 yards on four catches that included a TD.
For the Raiders, Don Heinrich was successful on just 10 of 29 throws for 156 yards and a touchdown while being picked off twice. Clem Daniels (pictured at right) had 101 yards on 10 rushing attempts and caught three passes for 21 more yards. Alan Miller ran the ball 16 times for 56 yards and a TD and Max Boydston gained 82 yards on three pass receptions.
The Titans won only one of their next six games, finishing at 5-9 and at the bottom of the Eastern Division. Harry Wismer was forced to give up the team, which was operated by the league to complete the season, and that set the stage for new and more stable ownership. Oakland suffered through a dreadful 1-13 campaign and Coach Feldman was replaced by Red Conkright, although that also set the stage for the hiring of a dynamic new head coach and general manager in ‘63, Al Davis.
Lee Grosscup played well until sidelined by injury, passing for 855 yards and eight touchdowns against eight interceptions. Butch Songin saw less action, and it was ex-Bills QB Johnny Green behind center for most of the way. Art Powell went on to catch 64 passes for 1130 yards (17.7 avg.) and eight touchdowns and Don Maynard had 56 receptions for 1041 yards (18.6 avg.) and another eight TDs. Dick Christy was the AFL’s all-purpose yardage leader, gaining 535 yards on 114 rushing attempts, 538 on 62 catches and, with kick returns added in, totaled 2147 yards.
The Raiders also sought another answer at quarterback. Don Heinrich was done after the opening loss and a trade was made with the Dallas Texans for Cotton Davidson. Clem Daniels broke out to rush for 766 yards on 161 carries (4.8 avg.) and caught 24 passes for 318 yards (13.3 avg.), and would be part of the team’s dramatic improvement the next year.