In week 2 of the 1963 season, the Oakland Raiders welcomed the Buffalo Bills to Frank Youell Field. The Bills had been a middling team for the first three seasons of the AFL, but had finished the 1962 season going 7-1-1 in the final nine games, and were expected to challenge the Houston Oilers for the Eastern Division crown in '63 on the strength of a stifling defense built around a big and bruising front four. Featuring Mack Yoho and Ken Rice at the ends with Sid Youngelman and second-year man Tom Sestak, an all-AFL selection in his rookie year, at the tackles, the Bills defense was thought to be among the best in the league despite a so-so secondary and linebacking corps. On offense, ex-Charger quarterback Jack Kemp was in his second year in Buffalo passing to a couple of the better receivers around in speedy Elbert Dubenion and Bill Miller, acquired in the offseason from the Dallas Texans. The strength of the offense, though, was in the backfield. Fullback Cookie Gilchrist, at 250 pounds, was the premier bruiser in the league and had become the AFLs first thousand-yard rusher in 1962, earning the Player of the Year award from the UPI. At halfback, at a mere 220 pounds, was Wray Carlton, who was adept at catching the ball as well as gaining yards on the ground behind the blocking of all-league left guard Billy Shaw.
Despite the anticipation of great things, Buffalo had opened their season with a disappointing 14-10 against the Chargers in San Diego. Worse, Gilchrist had hurt his ankle in the first half and his status for the Oakland game was uncertain. Buffalo head coach Lou Saban took the news in stride. "We're in fair shape for the game," he indicated. "We feel we're a good club -- stronger than last year. Of course, like everybody else we worry about injuries to key guys. Against San Diego we lost Cookie and it has to make a difference when a player of his caliber is out of there. Wray Carlton has been bothered by a pulled groin muscle since the first day of training, but he was running pretty good this week."
For the Raiders, 1963 was a watershed year. After two seasons at the very bottom of the league, playing in barely occupied stadiums, it was do-or-die time. East Bay fans needed a reason to back the team or the Raiders might disappear altogether. To aid in the effort, the team hired Al Davis away from San Diego to be their head coach and general manager. Davis brought energy and enthusiasm and immediately set to work to develop an attacking defense and a strong passing game on offense.
The defense was quickly revamped to improve a squad that had lost 19 straight games at one point over the past two years. To anchor the defense, Davis traded three players to the Bills for middle linebacker Arch Matsos, a two-time all-league performer. Flanking him was longtime Raider stalwart Bob Dougherty and another newcomer, Clancy Osborne, who had been picked up when the Vikings had let him go. The defensive backfield had a few new faces as well. At cornerback, ex-Bronco Jim McMillin joined Fred Williamson who had been a first-team All-AFL pick in '62 with the Raiders. At safety, Tommy Morrow, who had finished second in the league with ten interceptions the year before, was now paired with Joe Krakoski who had spent a year away from pro football after playing for the Redskins in 1961. The defensive line, by contrast, featured four returnees: Dalva Allen and Jon Jelacic at the ends and Jim Norris and Chuck McMurtry at the tackles. To coach these players, Davis brought in fresh assistants, Tom Dahms and Charlie Sumner.
On offense, Davis planned to emphasize the passing game using his two top-flight quarterbacks, Cotton Davidson and Tom Flores. Davidson had joined the Raiders in a hasty move after the first game of the 1962 season and had led the team the rest of the year. Flores, meanwhile, had missed the entire season with a serious respiratory ailment that was sometimes, but not always, reported as tuberculosis. He was back and ready to go for 1963. Davis, rather than choosing between the two, instead had installed a two-quarterback system, using Davidson for the first half and Flores for the second half, beginning with the first exhibition game. And for the first time in team history, the Raiders had a star receiver to throw to, having obtained Art Powell from the New York Titans in the offseason. In his three years in New York, Powell had caught 204 passes for 3,178 yards, and 27 touchdowns. On the other end of the line were flanker Bo Roberson, in his second year with the Raiders, and newly-acquired tight end and Bob Mischak a former All-AFL guard with the Titans. To keep defenses honest, the Raiders had up-and-coming star halfback Clem Daniels carrying the ball with Alan Miller at fullback. Both backs were adept pass catchers and Davidson and Flores had a fine array of targets for their throws. Anchoring the offensive line, as always, was center Jim Otto, flanked by Sonny Bishop and Wayne Hawkins at guard, and Frank Youso and Proverb Jacobs at the tackle positions.
For the Raiders, Bills coach Saban had nothing but praise. "Oakland has improved tremendously," he said, "Art Powell has made a big difference and the return of Tom Flores has helped. Flores is one of the few quarterbacks actually developed in the AFL. We've always had a lot of respect for him. Davis has done a good job. He's put talented guys in key spots...and that's what it takes."
Al Davis returned the respect. "It's always tough when you play Buffalo," he admitted, "and we'll find out Sunday what our defense is made of."
Coming into the Buffalo game, the Raiders were fresh off a convincing win over the three-time Eastern Division winning Oilers on a rainy and humid Saturday night in Houston, 24-13. Having been held scoreless in the first half, Flores, coming in as the rain slackened after halftime, led the offense to two touchdowns and a field goal while the defense picked off six passes, three by Morrow, and recovered four fumbles, one for a touchdown, in a dominating performance. The Raider win surprised and impressed the rest of the league and Al Davis worked hard to remind people that it was only one game, and that fans shouldn't let their expectations get too high as a result. "Pro football is a funny game," he warned, "You can win 35-0 one week and lose by the same score the next, so you can't start building balloons off one victory."
Regardless, the win awoke the local fan base. Following the win, ticket sales skyrocketed and by mid-week, the team had already sold a record 15,000 seats at Youell Field for the Buffalo game with some people talking about the first sellout in Raider history.
On the down side, the Raiders had suffered a couple of key injuries in the game. Art Powell, while catching seven passes for 181 yards, was battling a chronic hamstring pull and wasn't sure he would be able to play against the Bills. Additionally, guard Sonny Bishop was definitely out with a knee injury and would be replaced by player/coach Ollie Spencer.
Regardless, the Raiders were taking Buffalo very seriously. Discussing their loss to San Diego in the first game, Davis was quick to point out some mitigating issues. "You have to consider two things," he said, "Number one, they had to go without fullback Cookie Gilchrist in the second half and their strong running game is built around him. Number two, it was nearly 90 degrees in San Diego, and the Chargers, who have been training in that kind of heat, had a definite advantage. They were stronger at the end when the Bills were trying to come back."
"The thing that concerns me about Buffalo is their defensive line," explained Davis, "They're big, almost as big as San Diego and we seem to have problems when we meet big defensive teams. The Bills can put pressure on a passer, and their linemen are quick enough to hurt your wide running game. We did an excellent job protecting our passers in Houston, but the Bills are bigger and, I think, probably tougher than the Oilers."
Despite the superior performance against the Oilers by Tom Flores, Davis planned to continue his quarterback scheme, starting Davidson in the first half. "We've been getting success with our two-quarterback system," he pointed out, "so I don't see any reason to change. That's not to say I won't do something different if it helps. We'll do whatever is necessary to win."
Overall, Davis was pleased with his team so far, calling the Houston contest "a great win. On any given day, we can beat any team in the league. We may not have the classiest players in the AFL, but we've got 33 guys who want to play winning football. They can, too."
In their two meetings in 1962, Buffalo won a pair of defensive struggles. In October, on a muddy War Memorial Stadium field in Buffalo, Gilchrist ran for 143 yards and touchdown, en route to a 14-6 victory. A month later in Oakland, the Bills rushed for 263 yards, 103 by Gilchrist, and beat the Raiders 10-6, with the deciding score coming on a 16 yard pass from Jack Kemp to ex-Raider Wayne Crow in the third quarter.
One player in particular was looking forward to the renewal of hostilities between the team. Arch Matsos was holding a bit of a grudge against his old team following his trade in June. "Not that I didn't want to come to Oakland," he said, "but the events leading up to the trade were unhappy. They (the Bills) are favored to win the Eastern Division title and they are the logical choice. I'd like nothing better than for them to win in the East and the Raiders in the West and then we'd meet for the league championship. I'd like that, all right."
Davis thought his team was ready. "The club attitude is good," he said, "or I should say, it has been good all week, but you never know how a football team feels until it gets into a ball game. We hope we're prepared to play a good football game and that we've given the team the tools to do a good job."
Playing before a national television audience (outside the Bay Area blackout), the Raiders had one more new wrinkle to expose. For the first time, the team would be donning their now-iconic silver and black jerseys. During the preseason, the team had continued to wear the black and gold of their first three years. In Houston they had worn their new road whites with the silver numerals with silver pants, and the shield logo on their helmets. Now it was time to show the home fans the new look.
Coming into the game, the Bills were listed as 10-point favorites on the road, indicating that outside observers considered the Raider win over the Oilers something of a fluke. Finally, game day arrived under cloudy Oakland skies. A record crowd of 17,568 packed Youell Field to see the Raiders' home opener. Oakland won the coin toss and reserve halfback Mike Sommer returned Mack Yoho's kickoff to the 20. From there, Cotton Davidson gave the Bills defense a steady diet of Clem Daniels. Three straight runs netted 24 yards before Davidson missed Alan Miller on a fullback screen. On third-and-eight from the Raider 44, Daniels got open at the Buffalo 24 where Davidson hit him with a pass as the defender arrived to make the tackle for a 32 yard gain. But on the next play, Daniels fumbled in the backfield and defensive end Leroy Moore fell on the ball at the Bill 31 to end the drive.
On the Bills' opening possession, the Raider defense forced a three-and-out for Jack Kemp. Claude "Hoot" Gibson made a fine return of Wayne Crow's punt, giving the Raiders the ball at the Buffalo 48. Oakland's second drive started in promising fashion when Bo Roberson turned Davidson's short pass into a 22 yard gain down to the 26, but three successive incompletions followed. Mike Mercer's 34 yard field goal attempt missed the mark and the Bills took over on the touchback.
Starting at their 20, the Bills began to put something together. Seldom-used halfback Fred Brown lost a yard on the first play, but on second down took a swing pass and negotiated his way upfield to the 32. Twice more Kemp called Brown's number and the result was a third-and-four at the 38. On the next play, Kemp dropped back but was flushed from the pocket and took off downfield for 26 yards before being stopped at the Oakland 36. Two plays later, the Oakland defense finally hemmed him in, drawing an intentional grounding penalty by Kemp who was in the grasp of Chuck McMurtry. On third-and-23 Dalva Allen batted down Kemp's pass and the Bills were forced to punt again. Sommers' fair catch at the 14 put the Raider offense back in business.
Returning to the ground game, the Raiders found holes to run throw. Miller got 13 on first down and Daniels followed with a six yard gain of his own on a sweep. Miller returned the favor with five yards of his own and Daniels took the next carry for 11. Davidson tried to cross-up the Bills with a pass, but had to go short to Art Powell, who appeared to be fine physically, for a six-yard pickup. Daniels could net only three yards on his next two carries, and on fourth down, Mercer punted to the Buffalo seven where it was downed.
With time running down in the first quarter, Kemp completed his first pass to a receiver, linking up with Elbert Dubenion for 11 on first down. Gilchrist, in the game despite ankle problems, carried for two to the 20 and the gun sounded ending the scoreless period.
Opening the second quarter, Kemp found second-year tight end Ernie Warlick for seven to set up a third-and-one, but the Raider defense held and forced a punt downed at the Oakland 39.
Davidson returned to start the Raider drive with two incompletions but on third down found Powell for a 16 yard gain. Davidson went right back to Powell on the next play for 13, setting up a first down at the Bill 32. An incomplete first down pass was followed by a screen that netted ten yards and another first down. Daniels' next carry was on a draw play for eight and Miller picked up a first down with a three-yard plunge. The Bills were called for a facemask on the play putting the ball on the six. One play later from the five, Davidson found Powell loose in the end zone for the first score of the game. Mercer's point after was good and the Raiders led 7-0 with 10:19 left in the half.
When the Bills took over following a touchback on the kickoff, the Raider defense forced a third-and-two, but Gilchrist managed to push the pile just enough to get a first down. Going back to the pass, Kemp found Warlick for the second time in the game and and the 235 pounder rumbled across midfield to the Raider 41 before he was stopped. Three plays later, Wray Carlton kept the drive alive with a four yard gain to the 30. Following an incomplete pass, Kemp called his own number gaining five on a carry around the right end. On third down Kemp missed a connection with Dubenion and had to settle for Yoho's 32 yard field goal to get Buffalo on the scoreboard.
Yoho's subsequent kickoff was short and taken by wedge-blocker Dick Klein at the 20, who brought the ball out to the 27 where Davidson took over. On the first play from scrimmage, the Raiders hit on the big play they were seeking. The Raider quarterback looked downfield but was forced to check down to his safety valve, Daniels, at the 30. Daniels made the grab and turned upfield, herded toward the sideline by defensive backs Carl Charon and Ray Abruzzese. Powell came over and blocked both of them off the play while Daniels outran Willie West the rest of the way for the 73 yard score. Just like that, the Raiders had broken the game open. Mercer's extra point gave Oakland the 14-3 lead.
Taking over at the 20 following a touchback, the Buffalo offense tried to regroup. On second down Kemp connected with Bill Miller for 12 yards and a first down but further disaster struck on the next play. Back to pass, Kemp was hit by a blitzing Matsos, fumbled the ball, and watched as Dalva Allen recovered at the 24. Davidson took to the air right away and his pass to Roberson was good for 18. Davidson carried the ball himself on the next play to the two and Miller burst through from there behind blocks from Proverb Jacobs and Ollie Spencer for the Raiders' third score of the day with 1:41 left in the half. When Mercer kicked off again to the Bills, Oakland was leading 21-3 before a wildly cheering home crowd.
Undaunted, Jack Kemp went to work putting together a skillful hurry-up drive despite having to start from his own 12. On first down, he found Miller for 17 then kept it himself for eight. Gilchrist kept the sticks moving with a two-yard gain before Kemp stopped the clock with an incomplete pass. He next went to Dubenion for 18 to put the Bills in Raider territory but followed that with two successive incompletions. On third-and-10 a Kemp-to-Warlick aerial got just enough for the first down at the Raider 33. After being forced to eat the ball for a five-yard loss on the next play and with time growing desperately short, Kemp salvaged the drive returning to Dubenion who got out of bounds at the 17. With time for one more play, Kemp went right back to the former Beaver from Bluffton College who caught the pass in the end zone as time ran out. Yoho's point after closed the gap to 11.
Looking to improve on their 21-10 deficit, the Bills got the ball first in the third quarter, taking over at the 20 following a touchback. Two Carlton runs netted 11 yards and a first down. Two plays later, on third-and-seven, Kemp kept the drive alive with a scramble up the middle for 13 to the Buffalo 47, but the Bills could go no farther than the Raider 45 before they were forced to punt. Crow's boot was killed at the Raider four.
Al Davis decided to stay with Davidson rather go to Flores to open the third quarter and the move initially paid off. After the Bills stuffed Daniels for a one yard loss, Davidson hooked up with his big halfback again for another long gainer. The catch and run earned the Raiders a 67 yard advance before Daniels was forced out of bounds at the Buffalo 30. However, after a three-yard carry by Miller, Davidson committed the first Raider turnover of the day throwing an interception to Buffalo linebacker Jack Tracey at the 12.
Spurred on by the full house, the Raider defense held tough. Brown was stopped for a loss of one on first down and Kemp's pass on the next play was batted away by defensive tackle Jim Norris. On third down, the Raiders put an exclamation point on the drive when Matsos and fellow linebacker Jackie Simpson blitzed, met at Kemp, and jarred the ball loose. McMurtry recovered at the five and the Raider offense was in business again.
Davidson immediately made good, scoring on a quarterback keeper around the right side featuring a nasty crackback block by Roberson and Oakland was now ahead 28-10. Jack Kemp and the Bills did their best to keep the game from getting completely away from them. On first down, Dubenion again got open and caught Kemp's pass at the 41 for a first down. Two plays later, having managed to gain but a single yard and facing third down, Kemp called for a halfback pass. The deception worked when Gilchrist hit a wide open Bill Miller who moved the ball to the Oakland 23. After that the Raider defense stiffened again and a sack of Kemp on third down pushed the ball out to the 31. Yoho's field goal attempt missed, wide right, and the Raiders took over at the 20, leading by 18.
After promising gains of 13 by Sommer and another 13 on a pass to Powell, the drive was nearly scuttled by a holding penalty. But on third-and-long, Sommer took a Davidson pass all the way to the Bill 35 yard line and a first down. Just one play later, though, Davidson committed his second turnover, fumbling the ball away to Sid Youngelman at the 42. Kemp cashed in on the first play. Going deep, Dubenion got free behind Jim McMillin and Joe Krakoski, made the catch, and raced in for a 58 yard touchdown. Just like that, the Bills had closed to 28-17 with 2:53 to go in the third quarter.
It looked like the Bills would hold on the Raiders' next drive when they sacked Davidson for a loss of eight on first down. However, on a third-and-18 play, Buffalo was nailed with a defensive holding penalty, giving Oakland new life. The quarter ended on a 10 yard pass play to tight end Bob Mischak, moving the ball to the Raider 34.
With Tom Flores still on the bench to open the final period, the Raiders, behind Cotton Davidson, moved the ball steadily down the field. Completions to Powell and Roberson, interspersed with a pair of effective runs by Daniels advanced Oakland to the Buffalo 36 before the drive stalled. A 44-yard field goal attempt by Mercer fell to earth far short at the eight-yard-line where Charon picked it up and brought it out to the 11.
Kemp connected on first down with Miller for 14, but the Raider defense snuffed out a backfield pass to Brown, dropping him for a loss of six. Another pass, to Gilchrist, was stopped for no gain. On third down, Elbert Dubenion caught his eighth pass of the day at the 45 for a first down, but he fumbled. McMillin scooped it up and brought it back to the Buffalo 29.
Opening another drive in Buffalo territory, Davidson passed incomplete twice before taking a sack that pushed the team out of field goal range. Mercer's coffin-corner punt rolled out of bounds at the four.
Deep in his own territory, but down by 11 points, Kemp took to the air. His first pass fell incomplete, but his second pass was tipped in the air at the line by both Matsos and Allen. Defensive end Jon Jelacic caught it at the one, stepped into the end zone, and the Raiders were up 35-17 with 8:16 to go.
When the Bill offense came back onto the field to take over at the 25, Lou Saban sent his rookie quarterback Daryle Lamonica on the field to replace Kemp. The first three plays were Gilchrist runs for a total of 11 yards. The next three plays were all Lamonica incompletions and Buffalo conceded the game by punting.
Now, with the game in hand, Davis sent Flores in to mop up. His first play was a screen pass to backup halfback Glenn Shaw, acquired by the team the night before the Oiler game. Following Jim Otto, who took out two defenders along the way, Shaw raced 55 yards, putting the ball at the Buffalo 25. Going for broke, Flores threw to Roberson in the end zone, but Jack Tracey stepped in front of the ball to make his second interception of the day.
Lamonica came back on the field to lead a decent drive, completing a 20 yard pass to Crow on a third-and-five but two plays later, from the Raider 47, he was picked off by Hoot Gibson who returned the ball to the Oakland 38.
Possibly piqued at having been held out of the game so long, Flores took to the air again when he came back in, despite the fact that the outcome was no longer in doubt. Three plays into the drive, he hit on consecutive passes to Powell and advanced the ball to the Buffalo 37 but could go no farther. Mercer's 44 yard field goal attempt was wide.
Down by 18 with a couple of minutes left, Lamonica made a half-hearted attempt to get something on his last drive, but the game ended with the ball at the Buffalo 30 and the Raiders on top of a 35-17 upset win.
The day's standout player was Clem Daniels. Carrying the ball 13 times for 76 yards he also caught three passes for 172. Art Powell was no slouch either, catching eight on the day for 91 yards. Overall, Davidson completed 14 of 29 for 315 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
On the other sideline, the Raider defense held the mighty but hobbled Gilchrist to just 19 yards on 10 carries. But the Buffalo passing game moved the ball well despite the loss. Kemp hit on 19 of 36 for 284 yards. His top targets were Dubenion, who caught eight for 175 and Bill Miller who gained 107 yards on six passes.
The combined total passing yardage of 752 (Buffalo with 355 and Oakland with 397) was good enough to set an AFL record.
After the game, head coach Al Davis tried to keep the loss in perspective, but had trouble restraining a big smile. "With all due respect to the Bills, who had key guys like Gilchrist and Carlton operating at less than 100 percent, I'd have to say our bunch just went out and took it from them. [The Raider defense] are the damnedest bunch of hitters I've seen. They just won't quit. We've won two and nobody is any happier about that than I am, but in pro football you can win one week and lose the next. The team is doing a fine job and we hope they can play consistently tough football the rest of the way. I would have to say that certain aspects of the team are starting to look good. Where in the past Oakland was a doormat, now at any given time we can beat anybody. Today these kids wanted to win a football game."
When asked why Davidson was left in the game after the first half, Davis explained, "Cotton had a feel of the game and was hot."
Arch Matsos, who played inspired football all game, came in for special praise from Davis. "Arch put on a fine game for the people," he said, "Maybe he had a special reason." Continuing on about the defense, he said, "We may not have the personnel some people think we should have, but I think we have the best pass defense in the league and a damn good pass rush. We're in pursuit. We're gang tackling."
Davis had a particular defensive strategy in mind for the Bills. "There is a way to beat Jack Kemp. You've got to destroy his pattern, his sense of security. About every third play you've got to get on him."
Matsos agreed. "It was important to get to Jack so he couldn't throw the long pass," he explained, "With as much dogging as we were doing and the way the game evolved to keep him pressing, he had to keep his backs in the backfield to pick up the dogs."
Cotton Davidson, meanwhile, was explaining the offensive game plan. "They (Buffalo) have those four studs in the line," he told reporters, "so we ran on them to keep them honest and give them a little respect for our running game. I just think we'll be running the ball enough now to keep them all aware we've got a few boys who can do it."
Davis added, "We know we're not a fine running team, but we pick out a few things and work on them."
More than anything, Bo Roberson was glad to see things turning around in Oakland. "We're hungry," he emphasized, "Those of us who played here last year and the new men, too. We hope it becomes traditional with us. We know how well prepared we are. We know where we're sound and where we're weak, but the funny thing is that where we're weak the guys are hustling so much they're compensating. I just hope we stay hungry for a long time."
Buffalo coach Lou Saban was impressed by the Raiders. "They'll win a lot of games. This is a good team. Oakland looks 25 percent improved offensively over last year. They've always been tough and they're tougher this year. Al Davis has done a good job with them. They're well-organized and they know what they're doing. We figured maybe they beat Houston on a fluke, caught them on a bad night, but they came out and took it to us on the first play. I've never seen a team come up for an opening kickoff with a head of steam like that. That was the turning point of the game. They were keyed up to win a game and wanted it more than our team. I'm not so sure anyone could be this club the way it played today."
Cookie Gilchrist agreed. "The Raiders are 150 percent better than last year. They're better mentally and materially. They'll be tough for the rest of the year."
Jack Kemp put in a word as well. "The difference between the Raiders of 1963 and 1962 is like black and white."
The loss dropped the Bills to 0-2 on the young season and on their way back home to host the Kansas City Chiefs in their home opener. The Raiders, meanwhile, were flying high at 2-0 equaling the mark of the Chargers at the top of the Western Division and looking forward to Babe Parilli and the Boston Patriots coming to town.