Way back in the early, pre-Superbowl days of the AFL, the line-up of teams looked rather different to today. The Hunt family had not yet brought their franchise to Kansas City, so they were still called the Dallas Texans and based at the Cotton Bowl. Our opponents on this cold day, the last week of the 1961 season, were the New York Titans. Just over a year later, it would be all change – as the Dallas Texans moved to KC and became the Chiefs, while the Titans would stay put in New York but be renamed the New York Jets.
Both teams were out of the hunt to play in the AFL championship, so this game was just about pride. The Texans would win out but only after an almighty scare.
Things got off to a great start – with the Titans’ first drive pushing close to the end zone, defensive back Dave Grayson intercepted the Titans quarterback Al Dorow by his own goal-line, and raced back 99 yards for the opening score. And they got better still later in the same quarter as a Texans’ drive was finished off at short range by star running back Abner Hayes.
14 – nil after a quarter very quickly became 21 – nil, as Hayes punched home from 2 yards for his second score of the game. Abner Hayes was certainly the star of the team in these early days. He had joined in 1960 when the franchise was set up, and he played (and scored) in the team’s first ever competitive game. Over that first season he led the AFL in rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, becoming the league’s first ever MVP. In 1961 he scored five touchdowns in a single game (a crushing win over the Oakland Raiders), and in 1962 his two scores helped the team secure its first ever AFL Championship. His number 28 shirt has been retired by the Chiefs’ franchise, and his omission from the Hall of Fame is something the NFL needs to rectify.
With the Titans reeling, their quarterback was picked off again, and following an improvised lateral play on the turnover, linebacker Sherrill Headrick found himself crossing the line for a very rare score. At 28-0, it would have been easy to write this game off – however a major turnaround was about to start, as the Titans’ rushing game suddenly sparked into life from an unlikely source. Back-up QB Bob Scrabis was thrown into the game and somehow stumbled into the endzone to make the only rush of his entire professional career: 1 rush for 1 yard and 1 touchdown!
Only moments later, running back Mel West found space and rushed home from 24 yards – and then with the game still not half done, he repeated the trick and scored again. In no time at all, the comfortable lead had evaporated and the half ended with a narrow 28-21 Texans lead.
The nerves continued after the break as a Titans field goal closed the gap still further, and were only finally relieved when Haynes’ rushing partner Johnny Robinson crossed the line for the final score of the game.
Quarterback Cotton Davidson had a safe but unspectacular 126 yards through the air on the day, but as an example of the multiple roles that players took on in those early days, he also scored 5 points by kicking the extra points on each of the team’s touchdowns. Davidson had played for the Baltimore Colts of the NFL, before moving to Dallas in 1960 to become the new franchise’s first ever starting quarterback. His efforts for the team this season saw him selected to the AFL’s All-Star game, where he was selected as the game’s MVP.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The San Diego Chargers had a great 12-and-2 season, but this wasn’t their week – everything went wrong for them as the crashed 41-0 to the visiting Boston Patriots.
Elsewhere in the world:
I’m showing both my age and my sci-fi roots here… the actors playing two of Dr Who’s assistants from my childhood, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Adric (Mathew Waterhouse) were both born this month!