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Blast From The Past – Wildcard Weekend

December 23 1962: Dallas Texans 20 – Houston Oilers 17

As we are all waiting excitedly for the Chiefs’ Wild Card playoff game against the Tennessee Titans this weekend, a reminder of when the two franchises met for the first time in the playoffs.

At the time, the Chiefs were still Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans, while their opponents across the state of Texas were playing under their original name of the Houston Oilers. The AFL only had 8 teams at the time: Dallas had won the AFL West for the first time with an 11-3 record, while Houston had won the East with the same record. The only playoff for the year was the two division winners playing off to decide the overall champion – the Oilers had won the first two ever AFL Championships, and were aiming to make it a treble against the underdog Texans. The main driving force behind the Dallas Texans’ run to a first ever Championship game had been the signing of quarterback Len Dawson in the offseason. In 5 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, Dawson had started only two games, so his signing was seen as taking a chance – but it paid off spectacularly as he ran the offence for over a decade, winning just shy of 100 games for the team.

But Dawson had a quiet game in the championship, passing for only 88 yards, as coach Hank Stram relied on a running game plus a great defensive effort to thwart the Oilers.

Houston was first to threaten to score, but after getting close to the Texans’ line, quarterback George Blanda was intercepted – for the first of 5 times on the day – and the momentum moved to the other end, where Tommy Brooker was able to open the scoring with a field goal.

Rookie Brooker had a brilliant debut season. As a multi –purpose player he had hooked in 3 touchdown receptions, but it was as a kicker that he starred. He hit every one of his extra-point attempts, including 8 out of 8 in a thrashing of Denver, setting a franchise record that has never been bettered (but has been equalled – you might remember Ryan Succop getting 8 out of 8 against the Raiders in 2013, in the game where Jamaal Charles scored five touchdowns!)

In the second quarter, the Texans took control with a lightning fast drive – a 33 yard dash by running back Jack Spikes moved the team into enemy territory, and a 28 yard catch and run by Abner Haynes scored the game’s first touchdown. The Oilers tried to reply, but Blanda was picked off again, and with good field position the Texans used their dominant running game. Sharing the load between Curtis McClinton and Abner Haynes, the team drove to the line, and Haynes finished off with his second touchdown from short range to give Dallas a 17-0 half time lead.

Haynes had been the Chiefs’ first ever draft pick, and the team’s first star. This season saw him selected as an AFL All-Pro for the third consecutive year.

The Houston Oilers were no push-overs, and finally after the break they started to prove it. Blanda led a drive 67 yards, capping it with a touchdown pass to William Dewveall. Early in the fourth quarter, another drive took the Oilers into field goal range, from where the kick was scored by … George Blanda, who was playing as kicker as well as QB!

The Oilers were now only a score behind, and drove down to the Texans’ line once again. From the one yard line, full-back Charlie Tolar crashed in, and the game was tied. Another drive took them downfield once again, and Blanda made a field goal attempt to take the lead – only for linebacker Sherrill Headrick to get a hand to deflect the kick.

Having been cruising, Dallas were now hanging on for dear life.

The game went into overtime, and it was time for the Texans defence to make some big plays. Johnny Robinson intercepted Blanda to kill the first promising drive of overtime. Then when the Oilers were pressing again – and indeed were in field goal range – they opted to pass rather than kick, only for Blanda to be picked off yet again, this time by rookie Bill Hull. This proved to be the crucial defensive play.

With the Texans possessing the ball, time ran out in overtime, and the game rolled into a second extra period. Len Dawson kept the drive alive on an increasingly muddy field, and willed Dallas ever closer to the goal-line. Finally, having got in range for a 25 yard try, Brooker hit the winning field goal, for the franchise’s first Championship, in the AFL’s longest ever game.

Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:

The corresponding NFL season ended with a Championship win for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers over the New York Giants. Packers QB Bart Starr, who would later lead the team to victory in SuperBowls I and II, had a quiet day with only 85 yards through the air – but thanks to a ground game dominated by Jim Taylor’s 31 rushes, the Packers silenced Yankee Stadium with a 16-7 victory. Elsewhere in the world:

A deep freeze began in Britain, which was to last for the next 3 months and massively disrupt that year’s soccer. At the same time, ‘Telstar’ by the Tornadoes became the first British pop record to top the American singles charts.

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