“A See-Saw Start to the Season”
By ED WETTERMAN
The starters for the 1963 Oilers and some notable contributions they would produce:
- QB – George Blanda: 224-for-423, 3,003 passing yards, 24 TDs, 25 INTs; lso served as the place kicker
- HB – Bill Tobin: Rushed 75 times for 271 yards, 4 TDs, 13 REC for 173 yards, 1 TD
- FB – Charley Tolar: Rushed 194 times for 659 yards, 3 TDs, 41 REC for 275 yards
- WR – Charlie Hennigan: 61 REC for 1,051 yards, 10 TDs
- TE – Bob McLeod: 33 REC for 530 yards, 5 TDs
- WR – Willard Dewveall: 58 REC for 752 yards, 7 TDS
- LT – Walt Suggs: Started 14 games
- LG – Bob Talamini: Started 14 games
- C – Bob Schmidt: Started 14 games
- RG – Hogan Wharton: Started 14 games
- RT – Rich Michael: Started 14 games
- LDE – Gary Cutsinger: Started 14 games
- LDT – Jim Dudley Meredith: Started 14 games; picked up after being cut by the Cowboys
- RDT – Ed Husman: Started 14 games in his 10th season
- RDE – Don Floyd: Started 9 games
- LLB – Doug Cline: Started 13 games, 3 INTs
- MLB – Gene Babb: Started 8 games, 2 INTs
- RLB – Mike Dukes: Started 14 games, 1 INT
- LCB – Tony Banfield: Started 14 games, 7 INTs
- RCB – Bobby Jancik: Started 11 games, 3 INTs
- LS – Jim Norton: Started 14 games, 6 INTs, also served as punter
- RS – Fred Glick: Started 14 games, 12 INTs
The Oilers opened their 1963 season at home against the Oakland Raiders.
In the first quarter, George Blanda nailed field goal tries of 30 and 46 yards to create a 6-0 lead, but the Raiders went on a roll of 24 unanswered points, including an 85-yard pass from Tom Flores to Art Powell and a 15-yard special-teams fumble return for a touchdown.
Late in the fourth quarter, Jacky Lee replaced Blanda at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass to Charlie Hennigan for 34 yards to make the 24-13 final score look a little better in the next day’s newspaper.
Blanda had a terrible passing day, going 7-for-24 for just 90 yards.
His interception woes from the 1962 season continued, as he threw five picks before being replaced by Lee, who was still with the team despite having asked for a trade during camp.
Lee fared somewhat better than Blanda, going 10-for-18 for 123 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.
The combined passing effort at quarterback was not helped by the four team fumbles, and running back Billy Cannon was lost for the season with torn ligaments in his ankle.
It would be Cannon’s last game in an Oiler uniform.
The game was Al Davis’ debut as Raider head coach, and the win was the first of 10 for him and Oakland that season (including an eight-game winning streak to cap the year), as he turned the Raiders from a 1-13 league weakling in 1962 into an AFL powerhouse.
In Game 2, the home-standing Oilers fared better and earned a 20-14 win against the Denver Broncos.
Blanda kicked an 18-yard field goal to give Houston a 3-0 lead, only to have Charley Mitchell of the Broncos return the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
The Oilers managed another field goal, then Fred Glick intercepted Denver quarterback Frank Tripucka for a 15-yard touchdown interception return.
Tripucka didn’t finish the game and was replaced by Mickey Slaughter, who finished the game under center for Denver.
In the third quarter, Houston’s Willard Dewveall caught a nine-yard pass from Blanda, and in the fourth the Broncos scored on a Slaughter run of four yards, but Blanda’s two field goals proved to be sufficient for the victory.
Under center, Blanda was much improved over Week 1, going 15-for-30 for 218 yards, one touchdown, and only one interception.
In the third game of the season, the Oilers took on the newly rebranded New York Jets under Coach Weeb Ewbank.
As the anemically funded Titans of New York team in the first three AFL seasons, the Jets had been pushovers, and the Oilers should have won, but the Jets came out ready to play, striking first with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Dick Wood to wide receiver Bill Mathis.
The Oilers responded with a 13-yard touchdown from Blanda to Hennigan.
At the end of the half, the Oilers tried a field goal, but it was blocked, and New York’s Marshall Starks took it for a 97-yard touchdown, giving the Jets a 14-7 halftime advantage.
In the second half, the Oilers looked to take over the game with Dave Smith scoring on a three-yard run, followed by a 37-yard Blanda field goal that put Houston ahead 17-14.
But the fourth quarter belonged to the Jets, who silenced the Oiler offense and posted 10 points with a 30-yard field goal and a Mark Smolinski four-yard rush to seal the game at 24-17 in favor of New York, leaving the Oilers at 1-2.
Blanda finished with one touchdown and two picks.
Charley Tolar led the Oiler rushing attack for the third straight week, rushing for 61 yards on 21 attempts, while Hennigan snagged nine passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
For Week 4, the Oilers travelled to Buffalo to play the Bills in War Memorial Stadium.
Although they were off to an 0-2-1 start, the Bills were coached by the legendary Lou Saban, which meant Houston had to take them with every degree of possible seriousness.
The pace of the first quarter was fast and furious, as the Bills snatched a quick 10-point lead in the first quarter before Tolar scored on a one-yard rush.
Buffalo struck back with a one-yard Cookie Gilchrist touchdown run, followed by a Blanda 15-yard touchdown pass to Hennigan, trimming the Buffalo lead to 17-14.
In the second half, the Bills booted a 34-yard field goal before the Oilers turned on a 17-point scoring gusher to finish the game, including two more Hennigan touchdowns (14 and six yards) and a 28-yard Blanda field goal that handed Houston a 31-20 win, evening their record at 2-2.
Blanda enjoyed his best outing of the season to that point, with an 18-for-25 passing clip for 242 yards, three TDs, and one interception.
The fifth game of the season was a rematch of the 1962 AFL championship game, but the franchise once known as the Dallas Texans was now the Kansas City Chiefs, and those Chiefs promptly proceeded to scalp the Oiler team that made its way northward.
While the KC defense was derailing the Houston offense, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson threw three touchdowns to make the score 21-0 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Blanda hit Dave Smith on a four-yard touchdown strike to make it 21-7, but Dawson responded with his fourth touchdown pass, a 12 yard strike to Frank Jackson that sealed the Oilers’ doom 28-7 and sent them to a 2-3 mark.
Although Blanda completed 20 of 39 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown, the interception monster reared its ugly head again in a big way, as Kansas City picked off the veteran Houston signal-caller four times on the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Dawson went 14-for-22 with 225, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Perhaps motivated by such a poor showing against the Chiefs, the Oilers then faced a rematch with the Denver Broncos in Game 6 and would beat them again, 33-24.
Dewveall scored on a 13-yard touchdown scamper, followed by a Blanda field goal of 38 yards, and a Bill Tobin one-yard touchdown plunge to end the first quarter.
The Oilers then notched a safety by tackling Broncos quarterback John McCormick in the end zone, followed by another Tobin touchdown run of 33 yards.
The Broncos kept fighting but couldn’t keep up with an Oiler offense that was finally clicking better than it had–and would, with one notable exception–all season.
Blanda had a great outing, going 21-for-43 with 279 yards, three touchdowns, and–for the first time in many games–not a single interception.
Rookie linebacker and first-round draft pick Danny Brabham snared the only interception of his career this game, as the Oilers evened their record at 3-3 and ended a four-game road swing.
The Oilers were finally back on their home turf in Jeppesen Stadium for Game 7 seeking to exact revenge against Buffalo, and that’s exactly what they did, cruising to a 28-14 victory and their first winning record of the season at 4-3.
Despite a poor passing percentage, Blanda otherwise looked great, going 12-for-31 with 233 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions for the second-straight game.
The eighth game of the season brought familiar rival Kansas City to town, and the Oilers were desperately hoping to redeem themselves from the pitiful performance they’d posted against the Chiefs just three short weeks prior.
After a scoreless first quarter, Dawson and company struck first in the second quarter with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Chris Buford to give the Chiefs their only lead and score of the day.
Houston then reeled off 28 unanswered points to gain redemption and beat the Chiefs by the same score that KC had beaten them.
Blanda hit Bob McLeod in the third quarter for touchdown passes of six and 24 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Houston defensive back Mark Johnston turned in a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown, giving the Oilers a 21-7 lead.
The last score of the game was another touchdown pass from Blanda to Dewveall of 20 yards.
The Oilers also had a great day on defense, holding Dawson to a performance of 15-for-31 with 141 yards, one touchdown, and a miserable four interceptions.
Meanwhile, the seemingly rejuvenated Blanda went 20-for-31 with 226 yards, three touchdowns, and only one interception.
Tolar again led the team in rushing with 16 rushes for 65 yards, and he added six receptions for 44 yards.
Despite their slow start to the season, the Oilers were 5-3 and apparently back in the championship hunt.
It certainly looked like the Oilers had turned a corner, and that illusion would continue a while longer.
Ed Wetterman is a native Houstonian and lifelong Oiler fan/historian. He is a teacher, genealogist, game creator, and writer who lived and died on Sundays with the Oilers. Ed has created many games such as “East Texas University: Degrees of Horror” and written short stories such as “HellFighter,” published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Football has always been one of his greatest passions. He experienced the highs and the lows of being an Oiler fan, and like many others, he was crushed when the Oilers left Houston. Writing for Miss Ya Blue! gives him an outlet for his Columbia Blue love.
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