The 1964 Season, Part 3:

“Making Misery”

By ED WETTERMAN

PREVIOUSLY – The 1964 Season, Part 1: “Whatcha Gonna Do When The Well Runs Dry?”

PREVIOUSLY – The 1964 Season, Part 2: “Pop Ivy and Slingin’ Sammy Baugh”

New Houston Head Coach Sammy Baugh updated the Oiler passing game by installing the pro set, and he also included the old Wing-T formation.

However, the biggest (and strangest) change was that Baugh eliminated playbooks, game plans, and film sessions, maintaining that the players should be free to play the game they knew.

In a 2016 interview, former Oiler stalwart Bob Schmidt, who’d been traded during training camp to the Boston Patriots by Baugh, described Baugh as “a terrible coach.”

Oiler Blues author John Pirkle retrospectively previewed the 1964 season with a piercingly accurate statement: “The combination of inexperience, disgruntled vets and no game plan was a potent one.”

The Oilers started their 1964 campaign in San Diego with six rookies in the starting lineup.

The Chargers scored first on a short pass in the first quarter, but the Oilers came back in the second period with quarterback George Blanda hitting receiver Charley Frazier for a quick strike of two yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 at the half.

The second half proved to be much more exciting, as the Chargers scored on a run of two yards, and the Oilers responded with another Blanda touchdown pass, this time to Bob McLeod for five yards.

The Chargers responded with a 19-yard touchdown pass to end the third quarter with a 21-14 lead, then padded their lead with another touchdown on a 27-yard pass.

The Oilers put together a drive that was capped by a one-yard plunge by Bobby Jackson, but that was all they could muster, coming up short 27-21.

Despite the loss, the Oilers still made a good showing on the stats sheet, as Blanda threw 48 times, completing 28 for 254 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions (the lack of picks were a notable exception to the rule of his performances over the previous three seasons).

Fullback Charley Tolar rushed 20 times for 67 yards, and Sid Blanks rushed 11 for 53 yards and added 13 receptions for 131 yards.

In their second game, the Oilers played the Raiders on their home turf at Jeppesen Stadium and won handedly, 42-28.

Houston’s defense came up big with five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns: one a 95-yarder by Pete Jaquess and a 45-yarder by Benny Nelson.

They also held former Oiler and new Raider Billy Cannon to a mere five rushes for 22 yards and one reception for 20 yards.

However, Blanda’s interception woes returned, as he threw three picks in the game while going 10-for-22 for 191 yards and one touchdown.

Blanks rushed six times for 127 yards, and Tolar rushed 10 for 27 and a touchdown.

Receiver Charlie Hennigan continued to be a star for the Columbia Blue with seven receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown as the Oilers managed to even their record at 1-1.

For the third game, Houston traveled to face the Denver Broncos and their former frequently-used backup quarterback Jacky Lee.

The Oilers raced to a 17-0 lead before the Broncos finally notched a field goal then followed with a one-yard Lee run for a touchdown to trim the Houston advantage to 17-10.

Blanda struck back quickly in the second quarter with a three-yard touchdown lob to Dobie Craig.

For the second straight week, the Oiler defense assisted the offense with the scoring effort as linebacker Johnny Baker intercepted Lee and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown, capping the scoring at 38-17.

The Oilers had now won two straight to stand 2-1 on what looked to be a promising season.

Oilers backup quarterback Don Trull on the cover of the August 17, 1964, issue of Sports Illustrated magazine

Unfortunately, that would be the high point of the 1964 campaign for Houston, which would drop the next nine games in a row to easily establish the longest losing streak in franchise history.

The skid began with a 28-7 thumping on the road from the Kansas City Chiefs.

The sole Houston touchdown came in the fourth quarter on a four-yard pass from Blanda to Blanks.

Blanda had a terrible day, going 16-for-42 with 175 yards, one touchdown, and a staggering five interceptions.

In a familiar fireman’s role, Blanda’s backup Don Trull went 3-for-3 with seven yards.

Blanks and Tolar combined for a meager 44 rushing yards.

As usual, the Oiler defense played hard and intercepted the great Len Dawson three times, but Dawson more than made up for those miscues with over 300 passing yards and three touchdowns in the lopsided affair.

Next, the Buffalo Bills traveled to Houston to take their turn in beating up the hapless Oilers, 48-17.

This time Blanda only threw two picks on the day and would again be replaced by Trull.

Trull also got pulled into the gears of misery, going 3-for-14 with 49 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Although the Houston defense was roughed up for the first time, the secondary made strong contributions, as Jaquess snared two more interceptions, and Hicks another.

At 2-3, the Oilers hoped to turn things back in a positive direction against the perennially losing New York Jets, but under second-year Head Coach Weeb Ewbank, the Jets defeated the Oilers 24-21 at Shea Stadium.

The first half was all Jets, as they scored all the points they’d need for the victory by jumping out to a 24-0 lead before the Oilers showed any signs of life.

Although the second half was all Oilers, their efforts would come up short.

Blanda threw two touchdowns, and Tolar added another score on a 40-yard breakaway run, but New York’s first-half barrage proved to be too much, as Houston slumped to 2-4 on the season.

Then came a home rematch with the Chargers in which the Oilers once more scrapped hard but came up short, narrowly losing 20-17.

Blanda engineered a solid performance, going 22-for-37 with 312 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Blanks surprised the San Diego defense with an eight-yard pass to Hennigan for a touchdown on a well-timed trick play, while rookie Jacquess again proved to be a defensive asset with another interception in the game.

Now at the halfway mark in the campaign, the Oilers had slumped to 2-5 with a four-game losing streak and were desperately seeking answers to get the season turned around.

UP NEXT – The 1964 Season, Part 4

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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