The 1964 Season, Part 4

“Misery Loves Company”

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”

PREVIOUSLY – The 1964 Season, Part 3: “Making Misery”

After slumping to 2-5 after starting the 1964 campaign at 2-1, the Oilers opened the second half of the season on the road with a rematch against the Buffalo Bills at War Memorial Stadium.

Although they didn’t suffer another 31-point slaughter at the hands of the Bills, Buffalo still managed to stick another tally in the Houston loss column with a 24-10 decision.

In an all-too-familiar scene, Houston quarterback George Blanda worked to stimulate results through the passing game, throwing 68 times and completing 37 for 393 yards and a touchdown, but also throwing three interceptions.

Houston scored first on an 11-yard strike from Blanda to Willard Dewveall, but Buffalo countered with a 37-yard trot by reserve halfback Bobby Smith before Blanda added a 49-yard field goal.

The Oilers would hold that 10-7 advantage until the fourth quarter when Buffalo rang up 17 points with another Smith rushing score, plus a 60-yard scoring scamper from Cookie Gilchrist and a 17-yard Pete Gogolak field goal.

The Oilers secondary managed to even the pickoff count with three interceptions of their own, but it was not enough to stop the Bills from piling up enough points to down Houston and send them to 2-6.

Oiler fans loudly began to wonder what their team was becoming under first-year head coach Sammy Baugh.

There was no system for blocking, or regular plays, so the offensive linemen just blocked whoever was in front of them, while Blanda literally drew plays in the dirt during huddles.

In a shocking response to the crisis, Oilers owner Bud Adams extended Baugh’s contract as head coach as flabbergasted Houston fans howled with displeasure. Players didn’t feel any differently, either.

Back on the road a week later, the Oilers lost a squeaker at Fenway Park to the Boston Patriots, 25-24.

The Patriots were coached by Mike Holovak, who would become an important part of Oiler history in the 1980s.

The game went back and forth, with each team trading scores until the fourth quarter.

With the Oilers down 16-14, Blanda hit Charley Frazier on a 37-yard pass for a touchdown for a 21-16 lead.

The Patriots answered with a five-yard touchdown run by Boston quarterback Babe Parilli, but Blanda responded with a field goal to put the Oilers ahead 24-22 with just 32 seconds left in the game.

Alas, 31 seconds were all the Patriots needed to drive far enough into Houston territory for Gino Cappalletti to nail a 42-yard field goal with just one second left to win the game 25-24.

Though hard to find a silver lining in the cloud of such a bitter defeat, Blanda had a good showing, throwing 44 times for 328 yards, two touchdowns, and only one interception.

Next came a rematch with the Oakland Raiders whom the 2-7 Oilers had beaten in the second game of the season.

Houston grabbed the only points of the first half on an 11-yard Blanda field goal with 6:23 left in the half.

But Oakland roared back with 20 unanswered second-half points before the bamboozled Oilers could score on a 15-yard touchdown to Charlie Hennigan from Blanda, who came back in for the final Houston drive after being replaced by backup quarterback Don Trull for one series.

This 20-10 loss to the Silver and Black dropped Houston to 2-8, but the seven-game losing skid was still far from over.

The Oilers limped back to Jeppesen Stadium for their first home game in four weeks to finish out the season with four straight home games, the first of which came against the 4-5 Kansas City Chiefs, who’d bested them 28-7 to start the losing streak.

Although Houston would make a slightly better showing on the scoreboard, the Chiefs once more took down the Oilers 28-19 and continued to dog Blanda with heavy pressure, making him rush all his throws.

Blanda went 16-for-28 with 179 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.

Meanwhile, Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson rolled out a highly efficient passing effort, going 9-for-13 with 92 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, sending the Oilers to 2-9.

The Oilers then got roughed up by the Patriots 34-17 with Blanda throwing three more interceptions and Trull adding another.

Houston trailed just 17-10 at the half but couldn’t match a Boston outburst of 17 second-half points, as the Patriots pulled away to extend the Oilers losing streak to nine games and send them into a bye week with a pitiful 2-10 mark.

The added practice and/or rest of the bye week must have been a tonic for whatever ailed the Oilers, as they managed to bounce back and defeat the 5-6-1 New York Jets, 33-17.

They did it by switching their offensive strategy to the ground game, giving the ball 21 times to Sid Blanks, who exploded for 179 yards and three touchdowns.

The Oiler defense contributed three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and one sack, while the offense only gave up one turnover, which was (guess what?) a Blanda interception.

To the great relief of many, Baugh had experienced his fill of coaching, and he quit after the victory.

The last game of the season came against the 2-10-1 Denver Broncos, and the 3-10 Oilers won 34-15 to end the season with a 4-10 record.
Blanda threw 27 times with 16 completions for 204 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

As they often could do during the otherwise-abysmal campaign, the Oiler defense turned in a brilliant performance with three picks, two fumble recoveries, and four sacks.

Fittingly for the Oilers, though they won by a wide margin, the game was ugly.

In one instance, after Don Floyd snagged an interception, a Denver player exposed Floyd’s posterior by hanging on to his pants while tackling him.

Ex-Oiler Jerry Hopkins had been hitting Blanda the entire game and after a PAT again knocked Blanda down, then laughed about it.

Blanda ran up behind Hopkins and “punted him in the butt with all he had,” which no doubt was considerable, since Blanda nailed field goals of 55 and 52 yards as a straightaway placekicker over the course of his long career.

Quite predictably, Hopkins came after Blanda on the next play, which led to a bench-clearing brawl to fittingly end the disastrous 1964 season.

Despite the bleak results, the Oilers had posted a few notable accomplishments along the way.

Hennigan had 101 receptions in a 14-game season, setting an AFL record.
The secondary had been great at times with 29 interceptions, despite starting so many rookies. In other instances, they were also often out of place, and many opposing wide receivers were left open to rack up 3,315 yards as a result.

Quite surprisingly, despite the losses and the 27 Blanda interceptions, the Oilers had the second-most passing yards in the eight-team AFL with 3,576, and Blanda called the wide-open Houston passing game, “a lot of fun.”

Clearly, however, the lack of a real offensive scheme, no playbooks, the strategy of playing to keep the score close rather than to win, what was basically a part-time head coach, and a clear lack of team talent was just too much to overcome.

UP NEXT – The 1965 Season, Part 1

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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