The 1965 Season, Part 4

“The Derrick of Dysfunction”

By ED WETTERMAN

PREVIOUSLY – The 1965 Season, Part 1: “More on the Merry-go-round of Misery”

PREVIOUSLY – The 1965 Season, Part 2: “Draft Doldrums Doom Decade”

PREVIOUSLY – The 1965 Season, Part 3: “I Can Feel It in My ‘Bones'”

The Oilers opened the 1965 season at home in Rice Stadium with a see-saw game against the New York Jets.

Quarterback George Blanda was quickly benched after starting the game with two interceptions in favor of young quarterback Don Trull, who did not disappoint in his first considerable action as a pro.

Oilers quarterback George Blanda (16) hands off to Ode Burrell (25), while fullback Charley Tolar (44) blocks.

The Oilers struck first with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Trull to Willie Frazier, but the Jets then scored 14 points on runs by Bill Mathis and Matt Snell.

In the second quarter, Frazier added another touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Trull, but the Jets answered in the third with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Don Maynard from Mike Taliaferro.

Fortunately, the fourth quarter was all Oilers, as Blanda booted two field goals, and Frazier notched his third touchdown of the day on a 23-yard Trull pass, sealing the win for Houston, 27-21.

Trull went 8-for-18 for 110 yards, three TDs, and one interception.

In the first game of his rookie season, Joe Namath did not see action.

Amid hoots and howls from fans and sportswriters, Blanda got the starting nod from Head Coach Hugh “Bones” Taylor in the second game against the visiting 0-1 Boston Patriots.

Fortunately for Taylor and the Oilers, Blanda would justify that confidence with a strong outing.

The Oilers struck first with Blanda hitting Charley Frazier for a 40-yard touchdown.

The Patriots bounced back in the second quarter with 10 points on a Jim Nance one-yard plunge and a Gino Cappeletti 33-yard field goal, but those would be the only Boston points of the afternoon.

Down 10-7, Houston then ripped off 25 unanswered points.

Blanda threw another touchdown to Charley Frazier (46-yard connection) and a 12-yard touchdown to Willie Frazier.

Ode Burrell blew past the Patriots defense and scored on a 43-yard scamper in the fourth, and Blanda added a 45-yard field goal to bury Boston 31-10 and move Houston to 2-0.

Blanda had a vintage Blanda day, going 16-for-30 for 298 yards, three touchdowns, and two harmless interceptions.

Charley Frazier had a career game, snagging six catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns, while the Oiler defense played its best game of the season, forcing five interceptions from Boston quarterbacks Babe Parilli (four) and Eddie Wilson (one) and sacking them six times.

After two games, the Oilers looked like they might be returning to the championship form they enjoyed at the birth of the franchise.

Maybe all they needed was Coach Taylor. Maybe the Oilers were returning to greatness. Maybe they were in for another championship season.

And maybe Houston would get some snow in August.

The undefeated Oilers hit the road for three straight games that would result in a three-game skid, beginning with a tangle against Al Davis’ 2-0 Oakland Raiders in what would be a nip-and-tuck game at Frank Youell Field.

Burrell galloped 52 yards for a touchdown on a toss from Blanda in the first quarter, but the Raiders responded with a 69-yard touchdown strike to Clem Daniels from Tom Flores.

Blanda added a second-quarter field goal of 10 yards to give Houston a 10-7 halftime edge, but he was yanked in favor of Trull after one possession in the second half.

In the third quarter, Oakland took the lead on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Flores to Art Powell, but in the fourth quarter, the Oilers recaptured the lead at 21-17 on Trull’s four-yard pass to Willie Frazier.

On the verge of victory with the ball in their possession and just 1:38 left on the clock, the fumble bug bit Trull on the Oilers’ next possession.

He coughed up the ball at the Houston 17, where Oakland recovered and soon stuck the ball in the end zone on another Flores touchdown pass, this time a five-yarder to Alan Miller just 58 seconds left in the game to give the Raiders a 21-17 edge.

Trull’s woes soon compounded when he was picked off at the Houston 48 with 11 seconds left. Oakland then ran out the clock to send the Oilers to 2-1.

Before his exit, Blanda went 11-for-27 with a touchdown and an interception, while Trull went 5-for-9 with 34 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The next game was against the 3-0 San Diego Chargers at Balboa Stadium.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers climbed all over Houston, ripping off 24 unanswered points through the end of the third quarter.
Blanda proved to be ineffective, going 10-for-24 with 68 yards before yielding to Trull in the fourth.

Trull posted two scores, going 3-for-11 for 78 yards, tossing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Hennigan, rushing for a 7-yard score, and throwing one interception, but by then, the die had long been cast.

The Houston defense had no answer to the Chargers’ passing game, giving up three touchdown passes to John Hadl as San Diego prevailed 31-14 to drop the Oilers to 2-2 and ignite a full-blown quarterback controversy as Houston entered a bye week.

When the Oilers returned to action two weeks later in Denver, Taylor stuck to starting Blanda against the 2-3 Broncos at Bears Stadium (later known as Mile High Stadium).

Houston jumped out to a quick 14-point lead on Jack Spikes’ one-yard run and Bobby Jackson’s two-yard trot, but the defense gave up a tide-turning play as Denver scored on a 90-yard pass play from John McCormick to Bob Scarpitto to trim the Oiler advantage to 14-7.

In the second half, the Oilers fell apart, mainly due to Blanda’s five interceptions and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by Denver.

After a Blanda field goal and Bronco one-yard touchdown plunge by Cookie Gilchrist, Denver’s John Griffin scooped up a blocked Jim Norton punt and took it to paydirt.

Norton’s self-initiated fake-punt run was thwarted, and he tried to boot the ball instead.

The Broncos added insult to injury by converting Blanda’s fourth errant toss into a pick-six to cement their victory over the Oilers at 28-17.

The 2-3 Oilers could have easily been 4-1, but two busted plays had left them with a losing record and the unenviable task of returning home to face the 3-2-1 Kansas City Chiefs.

Worse still, Taylor’s lack of locker room control was showing, as linebacker Johnny Baker refused to leave the field at one point, and Norton independently decided to try to convert a fourth-and 15 deep in his own territory that handed Denver a win.

General Manager Carroll Martin realized things were out of control and decided to fine Norton, Baker, and Jackson for not following the game plan.

At that point, Blanda let the cat out of the bag, telling Martin that Taylor and the Oilers had no game plan or playbooks and hadn’t for two years.

The coaches couldn’t even agree and had formed different cliques with Taylor and Sammy Baugh on one side, Lou Rymkus and Joe Spencer on another, and Walt Schlinkmann on his own.

Martin immediately ordered Taylor to create a playbook and game plans.
Taylor was mad at Blanda for ratting him out to Martin, stopped talking to the veteran signal-caller, and decided to start Trull when the Chiefs came to Houston the next week.

Kansas City opened up a 17-0 halftime lead, as Trull went 3-for-10 for a mere 17 yards.

Taylor realized he needed Blanda for the second half, but continuing his refusal to conversationally engage the Oilers’ aging star, he sent Baugh over to tell Blanda he would start the second half.

Blanda refused to take the field unless Taylor asked him personally, and Taylor acquiesced.

Looking all the part of Superman without the red cape, Blanda responded with his best half of football.

To start the third quarter, Blanda hit Charley Frazier on a 64-yard touchdown pass, followed by a 49-yard scoring strike to Burrell, along with 17-yard and 9-yard touchdowns to Willie Frazier, to give the Oilers a 28-17 lead going into the four quarter.

More amazing than throwing four touchdown passes in one quarter was the fact that Blanda threw each of them on the first play of each possession.
Clearly a man with a point to prove, Blanda was more on the warpath than the Chiefs were.

In the fourth, Kansas City finally scored on a 29-yard field goal, but Blanda led the Oilers to another touchdown with a 9-yard pass to Bob McLeod.

Len Dawson then replaced Pete Beathard at quarterback and led the Chiefs to two touchdowns and a 36-35 lead, but the Oilers responded with a Spikes 36-yard field goal with just 18 seconds left to win the game 38-36.

After the game, Blanda told the local sports reporters who’d been advocating for Trull to become the quarterback to “go f…. themselves.”

He also refused to speak to the Houston Post writers, having had his fill of Jack Gallagher and Steve Perkins.

Back to .500 at 3-3, the Oilers then faced the 6-1 first-place Buffalo Bills with Taylor having reinstated Blanda as the Oiler starter at quarterback.

Although Blanda had a somewhat mediocre day, the move seemed to inspire the Oilers, who only posted one touchdown but found a way to make four Blanda field goals (31, 30, 13, and 7 yards respectively) hold up in a 19-17 road win at War Memorial Stadium, thanks in large part to four interceptions by the defense.

Blanda went 13-for-25 with 158 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, while Burrell ran 10 times for 72 yards and five 5 passes for 66 yards and the lone Oiler touchdown.

Filled with hope and optimism that they’d finally righted the ship, the Oilers were on top of the division with a 4-3 record just before the season’s midway point.

Unfortunately, the smooth sailing was about to be over, and the ship was about to start sinking.

UP NEXT – The 1965 Season, Part 5

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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