“The Race to the Bottom”
By ED WETTERMAN
Four of their next seven games would be held in the friendly confines of Houston’s Rice Stadium, including their next two.
Although done largely to spite Head Coach Hugh “Bones” Taylor, quarterback George Blanda had come off the bench to ignite an absolutely incredible comeback over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6 before also leading a road win against the eventual league-champion Buffalo Bills.
However, the bugs of hard luck and injuries were about to pounce and wreak havoc on the second half of the Houston season.
In fact, the remainder of the season would be so bad until the Oilers’ public relations staff would not include any game summaries in the 1966 media guide, a departure in practice from previous seasons.
Lost to injuries over the back half of the season were linebacker Johnny Baker, defensive tackle Bud McFadin, defensive back Freddy Glick, fullback Charley Tolar, center John Frongillo, defensive back Bobby Jancik, split end Charley Frazier, and split end Willie Frazier.
In Week 9, the 4-3-1 Oakland Raiders practically had finished them off before halftime, galloping to a 20-0 second-quarter lead before Willie Frazier hauled in an 8-yard touchdown from Blanda to cut the deficit to 13 points at the half.
Houston clawed closer at 20-14 in the third when Blanda connected with Charley Frazier on a 36-yard scoring strike, but the defense gave up a 57-yard bomb, which gave Oakland enough cushion for the win.
Bobby Jackson added a 1-yard rushing score to close the gap to 27-21, but the Raiders added two field goals and blanked the Oilers in the fourth quarter to drop home-standing Houston to 4-4 with a 33-21 defeat.
The following week, the 4-5 Denver Broncos galloped into Rice Stadium, and though the Oilers went toe-to-toe with them for three quarters, Denver’s fourth-quarter surge proved to be the difference.
The Oilers raced to a 14-0 second-quarter advantage on touchdown passes from Blanda to Charley Frazier and Ode Burrell before Denver scored 24 unanswered points to seal the Oilers’ fate.
Charley Frazier hauled in another touchdown strike from Blanda in the fourth to give Houston a fighting chance in the game’s twilight, but Denver booted a late field goal to stave off the late Oiler charge and hold on for a 31-21 win.
The Jets added another touchdown for good measure to finish off the Oilers at 41-14 and send them to 4-6.
Jets rookie quarterback Joe Namath lit up the Houston defense, going 17-for-26 with 221 yards, four touchdown passes, and one interception.
On the other hand, Blanda went 14-for-31 with 137 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. He was yanked in the fourth quarter in favor of Trull.
The Oilers hit the road again in Week 12, and for a second straight week, the road hit them back in a big way, as the 5-4-2 Kansas City Chiefs ran wild in Municipal Stadium against a hapless Houston defense.
For the third straight week, the Oilers posted no points until the second half, and even then, they were too little, too late.
Kansas City had the game sewn up by halftime with a 24-0 lead, and although Houston got touchdowns from Norm Evans on a special-teams fumble recovery and two rushes from Burrell, the Chiefs never let up, posting 28 more second-half points to finish off the Oilers at 52-21.
Now 4-7 and in the midst of a full-blown rockslide of a four-game losing streak, the Oilers staggered back to Rice Stadium to face the 8-2-1 Buffalo Bills.
This time, the Oilers were much more competitive but were torched for 13 first-quarter and fourth-quarter points, as Buffalo negated touchdowns from Spikes and Dick Compton and a Blanda field goal to knock off Houston, 29-18.
Despite racking up 209 passing yards, Blanda was still erratic and went just 10-for-24 with a touchdown and a pick.
Trull was again brought in for a spark, but he fared even worse at 2-for-10 with just 25 yards and an interception.
The 7-2-3 San Diego Chargers then arrived in Houston for the final Oiler home game.
Houston competed hard and managed to turn a 14-2 deficit into a 26-20 lead by the fourth quarter.
However, San Diego scored 17 unanswered points in the last 11:35 of the game to snatch a 37-26 victory from Houston’s grasp.
In a familiar refrain, the game was essentially decided by halftime, as the Patriots scored double-digit points in every quarter but the third.
In a 42-14 Boston massacre, Charlie Hennigan caught a 4-yard score from Blanda, while Larry Onesti added a special-teams fumble recovery in the end zone, as Houston capped off its 1965 season with a 4-10 record and a staggering seven-game losing streak.
Though it mattered little by this point, Blanda’s statline included a 9-for-21 effort with just 90 yards, one touchdowns, and an interception trifecta.
Most writers and fans placed the blame for the season’s doldrums on Blanda, but the Oilers had little in the way of a running game, and it featured the AFL’s worst defense that gave up over five yards per rush and an average of 30 points per game.
To compound matters further, Oilers Owner Bud Adams announced at halftime of the loss to Buffalo that he was giving Taylor a new three-year contract.
Bad drafts, a poorly directed front office, aging players, a revolving door for head coaches, no playbooks, and no gameplans had caught up with the Columbia Blue.
And as bad as 1965 had been, 1966 would be even worse.
UP NEXT – The 1966 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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