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NFL – Throwback Thursday: More High-Flying AFL Action

14 Oct

The Denver Broncos face off with their AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, this Sunday in a week 6 game on the NFL schedule. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll go back to the high-flying early days of the American Football League, to a game played between these clubs on December 15, 1963. The Raiders were based in Oakland at the time and this contest was played at Frank Youell Field, a glorified high school stadium that was Oakland’s home then. Prior to 1963 the Raiders were one of the AFL’s weakest franchises. They had finished the 1962 season with a 1-13 record, and Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson had to loan the club $400,000 just to keep them afloat at one point. The Raiders’ fortunes turned around that season, however, when they hired a brash young assistant from the San Diego Chargers’ staff, Al Davis. Of course, Denver was the ultimate sad sack franchise of the AFL for the entire 10 year existence of the league. This game was the penultimate regular season contest of the ’63 season, with the Raiders enjoying an 8-4 record while the Broncos wallowed in last place of the Western Division at 2-9-1.

The game started out as expected with the Raiders scoring twice, on touchdown passes of 32 yards from Tom Flores to Bo Roberson and 18 yards from Flores to Art Powell, one of the AFL’s brightest stars in it’s formative years. Denver rounded out the first quarter scoring when rookie fullback Billy Joe rambled in from 9 yards out to cut Oakland’s lead to 14-7. Flores answered that by hitting his running back, Clem Daniels, with a 26 yard touchdown pass. The Broncos mustered up a field goal from Gene Mingo, and the clubs went into halftime with the Raiders holding a 21-10 edge.  When Flores threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, from 43 yards out to Daniels again, Oakland took a sizable 28-10 and it looked like the lowly Broncos were finished.

Denver quarterback Mickey Slaughter rallied the troops, however. He threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Gene Prebola, and then led a drive that ended in a short scoring run by Hewritt Dixon, and suddenly Denver entered the final quarter down by only 28-24. The Broncos’ defense was their Achilles heel in 1963, as they allowed a total of 473 points overall for the season, by far the highest total in the AFL’s history. So it was easy pickings again for Flores, and he found Powell again for his fifth TD toss of the day. Slaughter didn’t give up easily. He engineered another drive and hit his All-AFL split end, Lionel Taylor, with a 29 yard scoring throw to pull his club to within 4 points again at 35-31. That would be all the scoring for the day, and Oakland held on to improve to 9-4. They finished the regular season the following week by outscoring the Houston Oilers in a 52-49 barnburner to end their season at 10-4, a miraculous climb from the previous year. It was only good enough for second place in the West as San Diego won their third division crown in 4 years. The Broncos put up a game effort on this day, and Taylor and Prebola both garnered over 100 receiving yards, but their reward for the “moral victory” was a date with the mighty Chargers in the regular season’s final week. The Chargers demolished them 58-20.

 

Al Davis transformed the Raiders’ franchise in 1963

 

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