NFL – Throwback Thursday: The AFL’s Firewagon Football

25 Oct

The old American Football League, which played for 10 seasons before merging with the NFL, was always known for its’ exciting “firewagon” style of football, featuring lots of big plays that included kick returns, runs and passes which ran up high scores that engaged the fans of the new league. When discussions of the AFL’s exciting style of play happen, the teams usually mentioned are the Houston Oilers, led by George Blanda and the league’s champions in its’ first 2 seasons, and the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, coached by passing game guru Sid Gillman. However, it wasn’t just those clubs that put on high-scoring exhibitions in the AFL years, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll highlight a game played on November 1, 1964 between a pair of old AFL rivals who meet on this week’s NFL slate of games – the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.

The game was a one-sided affair for most of the first 3 quarters as Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson engineered a passing attack that focused on throwing to his pair of outstanding backfield mates – halfback Abner Haynes and fullback Curtis McClinton. The pair combined for 9 receptions totaling 209 yards and 3 touchdowns. In all, Dawson threw for 6 scores, also hooking up with Frank Jackson, Chris Burford and Fred Arbanas for six-pointers as the Chiefs ran up the score to take a 42-10 lead over the hapless Broncos, who entered the game with only a single victory on the season to their credit. Late in the third quarter, however, Denver inserted backup QB Jacky Lee into the game in place of Mickey Slaughter. Lee was an interesting case in that he started his AFL career with the Oilers and was “loaned” by them to the Broncos in ’64, then returned to Houston 2 years later. Upon entering this game, Lee immediately lit a fire under his flailing club, firing long touchdown throws of 62 yards to Hewritt Dixon and  82 yards to Al Denson to close the score to 42-24. The resurrection of the offense also inspired the Bronco defense to rise to the occasion, as Tommy Janik  intercepted Dawson and galloped 22 yards for a score, followed by Ed Cooke’s 42 yard fumble return to the end zone that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 42-39, with momentum clearly favoring the back-from-the-dead Broncos. Kansas City righted the ship, however, putting together a late-game drive culminating in a 7 yard touchdown run by Haynes that put the Chiefs up 49-39, which ended up being the final score. Along with Dawson, Haynes was the star of the day for K.C. as he rang up 261 total yards  to go with a pair of touchdowns.

Denver didn’t have much success as a franchise in any of the 10 years that the AFL played, as they never managed a winning record in any of the years in the decade of the league’s existence. However, they did supply their share of exciting moments that the AFL’s style of play exhibited throughout its’ life in the 1960s, helping expand the popularity of pro football with the public.



Denver Broncos’ “borrowed” QB Jacky Lee




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