The AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

Chargers great Ron Mix was considered by man to be the greatest offensive lineman in the history of the AFL

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Ron Mix (74) played for the Chargers in all 10 of their AFL seasons and earned induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They called Chargers offensive tackle Ron Mix “The Intellectual Assassin” for two very good reasons: He was intellectual, and he was an assassin.

“Ron Mix at tackle was one of the most intelligent ballplayers I ever saw,” said one of the men whose life Mix made much easier, Chargers running back Paul Lowe. “He was smarter than a quarterback, plus he had speed.”

Some believe Buffalo’s Pro Football Hall of Famer Billy Shaw was the greatest offensive lineman in AFL history, but most believe it is Mix who was inducted into the Hall of Fame two decades before Shaw in 1979. …

THE AFL 1960–69 : A RETROSPECTIVE

The Jets turned the football world upside down with their historic 1968 season and Super Bowl championship

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Joe Namath stunned the sports world when he guaranteed the Jets would beat the Colts in Super Bowl III, and then delivered the victory.

In a year where one of the biggest stories was that of a storybook character intruding on a football nation’s Sunday afternoon, it was only appropriate that the champions of pro football were of storybook vintage.

The New York Jets played a starring role in the wacky 1968 season. Their Nov. 17 showdown with the Raiders in Oakland became an epic not only for the way it ended, but also for the fact that nobody east of the Rocky Mountains saw it end.

You see, executives at NBC decided to pull the plug on the thrilling game with New York clinging to a 32–29 lead and just 50 seconds left to play in order to start promptly at its 7 p.m. …

1968 — A HISTORICAL NOVEL: CHAPTER 25

Young PFC Patrick McDonald survives a deadly mission while displaying uncommon bravery, and punches his ticket out of Vietnam

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Patrick McDonald had been counting the days to DEROS almost from the moment 11 months earlier when the DC-6 transport plane dumped him into the cesspool that was Vietnam. Date Eligible for Return from OverSeas. December 20, 1968.

That date was burned in Patrick’s memory, and his current sole purpose in life was to make sure he still had a life when the calendar flipped to that day. That’s when the Marine Corps would thank him for his service and let him go home to begin the transition into becoming a human being again. They gave you the option to sign up for another tour after some R&R, and some guys like Hound Dog Harriman did so because they felt Vietnam was where they belonged. Patrick knew Vietnam was not where he belonged. Sayonara, shit hole. …

THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

Oakland blew away Houston to complete the greatest season in the history of the AFL with its 14th victory in 15 games

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The Raiders had little trouble taking down the Oilers in the 1967 AFL Championship Game.

Sorry fellas, but there was nothing you could do about this.

The AFL had made monumental strides during its first eight years of existence, and with the 1966 announcement that the AFL and NFL would merge in 1970, it was clear that the junior league had just about closed the once cavernous gap between the two pro football entities.

But on the afternoon of New Years’ Eve 1967, the day both leagues conducted their championship games, the AFL wasn’t quite up to the task of keeping pace with the NFL.

It certainly wasn’t the fault of the Oakland Raiders who played superbly in routing an overmatched Houston squad 40–7. Blame for most of the country not caring one iota about that game could be placed squarely on the burly shoulders of Mother Nature, and the storied Green Bay Packers. …

THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

Once he was traded from Buffalo to Oakland, he was given the opportunity to cut it loose and the Raiders soared to greatness

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Daryle Lamonica spent four years as Jack Kemp’s backup in Buffalo before a trade to Oakland changed his career.

During the first four years of his professional football career, Daryle Lamonica waited patiently for his turn to play quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

And for four years, that turn never really came as Lamonica fidgeted on the Buffalo sideline watching Jack Kemp lead the Bills to three straight AFL Eastern Division titles and two AFL championships.

True, Lamonica had his moments as coach Lou Saban — an impatient man to say the least — often pulled Kemp at the first sign of trouble, and five times during the 1964 championship season Lamonica relieved Kemp and led the Bills to victories. …

THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

The Oakland Raiders star offensive guard spent 15 years wiping out opposing defenders

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Gene Upshaw doing what he always did best: Pulling out to lead a Raiders running back around the edge.

The year before the New York Jets proved that an AFL team could compete on the same level with an NFL team by whipping the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Gene Upshaw was a rookie for the Oakland Raiders.

It was 1967 and the Raiders had achieved the best record in the AFL’s history by winning 13 of 14 regular-season games before crushing Houston 40–7 in the AFL Championship Game. That victory sent the Raiders to Super Bowl II to take on the mighty but now declining Green Bay Packers.

There, Upshaw came face-to-face with imposing Green Bay defensive tackle Henry Jordan. Though Upshaw had been widely considered the best young offensive lineman in pro football that year, many assumed that the veteran Jordan would eat him for lunch in the Super Bowl much the same way the Packers were expected to chew up and swallow the Raiders. …

1968 — A HISTORICAL NOVEL: CHAPTER 24

Kilo Company embarked on a mission even their hardened CO knew had potential catastrophe written all over it

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The men of the 3rd Battalion 26th Marines Kilo Company needed this, a night of singing, dancing, laughing, drinking, smoking, and drooling — not necessarily in that order — as the Donut Holes put on a show at base camp that did exactly what it was intended to do: Lift the spirits of the disgruntled men fighting this despicable war.

Patrick and his pals had enjoyed some down time in the past week, and the short break was capped off with an appearance by four members of the Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas program, the Donut Holes, or Donut Dollies as the men called them. …

THE AFL 1960–69 : A RETROSPECTIVE

Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica outgunned San Diego’s John Hadl, leaving no doubt which was the best team in the league

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Billy Cannon caught two touchdown passes as the Raiders blew out the Chargers in a December showdown.

Reality can sometimes be tough to swallow, but that’s what San Diego’s venerable All-Pro offensive tackle Ron Mix was forced to do after Oakland marauded its way into shiny new San Diego Stadium on Dec. 3, 1967 and inflicted a punishing 41–21 defeat on Mix and the Chargers.

“I’ll never trust my feelings again,” Mix said. “I had a great feeling about this game, I was sure we were going to win it. But the Raiders are probably the best team in AFL history. We threw everything we had at them, but it wasn’t enough.”

Being that Mix had been around the AFL since its inception in 1960, it stood to reason that he knew what he was talking about. And there was no doubt in the aftermath of Oakland’s second destruction of the Chargers in five weeks that not only were the Raiders the league’s premier team in 1967, they were the best outfit to ever ply their craft in the AFL. …

THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

The long-time Chargers coach turned the passing game into an art form, a precursor to what we see today

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Sid Gillman was one of the great offensive innovators during his time with the Chargers.

In mid-December 1959, one of the greatest football minds in the history of the sport was seriously considering quitting the game for good and going to work on Wall Street.

Trading stocks and bonds, Sid Gillman reasoned, would be exciting, and the potential to make more money reading the Dow industrials instead of reading zone defenses was a certainty.

Gillman had guided the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams to a division title in his first year as head coach in 1955, but his team had been whipped by Cleveland in the NFL Championship Game, and in the years that followed the Rams went 4–8, 6–6, 8–4 and 2–10. …

THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE

Polarizing as he was, when he joined the New York Jets he gave the AFL star power and undeniable credibility

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Joe Namath’s career statistics pale by comparison to today’s great quarterbacks, but he meant so much more to the AFL than just his numbers.

The are few Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees, especially among the quarterbacks, who elicit as much debate regarding their credentials for the sport’s highest honor, as Joe Namath.

Even now, more than four decades after he played his last game and 35 years since he stood on the steps of the shrine in Canton, Ohio with his shiny new gold blazer, Namath remains one of the all-time paradoxical figures in professional sport.

His 27,663 career passing yards are impressive for the era in which he played, but his completion percentage (50.1 …

About

Sal Maiorana

I’ve been writing about sports — mainly the Buffalo Bills — for the past 34 years for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. Also the author of 22 books.

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