An old pro named Jack Kemp, who was demoted and not sure of employment only four days ago, got a last second reprieve and passed the Buffalo Bills to the championship of the American Football League’s Eastern division.
The 29-year-old quarterback, bothered not at all by the heavy snow storm and the slippery going, scored twice and threw for a third touchdown as Buffalo beat the Patriots, 24 to 14, to end the local football season on a sour note.
This was to be the dramatic ending to a year that was loaded with sensational moments, such as winning games in the last seconds. The Patriots staged a story book chase of the Bills all season long and Sunday the capture was to take place.
All the Patriots had to do was win the game, that was 35 minutes late in starting because of a snow plowing operation, and the Eastern title was theirs again.
And the probability of this happening was so strong, the largest crowd in the team’s home history -- 38,021 -- jammed in despite miserable conditions.
But the monopoly on sensational finishes finally broken down and Kemp made sure there would be no chance of a revival as he took complete charge of the game that produced some pretty good football.
He was as sharp in Sunday’s blizzard as he would have been on an ideal day, picking his receivers and his plays in beautiful fashion and keeping command for most of the day.
“I started him because we had to go with experience and know-how,” Buffalo coach Lou Saban said. “And besides it’s time he got lucky.”
Luck was with this old hand and it came on the game’s first play when Chuck Shonta, the left corner man, was hurt tackling Cookie Gilchrist, the truck-sized fullback. The Patriots are short on corner men and that gave Kemp his first opening and he didn’t wait long to use it.
On the third play he drifted back and threw long to Elbert Dubennion, who caught the ball on the Boston 21 and ran home. This was a 57-yard play from scrimmage and it indicated that the Patriots were in for tough sledding.
Earlier this year Boston handed Buffalo its first defeat and in that one Dubennion didn’t play at all and Glen Bass, the split end, saw limited service.
Their presence in the title game, plus Kemp’s pinpoint precision, made a repeat of that early victory an unlikely occurrence despite Boston being favored by a point.
Kemp’s passing to them and to Ernie Warlick set up the second touchdown and Pete Gogolak’s soccer style field goal fashioned three more points. At the half Buffalo was home, coasting on a 17-6 cushion.
This was not an inept game for the Patriots by any means. Babe Parilli had one of his good days. He operated out of the Buffalo Gun formation (two split ends and two tight ends) and even from the shotgun, a formation Boston rarely has used in five years of play. Ordinarily, the team would have pulled this one out, only Kemp and his great offense couldn’t be handled by the Patriots defense.
An example of Boston’s ability to move came right after Buffalo’s first score and this was a Parilli production. He started it by hitting Artie Graham beyond midfield and he even had Larry Gannon pass on the fullback option. But it was his own ability to get loose when it looked as though he’d be creamed that made the touchdown possible.
Parilli ducked under and sneaked by Buffalo’s huge defensive line and went deep to Tony Romeo on a 37-yard play for the score. A tie wouldn’t have been any good, so Holovak went for the two-point conversion. Gino Cappelletti got loose and the pass was perfect. But Cappy slipped on the ice and the two pointer failed.
Kemp himself failed seconds later when Ron Hall intercepted a poor pass in the end zone, but the halt was temporary. A 45-yard yard pass to Warlick seconds after the second quarter began put the ball on the Boston 10 and two plays later Kemp sneaked in from one foot.
A few minutes later on Kemp’s passing, Buffalo was down close again. Don Webb’s defensive work prevented a touchdown, but Gogolak got three points, kicking from the 12.
Buffalo’s final score came on Charley Warner’s interception of a Parilli pass thrown into double coverage. Warner grabbed it on the 50 and got to the Boston 17. Wray Carlton and Gilchrist banged in close and Kemp carried it in.
That did it, but the Patriots, operating mostly from the shotgun, moved to the Buffalo 11 on one drive and then, on Parilli’s passing and Colclough’s catching went 60 yards to the Bills’ five.
On a second down situation from the 11, Parilli combined with Romeo again for the score and Colclough caught the ball for two more points. There were only 2m, 42s left and there wasn’t time for any more.
It was a strange season at that. Boston wound up 10-3-1 for its best record ever. But the Patriots had to settle for second to Buffalo’s 12-2 because of Kemp’s great day. He was 12 for 24 for 286 yards and he ran his team perfectly.
He was the big weapon for Saban, who finally got his revenge for being fired in 1961.