Mythical Super Bowl I – Introduction and Offensive Players & Analysis

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Earlier this year we ran a series of “Pre-Super Bowl” articles which discussed the mythical matchups of AFL vs. NFL champions from 1960-1965.  In the midst of that run, guest blogger and author, Dave Steidel, volunteered to run simulations of some of those games, and then offered to expand his findings into a series of posts for Tales from the American Football League.  The result of Dave’s efforts are an in-depth look at Pre-Super Bowl I, or as Dave calls is, Mythical Super Bowl I 1960.  The week will begin with some background on the two teams, the Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles, and transcend into play-by-play of the game and ultimately, the final statistics.  So get ready to enjoy the game that should have been played some 53 years ago!

MYTHICAL SUPER BOWL I 1960

January 8, 1961 – The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA.

 rose bowl

NFL champion – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – 10-2 regular season – defeated Green Bay Packers 17-14 at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA. on Dec. 26.

AFL champion – HOUSTON OILERS – 10-4 regular season – defeated Los Angeles Chargers 24-16 at Jepessen Stadium, Houston, TX. on Jan. 1.

SCOUTING REPORTS:

COACHES – Buck Shaw, Eagles –  Served as the head coach for Santa Clara University, the University of California, Berkeley, the San Francisco 49ers, the Air Force Academy and the Philadelphia Eagles. He attended Notre Dame, where he became a star player on Knute Rockne’s first unbeaten team. He started his coaching career with one year as head coach at North Carolina State and four years as a line coach at the University of Nevada.

As a coach at Santa Clara, he compiled an impressive 47–10–4 record. In 1937 and 1938, his teams posted back-to-back Sugar Bowl wins over LSU. After war-time service, he served in 1945 as the head football coach at the University of California, where he compiled a 4–5–1 record. Shaw was the 49ers first head coach in the old AAFC and continued in that position from 1950 through 1954, when they entered the NFL. After two seasons (1956–1957) as the first Air Force Academy Varsity head coach he returned to the NFL.

Lou Rymkus, Oilers — Was an player and coach in the AAFC, NFL before becoming the Oilers first head coach. Playing tackle for the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC and NFL in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Rymkus provided pass protection for Otto Graham as the team won five league championships. Following his playing career, Rymkus took a number of assistant coaching jobs before serving as Oilers

He was a star lineman in high school and won a football scholarship to attend Notre Dame. He played on a 1941 team that went undefeated under Frank Leahy. Rymkus was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1943 and played one season for the team before joining the Marines during World War II. Following two years in the service, he signed with the Browns, where he spent the remainder of his playing career.  Paul Brown, the Browns’ first coach, called Rymkus “the best pass protector I’ve ever seen”.

Both coaches were star players for Notre Dame, WWII veterans and know how to win.  Shaw has a slight edge as a head coach but Rymkus makes up for that by virtue of having played on excellent Cleveland teams under the brilliance of Paul Brown.  Shaw leads in a low key style allowing Van Brocklin to run the show on offense and Bednarik on defense. Rymkus is a fiery leader who motives with intensity.  Having Blanda at quarterback gives him another coach on the field.  EDGE – PHILADELPHIA

OFFENSE –

EAGLES – Averaged nearly 27 points per game with the second best passing attack in the NFL, averaging 234 yards through the air, but had the second last running game, gaining only 95 yards on the ground per game. 

RUNNING – Top rushers are Billy Barnes who gained 315 yards on 117 carries and rookie Ted Dean, 304 yds. On 113 carries.  Both backs averaged a meager 2.7 yard per carry.  The unknown is whether fullback Clarence Peaks will be ready to play.  Peaks played only 7 games and gained 465 yards on 86 attempts for a 5.4 average.  He is listed as doubtful.  Tim Brown carried only 9 times for 35 yards. The longest runs from scrimmage was 57 yards by Peaks, and 32 yards by Dean.  Barnes, in his fourth year as a pro is clearly the heart and soul for Philadelphia.  He has both power and speed but has only an average offensive line opening holes for him.  Dean is a bit faster and bigger than Barnes but is still learning, having started only the last 5 games following Peaks’ injury.  Having Peaks at full strength would give the Eagles a big lift for their running game.

RECEIVING – The Eagles offense is led by the superior passing arm and play calling of Norm Van Brocklin who has championship game experience from his days with the Los Angeles Rams.  He won the NFL title in 1951 while losing to the Browns in 1955.  His prime receivers are tight end Pete Retzlaff (46 receptions) a smart pass catcher who can go long, flanker Tommy McDonald (39 catches for a 20 yard average) likes to run slants and deep post patterns, has sticky fingers and can take a hit. He’s the Eagles home run threat. Split end Bobby Walston (30) is a possession receiver who rarely drops a pass.  All three averaged at least 18 yards per catch, with McDonald leading team with 13 touchdowns.  The three main backs (Barnes, Dean and Peaks) all caught less the 20 passes during the season.

LINE – Center: Rookie Bill Lapham has started in middle since November, he is an above average pass and run blocker while Chuck Bednarik is at his best protecting Van Brocklin.  It is not known whether Bednarik will play offense, defense or go both ways.

Guards: Stan Campbell is an average run/pass blocker, while Jerry Huth and Jon Wittenborn are slightly below average in both areas.

Tackles: J.D. Smith, like Bednarik, is an above average pass blocker while holding his own on runs. Jim McCusker is in the middle of the pack among NFL tackles.  Tight end Retzlaff is an average blocker on both runs and passes, although he rarely stays home when Van Brocklin is looking to throw.

PASSING – Norm Van Brocklin is no stranger to championship games and throwing the football.  He led the NFL in passing by completing 55% of his throws with 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.  He threw 371 times and logged a 97.7 rating over his 12 games. “The Dutchman” is a master at getting the most out of his players and can read defenses better than most.  His strong arm can find his receivers anywhere on the field.  Strong-willed and hard-headed Van Brocklin almost willed the Eagles to the championship of the NFL this season.

OILERS – Led the AFL in passing and finished fifth in rushing averaging 223 yards in the air and 123 on the ground while posting 27 points per game.

RUNNING – Houston is led on the ground by two efficient runners in halfback Billy Cannon and all-league fullback Dave Smith.  Both gained 4.2 yards per carry with Smith totaling 643 yards on154 carries to Cannon’s 644 on 152.  Smith’s longest gain was a 65 yarder, Cannon’s longest was 39.  Charlie Tolar, built like a fire hydrant is the top reserve, gaining 179 yards on 54 carries.  Linebacker Doug Cline occasionally helps out.  Smith and Cannon are both good receivers with Smith catching 22 passes and Cannon, 15.  The Houston running game is strong and steady and when occasion has warranted, good enough to carry the offense when the passing attack falters.

RECEIVING – On the receiving end Houston boasts a speedy arsenal of pass catchers, led by split end Bill Groman who tallied 72 catches (in 14 games, compared to the NFL’s 12 games)  and gained 1473 (20.5 per catch) for 12 touchdowns.  Charley Hennigan caught 44 balls and averaged 16.4 per catch and scary enough to keep teams from double covering Groman. Former Washington Redskin John Carson, the tight end, pulled down 45 passes for a 13.4 yard average.

Like Philadelphia, the Oilers offense generator is their passing attack from which the running game opens up and keeps opposing defenses honest.  Shrewd usage of the draw and trap plays utilizing the speed and power of Cannon and Smith anchors a well balanced attack and allows Blanda the time he needs to find his above average receiving corps.

LINE – Center: George Belotti ranks as an average pass blocker but is bit below that on runs.  He’s not big in the middle and may have trouble containing the driving, hard-nosed Bednarik.

Guards: Bob Talamini was having a fine year before he was injured and will not play.  Player/coach Fred Wallner is his back up.  Hogan Wharton is a rough and tumble player but his skills are not on par with most of the leagues other guards.

Tackles: Houston’s line strength is at the tackles where Rich Michael is outstanding on both the run and pass and Al Jamison is not far behind.  They are arguably the best set of tackles in the AFL.  Carson as tight end is not known as a very good blocker and is best when needed to catch passes.  Look for Houston to insert James Yeats when they need an extra blocker.

PASSING – George Blanda was the fifth best passer in the AFL.  He completed 46% of his 363 passes including 24 touchdowns with 22 interceptions.  His 64 qb rating forced him to the bench by Rymkus more than once this season in favor of rookie Jackie Lee who can occasionally have a hot hand.  Blanda, however, is the unequivocal leader of this team.  Besides leading Houston to the AFL’s first championship, Blanda quarterbacked the Chicago Bears in the 1956 NFL championship game.  Like Van Brocklin, Blanda can read a game, make on the field adjustments and motivate his teammates to give a little extra when needed.  A wily veteran, Blanda stands behind no-one in big games.

OFFENSIVE ANALYSIS:

LINE – Philadelphia has struggled to open holes for their average backfield but is strong while protecting the less than mobile Van Brocklin.

Houston has an average inside three but is superior at the tackles.  Like Philadelphia, they protect their quarterback well but unlike the Eagles they are capable at springing their backs, although some would say that they are playing against lesser group of defensive fronts than the Eagles do.

LINE EDGE – HOUSTON, even without Talamini their superior tackles make the difference, even if Bednarik plays center for Philadelphia he can’t bring their line up to standard

RUNNING – Barnes and Dean are mostly grinders, picking up 2 and 3 yards with driving legs and determination.  Cannon and Smith are quicker but may not be as strong as the Eagle backs. But they can quickly change the game with long runs. Both teams use their backs sparingly as alternative receivers.  Cannon can bust a game wide open as he showed against the Chargers in the AFL championship game and Smith is a reliable screen option.  Smith also completed 3 of 5 passing attempts for 1 touchdown and a 20 yard average which could come into play to shake things up if needed.  The Eagles will need to control the Houston front four to give them offensive balance and Van Brocklin the time to make the passing game work.  The Oilers can keep the Philadelphia defense on their heels if Cannon and Smith get off to quick starts, which will give Blanda the play calling edge and more time to connect with the excellent outside receivers.

EDGE – RUNNING  – HOUSTON, Cannon, Smith and Tolar are a better group with more skills than Barnes, Dean and Peaks (who probably won’t play).  The Eagles have no competent reserve and are built more for three yards than the Oiler backs who have the advantage of big tackles (Michaels & Jamison) dominating the Eagle ends.

RECEIVING – Retzlaff is a better receiver and blocker than Carson while Groman is much more dangerous than Walston at split end.  McDonald is a game changer at flanker and will be a tough cover for the weaker Oiler backs to keep in check.  Hennigan is fast and glue fingered and showed lots of moxie after the catch.  Look for the Eagles to try and neutralize Groman with double-coverage and force Blanda to throw more to his backs.  The Eagles will have to rely on Retzlaff, McDonald and Walston to run precision pass patterns on the unstable Houston defensive backs who gave up 251 yards a game to open up their running game.

Both teams can go deep as well as they can go short – the difference in the passing attacks may each team’s ability to run the football and keep the defenses honest, hold off the blitz or force single coverage.  Retzlaff, McDonald and Walston vs. Groman, Hennigan and Carson –

RECEIVING EDGE – EVEN

Quarterback/Leadership – Van Brocklin led the Rams to a title in ’51 and the championship game in ’55 – Blanda played well in the Bears ’56 loss to New York.  Neither Blanda nor Van Brocklin see reason to run out of the pocket so chasing either of them down will not be necessary.  Both are classic pocket passers and were it not for George Halas’ dictatorial style, Blanda may have had a more prominent career in the NFL.  Van Brocklin’s career was also on the slide until the Eagles rescued him from LA.  Their leadership style is strong minded and tough with both players commanding excellence and compliance.  Van Brocklin, Blanda; Blanda, Van Brocklin.  Listen to them with your eyes closed and you couldn’t tell them apart.  Watch them on a Sunday afternoon and you could make a leadership training film.  Both are proven winners and professionals, and both are at the top of their games.

QUARTERBACK EDGE – EVEN – some people theorize that if Blanda played in Philadelphia and Van Brocklin in Houston they would both still be playing on January 8

Both offenses are very similar, with passes being the first option and runs called on to counter the pass rush and gain crucial yards.  Houston holds a slight edge on the line but that is countered by Philadelphia having a better defensive front than they normally see.  And while the Eagles offensive line may not be on par with Houston’s, the Oiler defense may cause less problems for the Eagles line than visa-versa and therefore even things out.

The team that can establish the run sooner may hold the edge early on.  But when yards or points are needed in a hurry, look for both teams to go to their strength and air it out.  And when that happens, either team can break things wide open.  Houston shows more potential and competence with their running game.

OVERALL OFFENSIVE EDGE – HOUSTON, by virtue of a better running game

Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.



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16 Responses to Mythical Super Bowl I – Introduction and Offensive Players & Analysis

  1. tim t. says:

    AWESOME..great idea…I cannot wait to read them all.
    Maybe you can even insert a photo or two of some of the players or venues being mentioned??!!

  2. Rich says:

    awesome!!! Can’t wait for more.

  3. Howard says:

    Great concept! Difficult to weigh the quality of a 1960 AFL team. But if you accept both Leagues at face value, it makes for an interesting “hot stove” event.

  4. John says:

    Howard, good thought and I would agree. The AFL was in it’s infancy and would continue to improve each year up to the merger.

  5. Tom Fischer says:

    Something that needs to be factored in is who did each team play and who did they beat during the season. I’m an AFL guy but in its first year there’s no way the Eagles played as many weak sister’s as Houston did.

  6. Willie the Wisp says:

    Take a look at the 1960 AFL All-Pro team. It’s dominated by rookies and NFL rejects. The NFL had superior depth, experience and continuity at the time.

    Eagles 33, Oilers 17.

    • billd says:

      NFL rejects Paul Lowe and Lionel Taylor were pretty darn good. Should be in the HOF along with other first team AFL and HOF’s Ron Mix and Jim Otto. Another NFL reject,George Blanda, was 2nd team AFL yet in the HOF. Sure the NFL had better depth yet in one game anything could happen. At the end of a year they are not rookies anymore. Blanda always believed the Oilers would have won. The Oilers were an excellent team with good receivers and running backs. Not having Talamini hurts the Oilers. Look at what he did in SB III.

  7. 1967 says:

    The stats for Van Brocklin are way off, if the website profootballreference.com is accurate. According to them, Van Brocklin threw 24 tds & 17 interceptions in ’60, not 27 tds with 12 ints as the article lists, in 284 attempts and not 371.

    Van Brocklin had a career year terms productivity/most tds he ever threw, but in general (like the Oilers Blanda) was prone to ints… both finished their careers with more ints than td passes, as other gambling QB’s such as Namath, Lamonica, Hadl, etc.)

    The intangible factor, I’d give the edge to Van Brocklin; Blanda threw just 26 passes the years 1957 up to the time he joined Houston in 1960/moreso was a K.

  8. 1967 says:

    I chose the Eagles to win this ‘never was’ game by 10 points in November when the subject was first broached on TFTAFL; will stick with that my ‘anybody’s guess’.

    • I, too, am sticking with my “anybody’s guess.” In November, I went with the Oilers winning by 3, with Blanda’s toe making the difference.

      I think the intangible factor is even. Both Blanda and Van Brocklin were excellent field generals. I’d go to battle with either one of them. Even though Blanda wasn’t very active in the late ’50’s, I simply don’t see a war horse like him being fazed by the Eagles’ defense.

  9. 1967 says:

    Sorry ‘Mad Bomber’, meant Jim Hart and not Lamonica re: tds/ints…

  10. Willie the Wisp says:

    The story contains a major error — Ed Brown (not George Blanda) was the Bears quarterback in the 1956 season, when they were Western Conference champions. Blanda was a back-up and did not start a game. His career spiraled downward to the point that he became almost strictly a placekicker. By the end of the 1958 season, he was a fourth-string QB behind Brown, Zeke Bratkowski and Rudy Bukich. It took the AFL to revive his career two years later.

    • Tom says:

      Coincidentally Brown’s final experience as a Bear was a near mirror image of Blands, by 1961 Brown was down in the depth charts, acting as the punter. In 1962 Brown revived his career in Pittsburgh two years after Blanda, in Houston, Blanda and Brown were a year apart in age, Blanda the senior.
      If not for career ending injury in 1959 John Madden might have had a career day on defense in 1960 title game on the Eagles.DL Brown and Madden both former Cal Poly SLO SA’s.

      • Tom says:

        One clarification Ed Brown was born in San Luis Obispo and attended the U of San Francisco where he teamed with Ollie Matson, Bob St. Clair and Gino Marchetti.

    • Tom says:

      Your reply contains a major error, Blanda was 12 of 27 passing for 140 yards and one int in the 1956 title game, Ed Brown was 8 of 20 for 97 yards and one int. The final score was 47-7 Giants.

      • Willie the Wisp says:

        Like I said, Brown started every game for the Bears in the 1956 season. In the NFL Championship Game, Blanda came off the bench late in the second period with the Giants ahead by a 34-7 score. Brown and Blanda split time in the second half.

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