Pre-Super Bowl I

billy cannon and bud adams

Much has been said (especially since my recent photo postings) about Super Bowls I-IV.  They are fantastic subjects for debate, individually or collectively.  Great players, hall of fame coaches, big plays and ultimately, a 2-2 record between the leagues.

Not nearly as much is said about the world championship games that would have been played if the two leagues had arranged postseason contests beginning in 1960.  1960 Oilers vs. Eagles?  1963 Chargers vs. Bears?  Which AFL team would have been the first to knock off an NFL champion?  Or was the AFL simply not up to the NFL standard early on, as so many NFL enthusiasts like to shout from the rooftops?

Over the next several days we will run through the AFL-NFL Championships that never were, or as I am calling them, the Pre-Super Bowls.  I will post the vital stats, and you all provide the commentary.  Let’s see who most people think would be the first AFL team to be crowned, “World Champions.”

1960 Philadelphia Eagles – (10-2-0)

Coached by Buck Shaw, the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles boasted the NFL’s #4-ranked total offense, and #1-ranked total defense.  With HoF qbs, Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen, the Eagles passed for 2816 yards.  Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff accounted for more than 1600 of those yards, and 18 receiving touchdowns.  Their running game was less exciting, totaling just 1134 yards on the season, 465 of which came from team leader, Clarence Peaks.  The defense, which lined up in a 4-3, allowed an average of 4.9 yards per run, and 6.0 yards per pass attempt.  In 12 games they hauled in 30 interceptions.

1960 Houston Oilers – (10-4-0)

Led by Lou Rymkus, the Houston Oilers had the AFL’s third-ranked offense, and first-ranked defense.  “The Other League’s” inaugural champion gained 3203 yards and 31 touchdowns in the air, with quarterback George Blanda, accounting for the majority.  Rookie Billy Cannon led a rushing unit that amassed 1733 yards and 15 touchdowns.  The Oilers defensive was stingy on the run, allowing just 3.5 yard per run.  They allowed 5.9 yards per pass attempt, and brought down 25 interceptions.

These early years are difficult to judge, as the AFL had just begun to get it’s feet wet.  Still, the Oilers were led by a Hall of Fame quarterback, who threw to a receiver who deserves HoF recognition.  They would have put up a fight.  But while the Oilers defense was highly-ranked in the AFL, how would that translate in interleague play?



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.

20 Responses to Pre-Super Bowl I

  1. Brad Anderson says:

    My prediction is the Eagles would have won this game. Solely on the fact you mentioned Todd, the AFL was just getting its feet wet.

  2. 1967 says:

    The 1960 Eagles barely held on to beat the Packers, latter just beginning their ascent (GB led twice in the game; had they won it would have been 6 titles in 8 years won instead of ‘only’ 5 in 8.)

    Oilers vs PHIL? Blanda’s propensity to toss ints (when he wasn’t throwing tds) would have seemingly played right into the Eagles strength, pass defense – 30 ints in 283 attempts, compared the Oiler defense’s 25 ints in 557 passes vs.) Then again, PHIL’s Van Brocklin also threw a lot of ints, 17 in just 12 games compared Blanda’s 22 in 14, int% both QBs near identical.

    Running game, PHIL gave up almost 5 yards per carry compared HOU’s 3.5 allowed; on offense, Eagles as Oilers had an sufficient if not superlative running game. HOU actually gave up less points per game on defense than did the Eagles (by a hair), and scored more per game too on offense (again, by a hair.)

    Perhaps experience & a bit better defense PHIL’s would have prevailed & after all, they did beat Lombardi’s Packers in post season, which happened about as often Haley’s Comet. HOU did beat the Chargers Kemp/Lowe et al though as with PHIL vs GB, the Eagles and Oilers both had home field advantage.

    All considered, while they might have an advantage the Eagles were beatable, my opine. My guess: PHIL by 10 points, tops.

  3. TK says:


    Until his death at age 83 on 27 September 2010, he considered himself an AFL player, and was a strong supporter of the American Football League’s heritage, often saying: “That first year, the Houston Oilers or Los Angeles Chargers (24-16 losers to the Oilers in the title game) could have beaten the NFL champion (Philadelphia) in a Super Bowl,” Blanda further said: “I think the AFL was capable of beating the NFL in a Super Bowl game as far back as 1960 or ’61. I just regret we didn’t get the chance to prove it.”

  4. Howard says:

    I remember when Alex Karras was doing color commentary for MNF in the early 1970’s. He said the 1960 Eagles was the worst championship team he ever saw in the NFL. That being said, it is hard to imagine a first year team like the 1960 Oilers prevailing. The Eagles had several HOF players including Chuck Bednarik. They were a veteran, hard nosed outfit. Have to think they would win against Houston.

    By comparison,the Cowboys, also a first year team, but, in the NFL, were 0-11-1. Perhaps the Oilers were better, but it is hard to believe they were anywhere as good as the Eagles in 1960.

    • Jim McKinley says:

      The Cowboys were bad that first year, but that was mainly due to the team being put together very quickly and did not even participate in the College Draft. The AFL teams got the benefit of having a good pool of black players which the NFL hardly used and also college players. I don’t think you can compare the Cowboys with any other team due to the way they were put together.

      • Howard says:

        I agree that the Cowboys were especially bad. In fact it wasn’t until 1964 that they were even mediocre. That being said, even if the Oilers were three or four times better, they would be a 4 or 5 win team in the NFL in 1960. I can find no modern evidence of a first year team winning a championship. The Browns won in the late 1940’s, but, they were in existence for a few years. Just don’t see Houston winning that game!

  5. Charles Oakey says:

    I’m an AFL man but I think, realistically, the Eagles would have won the “1960 Super Bowl”. The Oilers were good but the AFL was brand new.

    The first AFL team to win a “pre-Super Bowl Super Bowl? The 1963 Chargers, who would have beaten the NFL Bears. A lot of people agree with me on that one.

  6. Christopher Peck says:

    From everything I’ve heard about or studied on these teams, I’d say Chuck Bednarik would have been the difference. Eagles 23, Oilers 16.

  7. Tom says:

    The Oilers had 16 rokkie starters with no pro experience and a total of 36 rookies on their 46 man roster, but who knows? as they say, on any given Sunday. It was the only Championship game Lombardi’s Packers lost and it was the first Championship game I remember watching. Ted Dean was the high light of a lack luster game and it was the high light of his career.

  8. Kevin Carroll says:

    A match-up between the Oilers and Eagles in 1960 might have been the second “overtime” championship game played in pro football history. While the Eagles may have had an edge in pro experience, the Oilers were young and hungry! In Van Brocklin and Blanda, both teams had skilled and fiery field generals. Both head coaches, Buck Shaw and Lou Rymkus, were Notre Dame men who played under legendary coaches in Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy respectively. Many of the Oiler “rookies” had either spent time with NFL taxi-squads or had been cut outright in ’59 or ’60. These included halfback Dave Smith (the last man cut by the Packers in ’59), fullback Charley Tolar (cut by Steelers in ’59), guard Hogan Wharton (who spent ’59 on the Colts taxi-squad), safety Jim Norton (cut by the Lions in the ’60 camp because he couldn’t beat out Yale Lary at safety/punter)and defensive tackle George Shirkey (who was cut by the 49ers after the ’59 season because he couldn’t beat out Leo Nomillini) These young Oilers were itching to prove what they could do after being cut by NFL teams. The Oilers of the early years somehow found a way to win and a match-up with the Eagles would have been a dogfight.

    • Tom says:

      You mention Jim Norton and Yale Lary with Lary the Lions were in no need of a punter, what also hurt Nortons chances in Detroit were competing for a spot in the secondary against local Michigan and Detroit products Gary Lowe Michigan State, Bruce Maher Detroit Mercy and Big 10 product Dick Labeau Ohio State.
      Yale Lary is considered an all time great, a well deserved recognition and HOF member for his play and punting skill so to compare others to him may seem unfair, but in 1960 if the Lions had decided to replace Lary with Norton, it may also be fair to say little difference would have been felt, as History proved Jim Norton was as good as any and better than most at the Safety position and punting a football.

  9. Kevin Carroll says:

    Tom, I hope my comment about Jim Norton was not misinterpreted. Jim Norton was both a great safety and punter. Of course, so was Yale Lary who had been with Detroit for a few seasons and had proven himself. Norton, Smith, Wharton and others were very capable of playing in the NFL, but in the days of 33-man rosters a lot of deserving players didn’t make it. My point being that many of those Oiler “rookies” could have manned up very well with the likes of the Eagles.

    • Tom says:

      I didnt take it that way at all and as you mention his being cut had everything to do with numbers and little to do with ability. It must have been doubly tough on him as he was in Detroit with his close friend and former U Of Idaho teammate Wayne Walker who made the team and doubled as a place kicker and Outside LB.

      I thought twice of even commenting on Norton as it seemed to be out of place with the theme, but he’s a local, was born in Glendale Ca,a town that in his days produced a few of the greatest athletes the country has ever seen and few remember, Steve Turner, Jack Davis and Forrest Beatty.

      Nortons’ family moved to Orange County shortly after his birth and he attended Fullerton High School whrere played with Brig Owen’s oldest brother Jewell Owens who was by all accounts a marvel to watch.

      It was at a time in the country the mid 1950’s when High School football in places like So Cal was at it’s peak, it is estimated that as many as 70,000 fans filled the LA Coliseum to watch the CIF High School final game Nortons senior year in high school, the reason for the estimated attendance is that only 40,000 tickets were printed and when they ran out, they continued to allow fans to pay to get in but never got an actual head count.

      It is close to being safe to say, as many if not more fans attended the finals in 1955 High School Championships than attended Super Bowl I in the LA Coliseum.

  10. Kevin Carroll said it perfectly: “In Van Brocklin and Blanda, both teams had skilled and fiery field generals.”

    I see this game as a low-scoring slugfest, with Blanda’s toe making the difference. The Oilers win by 3.

    It’s a fact that Lamar Hunt set out to start the league because there was a major void in pro football. Like Tom and Kevin have been discussing, there were quite a few deserving players who were not playing in the NFL. The Oilers would have been hungry to prove themselves against the established league. They could have done that.

    The 1960 Eagles, from what I know about them, were a tough, hard-nosed team. However, they were not on a level with the NFL Champions that came before and after them: the Colts of the late ’50’s and the Packers of the 60’s. The Oilers could have taken the Eagles.

    The Eagles didn’t have a running threat anywhere near the Chargers’ Paul Lowe (the Oilers, of course, beat the Chargers 24-16 in the 1960 AFL Championship). The big “if” for an Oilers victory would have been stopping the Van Brocklin-McDonald-Retzlaff connection.

  11. Kevin Carroll says:


    Thanks for the background on Jim Norton. I knew he was from California but had no idea of his high school history. I interviewed him in the early 90s and he was a real gentleman. He was also in great shape at the time, running in marathons. All of his Oiler teammates and coaches held him in the highest regard.

    • Tom says:

      Jim Norton’s high school track coach at Fullerton was Jim Bush, Bush later won five NCAA titles at UCLA and is enshrined in Track & Field Hall of Fame.
      Lou Rymkus was the LA Rams O line coach under Gilman and the two worked closely with Rams QB coach Bob Waterfield in developing the passing game, so it must have been most gratifying beating Gilman in the first AFL championship especially in LA.

  12. Harold Dean Trulear says:

    Longstanding Eagles fan, six years old when we won it in 1960…but had a soft spot for AFL because of the opportunities they gave African American players. I honestly don’t know who I would root for in this matchup, because of such AFL opportunities.

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