Pre-Super Bowl II

1961 afl championship

Bob Laraba (53) closes in on the Oilers’ Charlie Tolar (44).

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.”

1961 Green Bay Packers – (11-3-0)

Coached by the great Vince Lombardi, the 1961 Packers won the first of Green Bay’s five NFL titles during the 1960s.  On offense, the Packers were led by quarterback Bart Starr (HoF), with Paul Hornung (HoF) and Jim Taylor (HoF) in the backfield.  The Packers were tough on the line as well, with Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg maintaining a tough right side of the line.  They were no weaker on defense, with five more hall of famers in their starting line up.  The ’61 Packers were +20 on turnovers, and scored 168 more points than they gave up.  They defeated the New York Giants 37-0, in the 1961 NFL Championship Game.

1961 Houston Oilers – (10-3-1)

Wally Lemm took over the Houston Oilers midseason, after Lou Rymkus and Bud Adams had one-too-many disagreements.  Despite their unrest at the head coaching spot, the Oilers still finished first in scoring and yardage in the AFL in 1961.  They were led by HoF quarterback, George Blanda, who threw to Charlie Hennigan and Bill Groman, both 1,000+ yardage receivers.  Billy Cannon, Charlie Tolar and Dave Smith made up the running game. Houston was solid, if not star-studded across both lines.  The defense hauled in 33 interceptions, and gave up 271 fewer points than the offense scored.  Again the Oilers faced the Chargers in the championship game, which they won by a score of 10-3.

Like the Oilers of 1960, the ’61 squad was just getting it’s feet wet as a team.  This team had no quitters, and they would have put up a fight.  Still, the Lombardi-led Packers were just coming into their prime in a period when they were nearly unbeatable.  I think the ’60 Oilers may have beaten the Eagles, but I don’t know that the ’61 squad had much of a chance against Green Bay.

To add a bit of interest, AFL author, Dave Steidel, ran a simulation of a 1961 Super Bowl on PCAction Football.  The game came out with the Oilers coming back from a 21-27 deficit to hand Lombardi and Co. their second championship game defeat, 30-27, on three unanswered George Blanda field goals.


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.

9 Responses to Pre-Super Bowl II

  1. 1967 says:

    Hard to go against the GB Packers anytime as history affirms, so I’ll have to go with the Packers, though not in a runaway.

    Both the Packers & AFL Houston Oilers ranked 1st in offense and 2nd in defense their respective leagues. Different leagues & different offensive styles to be sure, so it follows edge to GB rushing, edge to the Oilers passing.

    On defense, less than half of the renowned Packer defense of the mid 1960’s was in place, but would still rate the edge on the Oiler defense. HOU was sacked 41 times in 498 pass attempts, while GB was nailed 34 in just 306 attempts. Nod to the Oilers offense, GB might have had trouble defending WRs Groman and Hennigan (Cannon too), but the Packers Taylor & Hornung likely would have been a problem for the Oilers D and too GB had two tall receivers in Dowler & McGee, who might have been an matchup problem for HOU too. That’s a whole lotta ‘might haves’ in there, but such are the limitations our scenario.

    Of note, GB ranked 1st in giveaway/takeaway ratio so Blanda’s propensity throw ints (which never abated during his career) would likely have been at the fore. Interestingly, Bart Starr – the ‘young pup’ thence compared Blanda – threw more ints in ’61 than he did the previous 2 years combined, but Starr also attempted more passes in 1961 than any other season in his career. At the most important position on the field, QB, Blanda was already an 34 year old veteran of 12 pro seasons, while Starr was a mere 27 year old. GB had an advantage special teams: Hornung had his best season as a K for GB (in fact was better than Blanda ’61), punting too the edge to GB. Return game, Wood & Adderley were dangerous while HOU was not as spectacular.

    All considered, GB wins it 34-20, some GB scoring courtesy their defense and/or special teams assists.

    • Howard says:

      I consider Bart Starr along with Joe Montana to be the greatest post season quarterbacks in pro football history. Starr had a career postseason rating of 104. This is probably about 30-40 points over league wide averages for quarterback at that time. I loved Blanda as a person and a quarterback. I would never go against Starr in the postseason.

  2. 1967 says:

    Of course, the Lombardi factor too cannot be discounted… best coach ever, with no apologies to Walsh, Shula, Madden or (insert anyone else).

  3. Tom says:

    Where the game is played may also be a factor, in 1960 the Eagles won the title on their home field, the following year GB blew out the Giants for the title on their home field. In 1961 GB faced another elite team the Colts twice, on the road they lost 45-21 at home they won 45-7. As they say on any given Sunday especially if the game was played in Houston, if played in Lambeau, no chance.

  4. Kevin Carroll says:

    With two full seasons under their belt, the ’61 Oilers were better than the ’60 squad. However, by ’61 Lombardi’s Packers were in full stride. It would have been a competitive game, but the Packers probably would have prevailed.

  5. Howard says:

    Let’s see: Starr vs. Blanda- Edge Starr.
    GB Offensive Line vs. Houston Defensive line- Edge Green Bay
    Houston Offensive Line vs. Green Bay Defensive Line- Edge Green Bay
    Coaching Green Bay vs. Houston- Edge- Even (just kidding).

    How about a repeat of Super Bowl I score! Green Bay 35- Houston 10

  6. Chris says:

    I think the 1963 Chargers could be the best bet in this scenario Todd. The Pack was really just starting to groove at this point. The start of perhaps the most dominating dynasty in the games history- full of discipline,drive,& talent. If Vince didn’t have enough motivation on his own – and he did- the fact that Rozelle would have came up and mentioned that the fate and reputation of the league rested square on the Packers shoulders would have put Vince in full Braveheart mode! They take the first two Pre Super Bowls. In a rout.

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