Pre-Super Bowl V

autographed 1964 topps bills team

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.”

1964 Cleveland Browns – (10-3-1)

Guided by Blanton Collier, the 1964 Cleveland Browns were a great team.  They were led at qb by Frank Ryan, who distributed the ball among three hall of fame members (Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield) as well as Gary Collins and Johnny Brewer.  Naturally, Cleveland favored the run, though they scored twice as many touchdowns passing as they did on the ground (28-14).  They averaged more than 29 points-per-game, and outscored their opponents 415-293 over the season.  Their defense was fifth-ranked in the NFL, and ranked 14 in yards given up.  The Browns boasted no eventual HoF’ers on defense, but were solid at most positions.  Their +14 turnover differential was fourth in the NFL.

1964 Buffalo Bills – (12-2-0)

Unlike the 1963 AFL champs, the Chargers, the ’64 Bills were known more for their defense.  That is not, however, to say that they offered up an anemic offense.  In fact, Buffalo had the AFL’s #1-ranked offense and defense in 1964.  Led by Jack Kemp (with the league’s greatest backup, Daryle Lamonica, waiting in the wings) , the Bills offense had the legendary Cookie Gilchrist in the backfield, along with Joe Auer and Bobby Smith.  The receiving corps had Elbert Dubenion, Glenn Bass, and Ernie Warlick.  That offense racked up 5206 yards, and put 400 points on the board in 14 games.  Now to the defense, which was anchored by a stout line made up of Ron McDole, Tom Sestak, Jim Dunaway and Tom Day, no one ran on the Bills with great success.  Their linebacking corps of Harry Jacobs, Mike Stratton and John Tracey were among the most experienced in professional football.  Booker Edgerson, Butch Byrd, George Saimes and Gene Sykes made up the ball-hawking and hard-hitting secondary.  The Bills allowed just 242 points (17.3/game) over the season for a points differential of 158 (11.3/game).

I think this would have been an exciting game.  The first thing that jumps out to me is having Cookie Gilchrist and Jim Brown battling each other in a championship game.  Not that either would have been easy to handle, but I think the Bills would have done a better job of containing Brown than the Browns would have done with Gilchrist.  Next you have two exceptionally intelligent quarterbacks running their respective offenses.  Again, I think the nod goes to Kemp in this contest.  Maybe even more that the Chargers vs. Bears, this is a game that I would have loved to see!!

Any of our sim experts care to run this game and share the Gilchrist and Brown numbers, in addition to the winner?

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.

23 Responses to Pre-Super Bowl V

  1. TK says:

    Paul Brown was fired after the 1962 season. Blanton Collier, a fine coach in his own right, coached the Browns to their last NFL championship in Cleveland…..

  2. Howard says:

    Todd, the Brown’s coach in 1964 was Blanton Collier. Paul Brown was fired by Art Modell in either 1962 or 1963. Collier was a Brown disciple, as were a vast number of great coaches; i.e. Shula, Eubank, etc.

    I believe Leroy Kelly was a bench warmer in 1964. He came into his own after Jim Brown retired before the 1966 season. Kelly went on to be a great runner.

    Cleveland shut out Baltimore in the 1964 NFL title game. Gary Collins, not Jim Brown was the MVP of that game. Warfield was a rookie, but, he was an impact player. His greatest days were as a Dolphin.

    This would be a good match-up. I think both teams would need to have a balanced attack. If Buffalo stacked up their defense to stop Jim Brown; they would be allowing Frank Ryan to have ideal match-ups for Collins and Warfield. If Cleveland could pass successfully,their chance of winning would be strong. At that point, Buffalo would have to play more conventionally, allowing Jim Brown to break tackles and demoralize the Bills.

    However, the Bills also possessed a strong running games. Gilcrist was not well known to NFL fans, but he was a great, powerful runner. Cleveland would also be at risk if they either ignored Gilcrist, or overreacted by playing safeties up close. At that point, Kemp could find an open man. Cleveland’s defense was good, but not as strong as Green Bay or Chicago.

    Coaching was probably even. I would favor Cleveland slightly. For one, Kemp had a tendency to throw interceptions. In a big game, that could be fatal. Also, I think Jim Brown would have been very motivated to show who was the best runner. As good as Gilcrist was, and he was excellent, he wasn’t Jim Brown. Cleveland 24- Buffalo 20.

  3. Todd Tobias says:

    Ugh. You guys got me. In my rush to get the article fine last night, I completely spaced the Paul Brown bit. Thanks. I will make changes.

  4. 1967 says:

    As the 1965 Bills would do battle with the NFL Packers in 1965 & I don’t see them winning that game, subjective bias perhaps 1964 CLEV vs BUF our fantasy matchup, a game that could go either way.

    Highlights: Jim Brown ~ Cookie Gilchrist. Brown is probably still the greatest RB ever, results as well tenure considered, the added fact he was a marked man. Gilchrist was bigger, at least as intimidating and perhaps even stronger but a later (age) to the US pro game fate his. For one really big game though, 1964? Flip a coin, perhaps, CLEV D vs Cookie/BUF’s same vs Brown.

    Frank Ryan ~ Jack Kemp: The intellectual Ryan vs the daring Kemp, Jack threw x2 as many ints as td passes ’64 while Frank was +6 on the positive side. Question becomes: would CLEV have taken advantage of Kemp’s errancy?

    A great matchup would be the CLEV offensive line vs BUF’s defensive line: the Browns boasted four current or eventual pro bowl players & one HOFr. Great as CLEV was with those guys/Brown running behind them BUF had more beef & talent (all four lineman decorated/some multiple times.) Edge to BUF, my opine.

    BUF offensive line: not as talented overall as CLEV’s offensive line (Hickerson and Shaw a wash) probably, still formidable. As for CLEV d-line vs the Bills 0-line, a slight edge to BUF, my opine.

    Warfield/Collins ~ Dubenion/Bass: a dead bang draw, my opine. The best years of both BUF WRs careers. Warfield was a rookie, while Collins was a huge target at 6’4/6’5 or thereabouts. All 4 matchups vs opposing D’s worth watching, edge to BUF perhaps (of note, CLEV DB Beach failed to stick AFL with BOST but became a starter with the Browns… hmm?) A fairly non-descript set of DB’s were CLEV’s, yet, they/their defense had shut out Johnny Unitas (2 ints) and the Colts, the Championship Game. A slight edge to BUF DB’s as a unit, perhaps. Special teams were pretty much even as well each team, my opine.

    For one (BIG) game, one year, 1964? Can’t pick a tie, so go with my heart:

    BUF 29 CLEV 27 (the Bills win via a safety courtesy their d-line; Bills had three of those safety thingys in ’64)

  5. Bill Denhart says:

    This would have been a very good game. Buffalo had an outstanding defense. Forgot to mention Wray Carlton. Plagued by injuries all year, he returned late in the season and actually had two more rushing attempts for the Bills than Cookie in the title game. Wary was also an outstanding blocker. Just to irritate the late Tex Maule, Buffalo 20-Cleveland 14.

  6. Tim T. says:
    Try the link..a reporter asked the surviving 64 Bills and Browns this very question

  7. Mike Metzler says:

    This would have been one knock-down drag-out dogfight to be sure. If not the Chargers in 63, I think the Bills in 64 would have been the first AFL “World Champions”. I agree with the statements of 1967 and Bill above. The Bills were monsters on defense and would have given Cleveland a very difficult task to overcome. I can imagine the groans coming up I-90 from the neighbors 192 miles to the southwest. 1964 was a watershed year for the AFL overall, and the Bills represented that. It had a great product that was not going to go away. NBC knew it, as well, signing for a 5-year broadcasting deal that was going to give the AFL the financial backing to stand up to the NFL.

    An interesting side note; the Bills did beat the Browns in a charity basketball game in the winter of 65. Though not on the gridiron, the Bills did show they had the athletic ability to match up with their contemporaries.

  8. Tom says:

    If Alworth plays and Lincoln is not injured and the game is played on a neutral field, the Chargers win the title 21-13.

    I watched the Browns Colts title game and the one player that sticks out, up to that time I had never seen a player play at the level and with that intensity, was the play of linebacker Galen Fiss, Gary Collins had the game of his life with three tds, but it was Fiss’s play that lifted the Browns to victory. It was a near impossible feat, as like today it would seem impossible to shutout Peyton Manning, back then it was considered next to impossible to shut out Johnny U.

    • Howard says:

      I remember that game. I was a Colts fan and was shocked at how Cleveland smashed a 12-2 Colts team. And Jim Brown, while having a 100 yard game was not a big factor. Ryan to Collins was the key.

      • Howard, I always enjoy reading your comments.

        I was under the impression you were a Packers fan, because you’ve talked about them a lot. Were the Colts unequivocally your favorite team? And if so, have they remained your favorite, even after leaving Baltimore? (I’m guessing the answer to that second question is no.)

        (In fact, that second question is ridiculous, isn’t it?)

        • Howard says:

          I first started following pro football in 1963. I was only 11. I “was told” the NFL was pro football and the AFL was something else. Sadly, I did not watch many AFL games. And I got caught up in the rivalry crap between the leagues.

          I respected the Packers and Lombardi, but I found them too mechanical and perfect. The Colts were more fun to watch. I liked that Shula, who was in his early thirties was running a pro football team.

          I rooted for the NFL teams to win the Super Bowl’s. Very upset when the Jets and Chiefs won. This year I hope the Chiefs win it all. They are a class organization, and I’d love to see a Hunt family member stand up with the trophy.

          By the way, I am a shareholder of the Packers. So, I guess they are “my team”.

    • billd says:

      And to think that the Browns did it with an AFL reject starting in their defensive backfield-Walter Beach.

      • Tom says:

        The 1964 Bills had seven players that were at one time cut from NFL teams, six of which were starters, including their QB Jack Kemp who was also cut by the BC Lions in the CFL. As Kevin Carroll has in previous posts made clear their was and abundance of talented players during that period, some went north to the CFL like Johnny Bright, Joe Kapp and Keith Lincolns Washington State backfield mate George Reed. If you care Look up Brights and Reeds CFL stats and compare them to Cookie Gilchrist’s CFL numbers, you will see just how great they were and neither played a down in the States.
        With so many Bills players deemed not good enough to play in the NFL that may have been the chip on the shoulder needed to shock the football world and defeat the Browns for the title, As Howard pointed out few thought the Browns had any chance against the Colts.

  9. Ken Severson says:

    I would have gone with Buffalo as their defense would have proved the deciding factor. Brown would have gained his 100 yards, but then so would have Cookie. Kemp would have outpassed Frank Ryan as the Bills secondary would have stopped him and Gary Collins.

    Bills 24, Browns 14.

  10. Charles Oakey says:

    Like Howard said in his post the Colts were 12-2 in 1964 and many thought Baltimore was the best team in the NFL that year and a lot of people were thinking of a Buffalo vs Baltimore game until the upset in Cleveland.

    In any case the Bills, in my opinion, would have given any NFL team a tough game.

  11. I’m surprised no-one has mentioned Todd’s post from this past spring: “Baltimore Colts Defeat Buffalo Bills 48-7 in World Championship Game” (April 10, 2013). Bill Denhart does refer to the article’s author, Tex Maule.

    I’m going with the Bills winning a victory for the AFL–and shocking a lot of people.

    The game would have been close. The Browns certainly had weapons, like Jim Brown and Paul Warfield. (I’m very sure Leroy Kelly didn’t see much action until after Brown retired.) The Bills defense, in 1964 and ’65, held the high-octane Chargers to 7 points in two Championship games. That’s serious ! ! !

    Cookie Gilchrist would have given the Browns defense problems. He and Brown were both excellent, and they would have been equally motivated to win.

    Again, it’s a close call, but I see Gilchrist and the Bills defense as the biggest factors in a Buffalo victory.

  12. David says:

    Played in LA in 40 deg’s with light wind-
    Cookie Gilchrist rumbles for 164 yards and two scores as the Bills upend the Browns 35-10.
    Jim Brown is held to 48 yards rushing as the game is blown open in the third quarter.
    Jack Kemp tosses three touchdown passes, and Frank Ryan is sacked 4 times and intercepted once.

  13. Jeffrey Miller says:

    The Bills, more than any other team, matched up better with the NFL style. A tough ground game led by Gilchrist and Carlton, a good passing game that could strike deep at any moment (Bass/Dubenion), a very good tight end (Warlick) and a strong, if glamourless offensive line led by Billy Shaw. There defense was famously tough, and in 1964 in the midst of a streak that saw them not give aup a rushing TD in 16 consecutive regular season games … they would stack better than anyone else against an NFL team during this era.
    The Browns were a good team also, but not even considered the best team in the league that year. I will sound like a homer on this one, but gotta give the Bills the edge by less than a FG. Bills 23, Browns 21.

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