What if there had been no Escape from Buffalo?

autographed 1967 topps daryle lamonica

We all love to speculate what would have been in the AFL.  Here is a fun guest post by author and historian, Dave Steidel, wondering how the Raiders would have fared if Daryle Lamonica had never worn the silver & black.

The “what ifs” of the sports world are usually an exercise in speculation, and although there are theories a plenty, can never be proven beyond the articulation and long winded debates.  “What if the Yankees really did trade Joe DiMaggio to the Red Sox for Ted Williams?”  “What if Mickey Mantle had not stepped into that drain in Yankee Stadium during his rookie year?”  “What if Lance Alworth had not been traded from the Raiders to the Chargers?”  Even more paramount “What if the Bidwell’s did sell the Chicago Cardinals to Lamar Hunt, or the NFL expansion committee had allowed Hunt and Bud Adams a franchise when they could not purchase those Cardinals?”  On and on we could go with the “what ifs” of the sports might have beens.  But here’s one that I found that could have set off some interesting and speculative conversations that could have altered the fortunes of more than one AFL franchise and at least two college football powerhouses.

Back in 1967 the Oakland Raiders were struggling to keep pace with the two AFL West icons (the Chargers and Chiefs) that had taken turns winning the seven division crowns (LA/San Diego in ’60, ’61, ’63, ’64, ’65 and Dallas/KC in ’62 and ’66.   Upon his return to the Raiders after a short stint in the commissioner’s seat,  Al Davis, now sitting in the managing partner’s chair instead of the head coach/GM spot he left to replace Joe Foss, was searching for a way to push his ‘commitment to excellence’ to the top of the league.  After back-to-back second place 8-5-1 seasons the Raiders targeted its leadership behind center as an area that was in need of an upgrade.  Incumbent quarterback Tom Flores had been its leader since 1960 and played every Raiders game except for his year off in 1962 to recover from a lung ailment.  He had his best season in 1966 but Davis felt that his arm was not strong enough to extend the defenses and felt he needed to search for a more long term and long range answer.

In Buffalo, the Bills were coming off of their third straight championship game appearance, due in large part to its outstanding quarterback leadership of Jack Kemp and his back up Daryle Lamonica.   To be sure, the Bills had won nothing until Kemp arrived and led them to AFL titles in ’64 and ’65 and near misses in ’63 and ‘66.  While Kemp was the nonpareil field general of War Memorial Stadium, Lamonica had a knack for sparking the occasional lackluster performance by Kemp into a resurgent rally towards victory.  His arm was strong and he could throw deep with accuracy.  The one thing Buffalo could use was an end who could take the pressure off of Elbert Dubenion and in Art Powell, the Raiders seemed to have that answer.  As the two teams began talking trade the names Glenn Bass, Lamonica, Powell and Flores became more and more prominent.  But Davis felt that he would be giving up too much star quality for the untested Lamonica and the slightly damaged Bass and the discussions were put on hold.

The Raiders now turned their focus on the AFL/NFL draft and their first round pick which was not going to appear until sixteen other players had already been selected in the combined draft.  Davis doubted if the two biggest quarterback names, Florida’s Steve Spurrier and Purdue’s Bob Griese would be around at #17.  One way or another, if the Raiders were going to come up with a quarterback it desired it would require Davis to either trade up to get one of the two college stars, or continue to negotiate with Buffalo and others to make a trade.  Davis also had committed to selecting guard Gene Upshaw with his first draft pick, so he had to somehow figure out a way move up, or out, to bring in a new quarterback.  So it was back to the phones to find a deal.  The San Francisco 49ers, who had the third pick, were hot on Spurrier, the latest Heisman Trophy winner. Quarterback John Brodie had 10 years of NFL experience under his belt and SF was looking for a leader for its next generation, and current backup George Mira was not going to be it.  Selecting at #4 was the AFL’s newest franchise, the Miami Dolphins.  In 1966 the Dolphins used Dick Wood, Rick Norton, George Wilson Jr. and John Stofa under center.  And while Stofa showed signs of encouragement by throwing 4 touchdown passes in his only start, the other three failed to complete more than 41% of their passes.  Miami was looking for Griese to be available when their turn came about.  Making a deal with an NFL team was out of the question for the former commissioner who nearly submarined the 49ers by encouraging Brodie to sign a future contract with the AFL once his current one expired.  The merger in June put an end to that, but the San Francisco brass had it locked in its memory bank.  The Dolphins on the other hand might be interested but the cost would be Flores and that would leave the Raiders with an untried rookie as their starter and would discount their desire to move up in the standings now.  So it was back to his short list of Lamonica, Kansas City’s Pete Beathard and Broadway Joe Namath.

Fast forward to draft day.  Michigan State’s Bubba Smith was the first selection by Baltimore.  The second went to Minnesota who chose Clint Jones.  As expected the 49ers snatched up Spurrier with the third pick and Miami countered by picking Griese.  The next best quarterbacks in the draft were Don Horn and Bob Davis and Al Davis saw them as non-essentials.   Former USC star Pete Beathard was still on Davis’ radar but there was little chance that Kansas City was going to help their division rival get better.  And Broadway Joe was little more than a pipe dream.  So again it was back to Buffalo.  George Webster, Floyd Little, Mel Farr, Gene Washington were chosen with the 5, 6, 7 and 8th picks as the Raiders were still in negotiations for a quarterback.  Then, as the name Alan Page was announced as the 15th pick of the draft by the Vikings, the Raiders were ready to make their move.  It would be as the Bills wanted.  All-Star split end Art Powell and starting quarterback Tom Flores would move from Oakland to Buffalo for back-up quarterback Daryle Lamonica and receiver Glenn Bass, who caught only 10 passes in 14 games in 1966 after being moved to the bench in favor of rookie Bobby Crockett.  In order to get what he thought he needed, Davis had to give up two starters for two back-ups.

AFL owners were astounded at how the Bills had been able to make such a one sided steal from the cagey Davis and felt that Buffalo had just solidified their hold on the Eastern Division for the next few years.   But through the first seven games of 1967, it was the cagey Davis who was having the last laugh.  Flores was riding the bench behind Kemp while Powell was nursing an injured knee that would limit him to 6 games and only 20 catches for the now 2-5 Bills.  In Oakland, while Glenn Bass was now in Houston after being cut, the Raiders at the mid-way point were on top of the West with a 6-1 record and Daryle Lamonica was at the top of the AFL in passing, while being referred to as “The Mad Bomber” for his aerial heroics.  What followed is now etched into the Raiders and AFL history; an AFL all-time best 13-1 season, the AFL championship and a trip to Super Bowl II with visits to the AFL championship again in 1968 and 1969.  All with Lamonica at the helm.

So, “what if” the Raiders had been able to trade up with either San Francisco or Miami.  “What if” Steve Spurrier became The Mad Bomber instead of Lamonica?  Would the Raiders have won in 1967?  Or ’68 and ’69?  Would Spurrier have fared better on the other side of the Bay and emerge into a starter, then play longer and putting off his coaching career that lifted both Florida and now South Carolina into college football’s elite.  “What if” the Raiders were had brokered a trade with Miami and selected Bob Griese?  Would Tom Flores have been around in 1972 to lead the undefeated Dolphins to the Super Bowl?  Would Griese have been able to lead the Raiders vertical attack or would they have become a ball control team using Hewitt Dixon and Clem Daniels the way the Dolphins used Csonka and Kiick?  And what about Lamonica if Davis HAD been able to move up in the draft to get either Spurrier or Griese?  “What if” he would have stayed in Buffalo?  Would the Bills have such awful 1-12-1 season in 1968 when Kemp was injured and all-purpose back Ed Rutkowski became their four quarterback of the year?  That awful season brought them O.J. Simpson with the #1 pick in the draft! Agh the “what ifs” of the sporting world.  They make for great conversations, create intriguing ideas to ponder, offer sweet speculation for the dreamers and for sure beats the winter blahhs better than watching reruns of The Battle of the Network Stars.  Remember the AFL!

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.


14 Responses to What if there had been no Escape from Buffalo?

  1. 1967 says:

    A calculated move that worked out if not ultimately to the end that the Raiders would have liked, a ‘World Championship’. When you think about it the move was a bit of lunacy – trading away your only (pseudo) deep threat in Powell, along with your short-gamed starting QB Flores, for a guy who liked to throw deep… and who would be throwing to whom? exactly on the Raiders, Powell now gone?

    Bass was never quite the same after being injured in BUFF a couple years afore, so his acquisition (and eventual release) by OAK was a swing & a miss. Not so OAK’s prescience in signing a free agent WR just released by their rivals the Chiefs, Warren Wells. He went on to have three marvelous years 1968-1970, but that’s another story and getting ahead of this one, Lamonica/’67 Raiders.

    Fred Biletnikoff too (healthy at last and despite being a slew-foot, became an decent down the field threat, if moreso due moves & yards after the catch than flat out speed. Bill Miller gave OAK one good season ’67 & a young Rod Sherman made a bit of an impact, same year. Still, the drafting of athlete/QB Eldridge Dickey in 1968 (more so to become a WR, which never worked out) indicated that Davis was still hedging his bets on Wells, et al pre ’68.

    Also recall reading that the trade was not so much an Al Davis ‘no doubt about it Lamonica’s my guy/sure-fire winner’ as other staff in the OAK organization who (sort of) convinced Davis make the move (hard to imagine to be sure, said may/may not be true.)

    As to our protagonist Daryle Lamonica, as a Chiefs fan first and foremost, AFL second, ‘NO’ QB put more fear into me as a young fan than # 3 and his eventual cast of Wells, Biletnikoff and Cannon (later too Ray Chester.) Add in Dixon & Banaszak (Daniels having succumbed ankle injury), later Smith, Todd et al, and it was and remains a wonder (as well mystery) to me why the Raiders didn’t win multiple World Championships 1967-1969 period in particular. Offense, defense, special teams and a 37-4-1 mark those three years affirming regular season, a 2-3 mark post season (and playoff) record casting puzzlement just the same.

    I’ve heard that Lamonica (who was described by a female scribe in one article as “the most conceited man in football”) was not able to overcome, or through stubborness unwilling to decipher/abide what defenses gave him the short game, after the zone defense became en vogue pro football. The claim that he wasn’t especially cerebral or well-liked by some teammates I’ve also read/heard, but that may be something personal and/or so much sour grapes by said speakers.

    In conclusion, will never forget how picture-perfect ‘The Mad Bomber’ looked as he dropped back, and arched those long, beautiful bombs down the field, if not often enough with success final analysis. Injuries too caught up with him, but while he was the field general of the Raiders, teams were never immune from an potential comeback and no lead was safe because the Raiders almost seemed have a magical air about them that three-year period ’67-’69, and could do no wrong least before the clock struck midnight regular season, and the slipper failed to fit once post season arrived.

    To me, watching Lamonica hoist his arm and hurl one of those missles down the field ranks right up there with the Chargers powder blue uniforms of the same era… and the colorful AFL as a whole too of course.

  2. Tom says:

    A review of AFL draftees raises the question, What if after the 1960 season the leagues would have merged, with a combined draft? If they had Pro football as we know it and quite possibly the PF HOF, would look much different. For example Oakland may have had a backfield that included Roman Gabriel at QB with Tony Lorick at running back, the Chargers with Charley Johnson at QB, Jimmy Johnson at corner or possibly at running back, and Dave Parks, Jack Snow and Roy Jefferson at reciever and Doug Buffone at LB. The Jets with Herb Adderley at corner, John Mackey at TE, Denver with George Mira at QB, Bob Hayes, at wideout, Merlin Olsen and Dick Butkus on defense.

    Tex/KC with Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach, Gayle Sayers,and Mike Curtis, Boston with Fran Tarkenton at QB, Gary Collins wideout and Lee Roy Jordan in the middle, the Oilers with Mike Ditka TE, Dave Wilcox at LB, Homer Jones, Charley Taylor at wideout. The Bills may have added Cal Eller and Paul Warfield to their roster.

  3. 1967 says:

    Never was a fan of fantasy football, but reading all those possibilities…

  4. Howard says:

    Lamonica did throw a beautiful long pass. He, Namath and Hadl all threw very well. I was at a charity banquet around 1988 or 1989 and I was seated at George Blanda’s table. Blanda was not a big fan of Lamonica. He thought he was a “candy ass”. He respected his arm strength, but he thought he didn’t have a great feel for the game. That being said; it is hard to sneeze at Lamonica’s record from 1967-1970. He should be considered for Hall of Fame. No Super Bowl’s, but he played against some excellent teams in that era.

  5. Tom says:

    Lamonica was critisized for the 1969 championship loss to KC, The score after the first quarter was 7-0 Raiders, and after Lamonica injured his throwing hand the Raiders went empty and lost 17-7.

    There has been some discussion comparing the past with the new, I don’t know, But for the sake of comparison use Bobby Bell and Jamie Collins. Collins would draw Bobby Bell comparisons if he is that good, as a second year player he may well be, he’s unique in size and abilty to cover man to man, pass rush and stop the run, where if you dominate in all you are then the prototype, time will tell. Alden Smith is another player with a uniquesness of size, speed agility and coordination, which past player would he be compared?

  6. 1967 says:

    I dare say that had the Raiders ‘not’ obtained Lamonica and instead Beathard or really anyone else not named Namath (or even retained Flores) KC or SD would’ve again won the West ’67. Respectfully, Flores was Tobin Rote.2 by that point and Beathard while having a howitzer for an arm didn’t have as big a forehead as it were or as accurate an arm as some other QB’s bluntly, the opinion some.

    That said, I will always remember Pete as an KC Chief, one who may have had his growth stunted a bit by virtue having to sit on the bench behind some guy named Dawson. Fact is, before the Chiefs hit the big-time back in 1966, the clamor KC was “we want Pete!” in lieu Len from some quarters. I know former Chiefs Talent Guru Don Klosterman loved Pete, which is why he traded for him in ’67, Houston.

    Defending AFL Champions the Chiefs just laid a giant t**d that year, resting on their laurels moreso injuries (they went through about 5 centers)losing no less than 5 games, three of which were by 8 points total and there’s for the taking; a little good fortune beyond and they might well have finished 13-1 as did the Raiders, or even 14-0.

    If not KC, then the Chargers (who started out on fire 8-1-1, only to crumble to 8-5-1 the end aft 4 straight losses) could have won the West (their only defeat before the last 4 was to OAK, as another their final four same to the Raiders.)

    As an aside, what would the Chargers have possibly done with WR’s Parks, Snow & Jefferson, what with Alworth, Norton and later Garrison on board (blow up some more footballs perhaps?)

  7. Virgil Baldon, Jr. says:

    I have an Oakland Raiders question…during the 1971 season, the Raiders had on their roster FIVE eventual Hall Of Fame offensive linemen-Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Bob Brown and Ron Mix (returning to the pros after a year of retirement from San Diego). I’ve seen a couple of the 1971 gamebooks that indicate they all played in a specific game. I’d like to know if they were ever ALL ON THE FIELD at the SAME time for the SAME play…what a line!

    Could someone from the Raiders please check John Madden’s game reviews,film and notes in your archives to see if this historic instance ever happened?

  8. 1967 says:

    @Virgil

    You probably already know the following via your own research, but, I note that ‘Pro Football Reference’ (PFR) indicates four Raiders offensive lineman started all 14 games that season, 1971: left to right, LT Art Shell, LG Gene Upshaw, C Jim Otto and RG George Buehler.

    Bob Brown appeared in/started 10 games at RT; Ron Mix appeared in 12/started but 4, listed as non-specific ‘t’ by PFR, perhaps a reference to his being a backup or even a swing-tackle.

    Best guess (which is all it is), Mix started the 4 games at RT that Brown did not and perhaps could have appeared as an extra blocker, hence all five HOF’s being on the field at the same time. Mix likely replaced Brown during game 10 that ’71 season, the one in which Bob was injured vs SD… Brown did not play again that season.

    Would like to imagine the Raiders got all five guys on the field at the same time, and one would imagine the Raiders/NFL would have some reference to it. Perhaps because (even did it happen, would not be possible to do so at their positions of renown, Brown & Mix both being RT’s), wasn’t that unique.

    ~

    For what it’s worth, a vaguely worded Pro Football Hall of Fame article from 2004:

    “Mix in his last season as a pro, backed up Brown at right tackle.”

    http://www.profootballhof.com/hall/release.aspx?release_id=1210&print=y

    Of note:

    Q: what ‘two’ teams featured the most Hall of Famers playing in the same game, non-All Star/Pro Bowl?

    A: May? be the 1961 Packers vs Colts, with 17 players who eventually made the Hall of Fame (11 GB, 6 BALT)

    Course, if the HOF voters weren’t so biased against AFL players, might be some challengers to GB/BALT. I think of the 1971 Chiefs vs Dolphins: 13 players are already enshrined & I can think of several others who should be (KC’s Robinson, Tyrer, Wilson, Taylor & Budde, at minimum. That’s 18 total right there without even considering Dolphins Kuechenberg, who makes 19.)

  9. 1967 says:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/where-now-daryle-lamonica-093033243–nfl.html

    From the above linked article ‘Where Are They Now: Daryle Lamonica’ –

    [ In 2013, Lamonica was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) ‘Hall of Very Good’. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    (Lamonica) “It was a pleasant shock. I wasn’t anticipating that. When I looked at the class of guys I feel very honored and privileged to be named along with guys like Barnes & Mike Curtis. Roman Gabriel and I are real close friends. We both won MVPs in I think 1969. Of course, Cookie Gilchrist. I have got to tell you, my first time with the Bills Cookie Gilchrist could play offense, defense, anywhere. I watched him kick off and make the tackle on the five-yard line. Jim Tyrer was with the Chiefs for years & years. All of the other guys were my era. I feel honored to be associated in the same breath with those guys.” ]

    ~

    http://www.profootballresearchers.org/HOVG.htm

    Just take a look down the page (link above) of the members enshrined the ‘Hall of the Very Good’…one could argue these guys could beat the ones in Canton’s Hall of Fame; they’re certainly no less worthy.

  10. Tom says:

    What the NFL may have looked like with expanded rosters and if the AFL never existed:
    Bears Ladd, Lincoln, Tyrer, Jerry Robinson, Dan Connors, Sid Blanks, Jim Nance, Goldie Sellers, Frank Pitts, Terry Owens, and Bobby Burnett.
    Browns Chris Burford, Walt Sweeney, Sonny Bishop, Art Graham, Pete Duranko, Pete Lammons, Bobby Maples, Crespino, Elbert Dubenion.
    Cardinals: Fred Arbanas, Joe Namath, Jim Hunt, Willie West, Ron McDole, Glenn Bass, Tom Day and Al Bemiller.
    Cowboys: EJ Holub, Stew Barber, Billy Shaw, Scott Appleton, and Gene Foster.
    Packers, Lamonica, Jom Morris, Paul Costa and Al Dotson.
    Colts: Ron Mix, Grantham, Bake Turner, Winston Hill, Don Trull, Kenny Graham, Steve Tensi, Marty Schottenhiemer? rod Sherman, Eric Crabtree and Hoylr Grainger.
    Vikings: Jerry Mays, Mike Mercer, Bobby Bell, Tom Keating, Howard Twilley, Bill Miller Jim Harris Jr and Carleton Oats.
    Giants: Lee Grosscup, Charlie Flowers, George Blair, Goose Gonsoulin, Dave Hill, Bobby Crockett, Matt Snell and Buck Buchanan.
    Eagles: Art Powell, Wray Carlton, Ron Burton, Don Norton, Jacque MacKinnon, Pat Holmes, Ed Budde, Al Denson, and Gary Garrison.
    Steelers: Len Dawson, Charley Tolar, Charley Hennigan, Jack Spikes, Ralph Baker, Emerson Boozer, Hewritt Dixon, and Abner Haynes.
    Forty Niners: Lance Alworth and Bill Mathis.
    Rams: Mike Garrett, Jerrell Wilson, Dave Costa, Joe Auer, Ike Lassiter and Billy Cannon.
    Redskins: Emil Karas, Richie Lucas, Bert Coan, Billie Neighbors, Billy Joe, Bob Mitinger and Kent McCloughan.
    Lions: Jack Kemp, Earl Faison, Johnny Robinson, Fred Biletnikoff, Houston Antwine, Pete Beathard, John Hadl, Dan Birdwell, Ton Sestak, Jim Norton, Tom Janik, Jim Kearney, Jerry Philbin and Warren Wells.

    • 1967 says:

      What a truckload of talent. Talk about all-star ‘teams’, NFL would’ve been even more star-studded shy that ‘other’ league AFL crashing their party; I can see why the older league was reluctant to ‘$hare’ as it were.

      Imagine many those guys never having played pro football (or only some) due insufficient opportunity roster size limitations & no AFL; the CFL would’ve likely benefited too. As well, no AFL and those NFL guys already on rosters would’ve been dislodged by those players listed above, and might have never played a down in the NFL (Packers might’ve had a tougher time winning too.)

      The opposite’s true today: ‘too many’ teams/roster spots fill, insufficient NFL-caliber talent fill said. No happy medium – no my$tery why, too; modern era doesn’t hold a candle to yesteryear.

    • J.B. says:

      If there was no AFL, that means that the Cardinals would be in Dallas (and probably renamed the Texans) because Hunt would have gotten his way and moved them to Dallas after purchasing a majority share in them.

      Also, without an AFL, the Cowboys wouldn’t exist, and the Vikes would be along later.

      As for Lamonica, someone else did a “what if” about him involving SB I where the Bills make it, the Pack knock Kemp out, and Daryle comes off the bench to lead the Bills to victory with two long TD passes.

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