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.”
1963 Chicago Bears – (11-1-2)
The Monsters of the Midway were a defensive-minded team in 1963 that allowed opponents just 144 points during the regular season (10.3/game). They had three hall of famers amongst the line and linebackers (Stan Jones, Doug Atkins & Bill George), and played a smash-mouth style of defense, the likes of which the AFL probably hadn’t seen to this point. They ranked first in the NFL in points allowed, turnover differential and total defense. The Bears were much less dominant on the other side of the ball. Led by quarterback Billy Wade, the Bears offense ranked 10th in the NFL in points-scored (301, 21.5/game) and yards (4172, 298/game). No Bears running back hit the 500-yard mark for the season, and their leading receiver, TE Mike Ditka, had 794 yards for the year.
1963 San Diego Chargers – (11-3-0)
The ’63 Chargers were the crown jewel in Sid Gillman’s crown. He brought in veteran leadership at the quarterback position with the addition of Tobin Rote. Rote was the final piece for the Chargers offensive puzzle. The Chargers had 1963 AFL MVP Lance Alworth, Don Norton and Dave Kocourek running pass routes, Lincoln & Lowe in the backfield, and Tobin Rote being protected by a strong offensive line. Add in Gillman’s futuristic offense, and it is difficult to understand how San Diego lost three games. They were no slouches on defense, either. The line featured Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison, with Hank Schmidt, Bob Petrich, George Gross and Fred Moore in the rotation. The linebackers were strong, and the defensive backfield was just two years removed from setting a record with 49 interceptions in a season.
Many people consider the 1963 Chargers to be the first AFL champion that could reasonably defeat their NFL counterpart. While this exercise has shown that they might not have been the first, I believe that they were the surest bet. While Chicago had a smothering defense, the Chargers offense was equally impressive. Conversely, the Bears had a rather anemic offense that the Chargers should have handled easily. I think the Chargers would have taken this one.