As a league, the AFL was known for explosive offenses; quarterbacks who threw long and often, receivers who could fly, and backs who could run and catch passes out of the backfield. In the AFL’s 10-year history, there were several potent offensive units. Many of those coaches and players are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and several more deserve to be.
My question to readers is two-fold, and will hopefully spark a bit of conversation. Who was your favorite AFL offense, and why? Who was the best AFL offense, and why?
To kick-start some memories and get the conversation started, I will help out by providing some names and statistics.
The 1961 Houston Oilers
The AFL’s first great offense was led by a veteran of the NFL wars in quarterback George Blanda. Coming off their victory in the inaugural AFL championship game, the Oilers featured former Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, at halfback along with fireplug Charley Tolar at fullback. Charlie Hennigan, the AFL’s first 1,000-yard receiver was at flanker, while the Oilers carried three ends on their roster in Bob McLeod, Willard Dewveall and Bill Groman. The Oilers scored 100 more points than any other AFL team in 1961, and gained roughly 1,400 more offensive yards than anyone in the league.
The 1963 San Diego Chargers
The ’63 Chargers were the early darlings of the AFL. Clad in powder blue uniforms and lightning bolts on their helmets, the Chargers threw the ball all over the field. Tobin Rote was the starting quarterback and served as a mentor to the young John Hadl. Lance Alworth (who shared league MVP honors that year with Rote and the Raiders’ Clem Daniels) was at flanker, with Don Norton split out wide, and Dave Kocourek on the end. Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe made up what was perhaps the most dynamic backfield in AFL history, and of course this legendary group was led by the Father of the Modern Passing Game, Sid Gillman. The Chargers led the AFL in rushing yards, total offensive yards, and scoring in 1963, on the way to trouncing the Boston Patriots 51-10 in the AFL championship game.
The 1964 Buffalo Bills
Perhaps not as highly-touted as some of the other offenses in this article, the ’64 Bills used their combination of speed and power to lead the AFL in scoring and total offensive yards. Led by their cerebral QB, Jack Kemp (with Daryle Lamonica waiting in the wings), the Bills upset the Chargers in the championship game. Wray Carlton played halfback, but the dominant player in the Buffalo backfield was the enigmatic Cookie Gilchrist. Glenn Bass, Bill Groman and Ernie Warlick were listed as ends, and Ed Rutkowski and Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion played flanker.
The 1966 Kansas City Chiefs
The ’66 Chiefs represented the AFL in Super Bowl I. Hall of Fame head coach, Hank Stram, led this expolsive team that featured another HoF member, Len Dawson, at quarterback. Curtis McClinton played fullback, and led the blocking for Heisman Trophy winner, Mike Garrett, at halfback. Fred Arbanas, Chris Burford and Reg Carolan were listed at end, but could also be split out wide. Perhaps the most dynamic player on the offense was wide receiver, Otis Taylor. The ’66 Chiefs led the AFL in rushing, total offensive yards and scoring.
The 1967 Oakland Raiders
With John Rauch implementing Al Davis’s vertical passing game, the 1967 Raiders went 13-1 on the season. They featured Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica at quarterback, and had Clem Daniels and Pete Banaszak in the backfield, along with Estes Banks, Larry Todd and Roger Hagberg waiting in the wings. Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff was at flanker, and Warren Wells, Bill Miller and Ken Herock were out wide. Dave Kocourek rounded out the group at tight end. These Raiders led the AFL in scoring and total offensive yardage.
The 1968 New York Jets
Is there any team that screams “AFL” more than a Joe Namath-led Jets team? The ’68 team upset the famed Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, with a star-studded offense that made New Yorkers (and the entire AFL) proud. Of course the gimpy-kneed and powerfully-armed Namath was under center. Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell were in the backfield. Hall of Famer Don Maynard was split out wide with Bake Turner and George Sauer. Pete Lammons, Mark Smolinski and Curley Johnson played tight end. The ’68 Jets did not lead the league in any major offensive categories, but who can argue with the league’s first Super Bowl victory?
There you have it, the AFL’s top-ranked offenses, or at least my version of them. My favorite… The ’63 Chargers. Maybe I am biased, but on top of dominating the Patriots in the championship game, they looked really cool in those classic uniforms! My thoughts on the best offensive unit? I am torn between the ’63 Chargers and the ’67 Raiders, though there really are no slouches on this list. What are your thoughts?