Tuesday, May 28, 2019

AFL Defensive Players of the Week – 1961

By Jeffrey Miller 

Week 1 – September 9, 1961

Just as he had the year before, Denver’s Goose Gonsoulin earned opening-day Defensive Player of the Week honors with two interceptions in Denver’s 22-10 victory at over the Bills at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo.  It was the only time the Broncos would be above .500 for the rest of the season. 
Week 2 – September 17, 1961
The San Diego Chargers inaugurated their new home of Balboa Stadium with a resounding 44-0 win over the lowly Oakland Raiders. All-AFL cornerback Dick Harris led the charge with two interceptions, including one off Tom Flores that was returned 41 yards for the game’s opening touchdown. The McNeese State alum also picked off a pass to stop an Oakland drive in the second quarter.     
Week 3 – September 24, 1961
Charlie McNeil of the Chargers had three interceptions including one he returned 77 yards for a touchdown in the Chargers 34-24 victory over Houston. McNeil totaled 177 yards in interception returns. It was McNeil’s second three-interception game in four outings (going back to the previous season’s finale). 
The victory allowed the Chargers to remain undefeated (3-0) while dropping the Oilers to 1-1.

Week 4 – October 1, 1961
Oakland linebacker Bob Dougherty, an NFL refugee who saw action with the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers was all over the field in leading his winless Raiders a 33-19 home win over the Denver Broncos. Dougherty recorded a sack, a pass defensed and numerous tackles, including two in which he brought down Denver backs behind the line of scrimmage.      

Week 5 – October 8, 1961
Dallas defensive back Don Flynn was this week’s top defender, registering an interception and two passes defensed to pace the Texans to a 19-12 victory over the Broncos at Denver. It was a timely performance for Flynn, as this was to be Dallas’ last win for the next month and a half. Flynn, who once toiled with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, would play just two more games with the Texans.   

Week 6 – October 15, 1961
The Bills’ free safety Billy Atkins earned Defensive Player of the Week honors by swiping two passes against the Dallas Texans at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium. The former San Francisco 49er’s second interception killed a Dallas drive at the Buffalo goal line in the fourth quarter, securing the victory. He was also strong in run support, at one point dropping All-AFL back Abner Haynes for a seven-yard loss—no easy feat! 
With the 27-24 triumph, the Bills improved to .500 on the season (3-3), while sending the Texans into a tailspin with their first of six straight losses.   

Week 7 – October 22, 1961
After picking off his first pass as a pro the previous week against Oakland, rookie cornerback Jim McMillin of Denver nabbed two more interceptions this week against the visiting New York Titans.  McMillin’s thefts played a key role in Denver’s 27-10 win, which kept the Broncos fading playoff aspirations alive for at least one more week. 

Week 8 – October 29, 1961
New York’s All-Pro linebacker Larry Grantham was a man on a mission when the 3-3 Titans visited the lowly Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park. With their playoff hopes fading after the previous week’s loss at Denver, the Titans were in a must-win situation. Grantham was obviously determined to keep those aspirations alive, registering two quarterback sacks, dropping halfback Charley Fuller for a 12-yard loss, and chipping in a pass defensed. 
The Titans improved to 4-3 with a 14-6 victory.    

Week 9 – November 5, 1961
Fred Williamson, Oakland’s dynamic and outspoken cornerback was the AFL’s outstanding defensive player this week, coming up big in a game which ultimately meant nothing for two clubs who were already essentially out of the playoff picture.  

Despite his team’s 1-6 start, the man who gained fame as “The Hammer” showed his pride by playing an inspired game, returning a fumble 75 yards to set up Oakland’s first touchdown, then picking off a Johnny Greene pass to blunt Buffalo’s next possession.  Final score: Raiders 31, Bills 22.  

Week 10 – November 12, 1961
Billy Atkins earned his second DPW award with his third multiple-interception game of the season, and second against the Dallas Texans. Atkins registered two interceptions and 52 yards in returns, along with a pass defensed, in Buffalo’s 30-20 win at the Cotton Bowl. 
Atkins would finish the year with four multiple interception games, tying the record set the year before by teammate Archie Matsos.

Week 11 – November 19, 1961
His timely plays against the Dallas Texans warranted San Diego’s Ron Nery selection as this week’s DPW. The six-foot, six-inch defensive end out of Kansas State showed an uncanny knack for wreaking havoc at just the right moments, as he recorded 1-½ sacks, a pass defensed, and crucial tackles in the Chargers’ 24-14 win at Balboa Stadium. His first sack came on a third down early in the first quarter, stopping a Dallas drive. 

His next sack, which he shared with Henry Schmidt, blunted another Dallas drive in the second frame.  Nery then nailed Dallas fullback Bo Dickinson for a two-yard loss to end the first half and send his team to the locker room with a commanding 17-0 lead. In the third quarter, Nery cleverly sniffed out a halfback option play and batted down a pass attempt by Abner Haynes.     

Week 12 – November 23, 1961 
New York’s huge defensive tackle Tom Saidock (six-foot, five inches, 261 pounds) had a monster game against the Buffalo Bills on a Thursday night at the Polo Grounds.  The former Michigan State Spartan registered an astounding five sacks, accounting for nearly half of the Titans’ total of 11, in leading the Gothamites to a 21-14 triumph.  Saidock also recorded a fumble recovery in the win. 
Saidock’s runner-up for this week’s DPW honors was teammate Larry Grantham, who pitched in with 3 ½ sacks of his own in this game.     

Week 13 – December 3, 1961
The Boston Patriots had a very slim chance at the playoffs but would have had to win at least two of their three remaining games while Houston lost all of theirs. They were fortunate to be facing a weak Denver team in Week 13, and unseasonably warm Rocky Mountain weather as game-time temperatures hovered around 55 degrees.  Led by rookie cornerback Don Webb, the Patriots kept their post-season hopes alive with a gritty 28-24 victory at Bears Stadium. Webb had two interceptions, totaling 80 yards in returns. His first led directly to a Boston score on their next possession.  His second, which he returned for 59 yards, blunted a late Denver drive and set up what proved to be the touchdown that provided the margin of victory.    

Week 14 – December 10, 1961
Despite having nothing to play for other than pride, Dallas middle linebacker Sherrill Headrick reminded everyone why he was an All-AFL selection with a dominant performance against the visiting Denver Broncos.  Though his Texans were limping through a dismal 4-8 season, Headrick was not about to take the rest of the season lightly.  The Waco, Texas native nabbed two interceptions, including one he returned 31 yards for the game’s final score, and recorded one sack in leading the Texans to a 49-21 victory at the Cotton Bowl. 
Week 15 – December 17, 1961
Houston’s strong-side linebacker Doug Cline was outstanding in the Oilers’ 47-16 deconstruction of the Raiders at Candlestick. In what amounted to a tune-up for the following week’s championship game, the Oilers simply steamrolled over the Raiders in their own back yard, with the former Clemson Tiger leading the charge.  

Cline scored the Oilers’ go-ahead points in the second quarter by dropping Raiders quarterback Tom Flores in the end zone for a safety.  He batted down a Flores pass on Oakland’s next possession, then registered his second sack of the game (this one shared) as he combined with fellow rushers to drop Flores for a 10-yard loss in the third.  Cline also contributed a nice tackle of Clem Daniels for no gain in the first quarter.    


  1. week 9: what??? picking Fred Williamson this weekend is almost as absurd as naming him defensive MVP of SuperBowl I.....the ONLY possible selection here is the Boston Patriot fan who comes out of the stands and into the defensive alignment to break up a game-saving Dallasl Texan pass in the 28-21 Pats win on Friday night the 3rd....forget the Belechick-Brady era, THIS is THEY play in Boston gridiron history:


  2. Well, you might have a strong case, but since this is a listing of the "players" of the week, a fan, no matter how cunning, does not qualify for consideration.