By Jeffrey J. Miller
Week 1 – September 13, 1964
The Buffalo Bills were a team on the rise, a point which was established the previous year when they made the postseason for the first time in their four-year existence. If the Bills’ performance on opening day 1964 was a declaration that this was a team of destiny, it was about as loud of a declaration as one could make. The Bills bludgeoned the hapless Chiefs into submission before the first quarter had ended, staking a 31-0 lead, including 21 points resulting directly from turnovers. Buffalo’s All AFL defensive tackle Tom Sestak staked his claim as the greatest interior defensive lineman in the league by recording three quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery to go along with an interception of Len Dawson, which he returned 15 yards for the touchdown that gave the Bills their 31-point bulge. By the time it was over, the Bills had posted a 34-17 victory in front of 30,157 delirious fans at Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium.
Week 2 – September 20, 1964
Boston’s Ron Hall is this week’s top defensive player for his role in helping the Patriots in defeating the powerful Chargers at San Diego’s Balboa Stadium. Hall had been moved from his familiar cornerback position to right safety this season, and the shift was paying immediate dividends. In just his second game at his new post, the Missouri Valley grad swiped three Tobin Rote passes, which he returned for a total of 47 yards. The third, coming with the Chargers driving toward the go ahead score in the game’s dying moments, allowed the Pats to run out the clock and claim a narrow 33-28 victory.
Week 3 – September 26, 1964
Buffalo’s Tom Sestak earned his second DPOW laurel in the first three weeks of 1964 with another stellar outing, this time against the high-powered San Diego Chargers. With 40,167 frenzied witnesses on hand on a balmy Saturday night in Buffalo, the Bills demolished the boys in powder blue 30-3. Sestak posted two-and-a-half sacks, accounting for losses totaling 47 yards, as the defense held San Diego to just 118 net passing yards.
Week 4 – October 4, 1964
Bobby Hunt, Kansas City’s All League strong safety, picked off George Blanda four times in leading the Chiefs to a 28-7 triumph over the Oilers in front of an appreciative crowd at Kansas City Municipal Stadium. The Auburn grad returned those interceptions for a total of 108 yards, including one in the third quarter that he brought back 29 yards for a touchdown.
Week 5 – October 11, 1964
The Denver Broncos were seeing yet another season slipping away, entering Week 5 at 0-4. In their previous four seasons, the Sad Sack franchise had never posted a winning record. With the 2-1 Chiefs coming to town, it did not appear they would be getting off the schneid anytime soon. But Denver’s All AFL safety man Austin Gonsoulin was having none it. The man better known to teammates and fans as “Goose” nabbed three interceptions to lead the Broncos to a 33-27 upset win at Bears Stadium. Gonsoulin also had a hand in seven tackles, six of which were unassisted.
Week 6 – October 18, 1964
Tom Day, Buffalo’s new right defensive end, recorded three QB sacks in Buffalo’s 35-22 win over the Chiefs at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. Day was playing his first campaign on the Bills’ defensive line after spending his first four pro seasons on offense (one year with St. Louis in the NFL and three in Buffalo). The six-foot, two-inch, 252-pounder out of North Carolina A&T demonstrated his mobility by being credited with four unassisted tackles while assisting on another four. A savvy move by the Bills’ brain trust of head coach Lou Saban and defensive coordinator Joe Collier.
The undefeated Bills (5-0) dropped the Chiefs to 2-3 and extended their lead in the East over the Boston Patriots, who fell to 4-1-1 after managing only a tie with Oakland on Friday night.
Week 7 – October 23, 1964
After falling a game and half behind in the race for the Eastern Division crown following last week’s tie with Oakland, the Patriots were ready to turn things around against the 2-3 Chiefs at Fenway Park. Led by defensive end “Wildman” Larry Eisenhauer, the Pats’ swarming defense held Hank Stram’s charges to just 52 yards on the ground and 137 through the air (118 net!). Eisenhauer, a huge presence at six-feet, five inches and 250 pounds, recovered two fumbles and registered eight tackles (four unassisted) as the Patriots improved to 5-1-1 with a 24-7 victory.
Week 8 – October 31, 1964
New York’s Bill Baird was this week’s top defender, swiping three Babe Parilli aerials in leading the Jets to a 35-14 upset win over Boston at Shea Stadium. Two of Baird’s thefts came on back-to-back Boston possessions late in the second quarter, allowing the Jets to retire to the locker room at halftime with a commanding 21-0 lead.
With the win, the Jets improved to 4-2-1 on the season and established themselves as a presence in the Eastern Division race, just a half-game behind the second-place Patriots, who fell to 5-2-1.
Week 9 – November 8, 1964
The San Diego Chargers maintained their lead over the Chiefs in the Western Division with a 30-21 defeat of the Broncos at Denver’s Bears Stadium. With hard-nosed middle linebacker Chuck Allen leading the way with 10 tackles (including eight unassisted), the Chargers improved to 5-2-1 on the season. Allen, who played his collegiate ball at the University of Washington, also notched a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in support of the cause.
Week 10 – November 15, 1964
Denver’s All League cornerback Willie Brown was nearly unbeatable this day, snagging four interceptions in leading the Broncos to victory over the visiting New York Jets before a sparse crowd of 11,309 at Bears Stadium. Brown swiped Jets passes in the first and third quarters, then two more in the fourth, including one on the Jets’ final drive in the game’s dying minutes that secured the Broncos' narrow 20-16 triumph. The Grambling State alumnus also recorded two passes defensed. He had another interception called back in the third quarter after the Broncos were flagged for roughing the passer.
Week 11 – November 20, 1964
“Local Boy Makes Good” could very well have been the headline in any New England newspaper this weekend, as safety Ross O’Hanley played the hero in the Patriots’ 12-7 victory over the Denver Broncos at Fenway Park. O’Hanley, who was born in nearby Everett, Massachusetts, and attended Boston College, picked off two Denver passes, including one on the final play of the game as the Broncos were driving deep into Boston territory toward the go-ahead score, securing the win and allowing the Patriots to improve to 8-2-1, just one game behind Buffalo in the Eastern Division race.
Week 12 – November 29, 1964
Dainard Paulson, the Jets’ hard-hitting safety, led the charge the resulted in the Kansas City Chiefs being knocked out of post-season contention. The four-year veteran out of Oregon State nabbed his league-leading 10th and 11th interceptions off Chiefs’ signal-caller Len Dawson, including one he returned 32 yards for a score, giving the Jets a 13-7 lead. Paulson was credited with five solo tackles along with two passes defensed as the Jets dumped the Chiefs 27-14 in front of 46,597 frenzied fans at Shea Stadium.
Week 13 – December 6, 1965
Needing a victory to stay alive in the race for the Eastern Division pennant, the 9-2-1 Patriots traveled to Kansas City to face the struggling Chiefs, who at 5-6 were already out of the race in the West. The Chiefs put up a fight, but the Patriots, led by veteran cornerback Don Webb – this week’s DPOW – held on for a narrow 31-24 win. Webb made his presence felt throughout the game, having a hand in seven tackles (three unassisted) and breaking up two passes. The Iowa State alum made his greatest contribution as the Chiefs were driving toward the tying score late in the fourth, intercepting a Len Dawson pass deep in Boston territory to seal the win.
Week 14 – December 13, 1964
Many pro football historians credit Larry Wilson of the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals with popularizing the safety blitz. Sometimes overlooked, though not so much by AFL adherents, was the expert proficiency with which Buffalo Bills free safety George Saimes executed the tactic. In the midst of his first All-AFL season, Saimes earned this weekend’s Defensive Player of the Week honors by sacking Denver quarterbacks no less than three times in Buffalo’s 30-19 victory over the Broncos at Bears Stadium. The five-foot, eleven-inch, 186-pounder out of Michigan State capped his brilliant performance by blocking an extra-point attempt late in the third, allowing the Bills to maintain a seven-point bulge going into the final frame.
Week 15 - December 20, 1964
For the Oakland Raiders, 1964 had been a very disappointing season. After finishing 1963 at 10-4, expectations were high that this would be their year. Unfortunately, the boys in Silver and Black were limping toward the finish line at 4-7-2. The San Diego Chargers, on the other hand, had already clinched a berth in the AFL Championship Game, entering the final week of the season at 8-4-1. Neither had much to play for, other than pride.
Warren Powers, the Raiders’ second-year safetyman, led his team to victory with two interceptions. His second pick came in heroic fashion late in the fourth quarter with the Raiders leading 21-20 and the Chargers driving toward the presumptive go-ahead score. On first down from his own 44, San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote decided to go for it all, but Powers had Charger flanker Jerry Robinson covered and pilfered Rote’s heave at the Oakland 25 with 1:47 remaining in the game. All that was left was for the Raiders to run out the clock and claim a moral victory from the post-season-bound Chargers.