The Buffalo Bills were a charter member of the American Football League. In 1959 AFL founder Lamar Hunt reached out to insurance mogul and automobile heir Ralph Wilson, Jr., to see if he was interested in owning a franchise in the new league. Wilson, a very wealthy man, was a minority owner of the Detroit Lions. But he wanted his own team. Hunt gave Wilson a choice of at least 3 cities: Miami; Buffalo; Cincinnati; and, perhaps, 2 other cities. Wilson was turned down in his effort to place a team in Miami. He then approached civic leaders in Buffalo. At the time, Buffalo was a city of over 500,000 people, making it one of the 25 largest cities in the U.S. Along with Buffalo, Wilson received strong support from the nearby cities of Niagara Falls and Rochester. So a deal was signed and the Buffalo Bills were ready to play in ancient War Memorial Stadium (built to honor veterans of World War ONE!).
53 years later, 95 year old Ralph Wilson STILL owns the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately, the population in western New York state is only about half of what it was in 1960. In a league known for wild, high-scoring offenses, the Bills were a defensive standout in the early years of the AFL. Their 1964 team allowed just 913 yards rushing for an entire season (a record that still stands). And that ’64 Bills defense registered 50 sacks in a 14-game season, an all-time pro football record that has never been broken! In both 1964 and 1965 the Bills won the AFL Championship Game. The ’65 title stands as Buffalo’s last championship in ANY MAJOR PROFESSIONAL SPORT! Those Bills teams featured 250 pound fullback Cookie Gilchrist, quarterbacks Jack Kemp and Daryle LaMonica, and wideouts Ernie Warlick and Elbert (“Wheels”) Dubenion, a world class sprinter and the fastest man to ever play in the AFL. After a horrid 1968 season, the Bills selected Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson as the #1 pick in the 1969 draft. He would become the face of the franchise for nearly a decade. The arrival of Simpson brought little improvement to Buffalo’s won-lost record. In 1970, the Bills were 3-10-1. In 1971 they were 1-13. The Bills also lost all four games to Miami during those two seasons. In fact, Buffalo would go “0 for the ’70’s” against Miami, losing all 20 games to the Dolphins in that decade! NOT ONCE did O. J. Simpson ever play on a Buffalo team that defeated the ‘Fins!! Lou Saban, who had coached Buffalo to their two AFL titles in ’64 and ’65, returned for a second tour of duty in 1972. In week #2 of the season, Buffalo upset San Francisco 27-20. Then, in week #4, the Bills destroyed New England 38-14. Saban was making a difference.
Miami took the opening kickoff and drove deep into Buffalo territory. From the five, Morrall handed off to Mercury Morriss who sped into the end zone. The first quarter ended with Miami leading 7-0. The Bills turned things around in the second quarter. John Leypoldt booted a 35-yard field goal to narrow the gap to 7-3. An Earl Morrall pass to Morris bounced off Morris’ hands right to Buffalo’s Ken Lee who returned it 16 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 Buffalo advantage. Just before halftime, Morrall threw an incomplete swing pass to Morris. It was clearly a forward pass. But the side judge ruled it a lateral and gave the ball to Buffalo. Leypoldt’s 34-yard field goal gave the Bills a 13-7 lead at the half.
Coach Don Shula gave his players a blistering halftime lecture. They came out of the locker room with an extra dose of motivation.
Two days earlier, defensive tackle Manny Fernandez was in a hospital suffering from pneumonia. On the second play of the second half, Fernandez slipped a block and took a direct hand-off from a stunned Bills quarterback Dennis Shaw at the Buffalo 10 yard line! “What I liked,” said Larry Csonka, “was the way Manny didn’t even say ‘thank you’ when he took the ball!” Csonka, for his part, did say “Thank you” to Fernandez after scoring on a 10-yard run on the very next play. Miami now had a very shaky 14-13 lead. Later in the third quarter, Garo Yepremian lined-up what would be the longest field goal of his career. His 54-yard effort WAS GOOD with room to spare! 17-13, Miami after three quarters. A John Leypoldt 45-yard field goal narrowed the gap to 17-16. Everyone was on the edge of their seats! Leypoldt’s kick-off flew completely out of the end zone. Miami’s ball at their own 20.
A calm Earl Morrall took the field. Mixing running and passing plays Morrall moved the ‘Fins to the Buffalo 15 yard line. From there, Mercury Morris bolted into the end zone giving Miami a 24-16 lead. A few minutes later, Buffalo scored on a Mike Taliaferro to Jim Braxton 6-yard pass play. Mysteriously, coach Lou Saban kicked the extra point rather than going for two points and a tie score. “We thought we had plenty of time to kick the winning field goal,” said Saban. He was proven wrong. Morrall’s offense ate up almost all of the remaining time. The “No Name Defense” did the rest. Miami had barely escaped with a 24-23 win in a bizarre game that featured penalties, blown officials calls, muffed passes returned for touchdowns and a highly questionable decision by the losing head coach. 80,010 Dolphin fans left the Orange Bowl relieved and happy.
Next up: Earl Morrall would return to Baltimore to face the team that released him earlier in the year. Legendary quarterback John Unitas and over 64,000 roaring fans at Memorial Stadium would be waiting for the Dolphins.
ABSOLUTE PERFECTION was still alive. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were now 6-0.