(Ed. note: this story originally ran on July 13, 2009. It was among a multi-part series during the 50th anniversary of the AFL that debunked so many myths that still surround the league.)
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts mixologist
The pro football world is gearing up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL and the Kool-Aid peddlers among the "pundits," and the Kool-Aid consumers among the fandom, are out in full force, lustily serving and swallowing the mythology that has come to dominate discussions of the rival pro football leagues of the 1960s.
You know the clichéd storyline by now: the "entertaining" AFL offered an "innovative," "exciting" and "wide-open" brand of football that stood in sharp contrast to the slow, plodding, prehistoric style of football practiced over in the boring NFL.
Nice story line. But not true. In fact, it's a theory so primitive and unevolved that even the pigskin protozoa laugh at it.
Here's the truth:
ONE - The 1960s were a period of revolutionary offensive play in both leagues, and both leagues practiced a substantially similar style of football highlighted by an aggressive, attacking, long-ball passing game that attempted to stretch defenses vertically.
TWO - The more talented players in the NFL executed this aggressive style of football better than their less talented and more mistake-prone AFL counterparts, while continuing to run the ball far more effectively, too.
THREE - The most talented, most exciting and most prolific individual performers of the decade were not found in the AFL as the Kool-Aid drinkers want you to believe. The most talented, most exciting and most prolific individual performers of the decade were found in the boring old NFL.
The Kool-Aid drinkers simply miscast history, forgetting that the 1960s was a decade of explosive and record-setting offensive performances in the NFL at every position, from quarterbacks to tight ends to kick returners. Many, if not most, of the greatest offensive performances of the decade came out of the NFL, not the AFL.
Here are 17 record-shattering offensive performances from the "boring" NFL of the 1960s, a list that includes some of the greatest names in the history game – players such as Jim Brown and Gale Sayers and Johnny Unitas conveniently ignored by the "pundits" when they sit around the pigksin patio drinking a big old pitcher of AFL Kool-Aid.
Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland
Key stat from the boring NFL: Smashed his own pro football record with 1,863 rushing yards in 1963, while becoming first player in history, and the only player of the decade, with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Duh! Did the Kool-Aid drinkers ever hear of this guy? Brown is the single most dominant ball carrier in pro football history and widely regarded as the greatest player in the history of the game. Yet for some reason people forget that he plied his dominance in the boring old NFL and that he had his most prolific seasons in the 1960s – at the height of the interleague wars.
In 1963, for example, Brown shattered his own single-season rushing record (1,527 yards in 1958) with a mind-numbing 1,863 yards on the ground and a stunning 6.4 YPA. Brown also caught 24 passes for 268 yards, becoming the first player in history to top 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season.
Of course, to be fair, the "exciting" AFL witnessed its own new rushing record in 1963: Oakland's Clem Daniels ran for 1,099 yards, a red-headed stepchild of a season compared with what Brown was producing over in the NFL.
Daniels also produced an AFL-record 1,784 yards from scrimmage in that 1963 season. Brown all by his lonesome topped the AFL's most productive season in 1961 (1,867), 1963 (2,131), 1964 (1,786) and 1965 (1,872).
Brown also averaged 5.22 yards per rush attempt over the course of his career – easily the best mark ever by a running back and a standard that's rarely even been challenged. The AFL, for its part, offered no player at any offensive position who came close to dominating defenses the way the great Jim Brown dominated NFL defenses.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the greatest ball carrier of all time, and the first player in history to produce more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the 1960s.
Timmy Brown, KR, Philadelphia
Key stat from the boring NFL: The Eagles kick-return specialist set a pro football record with 2,306 all-purpose yards in 1962. He broke his own record the following season, with 2,425 all-purpose yards.
The 1960s were certainly a good decade to be named Brown: even players nobody remembers today, like Timmy Brown, produced record-setting seasons.
Brown was a speedy triple-threat runner, receiver and kick returner. He gave his break-out performance with the Eagles in 1962, his fourth year in the NFL. He rushed for 545 yards, caught 52 passes for 849 yards and added 912 return yards, with 12 TDs (5 rushing, 6 receiving, 1 kick return).
The total of 2,306 all-purpose yards easily smashed the existing pro football record set by Abner Hayes of the AFL's Dallas Texans in 1960 (2,100 yards). But Brown wasn't done.
In 1963, while Cleveland's Jim Brown was re-writing the pro football record books for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, Timmy Brown was re-writing the pro football record books for all-purpose yards. He rushed for 841 yards, caught passes for 487 yards, returned kicks for a league-leading 945 yards and punts for 152 yards. He added 11 more TDs in 1963, including another kick return for a score.
Brown's 1962 and 1963 seasons easily outpaced the best all-purpose performance by any AFL player of the decade (Dick Christy, N.Y. Titans, 1962, 2,147 yards). His record was short lived. Another boring NFL player, Gale Sayers, set a new standard with 2,440 all-purpose yards in 1966 (see below).
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most exciting special teams and all-purpose threats of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Mike Ditka, TE, Chicago
Key stat from the boring NFL: Ditka exploded onto the pro football scene in 1961, setting tight-end records with 1,076 receiving yards and 12 TD catches.
Here's a quick pop-quiz for ya: Name the best tight ends in the AFL.
Tough one, ain't it?
Your best bets are probably Dave Kocourek, who blossomed as a pass catcher in Sid Gillman's San Diego offense and was a four-time AFL Pro Bowler, or Fred Arbanas, a key cog in Hank Stram's Kansas City attacks and a five-time Pro Bowler. Like Ditka, Kocourek even had his own 1,000-yard season in 1961 (1,055 yards), but he never amassed more than 5 TDs in a single season. Arbanas, in his best year, caught 34 passes for 686 yards (20.2 YPC) and 8 TDs.
Yet you have no trouble digging up the names of the premier tight ends of the 1960s in the NFL. In fact, John Mackey, Jackie Smith and Mike Ditka are still considered three of the best tight ends in the history of the game. All three played in the NFL. All three played in the 1960s.
For the purpose of this exercise, we went with Ditka
, because his performance as a rookie in 1961 remains the most singularly explosive offensive performance by any tight end of the decade.
Ditka caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards, 12 TDs and a stunning-to-today's eyes 19.2 YPC.
The position was really in its infancy in 1961 – but Ditka was a great pioneer. His performance that year remains among the most prolific of any tight end in the history of the game. And considering the era in which he did it – an era in which linebackers could maul tight ends – it's truly remarkable.
Let's look at it this way: Dave Casper never caught 12 TDs in a season. Kellen Winslow never caught 12 TDs in a season. Shannon Sharpe never caught 12 TDs in a season. Tony Gonzalez never caught 12 TDs in a season. Mackey and Smith never caught 12 TDs in a season. Antonio Gates did catch 13 TD passes in 2004, but fell short of the 1,000-yard milestone (964).
In fact, the only other tight end who caught at least 12 TDs and topped 1,000 yards in the same season was Todd Christensen with the Raiders in 1983, when he caught 92 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs – a brilliant season. Of course, Christensen's 13.6 YPC fell well short of Ditka's explosive 19.2 YPC in 1961.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most prolific, pioneering tight end of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Paul Hornung, RB/K, Green Bay
Key stat from the boring NFL: Hornung scored 176 points in 1960, the greatest scoring output of the first 85 years of pro football. His scoring average of 14.7 PPG in 1960 has never been seriously challenged.
Hornung scored 176 boring points with the boring Packers in the boring 1960 season – the boring 12-game 1960 season (the AFL played 14 games each season; the NFL adopted a 14-game schedule in 1961).
Hornung scored 15 TDs that year – itself the most by any player in either league in 1960 (tied with Sonny Randle of the NFL's Cardinals). He also booted 41 extra points and 15 field goals. His record point total stood for 46 years – finally surpassed by LaDainian Tomlinson with 186 points in the 16-game 2006 season.
The best scoring output by any AFL player came from Boston's Gino Cappelletti, who scored 155 points in the 14-game 1964 season (25 FG, 36 XP, 1 2-pt, 7 TD)
But no player in history has come close to Hornung's NBA-like average of 14.7 PPG. It's a mark that will likely stand forever – a player would need to score 40 TDs, 79 field goals, or some combination thereof, in a 16-game season to surpass Hornung's average.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most prolific individual scoring season of the first 85 years of pro football history, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the boring 1960s.
Homer Jones, WR, N.Y. Giants
Key stat from the boring NFL: Jones, who played in the NFL from 1964 to 1970, is the all-time leader in pro football history with a career average of 22.26 yards per reception.
The Kool-Aid peddlers would lead you to believe that AFL quarterbacks thrilled fans with a never-ending series of new-age long bombs to rocket-like receivers, while NFL offenses plodded through the decade with the dusty drudgery of a 19th-century Conestoga wagon train.
This theory is kind of funny. Because when we look at the NFL Record & Fact Book – which includes AFL stats – we see only NFL receivers from the 1960s at the top of the average-per-reception list.
Jones, who spent most of his career with the NFL's Giants in the Fran Tarkenton years, is No. 1 all time. He averaged 22.26 yards per catch during his seven-year NFL career – almost all of it played during the height of the interleague wars.
Buddy Dial, who played in the NFL from 1959 to 1966 with the Steelers and Cowboys, is No. 2 on the all-time list (20.83 YPC).
Even the No. 3 guy on the list played a part of his career in during the interleague war years. Harlon Hill averaged 20.24 yards per reception in a nine-year career (1954-62) with the NFL's Bears, Steelers and Lions.
The observer immune to the effects of the Kool-Aid will notice that there's not an AFL receiver in the bunch. (Official records, by the way, require a minimum 200 career receptions to qualify.)
Lance Alworth is the top qualifier among "exciting" AFL receivers, with a career average of 18.9 YPC. But hell, even the oft-overlooked Jimmy Orr surpassed that mark during his 13 years with the NFL's Steelers and Colts (19.8 YPC).
To Alworth's credit, he caught a hell of a lot more passes in his career than Jones (542 to 224). Still, Jones is truly a performer lost to history. From 1966 to 1968, nobody in pro football – not even the Sports Illustrated cover boy Alworth – was a more prolific home-run hitter.
Jones caught 142 passes in those three seasons for a mind-blowing 3,310 yards. That's an explosive 23.31 YPC over the course of three seasons. He also caught 28 TDS over those three seasons.
To highlight just how drastically the NFL has changed from its aggressive, down-field bomb days of the 1960s to the mundane, ball-control game of today, consider the performance of Indy's Marvin Harrison in 2002. Harrison shattered the NFL record that season with a spectacular 143 catches – one more than Jones hauled in over the course of his three best seasons.
Harrison produced a mere 1,722 yards, 11 TDs and 12.0 YPC on his 143 receptions in 2002.
Jones produced 3,310 yards, 28 TDs and 23.31 YPC on his 142 receptions from 1966-68.
As the Harrison-Jones example highlights, the NFL offered a very, very aggressive downfield passing strategy in the 1960s, especially when compared with the ball-control style of football played today.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most prolific long-ball receivers in pro football history, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the boring 1960s.
Sonny Jurgensen, QB, Philadelphia/Washington
The dominant pass-stat monster of the 1960s wasn't Joe Namath, Len Dawson or Daryle Lamonica of the exciting AFL. The dominant pass-stat monster of the 1960s was Sonny Jurgensen of the boring NFL.
Jurgensen led the NFL in passing yards five times in the 1960s and topped both leagues twice (1961, 1962). Namath also led both leagues twice, in 1966 and 1967.
But Jurgensen certainly did a better job finding the end zone and was far more efficient than the AFL's most famous quarterback. Jurgensen led the NFL in TD passes in 1961 (32), tying the league record at the time, and topped both leagues in 1967 (31). Namath, for his part, never led the AFL in touchdown passes and never threw more than 26 TDs in a single season (1967). In fact, other than that break-out 1967 season, Namath never again topped 20 TD tosses in a single year.
Jurgensen retired in 1974 second only to Unitas in career TD passes (290 vs. 255).
But he also retired as the most efficient passer in the history of football
, with a career passer rating of 82.62. That's just enough to edge out the AFL's best quarterback, the extraordinarily efficient Dawson (82.55), though the Kansas City field general never put up the explosive single-season numbers generated by Jurgensen.
Jurgensen's passer rating is nearly 10 points better than Lamonica's (72.9) and a full 17 points better than the dreadful, mistake-prone Namath's (65.5).
In fact, Jurgensen's career passer rating is even better than that of Live Ball Era Hall of Fame quarterbacks Troy Aikman (81.6) and Warren Moon (80.9), both of whom had the benefit of playing in a league that openly favored the passing game.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most efficient passer of the first 60 years of pro football, and the original pass-stat monster, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the boring 1960s.
Bobby Mitchell, WR/RB, Cleveland/Washington
Key stat from the boring NFL: In 1963, Mitchell became the first player in 24 years to score on a 99-yard TD reception, sparking a slate of long-ball touchdowns in the NFL.
Mitchell joined the Browns in 1958, one year after Jim Brown, and the dual-threat runner and receiver gave Cleveland one of the most fearsome backfield combos in the history of pro football. But Mitchell truly began to prosper when he joined the Redskins in 1962, who used him almost exclusively as a wide receiver.
Mitchell set a career best with 1,384 receiving yards in 1962, and then bested it again in 1963 with 1,436 receiving yards - tops in either league.
He set the tone early in 1963 – in a Week 1 game against his old teammates from Cleveland, Mitchell hauled in a 99-yard TD catch from George Izo. It was just the second 99-yard play from scrimmage in pro football history, and the first since Andy Farkas grabbed a 99-yard TD reception, also for the Redskins, back in 1939.
Mitchell sparked a long-ball trend in the NFL. Three years letter, Pat Studstill of the Lions caught a 99-yard TD pass. And then in 1968, Gerry Allen of the Redskins caught a 99-yard TD pass. It would be 15 long years before pro football fans witnessed another 99-yard pass play (Cliff Branch, Oakland, 1983).
The sudden glut of 99-yard TD receptions in the boring NFL of the 1960s leaps off the stat sheet when we look over at the exciting AFL: the upstart league and its high-flying aerial attacks produced zero 99-yard TDs in the entire decade.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the three longest plays from scrimmage in the entire decade of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Lenny Moore, RB/WR, Baltimore Colts
Key stat from the boring NFL: Moore in 1964 became the first player in history to score 20 TDs in a season.
Moore is arguably the greatest dual-threat runner and receiver in pro football history and he set a new record in 1964 when he became the first player to score 20 touchdowns in a season (16 rushing, 3 receiving, 1 fumble recovery).
Moore's mark was short lived, however. Jim Brown scored 21 TDs in 1965, but even he was outpaced by rookie Gale Sayers, who scored 22 touchdowns in 1965 (see below). Leroy Kelly, meanwhile, who was Brown's replacement in Cleveland, scored 20 touchdowns in 1968.
Through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Moore, Brown, Kelly and Sayers were the only players in pro football history to score 20 or more TDs in a season. All four of them played in the boring NFL in the 1960s. Not one of them played in the exciting AFL.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the great record-setting TD-making machines of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Milt Plum, QB, Cleveland
Key stat from the boring NFL: In the same 1960 season in which the AFL allegedly introduced high-flying football to the world, Plum set a passer-rating record that stood for nearly 30 years.
You don't hear much about Milt Plum these days. But for one season in 1960 the NFL passer was the best quarterback in the history of the game. He put up numbers that year that looked spectacular even by modern standards in everything but volume:
151 of 250, 60.4%, 2,297 yards, 9.2 YPA, 21 TD, 5 INT, 110.4 passer rating
The yards per attempt, the TD-INT ratio and the stunning passer rating would leap off the stat sheet in any era, but especially when compared with the putrid passer ratings that defined the exciting AFL
. Plum was not alone among highly rated NFL passers. Here are the four best seasons of the 1960s in either league, based upon passer rating:
Plum, 1960, Cleveland (NFL), 110.4
Bart Starr, 1966, Green Bay (NFL), 105.0
Y.A. Tittle, 1963, N.Y. Giants (NFL), 104.8
Len Dawson, 1966, Kansas City (AFL), 101.7
The best the AFL could produce over the entire decade came from the arm of its best quarterback, Len Dawson, in 1966, when he led the Chiefs to the AFL title and an appearance in the first Super Bowl. But an NFL passer bested Dawson in that very same 1966 season: League MVP and Super Bowl MVP Bart Starr posted a 105.0 passer rating.
Plum certainly had a lot going for him in 1960. His offense included super-studs like Jim Brown (above), Bobby Mitchell (above) and Pro Bowler Ray Renfro. He also played for the most innovative coach in football, perhaps in football history, in Paul Brown, from the boring NFL.
And for one season it all came together for Plum in the greatest passing season before the Live Ball Era. His 110.4 passer rating stood as an NFL record until 1989, when it was finally surpassed by a guy named Joe Montana (112.4) in the midst of the Live Ball Era.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the three most effective passing seasons of the 1960s, and the single most effective season of the first 69 years of pro football, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the 1960s.
Bucky Pope, WR, L.A. Rams
Key stat from the boring NFL: Pope averaged 31.44 yards per reception in 1964, easily the most prolific average of any receiver in either league in the 1960s.
You might know Pope better by his unforgettable nickname – the "Catawba Claw."
Pope entered the NFL as a rookie in 1964 – at the height of the league's aggressive downfield passing strategy – and produced a season for the ages. Pope got his claws around just 25 passes that season, but 10 of them went for touchdowns and he produced a stunning 786 yards.
His mind-boggling average of 31.44 yards per reception is easily the best of the decade in either league and remains the second-best single-season average in pro football history, according to the NFL Record & Fact Book. The record of 32.58 YPC was set by Don Currivan in 1947 with the short-lived Boston Yanks (24 catches, 782 yards).
Pope disappeared after his rookie season – he caught just nine more passes in his career and was out of pro football by 1968. But his spectacularly explosive 1964 season highlights rather boldly the attacking style utilized with great success by NFL offenses in the 1960s, even as the pigskin "pundits" try to paint this style as an AFL phenomenon.
Lance Alworth is considered the personification of the "wide open" AFL style of football. He was certainly a better player than Pope and had a much better and more prolific career. But even in his best season, he averaged 23.2 yards per reception – a mark easily outpaced by Pope and many other NFL receivers in the 1960s.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the single greatest long-ball season by any pro football receiver in the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Gale Sayers, RB/KR, Chicago
Key stat from the boring NFL: Sayers scored a pro football record 22 TDs as a rookie in 1965 and then set a new pro football standard with 2,440 all-purpose yards in 1966.
The Kansas Comet – even the nickname is exciting enough to send a Chris Matthews-style tingle up our legs – electrified pro football fans with his spectacular runs and kick returns and is still considered by many the most dangerous runner in the history of pro football.
The AFL Kool-Aid drinkers seem to forget that this spectacular performer plied his trade in the boring old NFL – at the very same time we're led to believe the AFL had a "more exciting" brand of football.
Sayers exploded onto the pro football scene in a truly spectacular rookie season of 1965, stealing the headlines from the more highly paid and heavily hyped Joe Namath of the AFL's Jets.
Sayers set a pro football record with 22 touchdowns that season – easily outpacing the 14 TDs of AFL leaders Lance Alworth and Don Maynard in 1965. (Jim Brown, meanwhile, scored 21 TDs in 1965, also in the boring NFL.)
In his greatest rookie effort, Sayers scored 6 TDs in a single game against San Francisco, matching a feat accomplished by only two other players in the history of pro football (Ernie Nevers in 1929, Dub Jones in 1951). No player ever scored six TDs in a single game in the exciting AFL.
Here's a look at that offensive onslaught by the "incandescent Sayers" unmatched by any AFL player.
show video here
Sayers also produced an astonishing 2,272 total yards running, receiving and returning as a rookie, easily blowing away the most productive player in the AFL that year – Lance Alworth, who produced 1,590 all-purpose yards (all of it receiving).
In fact, NFL rookie running back Sayers single-handedly outproduced over-hyped AFL rookie quarterback Namath in their debut 1965 seasons. It's a ridiculous accomplishment when you consider that we're comparing a ball carrier to a ball thrower:
Sayers produced 2,272 yards on 252 running, receiving and returning attempts
Namath produced 2,220 yards on 340 pass attempts
Sayers produced a record 22 TDs with his 252 touches
Namath produced 18 TD passes with his 340 attempts
Sayers averaged 9.02 yards per touch
Namath averaged 6.53 yards per attempt
Sayers padded the stats again in 1966 when he produced 2,440 all-purpose yards, breaking the previous marks set earlier in the decade by Philly's Timmy Brown (see above).
Between Sayers and Tim Brown, NFL performers – not AFL performers – produced the four greatest all-purpose totals of the 1960s.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most exciting offensive weapon of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay
Key stat from the boring NFL: Starr is pro football's all-time leader with a 104.8 postseason passer rating, and his regular-season career average of 7.85 YPA is the best of any quarterback from the AFL-NFL wars of the 1960s.
Nobody produced better in big games than Starr, the field general behind the greatest dynasty in either league in the 1960s and the only quarterback in history to sport a title ring for every finger on his throwing hand.
Starr was phenomenal in playoff football: in the 1966 title game
, he went on the road and destroyed the tough unit fielded by defensive innovator Tom Landry of the Cowboys, passing for 304 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 143.5 passer rating – one of the great title-game performances in the history of football. The following season, in the famous Ice Bowl
, one of the coldest games in history, he completed 5 of 5 passes on the game-winning drive in the final seconds, and posted a 111.6 passer rating despite the horrid conditions. In his first title game victory, back in 1961, he torched Sam Huff & Co. for three TDs and a 130.9 passer rating as the Packers marched to a 37-0 victory over the Giants.
Starr capped his career with a pair of MVP performances in the first two Super Bowls, while averaging 9.6 YPA against the two best teams the exciting AFL could throw his way.
Starr shredded defenses in the regular season, too. Of all the quarterbacks in either league who spent the bulk of their careers playing in the 1960s, Starr's career average of 7.85 YPA is No. 1 on the list
. In other words, Starr got the ball down the field more effectively than any passer in the exciting AFL.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to see the most productive and deadliest big-game quarterback of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Jim Taylor, FB, Green Bay
Key stat from the boring NFL: Taylor set the white-guy rushing record – a mark that still stands – with 1,474 yards on the ground in 1962, while scoring a then-record 19 rushing TDs.
Offenses in the NFL possessed so much historic talent in the 1960s that even white guys ran recklessly through defenses. In fact, in 1962, Hall of Famer Jim Taylor, the premier runner in Green Bay's run-first offense of the early 1960s, set the white-guy standards with 1,474 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns.
Taylor's rushing total that year was the second most in history at the time, behind only Jim Brown's 1,527 yards in the 12-game 1958 season. (For the record, no AFL ball carrier ever matched Taylor's 1962 total – Boston's Jim Nance came closest, with an AFL-record 1,458 yards in 1966.)
Taylor also rewrote the pro football record books that season with 19 rushing touchdowns – smashing the existing record of 17 set by Jim Brown in his spectacular 1958 season. Taylor's record stood for 21 years, before John Riggins of the Redskins scored 24 rushing TDs in Washington's record-setting (541 points) 1983 campaign.
No AFL ball carrier came close to matching Taylor's rushing TD total of 1962. In fact, the best efforts came that very same season, when Buffalo's Cookie Gilchrist and Abner Haynes of the AFL champion Dallas Texans (later the Kansas City Chiefs) each scored 13 TDs on the ground.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch a league in which even white guys ran recklessly over, through and around defenses, and scored TDs at record rates, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Y.A. Tittle, QB, N.Y. Giants
Key stat from the boring NFL: Tittle threw 69 TD passes in 1962 and 1963 – the most in consecutive seasons by any passer in either league in the 1960s.
George Blanda lit up the AFL in 1961 with 36 TD passes for the high-flying Oilers, breaking the pro football record set by Johnny Unitas in 1959 (32). Tittle matched Blanda's mark two years later with the Giants in the boring NFL.
A couple of big differences:
Tittle threw his 36 TDs against first-rate NFL defenders. Blanda threw his 36 TDs against second-rate AFL defenders who couldn't cut it on NFL rosters.
Tittle threw his 36 TDs against just 14 INTs. Blanda threw his 36 TDs against 22 INTs.
In fact, defenses quickly caught on to Blanda's reckless downfield style: in 1962, one year after his record-setting 36 TDs, Blanda set another record with 42 INTs. It's a mark that still stands – not even Brett Favre found it within himself to throw 42 picks in a single season. The style of football Blanda and the Oilers practiced was not exciting. It was ugly, sloppy, undisciplined football, unacceptable by the higher standards of the NFL.
Tittle, meanwhile, combined for 69 TDs in 1962 and 1963 – the most in consecutive seasons by any pro quarterback in the 1960s. He threw 34 INTs in those two years. So that's better than a 2-to-1 ratio – a very modern-looking ratio – for those of you keeping score at home.
Blanda, meanwhile, combined for 63 TDs in his two best consecutive seasons (1961 and 1962) and a stunning 64 INTs. Daryle Lamonica, the AFL's mad bomber, combined for 59 TDs in his best consecutive seasons – and 40 INTs.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the most prolific touchdown-passing machine of the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Johnny Unitas, QB, Baltimore Colts
Key stat from the boring NFL: Unitas threw a record 32 TDs in 1959, and during the AFL's debut season of 1960, he set a pro football record with 3,099 passing yards.
When the Kool-Aid drinkers try to tell us that the AFL sparked some new aggressive form of high-flying aerial offensive football, do they purposely ignore Johnny Unitas, or have they just never heard of him?
The truth is that the AFL did not spark some new style of aggressive downfield passing offense. The truth is that this style was already being advanced by Unitas, Moore (see above) and Raymond Berry, and overseen by head coach and Paul Brown disciple Weeb Ewbank
, when the AFL debuted in 1960.
In 1959, as Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams were pulling together the AFL, Unitas was shattering Sid Luckman's 16-year-old record (28 TDs) by throwing a shocking 32 TD passes in just 12 games. As the AFL got underway in 1960, Unitas threw for a record 3,099 yards – the first passer in history to top 3,000 yards in a single season – while tossing another 25 TDs. The 57 TD tosses were the most ever in a two-year span at that time.
In the AFL, Denver's Frank Tripucka passed for 3,038 yards in 1960 – but it took him 14 games to reach that milestone. Unitas was and remains the only passer to top 3,000 yards in a 12-game season.
Unitas was also in the midst of a remarkable streak of 47 consecutive games with a TD pass when the AFL was born. The streak began in 1956 and ended in Week 11 of the 1960 season. It's a streak that's never been matched and it's a definitive indicator of the new brand of football being pioneered in the NFL at the time that the AFL came to fruition.
Unitas had plenty of weapons, too, in this new high-powered brand of football that Unitas and the Colts pioneerd. You read about Moore above. Berry, meanwhile, hauled in passes for an NFL record 1,298 yards in 1960 – 175 yards shy of the 1,473 produced by Bill Groman with the AFL's Oilers that season – but, again, in two fewer games.
Coach Ewbank, meanwhile, was the one who allowed his offense to let it all hang out in this new style of football. He'd continue to pursue an aggressive offensive style when he moved to the AFL's Jets in 1963. Just four years later, Jets quarterback Joe Namath, playing for Ewbank, became the first passer to top 4,000 yards in a season – a mere seven seasons after Unitas, playing under Ewbank, became the first passer to top 3,000 yards in a season.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the pioneers of the new attacking offensive style of football in the 1960s, you wanted to watch the Colts of the boring NFL.
Travis Williams, KR, Green Bay
Key stat from the boring NFL: Williams returned four kicks for touchdowns in 1967 and averaged 41.06 yards per return. Both figures still stand as NFL records.
Remember the excitement that Devin Hester caused as a rookie in 2006, when he returned three punts and two kicks for TDs? Williams caused similar excitement back in his rookie season of 1967, when he gave the boring Packers of the boring NFL the most explosive weapon in football that year: a kick returner literally without peer in the history of football.
Williams returned 18 kicks that season for 739 yards – a record average of 41.06 that's never been matched or even approached. In fact, the No. 2 man on the all-time list is Tom Moore, who averaged a distant-second 33.08 yards per kick return with those very same Packers back in 1960.
Four of those 18 returns hit paydirt in 1967 – which was truly the year of the kick returner in pro football: Green Bay's Black & Blue Division rival Gale Sayers returned three kicks for touchdowns that very same season.
In a boring NFL game against Cleveland in 1967, Williams became just the second player in history to return two kicks for touchdowns in the same game. Philly's Timmy Brown (see above) was the first, who did it just one year earlier against the Cowboys, during another boring NFL game.
No AFL player ever returned three kicks for touchdowns in a season, let alone four. And no AFL player returned two kicks for touchdowns in the same game.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch a record-setting series of explosive special teamers in the 1960s, you wanted to watch the boring NFL.
Washington 72, N.Y. Giants 41 – Nov. 27, 1966
Key stat from the boring NFL: The Redskins and Giants combined for 113 points, the most in any game in pro football history.
What happens when you take many of the most explosive offensive players of the 1960s and put them on the field against two of the worst defenses in the game?
You get the highest scoring game in the history of professional football. And it took place in the boring NFL of the 1960s, not the exciting AFL. The best the AFL could do was Oakland's 52-49 victory over Houston in 1963 – the third highest scoring game in pro football history.
A galaxy of the most exciting players from the very list above appeared in this Redskins-Giants epic, including Homer Jones, Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Mitchell. Jones scored on a 50-yard bomb for the Giants. Jurgensen tossed three TD passes for the Redskins, including a 74-yard connection with Charlie Taylor. Bobby Mitchell scored Washington's last TD on a 45-yard dash.
The game even featured two of the more innovative players of the decade: the Hungarian kicking brothers of Pete (Giants) and Charlie (Redskins) Gogolak, who brought to pro football the soccer style that revolutionized the kicking game. The Bills of the AFL originally signed Pete in 1964 and he's often cited as a sign of the innovative minds of the upstart league. And he may have been. But Pete didn't stick around in the NFL too long. He was signed away by the NFL's Giants before the 1966 season – the same year that the Redskins drafted Charlie.
Believe it or not, they had little impact on a game that featured a pro football-record 16 touchdowns. Charlie kicked the game's only field goal – providing a little insurance for the Redskins who sported a 69-41 lead at the time.
The Cold, Hard Football Fact: If you wanted to watch the greatest offensive explosion in the history of pro football, you wanted to watch the boring NFL in the 1960s.