“FOOTBALL AT FENWAY”
DIARY OF THE AFL EAST CHAMPIONS
The Boston Patriots were in the fourth year of their existence as the 1963 American Football League season began and the time was ripe for a young organization to make inroads into the Boston sports culture. While the Celtics were winning championships, the Red Sox and Bruins were both at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Sox were in the midst of a funk that wouldn’t end until the 1967 Impossible Dream, while the B’s were in the midst of long stretches without a playoff berth. If the Patriots wanted to get some attention, the time was now.
On June 3rd, the Mike Holovak signed their #1 draft choice, Boston College football captain and receiver, Art Graham for $15K. He joined other former Boston College players ... flanker, Jim Colclough; safety, Ross O'Hanley; defensive end, Bob Dee; flanker, Al Snyder; fullback, Harry Crump and tackle, Jay Donovan.
Receiver and kicker, Bobby Walston, 12 year veteran of the Philadelphia Eagles signed with the Patriots on June 29th to compete with Gino Cappelletti. Al Snyder of Holy Cross also was competition for a wide receiver. Tom Neumann from Michigan was signed as a running back.
On July 17th, the Patriots acquired defensive lineman Bill Hudson from the Chargers for a future draft choice.
On July 19th, middle linebacker, Harry Jacobs was sold to the Buffalo Bills and defensive back, Chuck Shonta retired to take a coaching job at Eastern Michigan College.
The first intra-squad game was held on July 25th at Everett Stadium. The Pats veterans beat the rookies, 22 to 0. Rookie Harry Crump played both ways for the rookies the entire game. Rookie Tom Neumann gained 77 yards playing on the veterans' team. Larry Garron ran for 81 yards.
In the second intra-squad game on July 29th, rookies Al Snyder and Art Graham combined on a halfback option pass for a 70 yard touchdown. The varsity won the game 37 to 17 however.
The first exhibition game took place in Oakland against the Raiders, on August 4th. The Raiders never trailed although the Patriots came from behind three times to tie the game, but lost 24-17. Running back Ron Burton, was lost for the season with a slipped disc in his back, that put him in traction at an Oakland hospital.
In their second pre-season game in San Diego, the Chargers routed the Pats, 50 to 17 on August 10th. In the next game, against the visiting Houston Oilers, on August 14th, the Patriots blew a 20 point lead and lost 21-20 at Lowell Stadium. The Buffalo Bills handled the Patriots in Buffalo, 24 to 14 on August 24th.
After four exhibition loses, the Patriots dealt veteran guard, Charlie Leo to the Bills for a future draft pick, on August 27th.
At Rutgers Stadium the Patriots played with their junior varsity and lost their final exhibition game to the New York Jets, 22-20 on September 1st. They finished their pre-season schedule, 0-5.
Prior to the season opener, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back, Bob Suci, was added to the Patriots' roster.
Babe Parilli was under center, and the Pats got out of the gate with a big win over the Jets up at Boston College on September 8th. Coming up with five timely interceptions, four of which were turned into scores, the defensive unit broke up a tight game, as the Patriots, with 21 points in the last quarter, beat the New York Jets, 38 to 14. Dick Felt and Nick Buoniconti intercepted Jet’s quarterback Dick Wood in the third period to open up a 14-14 tie game. Buonicontis interception resulted in Gino Cappelletti’s field goal. The three other interceptions resulted in touchdowns.
After one game, the Patriots were in first place, second in passing offense, rushing offense and total offense. Parilli was the league’s second leading passer. Jim Crawford, Ronnie Lott, and Harry Crump ran well and Larry Garron was better than expected. With Ron Burton, Tom Neumann and Al Snyder out, the running game was hopeful. Babe Parilli is no surprise. Against New York, he was 19 of 35 for 287 yards and one touchdown. Only Kansas City’s Len Dawson was better.
The Patriots next embarked on a four-game road swing that took them out west. They were competitive in a 17-13 loss at San Diego on September 14th, who had established themselves as one of the league’s better franchises. The Patriots defensive unit sparkled in the first quarter. The San Chargers didn’t make a first down and never crossed midfield. With nine minutes gone, the Patriots got on the board when Gino Cappelletti booted a field goal. The Chargers continued minutes later and blocked a field goal attempt and two plays later scored again.
On the next series, Parilli, after completing a pass and went to the sidelines with a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Tom Yewcic took over and then slid over center for the score. The half ended with the Pats down 14-10. Except for a couple of fourth quarter field goals, there was no more scoring in the game.
Babe Parilli had treatment on his arm and will be ready for Oakland. The only question was Jim Colclough who was trying to work through a leg injury. Colclough tried to run before Wednesday’s practice and looked like a 45-year old trying to catch a bus. In two games thus far, the Patriots only scored via a pass, but once.
The Pats snuck out a win against an above-average Raiders team in Oakland, on September 22nd. The Patriots defense kept Oakland tied up until the third quarter, allowing the Patriots to grab a 20-0 lead. But the Raiders' explosive offense scored on two long bombs in the fourth quarter, making it uncomfortable for the Pats. With less than two minutes left and the Raiders now down by only a touchdown, Nick Buoniconti, who had been tremendous all day, intercepted a Tom Flores’ pass on the Boston 45 and ran around, killing 10 more seconds. Parilli then ran the clock down and the game was done, 20 to 14.
Denver Bronco's coach, Jack Faulkner has high praise for the Patriots offensive line. The Patriots had won two games scoring 38 points and then 20 with only one running back. Tackles, Don Oakes and Milt Graham, and guards Charlie Long and Billy Neighbors with the center Walt Cudzik did an outstanding job to get the runners free.
Larry Garron was leading the league in rushing with 229 yards, ahead of Houston’s Charley Tolar and Oakland’s Clem Daniels. Nine Patriots players were then hit by the flu in Denver.
On September 29th, the Patriots offense was not much of a threat as Babe Parilli's injured shoulder was bothering him, but the Patriots defense was playing another strong game. The Pats led 10-0 at the half, when Denver recovered a fumble in the third quarter. In nine plays, they scored their first touchdown. Then the defense of the Pats tightened up, and the game went back and forth until a 72 yard bomb was unleashed by the Broncos to seal things up in the fourth quarter, 14-10.
Rookie halfback Tom Neumann was better from the leg injury he received three weeks ago and was activated for the upcoming Jets game. Veteran defensive tackle, Bill Hudson was released to make room for Neumann. But Parilli was questionable from his on-going problem with his shoulder.
A weak defensive backfield played like All Stars and carried the Jets to a 31-24 victory over the Patriots on October 5th at Shea Stadium. The New York defense came up with five interceptions that the offense turned into 24 points. The Pats put on a fantastic finish that just fell short. Trailing 31-10 in the fourth quarter, they came across with two touchdowns and came within 10 yards of tying the score when time ran out on them.
The 2-3 start was even more manageable given how top-heavy the AFL was to the West at this time. The league was split into two divisions of four, but you played everybody twice. The West teams mostly beat up on the East, and it’s a pretty reasonable conclusion to say that San Diego and Oakland were the league’s two best. Somebody out of the Patriots, Jets, Bills and the geographically displaced Houston Oilers was going to get a shot at the championship, and with six of their last nine games in Fenway, the Pats had a shot.
Mike Holovak said the team is playing the waiting game to see if Babe Parilli’s arm will feel well enough for him to play. The Patriots' defense led the league in rush defense by quite a margin and in total defense. Larry Garron led the league in rushing and Gino Cappelletti was the top scorer with 38 points. The offense was another story. Tom Yewcic was eighth and Babe Parilli was ninth in passing.
The Patriots came roaring from behind to tip the Oakland Raiders 20-14 at Fenway Park on October 11th, in a spectacular scoring explosion that has been lacking all season. Raiders QB, Cotton Davidson ran the ball into the end zone to put the Raiders up 14 to 3 in the third quarter. A 56-yard pass play to Jim Colclough was good for a touchdown, and Cappy's field goal put the Pats a point behind. Parilli started the fourth quarter connecting with Tom Neumann, who whirled around, caught the ball, and fell into the end zone, putting the Pats in the lead. The defense kept the Raiders quiet for the remainder of the game, and the Pats had a 20-14 come from behind win.
The Patriots sputtering offense went on a roll by smashing the Broncos 40-21 on October 18th. Cappy took it upon himself to take charge and kicked four field goals, scored a touchdown on a brilliant catch and kicked four conversions to lead the offensive display with 22 points. Parilli had his best night ever, as a Boston Patriot. He ran the show and completed 21 of 31 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns.
Victories over the Raiders and the lowly Broncos pushed the Pats back over .500. A key road game at Buffalo loomed. Coach Mike Holovak described his team as being in the best physical condition since the start of the season. Even without Ron Burton and Don Webb, the coach was confident in his running game. He felt the keys to the Patriots’ season are the two games with Buffalo and the two with Houston. Buffalo’s Jack Kemp was felt to be the most serious threat for the Patriots and his receiver Bill Miller, was the leading receiver in the AFL.
On October 26th, down 21-7 to the Bills in the fourth quarter, with three minutes left, the Patriots scored twice. An interception by Pats’ defensive back Ron Hall, set up the first score. Then Babe Parilli connected down the middle to Art Graham, who took it all the way home for a 77 yard score tying the game after Cappy's extra point. With only 30 seconds left, and the goal line 73 yards away, Buffalo quarterback, Jack Kemp went for it and threw a long bomb to Charlie Ferguson. The ball caught up with him at the Pats 24 yard line and he scampered into the end zone to give the Bills a 28-21 thrilling win at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.
The Patriots were at 4-4, and thus a game behind Houston (5-4) in the AFL East and the Oilers were the next opponents. The Pats led the AFL in defense, having allowed only 1997 yards. The Oilers led in pass offense with George Blanda, so the Patriots league leading defensive squad would be put to the test. For the first time this season, the Patriots did not have injury worries. Parilli’s arm was fine, Jim Colclough was running better, and Jack Rudolph’s knee problem had disappeared.
The Patriots went on a record scoring spree at the expense of the Houston Oilers at rain soaked Fenway Park on November 1st. From early in the first quarter until the game’s end, the rejuvenated Patriots staged their best game for their largest crowd. Twice the crowd was treated to runbacks of interceptions. For the night the Boston defense grabbed off six Houston passes. The Patriots won 45-3 and it was the largest score in team history, leaving the Pats and Oilers tied at the top of the AFC East.
Lance Alworth’s lone touchdown in the third quarter on a pass from Tobin Rote, withstood several assaults, as San Diego topped the Patriots 7-6, on November 10th. According to coach Mike Holovak, the Patriots defense played its finest game. In the last two games, the defense gave up only nine points. Unfortunately, the Patriots didn’t have enough offense to finish the job. In the last three games, Bob Suci, Ross O’Hanley, Ron Hall, Dick Felt and Chuck Shonta have allowed just three touchdowns by the pass.
The Pats offense went on their best spree of the year, setting three club records. In spite of it, the best they could do was a 24-24 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs on November 17th. Babe Parilli and Tony Romeo were at their best in a strange game. There was a conversion kick blocked, a safety and a great goal line stand.
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Friday, November 22, 1963 while traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas. The AFL cancelled its Sunday schedule out of respect.
Both Buffalo and the Patriots were tied with a 5-5-1 record in the Eastern Division. The Houston Oilers were 6-4 and were playing the San Diego Chargers. Both teams with people banged up or hurt, have been helped considerably with the extra week’s rest following President Kennedy's assassination.
On November 29th, the Patriots selected Boston College quarterback, Jack Concannon in the AFL draft. The Patriots got the first pick by swapping their first and third draft choices to the Denver Broncos. The Patriots next pick was Notre Dame’s receiver Jim Kelly in the second round and Holy Cross’ center, Jon Morris in the fourth round. In the sixth round, the Patriots picked the Syracuse guard, Jim Mazorek and T.W. Alley, a big tackle from William & Mary in the next round. J.D. Garrett, the Grambling running back, Roger Lalonde, a tackle from Muskingum, Len St. Jean, an end from Michigan rounded out the picks in the first ten rounds.
On December 1st, Babe Parilli rose up in the second half of the game at a frigid Fenway Park, passing for a touchdown and running for another, to push the Patriots past the Buffalo Bills by a score of 17-7.
The Patriots, trailing Buffalo 7-0 on a second period touchdown, and playing as if they were dead, the Patriots suddenly came alive. When Parilli was blitzed by the Buffalo safeties, he turned around a tossed a short screen over the middle of the Bill’s line to Larry Garron who took the ball for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Then, on the Buffalo 14-yd line, Parilli then faked Jim Crawford into the line and bootlegged to his left, following Garron into the end zone. Gino Cappelletti, the league’s leading scorer, iced the game with a 43 yard field goal. The win lifted the Patriots into a first place tie with the Houston Oilers in the AFL’s Eastern Division.
The Patriots, on the strength of a 21 point second period jumped into the driver’s seat by trouncing the Oilers 46-28 on December 8th in Houston. In this one, the Patriots simply outmuscle the Oilers. Four minutes into the second period, the Pats, trailing 14-10, scored three touchdowns in the next 10 minutes. Larry Garron had a great day, gaining 113 yards, but it was the Pats' ball hawking defense that won the game. They forced six fumbles and picked off three pass interceptions.
As a result of the win, the Pats had a one game lead over the Oilers and the Bills with one game left to play, but on December 14th, the Kansas City Chiefs, playing probably their most important game of the season, simply scalped the Patriots, 35-3. Len Dawson passed for three touchdowns and ran 43 yards for another. Halfback Abner Haynes went wild in the second half and closed out the Patriots with a 36 yard sprint for his longest run of the season.
Meanwhile, Jack Kemp led the Buffalo Bills to a 19-10 victory over the New York Jets and put his team into a first place with the Patriots and force a playoff game.
The Patriots had their longest rest of the season and then worked out at East Boston Stadium on December 23rd. The focus of the practice was the running of Ron Burton. Burton had been on the mend from a back operation earlier in the year, but was cleared by his doctors three weeks ago to be able to play and had been activated. The rules said that a player who has not played the regular season would not be eligible to play in the AFL Championship Game, but a playoff game was not considered post-season.
After four years of frustration, the Patriots finally clinched a berth in the American Football League Championship Game, by walloping the Buffalo Bills 26 to 8 at War Memorial Stadium on December 28th.
The main weapon was the swing pass, which the Buffalo defense couldn’t handle, that twice accounted for touchdowns. And when touchdowns couldn’t be scored, Gino Cappelletti was there to kick a field goal. Four of them came off the toe of Cappy.
The Pats defense stopped Buffalo's Cookie Gilchrist cold. Three times he needed one yard for a first down and couldn’t do it. One time he was hit so hard by Nick Buoniconti, that he was lifted off the ground. For the offense, it was Cappy and Larry Garron, who accounted for 273 of the Patriots' 375 total yards. Parilli also threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
The finish would be anticlimactic. Though the Patriots had played San Diego close in their two regular season meetings, the trip west for the championship game went awry from the start. The Chargers had league MVP Tobin Rote at quarterback and a dynamic receiver in Tobin Rote.
The Chargers took away the Patriots most important defensive weapon, the blitz and rolled to an easy 51-10 triumph. They scored the game’s first two touchdowns, led 31-10 at the half and pulled away for the victory on January 5th. Only three times did the Chargers fail to score when they had the ball. The San Diego Chargers were a better team than the Patriots. They had 328 yards rushing to Boston’s 77 and total yardage amounting to 610 to 263 by the Patriots.
There was no shortage of defensive talent on the roster. Both starting ends, Bob Dee and Larry Eisenhauer would make the All-Star team. The AFL was built on pass-happy offenses, being able to pressure the pocket was invaluable.
The defense also had the presence of Nick Buoniconti at linebacker, who would ultimately make his name as part of the 1972 Miami Dolphins unbeaten team. Buoniconti was joined by fellow All-Star Tom Addison, who contributed to a formidable front seven. Running back Jim Crawford was also an All-Star in 1963.
In addition to Babe Parilli, the offense had a top receiving threat in Gino Cappelletti, who starred for eight years as both starting wide out and kicker, and ended up making the Patriot Hall of Fame. Cappy won the scoring title in the AFL for the second consecutive year. He scored 113 points, finishing ahead of Oakland’s Art Powell. Cappy scored in every game with 35 PATs, 22 field goals and two touchdowns.
A return to contention would be a long time coming for the Pats. For the Patriots, 15 years in the wilderness were ahead before postseason play would return. But the 1963 team still made its mark as the first champion in franchise history.