AFL Flashback – The league’s first game
Buffalo Bills vs. Boston Patriots – July 30, 1960
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The first preseason game in American Football League history was played on July 30, 1960 and featured the Boston Patriots at the Buffalo Bills. It was a monumental accomplishment in that the league was formed less than a year prior to the first kickoff. In fact, so much work had gone into the preparation for the new league that many of the founders had not had time to assess the magnitude and success of their efforts. League co-founder Lamar Hunt was driving home from his office in late-July and was elated when he heard a sports radio program running down the odds of the AFL’s first weekend of action.
Such was also the case in Buffalo when team founder Ralph Wilson, Jr. watched more than 100,000 fans gather at a rally the night before the preseason opener. The following evening 16,474 curious fans arrived at the newly renovated and renamed War Memorial Stadium. The Patriots however overcame the Bills’ home field advantage and extremely hot temperatures to defeat Buffalo 28-7. The star of the evening was Patriots quarterback Butch Songin who tossed two touchdowns to lead the Pats to victory. So ecstatic was Boston head coach Lou Saban that he shook hands with every member of the Patriot team and asked them to sign an official AFL ball.
Buffalo had pro football teams over the years in the NFL, the old AFL, and the All-America Football Conference. The city was excited when the Bills were part of the new AFL in 1960.
Thus began the long journey of the America Football League that would eventually forever change the landscape of professional football.
Coached three different AFL teams
Lou Saban, whose career spanned 53 years and included 27 different stops, was one of the most traveled coaches in the history of football. Affectionately dubbed "Much Traveled Lou," the Indiana University graduate compiled a record of 95-99-7 in 16 seasons as a pro football head coach.
Saban started his head coaching career after his four-year playing career as a linebacker with the Cleveland Browns ended in 1949. His first job began the very next season at the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland. Five years later, he took over at Northwestern for two years and then moved to Western Illinois University in 1957.
Lou Saban coached three AFL teams - the Patriots, Bills, and Broncos.
In 1960 he served as the first head coach for the Boston Patriots. Two seasons later Saban joined the Buffalo Bills, the team in which he would enjoy his greatest success. He quickly compiled a core of talented players such as fullback Cookie Gilchrist, who was signed from the Canadian Football League, and quarterback Jack Kemp, who was claimed off of waivers. Saban’s eye for talent and strong leadership skills translated to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965 for the Bills.
After a five-year stint with the Denver Broncos from 1967-1971, he returned to the Bills and oversaw O.J. Simpson's record-breaking 2,003-yard rushing season in 1973 and a return to the playoffs in 1974. He left the Bills again in the middle of the 1976 season.
The following season Saban transitioned back to the college level where served as the head coach at the University of Miami from 1977-78. Interestingly, he was involved in the initial recruiting efforts of eventual U of M and Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
After multiple stops as head coach on various different levels of football, Saban added another first to his resume when he was hired as the first head coach of the State University of New York at Canton in 1995 where he remained until 2000.
After an unsuccessful bid at retirement, Saban’s last stop as head coach was at Chowan University in North Carolina in 2001 and ’02.
Saban died on March 29, 2009 at the age of 87 but his lasting legacy and influence can still be seen on the football field today.