The AFL's first championship game

The AFL's first championship game

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The American Football League, which was formed in late 1959, made a great deal of progress during its 1960 inaugural season. Not only did the young league successfully navigate the challenges and pitfalls of launching a new pro football circuit, but managed to recruit an intensely loyal fan base. Along with signing a many high-profile players, the AFL made a bold statement in their first year, “we are here to stay.”

The pinnacle of this successful first year was the 1960 AFL Championship Game. This title bout featured two evenly matched teams, the Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Chargers. Both clubs finished the regular season with 10-4 records to win their respective divisions.

Close to 38,000 fans jammed into Houston’s Jeppesen Stadium on New Year’s Day in 1961 to see the championship contest. The game turned out to be a classic AFL battle filled with excitement and offensive fireworks.

The Chargers took an early lead with two field goals by Ben Agajanian to put the west coast team up 6-0 at the end of the first quarter. Houston countered when quarterback George Blanda took over in the second quarter. First the signal-caller capped at 74-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Dave Smith. Then, on Houston’s next possession, Blanda ended a 12-play drive by kicking a 28-yard field goal.

Another field goal by Agajanian trimmed the Oilers lead. Houston entered the locker room with a 10-9 halftime advantage.

The two teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter when Blanda threw a seven-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Bill Groman. San Diego running back Paul Lowe then rushed a total of 33 yards on the ensuing drive which culminated with his two-yard touchdown run.

Early in the fourth quarter, Blanda continued his magnificent play when he threw a short pass from the Oilers’ 12-yard line to Billy Cannon. The 1959 Heisman Trophy winner broke a tackle and raced 88 yards through the Chargers secondary to pay dirt.

There was still fight left in San Diego as they mounted a drive to possibly tie the game in the final minute. However, Houston’s defense stiffened and held the Chargers on a fourth down play to win the AFL’s first championship.

Blanda finished with an incredible stat line – 16 completions on 31 attempts, for 301 yards and three TDS. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer also added one field goal and three extra points for good measure.

Los Angeles 6 3 7 0 - 16
Houston 0 10 7 7 - 24
A - 37,981
LAC – FG Agajanian 38
LAC – FG Agajanian 22
HOU – Smith 17 pass from Blanda (Blanda kick)
HOU – FG Blanda 18
LAC – FG Agajanian 27
HOU – Groman 7 pass from Blanda (Blanda kick)
LAC – Lowe 2 run (Agajanian kick)
HOU – Cannon 88 pass from Blanda (Blanda kick)

AFL championship game capsules>>>

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