1960- A New Beginning
The Buffalo Bills chose Penn State QB Richie Lucas as the first Buffalo Bill. One other notable selected in the 1960 draft that day would be a stalwart on the team for the entire decade, Tom Day. The Bills also filled their roster out with NFL castoffs, CFL players looking for an opportunity back home, and eager undrafted free agents. Other charter members of the Buffalo Bills who became long time fixtures on the squad were RB Wray Carlton and WR Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion.
When they started play in the American Football League in 1960, the Bills wore blue jerseys with gray numbers at home and for road games wore white jerseys with blue numbers. The rest of the uniform for both home and road contests included plain white pants with no stripe and plain royal blue socks. The helmets were silver with blue numbers on the side. The color scheme of gray/silver and blue was similar to that of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, to whom the Bills had several connections. Owner Ralph Wilson was a Lions fan growing up and was at one time a minority owner of the team while the Bills first coach, Buster Ramsey, came to Buffalo after serving as the Lions defensive coordinator.
The Buffalo Bills got off to a rocky start in their first season. The Bills started out slow with a 1-4 record. Wray Carlton scored he first TD in club history in week #2, the home opener in Buffalo. In a league that emphasized offense, the Bills could only muster 60 points in their first 5 games. The only victory came in week 3 in Boston, a 13-0 shutout of Lou Saban’s Patriots.
Veteran QB Tom O’Connell lost his starting job, and Richie Lucas fared no better. Ramsey turned to an unheralded rookie walk on named Johnny Green. The offense responded. The Bills went on a tear, going 5-2-1 and scoring 206 points, including a 32-3 pasting of the Western Division champion LA Chargers on their home turf. The following week, the Bills momentum shifted. In what has become “The Forgotten Comeback”, the Bills jumped out to a 38-7 lead on the Denver Broncos in front of a paltry crowd of 7,000 at snowy Bears Stadium. Unfortunatly, they almost made pro football history by blowing a 31 point lead.
“For the first three quarters I watched the greatest display of defensive football I’ve seen in the league this year,” said Bills coach Buster Ramsey. “Every man had almost perfect execution on every play. Then, for reasons that I cannot put a finger on, the whole thing collapsed.”
An eerie precursor to the more famous Wild Card game Between the Bills and Oilers in January of 1993, the Bills exploded for 17 points early in the 3rd to build on their 21-7 halftime advantage.
The prosperity was short lived. Denver’s All-AFL WR Lionel Taylor scored on Denver’s first play after the kickoff, an 80 run off a short pass. Taylor wasn’t finished, he hauled in 2 more scores in first 6 minutes of the 4th quarter bring the Broncos within 10, at 38-28. The Bills offense evaporated in the cold and snow, and Denver punched in another TD by RB Don Allen. The comeback was complete when Denver QB Frank Tripuka drove Denver the length of the field for the game tying score with 12 seconds remaining.
“We got to feeling a little too secure with that 38-7 lead, and when Lionel Taylor broke loose on that 80-yard touchdown, everyone caved in,” said Ramsey. “On that play, Jim Wagstaff tried for an interception and missed. A half dozen players had good shots at Taylor, and they missed, too. If our players didn’t realize there’s no place for overconfidence in pro football, they know it now.”
The collapse in Denver broke the Bills momentum for the rest of the season. The following week they beat up on the Boston Patriots 38-14, but finished the season by getting beat by the eventual champion Houston Oilers 31-23 and the Dallas Texans 24-7. The inaugural season ended with a 5-8-1 record, good for 3rd in the AFL East, 6th out of 8 teams in the league.
Green wound up the leading passer on the team, with 89 completions on 228 attempts, 1,267 yards, 10 TDs and 10 INTs. Wray Carlton led the Bills in rushing with 533 yards and 11 total TDs. Tom Rychlec led the squad with 45 receptions, and Elbert Dubenion finished with a team best 752 yards adding 7 TDs. LB Archie Mastos led the team with 8 interceptions on defense.