1968 Buffalo Bills – The Darkest Season
Wray Carlton, an original member of the team and the First Buffalo Bill to ever score a touchdown, retired in the off season. He retired at the time as the Buffalo Bills All- time leading rusher with 3,368 yards, a mark he would hold until OJ Simpson’s magical 2,003- yard season in 1973. Also retiring was LB John Tracey. The Cincinnati Bengals claimed HB Bobby Burnett, OT Gary Bugenhagen, DT Rich Zecher, DB Charley King and C Bob Schmidt in the AFL expansion draft.
With the anemic showing of the offense, Buffalo drafted college standout WR Haven Moses with their first pick. 2nd rd DE Bob Tatarek made the squad, and the Bills found LB Edgar Chandler in rd 4. RB “Mini” Max Anderson was selected in Rd 5 and the Bills found an outstanding OG from Nebraska, Bob Kalsu, in Rd 8. It was one of their better drafts in quite a few seasons.
The team made history in August camp, as the Bills defeated Detroit, 13-9, in a preseason contest at War Memorial for first victory over an NFL team.
Collier, angered by a lackluster performance in a preseason game, ordered a full-contact scrimmage a couple days later. During that ill-advised game, Kemp suffered a season-ending knee injury, all but dooming the team for that season. Tom Flores was also lost for significant time during camp.
The aging Bills team was doomed without a competent signal caller. Rookie Dan Darragh was given the job and the results were not pretty. Injuries and age thinned the offensive line. Joe O’Donnell was lost for the year with a knee. The Bills hung tough against Boston in the opener but lost, 16-7. Oakland came in to Buffalo in week 2. Daryl Lamonica who was traded the season before by Buffalo, shredded the Bills. In an ugly 48-6 dismantling of this once proud franchise, Joe Collier was dismissed as Head Coach. Harvey Johnson, Bills player personnel director, was named to succeed him on an interim basis. Johnson had been the Bills player personnel director since 1962, taking the position over when Lou Saban took the coaching reigns.
After a tough loss to the expansion Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills pulled their biggest upset win of the year. The High flying Jets had been averaging 34 points a game and came to Buffalo with an unblemished 2-0 record. Joe Namath had just come off a record breaking season in which he threw for 4000 yards. The Bills put up a fight and stunned Broadway Joe and the rest of the Jets with a thrilling 37-35 victory. It was to be their only win on the rest of the season.
The rest of the season was laughable. Last season’s offensive hero Keith Lincoln was traded back to San Diego after a poor start. Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion saw the writing on the wall and retired in early October. He was the last of the original Buffalo Bills dating back to the inagural 1960 season.
The Bills managed only a 14-14 tie against the Miami Dolphins the rest of the season, going 0-9-1. A porous offensive line finally knocked Rookie QB Dan Darragh out for the season.
Next up was second year scrub acquired from the Chargers, Kay Stephenson. He only lasted a couple of games until he was knocked out. With the Bills desperate for options, they turned to an old veteran.
Ed Rutkowski was a jack of all trades, master of none. Rutkowski did everything on the Bills during his career, playing back up RB, he returned kicks, punts, and filled in admirably over the past 2 seasons as injuries ravaged the Bills WR corps. With his RB skills, he managed to run for his life and stay healthy the rest of the season.
Late in the year, Rutkowski was battling the 10-2 Oakland Raiders. With the West leading Raiders holding on to a slim 13-10 lead, Rutkowski had driven down to the Raider Goal line with time running out. With nothing to lose, the Bills chose to go for the win instead of a game tying FG. As the clock wound down in the game, the Bills were stuffed and turned the ball over. The loss guaranteed the Bills the worst record in the AFL, and the exclusive rights to the #1 overall pick in the AFL/NFL combined draft. The big prize coming out of the NCAA that season was Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson. At 1-12-1, they finished dead last in the league.
Rookie “Mini” Max Anderson led the Bills in rushing with 525 yards and 2 TDs. He also led the AFL in kick returns, kick return yardage, and KR average. He also managed to return one for a score. Another rookie, WR Haven Moses, led the squad in receptions with 42 and yards, 633. Darraugh led the 5 starting QBs in passing, without eclipsing 1000 for the season.
It was the only time in Buffalo Bills history that rookies would lead the team in passing, receiving, and rushing all in the same season.
Butch Byrd was stellar again on defense, leading the secondary with 6 interceptions. Veteran Booker Edgerson was second with 4 picks, and steady Tom Janik was third with 3 picks. Through their returns, the Buffalo secondary registered 5 TDs on the season. Amazingly, the Bills QBs combined only threw a total of 7 TDs, and the Bills rushing attack netted only 9.
If the season wsasn’t bad enough, Rookie bright spot G- Bob Kalsu left the team- as he was inducted into military service.