1969 Buffalo Bills – Hellos and Goodbyes
Before the 1969 season got underway, realignment was finalized between the AFL and NFL to form one league. For the players, it was both a triumph and a melancholy moment. 20 players remained in the league that were members since the inception of the AFL in 1960. 3 still were active with the Bills, Jack Kemp, Paul MaGuire, and reserve QB Tom Flores. They were there to watch the league grow from a ragtag group of rejects and castoffs to equal footing with the established NFL.
Harvey Johnson, who took over the coaching reigns 2 games into the season on an interim basis, went back to his post in the Bills front office as director of player personnel. Buffalo Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson brought in Oakland Raider Head Coach Johnny Rauch to lead his Bills. Rauch was the winningest coach in the pro football the past 3 seasons, compiling a 33-8-1 record and one Super Bowl appearance. His teams were known for an electric passing attack led by ex- Bill Daryl Lamonica.
The 1969 draft brought the Buffalo Bills one of the greatest offensive weapons in all of football. USC’s Orenthal James Simpson, Heisman Trophy winning halfback in 1968, was the consensus #1 choice to be the top pick in the draft. O.J. was rated the highest pro prospect ever by BLESTO, the NFL’s oldest and most respected scouting syndicate. Coming from the glitter capitol of the world, OJ was far from thrilled to come to Buffalo. But with the merger of the two leagues, he could not jump to a better situation. So off to Buffalo he came.
Other additions in the 1969 draft were RB Bill “Earthquake” Enyart from Oregon. Enyart in his own right was an excellent back, overshadowed in the Pac –10 by Simpson. DE Julian Nunamaker, T Mike Richey, QB James Harris, and WR Bubba Thornton also made the team. The talented Marlin Briscoe was added to the squad at the beginning of the season. Briscoe became the first black quarterback to start for a professional team, and set the Denver Bronco’s rookie record with 14 TD passes in 7 games. After the 1968 season, the Broncos refused to let him compete for the QB position, and they released him. After a quick stint in the CFL- he joined the Buffalo Bills as a WR, a position he never played before.
Leaving the squad was safety Tom Janik, who moved on to Boston. His 21 INTs and 5 TDs over the past 3 seasons left the Bills with a huge hole in their secondary. Following him to the Patriots was LB Marty Schottenheimer. DT Tom Sestak ended a stellar career as he retired. So did his line mate Tom Day.
For all his success in Oakland, Rauch was completely out of his element. With all the God given talent OJ Simpson was blessed with, Rauch wanted Simpson to do almost everything except run the ball. Rauch tried to convert him to a wide receiver. He used him on special teams as a return man. Friction quickly built between the star rookie and the stubborn head coach. Rauch also lost some of the veterans with his unusual coaching style, that included hars cerfews (even for home games} unusual drills, and even written exams the morning of the game.
The Bills again got off to a low start to the season, dropping 2 straight home games. In the opener, the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Jets took the Bills 33-17, and a week late Houston shut down the Bills 17-3. The Bills offense under the guidance of veteran Jack Kemp got back on track against Saban’s woeful Denver Broncos. The Bills offense managed 5 TDs and were unstoppable in a 41- 28 laugher. The Bills lost 28-14 the following week to a good Houston team in the Astrodome, but came home a solid victory over Boston.
The Following week everything fell apart in 50-21 drubbing in Oakland. The aging Bills defense rebounded for the remaining games on the schedule, but the offense didn’t exist. The Bills could only manage 1 TD in the next 3 games, all losses. Over the last 8 games, the Bills could only manage victories over the league’s two expansion clubs, Miami and Cincinnati. They finished the year 4-10, 4th out of 5 teams in the AFL East Division
Rauch refused to ride his star running back all season. Simpson led the team in total yards rushing with 697 yards, yet he accounted for only 20% of the team’s total offense. Rauch shared the load between Simpson, Wayne Patrick, Bill “Earthquake” Enyart, and Mini Max Anderson. Rauch employed the Raider system of run the ball to set up the deep passes. WRs Haven Mosses and Marlin Briscoe struggled as the aging Kemp again was riddled with injuries.
On Defense Butch Byrd again led the team with 7 interceptions. Rookie Robert James was quickly making his mark as a good cornerback in his own right.
1969 was the end of an era. Jack Kemp would retire, and many of the names from the Bills Championship seasons soon departed. All- AFL Safety George Saimes was dealt to Denver, and CB Booker Edgerson followed. LB Harry Jacobs, the steady rock in the middle of the Buffalo defense for the past 7 years moved on to New Orleans. Future Hall of Famer G Billy Shaw, T Stew Barber and C Al Bemiller retired, leaving the once proud offensive line without their heart and soul.
In a fitting goodbye, Kemp and Shaw were rewareded with an appearence in the last AFL All Star Game ever played. Also going to the game were LB Harry Jacobs, CB Butch Byrd, and WR Haven Moses. OJ Simpson was not only invited to- and played- in the final AFL All Sar game, he participated in the NFL Pro Bowl as well.