1970 Buffalo Bills – A Fallen Hero
The worst news of all came after the beginning of the 1970season. The team’s best young offensive line prospect, G Bob Kalsu, would not return home from his military commitment in Vietnam.
Bob Kalsu had been an All-America tackle at the University of Oklahoma and an eighth-round draft pick by Buffalo in 1968. He started eight games at guard in 1968 and was the Bills’ top rookie. His potential had few limits. Following the season he entered the Army to satisfy his ROTC obligation.
Kalsu arrived in Vietnam in November 1969. He was killed in action on 21 July 1970 at Fire Base Ripcord near the A Shau Valley. First Lieutenant Bob Kalsu had one child, a daughter. At home in Oklahoma City, his wife gave birth to his son, James Robert Kalsu Jr., on 23 July 1968. Mrs. Kalsu was informed of her husband’s death hours later. Kalsu became the only active NFL player to become a casualty of the Vietnam War.
The Buffalo Bills entered the new decade in a new league. The AFL/NFL merger was now complete. The league realigned into 2 conferences with old NFL clubs Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltomore moved into the AFC, comprising of the 10 AFL clubs. The Bills were located in the AFC East, with old foes Boston, Miami, the New York Jets, and NFL veteran Baltimore.
Missing from the Bills line up were a lot of familiar faces from the Championship era. QBs Jack Kemp and Tom Flores retired- Kemp headed into local politics and Flores joined Rauch as an assistant coach. The offensive line was stripped of veteran leadership when T Stew Barber, G Billy Shaw, and C Al Bemiller hung up the cleats. The one time punishing defense also was ravaged by turnover and needed rebuilding.
The 1970 draft brought the Bills OJ Simpson’s close friend from USC, DE Al Cowlings witht the 5th overall pick in Rd #1. QB Dennis Shaw was selected with the 2nd rd pick, and G Jim Reilly made the club as a 3rd rd selection. Later on, the Bills found WR Glenn Alexander, C Wayne Fowler, and OT Richard Cheek.
The surprising Dennis Shaw won the quarterback derby between him, James Harris and Dan Darraugh. Shaw fit Coach Johnny Rauch’s system that he brought over from the Raiders last season. Another thing he brought over from last season was the misuse of RB OJ Simpson.
The Bills opened the season against Lou Saban’s Denver Broncos in Buffalo. The revitalized Bronco defense, bolstered by newly arrived Ex- Bills George Saimes and Booker Edgerson in the secondary, stymied the rookie Bills QB Shaw. The Broncos escaped with a 25-10 victory.
Next on the schedule, the Bills met their first opponents of the old NFL, George Allen’s Los Angeles Rams. The Rams featured one of the best defensive lines in the league, with Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones schooling the young and inexperienced Bills OL. OJ Simpson was stuffed, Dennis Shaw was chased all over the field, and the Rams shut out the Bills 19-0.
For the next 5 games, The Bills began to put things together offensively. Dennis Shaw and Merlin Briscoe were connecting early and often on big plays. Haven Moses also got into the act. Rauch was content using OJ as a decoy, a special teams player, everything except an every down back. During the first half of the season, Simpson managed less than 15 carries a game.
Week three saw the Bills pass their way to a 34-31 upset win over the disappointing New York Jets. The highlight of the game was an OJ Simpson kickoff return covering 95 yards for a touchdown. A 23-10 loss followed to the Pittsburgh Steelers another brash rookie QB, Terry Bradshaw. Week 5 saw the Bills lose to an up and coming Miami Dolphin squad led by new coach Don Shula. Little did the Bills know that it would be the beginning of a 20 game losing streak to the Dolphins, as the Buffalo Bills were to go 0-for-the-decade against the fish.
Buffalo rebounded nicely with two wins backed by solid defense. A 10-6 win against the Namath-less Jets completed a season sweep. The following week, the Bills thoroughly dismantled their old AFL nemesis, the Boston Patriots, at the Rockpile in a 45-10 shellacking. The young Bills squad were 3-4 with a bright second half of the season ahead. The optimism lasted all of one week. Rauch lost OJ Simpson for the year on punt return duty against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals destroyed the Bills 43-14 in Buffalo and without Simpson, the season crumbled. They never won another game the rest of the season, managing a surprise 17-17 tie on the road to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Colts.
The Bills finishd the year 3-10-1, 4th out of 5 teams in the AFC East.
Despite being lost for half the season, Simpson’s 488 rushing yards still led the team. Marlin Briscoe led the entire league with 57 catches and 1036 yards. Briscoe’s receiving mate, Haven Moses, also had his best season to date hauling in 39 catches for 726 yards. Rookie Dennis Shaw finished the season ranked 4th amongst all passers, tossing for 2,507 yards and 10 TDs. For this, Shaw was recognized as the NFL rookie of the year.
Marlin Briscoe was rewarded for his performance with a trip to the NFL Pro Bowl. He was the only Buffalo Bill to go.