"Hit Heard Round the World"
1964 - AFL Champions
12-2 record, first place of four in AFL East, first of eight in AFL
The most notable addition from the team that lost in the playoffs in 1963 was fourth-round draft pick defensive back Butch Byrd. Byrd would be a ball hawk for the Bills, picking off 40 passes in his seven seasons with the Bills.
The AFL was known for its prolific offensive numbers, but the Bills of 1964 were powered by their defense as much as their offense. The 1964 Bills allowed just 913 yards rushing on 300 attempts during the regular season - a pro football record - and only four rushing touchdowns. The same defense registered fifty quarterback sacks, a team record that stands today, even though it was established in a 14-game season. Eight members of the 1964 squad were on that year's AFL Eastern Division All-Star Team, including Byrd, who picked off seven passes that year. Three players from that defense were eventually named to the AFL's All-Time Team, and six to the second team.
The offense was once again potent as Cookie Gilchrist led the league in rushing yards, touchdowns, attempts, and yards per game. Jack Kemp led the league in yards per pass attempt but threw 26 interceptions on the season and had a 50.9 passer rating on the year. The Bills were easily first in overall yards per game, rushing offense, and scoring. Elbert Dubenion would lead the league running away, literally, with a 27.1 yards per reception average, easily outdistancing the second highest total by over six yards a catch.
Buffalo started the season 8-0 and held at least a share of the AFL East division lead through the first twelve weeks of the season. A new single-game attendance record was set on November 8, 1964 when 61,929 fans packed Shea Stadium to watch the Bills improve to 9-0 over the New York Jets. But after losing two of three, the Boston Patriots passed the Bills for the division lead with only two games remaining. A Bills win in Week 13 and an idle Patriots team set up a winner-take-all match-up in the final week of the regular season. The Eastern Division title would come down to the final game of the season, with Buffalo (11-2-0) traveling to Boston (10-2-1) on December 20. A 57-yard pass to Dubenion in the first quarter, along with two one-yard scoring runs by Jack Kemp, led the Bills to a 24-14 win to capture the AFL East title and a spot in their first AFL Championship game. Dubenion had three catches for 127 yards and Glen Bass had six for 103.
In the AFL Championship game on December 26, 1964, the Bills hosted the defending AFL Champion San Diego Chargers at War Memorial Stadium. The Bills had beaten the Chargers twice that year, but the Chargers had the big game experience. The Chargers scored first, and their running back, Keith Lincoln, was running all over the Bills, gaining 58 yards on four touches. That was about to change. On a swing pass to Lincoln on the next play, Bills linebacker Mike Stratton delivered the "hit heard round the world" (pictured above). Stratton flattened Lincoln, breaking two of his ribs, on a hit NFL Films Steve Sabol would call "an ugly three-way intersection" with the two heavyweights and the ball colliding. The hit changed the tone of the game, and the Bills went on to score 20 points without allowing San Diego to score a single point more. The Bills won the AFL championship! They were the first AFL team to win 13 games in a season, including the playoffs.
Lou Saban was named Coach of the Year. Kemp, Gilchrist, Dubenion, tight end Ernie Warlick, tackle Stew Barber, guard Billy Shaw, defensive tackle Tom Sestak, linebacker Mike Stratton, cornerback Butch Byrd, and safety George Saimes were all named to the AFL All-Star team.