1966 - Big Changes
9-4-1 record, first place of five in AFL East, second of nine in AFL
Big changes were in store for the AFL and the Bills. The Miami Dolphins joined the AFL as its first expansion team. Privately this irritated Bills owner Ralph Wilson because five years earlier Miami had turned down his offer to place the first pro sports team in the state of Florida with the franchise that became the Bills. It was also announced that the AFL and NFL would merge and following the 1966 season would play the first joint game - a match-up of the AFL and NFL champions.
Prior to the 1966 season, coach Lou Saban left Buffalo to take a job coaching the University of Maryland Terrapins. He was replaced by Joe Collier, the Bills Defensive Coordinator under Saban who had guided the Bills defense to top of the league. The Bills most significant draft pick was running back Bobby Burnett.
The Bills defense continued its dominance finishing first in points allowed, third in yards allowed, and first in rushing yards allowed. The offense continued to have success as well finishing second in points scored, third in yards gained, and third in rushing yards. Two Bills backs, Burnett and Wray Carlton, were in the top five in rushing attempts and yards and in the top seven in yards per attempt and yards per game.
The Bills stumbled out of the gate for their new coach losing the first two games of the season (including a 42-20 beatdown by the Chiefs) before securing their first win against the expansion Dolphins. Following three wins the Bills lost and tied their next two opponents entering week eight with a record 3-3-1. They rattled off wins in six of their last seven games, including a 29-0 lathering of the Dolphins but the AFL East race would come down to the last week of the season. After beating the Bills on December 4th, the Patriots would lose their final game of the year and the Bills would win, enabling the Bills to leap frog the Patriots for the final of their four consecutive playoff appearances, the longest streak the AFL would ever see.
Buffalo was the two-time defending AFL Champs and were playing at home, but the AFL-West Kansas City Chiefs were led by Coach Hank Stram and an explosive offense that was adept at "matriculating the ball down the field". The Bills fell flat early, fumbling the opening kickoff and the Chiefs capitalized on a Len Dawson pass to take the early lead. Jack Kemp came right back and threw a 69-yard score. The Bills were threatening to tie the game last in the first half at the KC 10 when Kemp threw an interception that was brought back 72 yards. The turnover led to a field goal at the end of the half and instead of a tie game 14-14 the Bills faces a 17-7 halftime deficit. With little offensive rhythm in the second half the Bills couldn't put any more points on the board and following two Mike Garret touchdown runs the Bills lost the 1966 AFL Championship 31-7. The Chiefs went on to lose 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I.
The Bills earned many honors that year. Bobby Burnett was named AFL Offensive Rookie of the Year combining for 1,185 yards rushing and receiving, with over 12 yards per catch and 4 touchdowns on 34 receptions. He had 766 yards on 187 rushes, with 4 rushing touchdowns. Kemp, Burnett, Wray Carlton (who switched to fullback prior to the season), tight end Paul Costa, tackle Stew Barber, guard Billy Shaw, defensive tackle Jim Dunaway, linebackers John Tracey and Mike Stratton, cornerback Butch Byrd, and safety George Saimes all made the All-Star team. Billy Shaw, Stratton, Byrd, and Saimes were named to the All-AFL first team while several Bills players were named to the second team.