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September 20, 1970 - Bills Fall In First Game As NFL Member

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

We've discussed the Buffalo Bills' first season of AFL football ad nauseam because it's the 50th anniversary of that milestone season. It's also the 40th anniversary of the AFL-NFL merger, and on this date in 1970, the Bills played their first game as a member of the newly united National Football League.

The Bills were famously unpopular, coming off a dismal 4-10 season, and the game had the lowest attendance (34,882) at the War memorial since the 1964 season. Jack Kemp and Billy Shaw had both retired, and though the team didn't know it yet, they had just completed one of the worst drafts in team history. The start of the year didn't bring much excitement, either, as the Bills fell 25-10 to another former AFL team, the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos were led by head coach Lou Saban, who had coached the Bills to their two AFL titles in the mid-1960s. In 1972, Coach Saban would be welcomed back to Buffalo to turn around the struggling franchise, but on this day he led the Broncos to 23 unanswered points in a Broncos win.

O.J. Simpson led the Bills with 18 rushes for 52 yards and the team's lone touchdown, and second-round pick Dennis Shaw went 4 of 7 for 52 yards splitting time with Dan Darragh. Denver overcame 11 penalties to hang 25 points on Buffalo despite gaining only 282 total yards.

Joe Collier, who had been head coach of the Bills following Saban's departure in the previous decade, led the Broncos' "Orange Crush" defense that held Buffalo to less than 150 total yards (sound familiar?).

The Bills went on to post a 3-10-1 mark in a 1970 season that cost head coach John Rauch his job. Rauch's dubious 7-20-1 record and 27% winning percentage in two season aren't even the worst in team history.