The League Champion Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City, changed their name to the Chiefs and will lose nothing in the move, not even their AFL championship. Facing them in the playoff game will be the Buffalo Bills, who finally have the quarterback (
) they need to drive their tough veterans and choice rookies to the Bills' first Eastern Division title. Neither team, however, will have an easy road to the championship game. In the Western Division, injuries shattered San Diego last year, but if the Chargers manage to stay in one piece in 1963 they are nearly the equal of the Chiefs. The Denver Broncos, the most improved team in the West, could spoil everything for the front-runners if either lets down. Frustrated Eastern Division teams settled for scraps the past three years while the cocky and underrated Houston Oilers gobbled up titles. The Oilers are still cocky and even stronger, but this year, at last, they will have to settle for second best. The Boston Patriots, despite last season s surprising run, are stuck with most of their old problems and several new ones. They will finish a strong third in the East.
There was a strange, eager feeling among the Buffalo Bills at their training camp this year. Call it midsummer madness or preseason whimsy, but the team sensed it was on the verge of something big—like its first championship. "The players believe it," said Coach Lou Saban and, the fact is, so does Saban. Gone are the floundering days when rookies had to carry the load. This year the Bills have some of the finest newcomers around, and only six or seven will even stay with the squad. Saban has junked the collegiate roll-out pass because he has, at long last, the man who can drop straight back in the professional manner—Jack Kemp. Meaner and faster than ever is Fullback Cookie Gilchrist (above), the league's leading ground-gainer. Wray Carlton, Art Baker and Wayne Crow give the Bills plenty of inside running strength. No one scares their offensive line, and the defensive line is just as tough. Jim Dunaway, the 268-pound rookie from Ole Miss, and Dave Behrman, Michigan State's rugged center, are among the better pro line prospects in the country this season, but neither is expected to break directly into a lineup that features such giants as Ken Rice (251), Mack Yoho (238), Tom Sestak (268) and Sid Youngelman (260). "We lack some fast ends and a good breakaway runner," says Saban, but he does not sound especially worried. His team has so much of everything else that Buffalo should win its first title since the days of the old All-America Conference.
"Cover, cover!" was the Houston Oilers' frantic battle cry last season. No less than 42 of Quarterback George Blanda's (above) passes went directly into the hands of delighted secondary defenders—an awesome if dubious record that kept the Oilers' defensive team in the game far longer than Coach Pop Ivy cared to see it there. That was not Houston's only problem. Billy Cannon missed half a season with a back injury and was ineffectual when he did play. Charley Tolar, the team's best rusher and blocking back, was a cripple. Hard-running Dave Smith was unable to operate at top speed because of a bad knee. Yet somehow, someway, the Oilers scrapped, bullied, schemed and cajoled their way to the Eastern Division title and came within a field goal of winning the championship. This year Cannon has trimmed off 16 pounds and promises to set a more sensible course. "I couldn't go over them," he says, "so I'll try running around them again." The Oiler line, both offensive and defensive, is a good one, and the secondary is strong. There are, however, soft spots—enough to keep Houston out of the championship this year. Ivy, for example, is trying two rookies—Johnny Baker of Mississippi State and Jerry Hopkins of Texas A&M—as linebackers, and that is a position where experience counts. It is becoming a tradition with the Oilers that they are written off early and are surprise champions later. "They've been selling us short for three years," says Blanda. "Guess we'll have to show them all over again."
It was a vicious Houston rush that flattened the Boston Patriots' slick old quarterback, Babe Parilli (below), in their showdown game last year. Boston winced, for Parilli's collarbone was broken and the Patriots had to settle for an honorable second in the Eastern Division. Though Parilli is back and in playing shape, Coach Mike Holovak is worried. Broken collarbones are not easy to forget, and if the Babe flinches at blitzing linemen Boston's winter will seem endless. Reserve Tom Yewcic is a good quarterback, but Parilli is an inspirational one and Boston needs all the inspiration it can get. The Pats' offensive line has some players of quality but not enough of them. "I'm looking for six new faces," says Holovak. So far, he has found only one—End Art Graham of Boston College. Larry Eisenhauer (245) and Houston Antwine (263) pounce on quarterbacks with admirable abandon, but the left side of the defensive line cannot move in fast enough. Fullback Bill Lott, out with a hurt knee last year, is now ready to give Boston's already well-balanced offense more rushing strength up the middle. Linebackers Tom Addison, Nick Buoniconte and Jack Rudolph are good although they do allow passes to be caught behind them. Gino Cappelletti, a slow but sure-handed receiver at tight end, will help in the close games with his long-range field goals. The Pats have their strong points, all right, but generally it is a case of good here, bad there. Boston will have to be content to be a strong third.
NEW YORK JETS
Last year the New York Titans' coach was not speaking to the owner, and the players were not speaking to the coach. During a full season of madness only two things seemed certain: the Titans would lose and they would not be paid for their efforts. But this is a new season. There are new owners, a new name and a new coach—Baltimore's displaced Weeb Ewbank (below). There is also real money in the bank. The choice of Ewbank, a most organized fellow, was eminently wise. Ewbank straight off told his players to hold up their heads and bleed freely for the new cause. Then they were given a play book—"a sensible sort of thing for a professional player to have," said one old hand who had gone without a play book for three years. An exact training schedule was posted, and practice sessions were closely watched by specialists. Meanwhile, Ewbank has been searching. "We have 65 bodies," said Ewbank, "but few players." Two good ones are Quarterbacks Johnny Green and Lee Grosscup. Both, however, have damaged knees and neither player may last the season. Sherman Plunkett, who was with Ewbank's championship Baltimore teams, adds some heft (297) to the offensive line. Bill Mathis, the 220-pound fullback who sat out last year with a bad shoulder, is playing well now, but that about ends the rosy report, such as it is. The 1963 Jets are just about as strong as the 1962 Titans. And just about as weak, too. They will rest securely once again at the bottom of the division.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
A year ago the Kansas City Chiefs lived in Dallas, were called the Texans and had a most unhappy coach. 'I've got problems " Hank Stram was heard to say then. "I don't know what I'm going to do for tight ends, quarterbacks, secondary defenders and fullbacks." By the time the Texans had won the AFL championship, rival coaches were wondering: What problems? Fred Arbanas turned out to be second-string All-League end, and Tommy Brooker was almost as good. Len Dawson threw 29 touchdown passes (the most in the league) and was the AFL's Player of the Year. The opposition picked up only 13 touchdowns through the secondary, and Curtis McClinton (above) stepped into the injured Jack Spikes' position at fullback and won the Rookie of the Year award. Now both Spikes and McClinton are back, and Stram has another problem. Which man will he start? Punting actually turned out to be the only department in which the Chiefs were unprofessional. Rookie Jerrel Wilson, however, has been getting off boomers in practice. And the Chiefs' other rookies are every bit as impressive, especially along the line. Minnesota's Bobby Bell, Junious Buchanan of Grambling (6 feet 7, 276 and fast) and Ed Budde of Michigan State were all standouts in the College All-Star Game. With Abner Haynes to catch Dawson's long passes (and Stram promises there will be more of them this season), the Chiefs should take up right where the Texans left off—winning the AFL championship.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
San Diego Coach Sid Gillman took his Chargers into the desert for training this year, determined to get his big and talented team into such rugged shape that mere football games would come as pleasant relief. Gillman had good reason for such drastic conditioning. Last year the Chargers were defending division champions, but after 11 first-line performers were flattened by injuries they were champions no more. "It won't be that way this season," says Gillman. After practicing in 100� heat and facing up to rattlesnakes, the Chargers should be mean and tough. For the first time ever, Gillman will not have to rely on celebrated but untested rookies. His first teams most likely will be composed entirely of experienced players. On hand to guide the offense is that big man from Texas—by way of Green Bay, Detroit and Toronto—Tobin Rote. He is 35 now, a vintage age for quarterbacks these days. Ready to step in if Rote fizzles is 23-year-old Johnny Hadl, who is determined to make the old fellow fight for his job. There is good speed and balance in the rest of the backfield with such sprinters as Lance Alworth, Bert Coan and Jerry Robinson. Ron Mix (above), the best lineman in the league, will open the holes for the swift backs. Defensively the Chargers are sound except, surprisingly, in the gigantic line, where Ernie Ladd (317), Earl Faison (262), Ron Nery (242) and Hank Schmidt (246) sometimes play as if size alone is enough. "If they get mean," says Gillman, "no one will ever catch us."
It was precisely midseason when Jack Faulkner, one of the jolliest coaches ever to roam the Rockies, and his Denver Broncos met disaster. Opposing quarterbacks discovered that passes thrown deep in the Broncos' secondary were inevitably good for six points, and Denver's surprising rush toward the title came to an abrupt halt. With good defensive backs so hard to come by, the Broncos' collapse has an ominous and prophetic ing to it. Faulkner is further faced with a shortage of capable guards, and, to make matters worse, the team's leading rusher in 1962, Don Stone, had a knee operation last winter. But if you think that the Broncos will go right on losing, do not bet heavily on it. Faulkner still has Lionel Taylor (below), who catches more passes annually than any player in the AFL, plus Quarterbacks Frank Tripucka and Mickey Slaughter ( Louisiana Tech) to do the throwing. Those hard-to-come-by defensive backs may have arrived in the form of Charlie Mitchell ( Washington) and Tom Janik ( Texas A&I), both of whom proved in the College All-Star Game that they could play with the pros. And appearing as awesome as a Rocky Mountain avalanche is rookie Fullback Billy Joe ( Villanova), whose qualifications include speed, balance and 251 pounds. "Sort of reminds you of a herd of elephants, doesn't he?" says Faulkner. The Broncos improved themselves as no other team in the division, but they still need guards and a breakaway back. Without them, they cannot win a title.