Teams in the East continue to search for new ways to dislodge Houston from first place, hut they have yet to work out an effective formula for doing it. The Oilers not only have the best set of quarterbacks in the AFL ( George Blanda and Jacky Lee), they also have the best receivers and the incomparable Billy Cannon. Boston, having given the redoubtable Babe Parilli full rein at quarterback, is ready, nevertheless, to make it a chase, and the Buffalo Bills under Lou Saban have experienced a birth of college spirit. This leaves the New York Titans, who make up for a serious lack of talent in their lineup with two inspiring names: Moses Gray and Proverb Jacobs
Boston: the new Babe
At 32, Vito (Babe) Parilli, the itinerant quarterback, has found security and contentment in his work. The young man who broke out in hives over the unsettled quarterbacking situation at Cleveland and shared his position at Green Bay, Ottawa and Oakland has been told that the job is his alone at Boston. Parilli is delighted. So, evidently, is Coach Mike Holovak, who traded away Parilli's shadow, Butch Songin. The Patriots finished only a game behind champion Houston last year. The offense should be the pride of the East. Though Fullback Billy Lott is out with an injured knee, there is still a multiple running threat in Ron Burton, Jim Crawford and Larry Garron. Split End Gino Cappelletti, Flanker Jimmy Colclough and Tight End Tony Romeo, hired in from Dallas, can catch. Cappelletti led the AFL last year with 147 points on pass receptions, field goals and extra points. There is strength in the offensive line in Tackle Charley Long, an incumbent, and rookie Guard Billy Neighbors of Alabama. Pass defense has been the blight of the Patriots. They think they have the problem licked with the addition of all-league Cornerman Dick Felt (obtained in the Songin trade), the return to form of Safety Ross O'Hanley and the improvement of Cornerman Don Webb. Halfback Angelo Dabiero of Notre Dame, their only representative in the All-Star Game, gave up football to become a teacher-coach, but another Irish alumnus. Linebacker Nick Buoniconti, has earned a position on the squad behind two-year all-league Tom Addison (left). Boston has improved, but the Houston Oilers have improved more.
Buffalo: the scramblers
Lou Saban, a college coach at heart, teaches the roll-out to his quarterbacks and manners to his linemen. "Wadayaknow," piped Guard Billy Shaw when Elbert Dubenion (left) caught a pass in a recent scrimmage, "Duby caught one." Saban stopped play, stepped in and snapped, "Duby always catches them. No more cracks like that." The Bills, last in the East in 1961, have responded to Saban, who coached at Boston last year. Saban doesn't believe his quarterbacking problem is as acute as people say. Warren Rabb, 205 pounds and a good roll-out passer, fits Saban's offensive pattern. So, Saban hopes, will Al Dorow, acquired from the Titans for Johnny Green and All-Star Defensive Halfback. Billy Atkins. Dorow, who has been in pro ball for 10 years, led the league in 1961 in passes thrown (438), completed (197) and intercepted (30), and ran with the ball more than any other quarterback. Earlier, the Bills sent Dean Look to the Titans for defensive Tackle Sid Youngelman, who wasn't hitting it off with Titan Coach Bulldog Turner. The Bills lack depth. A mass shuffling in the line was still being made when more trouble came: Ken Rice, their best offensive guard, injured his knee and is out for half the season. Saban has made a running back out of Dubenion, formerly a flanker. Glen Bass, the leading receiver last year as split end, is now the flanker, and Ernie Warlick takes his spot. The hope is an improvement in pass receiving. Art Baker, fast and powerful, is at fullback. Generally the Bills are still scrambling, but they look good enough to beat out the Titans for third place in the East.
Houston: pitch and catch
Sometimes," says Jacky Lee, the best second-stringer in the AFL, "I'm surprised how well I stand my impatience." Lee plays behind Quarterback George Blanda, the old Kentucky colonel who has been quarterbacking for 13 years. Lee has been his understudy for three years. Together last year they devastated the league's defenses: Blanda completed 187 of 362 passes for 3,340 yards ( AFL record) and 37 touchdowns (record), Lee 66 of 127 for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns. Blanda also kicked 64 out of 65 extra points and 16 field goals, one a record 55-yarder. No wonder he was named the league's Player of the Year, and no wonder Jacky Lee is content to wait his turn. A remarkable number of pass catchers make both men's jobs easier: Bill Groman, Charley Hennigan, Billy Cannon, Willard Dewveall, Bob McLeod, John White and Dave Smith. New Coach Pop Ivy, late of the Cardinals, calls them the finest group of receivers he has seen "in any league." Cannon (right) is to Houston what Paul Hornung is to Green Bay. He led the league in rushing with 948 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, nine on passes. Houston, however, continues to be a passing team because it has neither the swift-pulling guards nor the power fullback for a strict running game. Tackle Al Jamison, called "Dirty Al" by opponents ("I'm just aggresive," says Al modestly), is the giant of the offensive line. There are shortcomings in the defense, but rookies Bobby Jancik ( Lamar Tech) Tom Goode ( Mississippi State) and Larry Onesti (Northwestern) will be of help. Houston is a two-time league champion going for a third—and after that a fourth.
New York: the searchers
It couldn't be hometown influence, because they were 40 miles away in Pennsylvania, but as training days piled one on another the Titans began to look more and more like the Mets. By the time they had lost three straight exhibitions, new Coach Bulldog Turner's clangorous optimism had lost volume and he was making statements that began, "You have to plan for next year...." The Titans, 7-7 for two straight seasons, did little to improve themselves in the rookie draft (they hired three of the 23 sought); they did less in the AFL "equalization draft" (they hired nobody), and have been unable to come up with any decisive trades. They got all-pro defensive Halfback Bill Atkins and Dean Look from Buffalo, but had to give up Sid Youngelman, tackle and ace public relations man, and Quarterback Al Dorow to do it. And still they need a quarterback. Butch Songin is 38, Johnny Green, also from Buffalo, has been so so and Look, a quarterback at Michigan State, has not played since 1959. Compounding their miseries, the Titans lost for at least two months their best running back, Billy Mathis, when he broke a collarbone in the third exhibition. Keeping Turner from total depression has been the work of swift Halfback Dick Christy, Guard Bob Mischak and Split End Art Powell. The 260-pound Biblical tackles, Moses Gray and Proverb Jacobs (right), have played well, and Linebacker Larry Grantham has stood out defensively, but Turner would like to get another offensive tackle so he can move Bud Cockrell back to defensive end. Whatever moves he makes, a fall to last place seems inevitable.