Jack Kemp, Buffalo Bills quarterback (during the Bills first Glory Years in the mid-60s), had finally overcome his many other interests in 1965 so that he could concentrate strictly on his main vocation - professional football. This change in thinking turned him into one of the best quarterbacks in football during that era. The following article was written in 1965 by Rick Anderson.
Through the blinding snowstorm in Boston's Fenway Park, one could barely see the white clad Buffalo Bills on the sidelines, who were waiting for the snow plows to clear off the field so that the game could begin. But a spectator couldn't help but see a fiery red-head tossing a football around like a shell shot out of a cannon. The player was none other than Jack Kemp, Buffalo's in-consistent quarterback.The date was December 20, 1964, and the Buffalo Bills were to play Boston's Patriots in a game that was to decide the champion of the Eastern Division of the American Football League. There was some doubt in Bills' Coach Lou Saban's mind on whom to start at quarterback. The week before he had let sophomore Daryle Lamonica play the whole game, and the former Irish star had directed Buffalo to a 50-19 victory over Denver. Saban decided to go with experience and Jack Kemp.
Kemp, before this day, had suffered through eight long, grueling years as a pro quarterback. His first three seasons as a pro were in the NFL as a third string quarterback. He spent most of his time as a bench warmer, rather than a quarterback, however.
In 1960, Kemp gave up on the NFL and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in the newly formed American Football League. He led the Chargers on to the Western Division title that year, but they lost the championship game, 24-16, to Houston.
Jack Kemp was the main figure in the Chargers romping start during the 1961 season. The Chargers had moved to San Diego and they won their first 11 gases before the Houston Oilers snapped that streak. Playing in his second straight AFL Championship game, Kemp couldn't get his offense moving and the Oilers edged San Diego, 10-5.
When Kemp broke a finger in the early part of the 1962 season, Charger Coach Sid Gillman put Jack on waivers so that he could put a healthy Dick Wood in his place on the active roster. Gillman wanted to withdraw the waivers right after the game, but he had forgotten that this could not be done with a full roster. So three clubs claimed Kemp, and Buffalo won him by a coin toss. To this date, nobody knows whether it was a horrible accident by Gillman or if he just quit on Kemp because Jack couldn't win the "big games."
At first, Kemp said he would not report to Buffalo, but later he realized this would mean the cutting off his $1,200 a week salary, so he decided to report.
Jack Kemp's history with the Buffalo Bills has been a stormy one. The first time he was introduced in Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium, the Bills fans let out a chorus of boos. That only inspired Kemp, however. He passed the Bills to a smashing victory over the Dallas Texans, who, later that year, were to become the AFL champions. The fans made up for their boos by carrying Kemp on their shoulders after the game.
It was this performance by Kemp and some top college signings by the Bills that made Buffalo fans and most experts pick them to win the Eastern Division title in 1963. This feeling was short lived, however. The Bills went winless in their first four games, but they won seven out of their last ten and tied the Boston Patriots for first place at the season's end. This resulted in the first divisional playoff in the league's history to be played in Buffalo.
Jack Kemp passed 21 times and completed 10 for 155 yards, but that wasn't enough as the Patriots drubbed Buffalo, 26-8 on a snowy field.
"Blame it on the quarterbacks," Kemp maid disgustedly. "We are either the heroes or the bums, but that's what we are paid for."
When asked about a rumor that he wanted to be traded, Kemp replied, "That's ridiculous! I thought I had a good year. I was disappointed about losing the playoff and disappointed about being taken out of the game (Lamonica replaced him in the second half). But I want to come back here next year. I think we have nucleus of a winner."
He hit the right note in that last statement. In 1963, the Bills were the youngest team in pro football. They had 8 rookies on the active roster, six of which who were to play an all important part in Buffalo's championship drive in 1964. The Bills lost the Eastern Division title in 1963 at the expense of rookies Daryle Lamonica, Ed Rutkowski, Dave Behrman, Gene Sykes, George Saimes and Jim Dunaway. But without these men in 1964, Lou Saban's squad would have finished third, instead of first.
Kemp started the 1964 season as if he was going to tear the league apart. Completing 15 passes, Jack led the "fired-up" Bills to a 54-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. But from that game until the final one against Boston, Kemp was very erratic and his No. 1 quarterbacking spot was being seriously challenged by the younger Daryle Lamonica.
The Buffalo Bills rolled to victory in their first nine games last year, but not without the excellent relief work of Lamonica. In the second game of the season, Kemp had thrown 4 interceptions (two of which came on his last two passes) and Lamonica came in and saved the day. When Kemp went out, the Denver Broncos were leading 10-5. Lamonica directed the Bills beautifully to a 50-15 victory.
To the surprise of nearly everybody, Kemp started the next game against San Diego. He couldn't get the offensive gears moving at all, so 40,167 fans in War Memorial Stadium started chanting, "We want Lamonica!' (This was to become the official chant of the Bills fans during the 1964 campaign) Lamonica spurred the Bills to a dynamic 50-5 victory over the defending 1963 AFL champions.
In the fourth game of the season against the rugged Oakland Raiders, Kemp again started, again he had troubles, again the fans yelled "We want Lamonica," again Kemp went out, and again Lamonica went in and saved the day. Jack Kemp's future as No. 1 Bills quarterback looked extremely dim. Lamonica had matured fast and looked as if he could take right over at QB and do an outstanding job.
Lou Saban did some pondering that week. He decided to give Kemp another chance. This decision turned out to be a right one for Kemp had his finest hour against the Oilers in Houston. "Jackie Boy" completed 14 of 26 passes for 578 yards. He hit flanker Elbert Dubenion on bombs of 55, 45, and 45, and orbited a 94-yard touchdown pass to split end Glenn Bass.
The next week, against the Kansas City Chiefs, Kemp hit 14 of 25 for 256 yards, 5 touchdowns, and another Buffalo victory.
Utilizing two of the fastest receivers in football (Glenn Bass and Elbert Dubenion), Kemp found how to beat the blitz, and while doing so, beat all the opponents.
He had played greatly for two straight games, thus insuring his No. 1 spot for a while. But this turned out to be only a very short while. The New York Jets were threatening the Bills six game winning streak, and they were ahead of them at halftime, 14-10. Kemp had completed half of his 16 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown, but it was obvious that the Bills needed some extra spark to defeat an inspired Jet team. Lamonica provided that spark. With only a few minutes remaining, and the Bills trailing 24-10, Daryle threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Elbert Dubenion, ran three yards for another TD, and moved the team within range so that soccer style kicker Pete Gogolak could boot a 51-yard field goal. Buffalo finally won the game, 54-24.
The story was the same for the next two games. Lamonica coming in, after Kemp had failed, and winning the game.
The Bills came back to Buffalo for the November 15th game with second place Boston. The Pats were 2 ½ games out, arid they needed this one to stay in contention. This was a game that Jack Kemp will long remember. Cookie Gilchrist, Buffalo's fullback (at that time) and the top AFL rusher, played the game as if he were a spectator rather than a participant. He let Boston blitzers get to Kemp on almost every play, and he simply refused to block. So Kemp got the worst of it. He admitted that it was the worst physical beating he had ever taken. There he sat in the locker room, so dazed he had to get help to take off his uniform.
As for Cookie Gilchrist, he was fired by Lou Saban, and re-hired again only after Kemp had talked him into apologizing to his teammates and Saban himself.
Buffalo defeated San Diego on Thanksgiving Day, but lost the following week to the Oakland Raiders. Meanwhile, the Boston Patriots had kept on winning. Buffalo had just two games left in the season. First in Denver, and then the Patriots themselves. The game with the Broncos meant little. If the Bills won, they would be in front of Boston by only a ½ game, and still would have to win or tie Boston the next week in order to become the Eastern champions. Because of this, Saban decided to give Kemp a rest and start Lamonica for the first time of the season. Daryle had a good afternoon in Denver and the Bills had a half game lead going into Boston.
So here were the Bills in a very similar situation as they had been a year before when they had to play Boston for the Eastern Division title in a playoff. Saban decided to go with Kemp's experience.
The game was delayed a half hour so that the plows could remove the snow off the playing field.. The delay was a welcome on8 for Kemp, who needed all the warming up he could get in the 20 temperatures. He also used the extra time to do some pondering about his future. Before this mama, he would formed all about football as soon as he took off his helmet. He thought about the emergence of Daryle Lamonica as a mood quarterback, and he thought how hard pressed he would be for his No. 1 ~ob if he didn't change some of his tactics. Kemp decided then and there that he would have to think a lot more about football than he had in the past to retain his starting position. It was during that half hour delay that Jack matured into one of the finest quarterbacks in pro football.
Kemp called a beautiful game against the Patriots. The game was played on a snowy, slippery field and this gave the advantage to the receivers. He decided to take advantage of this situation by passing often and long. The result: 12 completions out of 24 for 286 yards and the Bills first Eastern Division championship. The final score was Buffalo 24, Boston 14, but that wasn't too important. The important thing was the Bills victory over their arch rivals and Kemp's brilliant performance.
Against the San Diego Chargers in the AFL championship game, Kemp played a flawless game. Completing half of his 20 passes for 118 yards, Jack directed the Bills to a 20-7 victory over his former teammates. He also showed his ex-coach Bid Gillman that he could win the big game after all. He had won two straight "big ones:" First against Boston for the Eastern Division championship, and now the biggest prize of them all - the American Football League championship.
After the game, Kemp went to Lou Saban and said something that Saban least expected to hear. "Coach," Kemp said in his high pitch-ed voice, "I want to take some films home to study during the off season." Saban nearly fainted. He asked Jack if he was kidding, but Kemp replied no.
This season, Jack Kemp went out to prove that his "change" was no fluke. In the first regular season game against Boston, Kemp hit 19 out of 40 for 280 yards. He continued his great play, taking advantage of his fast ends Dubenion and Bass, against the Broncos the following week. He completed 20 passes, again for 280 yards.
But then, against the New York Jets in War Memorial Stadium, disaster struck. Kemp fired a pass into the end zone to flanker Elbert Dubenion. As by caught it, he landed the wrong way and tore ligaments in his left knee. That was it for Dubenion - he was through for the season. He was the second leading AFL receiver at that time with 18 receptions. But Kemp and the Bills were not ready to throw in the towel yet. They still had Glenn Bass (third top AFL receiver at that time), who was almost as fast as Duby. He also was noted for catching the clutch passes, so there still was hope.
Bad went to worse when Bass twisted his left ankle while coming down from making a leaping catch, in the very next game. It was revealed that Bass tore ligaments in the ankle, and surgery took place that night. So, in a matter of two weeks, the Bills had lost their two top receivers. They were now a completely different football team. No longer could Buffalo score a quick touchdown with a long bomb" as they had in the past. The Bills would have to scramble for every yard and for every score. The defense would have to take more than its load to help take the pressure off the suddenly crippled offense.
The replacements for Dubenion and Bass were to be Charlie Ferguson and Ed Rutkowski. Kemp, as usual, defended his team, "I'm sure Eddie and Charley can do the job for us. It's an awful blow to lose two guys like Duby and Glenn at one of our principal strengths, but we'll still keep winning."
Up until the Oakland game when Bass was injured, Kemp led the AFL in passing, an the Bills were 4-0.. The next week, against San Diego, the loss of these two receivers really hurt. The Bills took a 3-0 lead on a long, opening drive. It turned out to be the last Buffalo score of the day. Kemp passed 25 times and completed only seven for 48 yards. It wasn't that Kemp was having a bad day (nearly all of his passes were on target) but the receivers just couldn't hold onto the ball. They ran so many wrong patterns and dropped so many passes that the Bills offense just couldn't get moving. As a result, San Diego bombed. Buffalo, 54-5.
The next week in Kansas City, Saban started rookie Paul Costa at tight end in place of aging Ernie Warlick. That meant within three weeks, Buffalo had three new receivers. Thus, it was extremely difficult for Kemp and the receivers to get used to the different timing. Add to this the many ailments that have been bothering Kemp during the season, and Buffalo practically had no offense at all. Despite all the difficulties, the Bills won two straight games. In Kansas City, Kemp picked the Chief defense apart with his short passes (13) out of 25 for 71 yards) and the Bills won, 25-7.
At 11:59 that night, Lou Saban made an incredible trade That 1 minute under the trade deadline.. He picked up Bo Roberson, the fastest human in the AFL, from 0 land in exchange for two players to be n ad after the season. Roberson supplied the speed, the Bills had lost when Duby and Bass were injured.. So far, Roberson has act-ed sore as a decoy, rather than a receiver. While trying to get the Bills timing down pat, he caught 15 passes for 140 yards with Buffalo. But he finally got used to the Buffalo situation and was of great value in the Bills final drive at the end of the season.
Another valuable receiver was fullback Billy Joe (the man the Bills acquired in the Cookie Gilchrist trade), who caught 25 passes for 260 yards - including a 78-yard touchdown play. Before Buffalo got Roberson, Joe was the top receiver for the Bills. Kemp has used him mostly to beat the blitz, by throwing him short screen passes.
Jack Kemp has suffered through this odd season with several ailments. Against New York, Kemp tried to rollout for a touchdown. Instead, he met two huge Jet linemen head-on and was knocked unconscious. It was several minutes before he was up on his feet again.. Kemp sat on the sidelines for the remainder of the game.
"It's a weird feeling,' the dazed Kemp said. "I don't remember a thing. I don't even remember the drive. Someone told me about it on the sidelines.
"I feel like I'm on Cloud 9 selling automobiles. Yes, I guess I must have been out."
[This is very similar to what a future star quarterback who also had the initials J.K. would go through when receiving many concussions throughout his career. Jim Kelly would refuse to go out of games even after suffering a concussion and would not remember anything about the game afterwards.]
The main cause for Buffalo's 19-17 defeat to Houston two weeks ago can be blamed on a bad case of laryngitis that Kemp had caught. Saban explained why he had removed him in the second half in favor of Lamonica, "It was so bad (the laryngitis), Kemp couldn't be heard either in the huddle or at the line. He came out and chewed on aspirin for a while, until he got his voice back."
Kemp has had head, ankle, knee and shoulder injuries thus far in the 1965 campaign. Lou Saban becomes horrified every time Jack decides to keep the ball and run. He must have nightmares about Kemp getting injured and being finished for the season - heaven forbid.
If worse comas to wors, and Kemp has to miss a "game or two," the No. 1 quarterbacking job will go to Daryle Lamonica. Lamonica, who is in his third year as a professional, has seen very little action this year. He has appeared briefly in seven games, but only near the end of each one. Some fans are getting worried over this situation. They claim that this lack of practice and experience is hurting Lamonica's play. Saban has defended himself by saying that he has played Daryle every time possible (when the game is locked up by one team or the other).
The real reason for Lamonica's little use is the fact that Kemp is having a fantastic season. Even though three new receivers are in the Bills starting offensive lineup, Kemp is still second only to John Hadl as the top AFL quarterback. He has passed 262 times and completed 122 of them (most in the league) for 1,652 yards and six touchdowns. If the Bills win the Eastern Division title this year, as well they should, Kemp should be named as the AFL's Most Valuable Player. Without Kemp, the Bills would be in a real jam.
Most experts feel Kemp has the strongest arm and throws the hardest ball in football. This may be the reason why so many of his passes are dropped, especially on wet days like last week in Boston. Jack threw 23 times and completed only seven. There were more than ten passes that slipped out of the hands of the Buffalo receivers. But no Patriot intercepted a pass, either.
Jack Kemp's home town is San Diego, and one of the reason's why he chose to go to Occidental College in 1953 was its closeness to the naval city. Kemp still lives in San Diego with his wife Joanne and children Jeffrey (6), and Jennifer (2). He spent the entire off season in Buffalo this winter, working for a local bank. Half of his time was spent making commercials for the bank on local TV. The main reason he stayed in Buffalo was to take advantage of the snow and skiing. Unfortunately, the Western New York area had a mild winter, and there was hardly enough snow to say so. But the manufacturing of artificial snow solved that problem, and Kemp had a glorious time skiing.
When Kemp was still playing for the Chargers, a San Diego newspaper offered him a job as a reporter. He accepted, and was employed by that paper up until last year.
In 1964, during the Presidential summer campaign, the 6 foot, 201 lb. red head covered Barry Goldwater's tour of the country for the newspaper. Because of this, Kemp became an avid supporter of Goldwater. He went so far as to make speeches for the Goldwater cause.
[This interest in politics led Kemp to run for Congress after his playing career was over. He became famous for his stands on many issues, was named to Ronald Regan's cabinet as the secretary of HUD and ran for Vice President alongside Bob Dole in 1996 but lost.]
The main problem Kemp has had in the past was that he would take the football field with thought of all these "other interests" still clear in his mind. But that was in the past. Now he forgets all his problems and interests and concentrates on his prime interest and vocation: Pro football.
At 29 years of age, Jack Kemp has finally matured into a highly polished and mentally able quarterback. He has had the physical ability ever since he picked up a football, but a great quarterback has to have the mental as well as the physical ability.
Kemp has at least six more years of playing time left, and you can be sure that he is going to make very good use of each and every one of them.
With Cookie Gilchrist gone, and Albert Dubenion and Glenn Bass out for the entire season, Kemp is the only "superstar" remaining on the Buffalo Bills team. And the Bills will need a superior performance from a healthy Kemp, week after week, if they are to defend their American Football League crown.
As for the Bills fans, no longer can they yell, "We want Lamonica!" But instead, they chant, "We love Kemp." Saban will too, if Kemp ever stops running with that ball.
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Copyright ©2002 Rick Anderson