When the Patriots and the Bills face off against one another this weekend, not much will be mentioned of a rivalry. While their's is not a traditional one, there was a fierce one in the mid-1960's. From 1963 through 1966, both teams finished in the top two of their division three times. It was an era where victory was never assured.
In the earliest years of the AFL, neither the Bills nor the Patriots were contenders. But by 1963, both vied for the divisional crown. Led by Lou Saban (Bills) and Mike Holovak (Patriots), the two teams were well coached and stocked well with quality talent. Finishing with identical records that year, they were forced to play a playoff game to determine the winner of the Eastern Division.
It was a bright sunny day in Buffalo. As fans packed the 33,000 seat War Memorial Stadium, many were eager to watch their Bills march on to victory. But fate was not on the Bills' side that snow-covered day as the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish. After a Gino Cappelletti field goal gave Boston a three-point lead early in the first, Larry Garron caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Babe Parilli, extending the Patriots' lead to ten.
After a couple more Cappelletti field goals in the second quarter brought the Patriots' lead to sixteen, it looked like the game was getting away from the hometown Bills. But the Bills refused to go down quietly. In the third quarter, Daryle Lamonica showed off his great arm by launching a 93-yard touchdown pass to Elbert Dubenion. After Lamonica successfully completed the two-point conversion, Boston's lead had been cut in half and it looked like the Bills just might pull off the comeback.
But this squad from Boston was a resilient bunch and refused to give up their lead. After another Parilli to Garron connection and another Cappelletti field goal in the fourth quarter, the Eastern Division was the Patriots'. Even though they lost badly to the Chargers in the AFL Championship Game a week later, one of the AFL's better rivalries had been born.
Emboldened by their championship tussle the year before, both teams entered 1964 gunning for their first titles. Neither of their journeys mirrored the other. While the Bills were bulldozing their way to a 9-0 record going into their first meeting with their divisional rivals, the Patriots trudged their way to a respectable 5-2-1.
The rivals first collided that year at War Memorial Stadium and the game was a real classic. Back and forth the two teams went, with neither wanting to cede victory. But once again, Babe Parilli broke the hearts of Buffalo fans, tossing two of his five touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to hand the Bills their first loss of the year.
After suffering that 36-28 victory, the Bills lost to the Raiders by a field goal three weeks later. Their dream season was starting to unravel and they knew that they needed to rebound.
There's nothing that can sharpen a man's senses quite like a rivalry. A lot was on the line in the season finale between the Bills and the Patriots. With the Bills having an 11-2 record and the Patriots sporting a 10-2-1 record, the division was on the line before 38,000 at Fenway Park that crisp mid-December day.
After Elbert Dubenion caught a 57-yard scoring pass from Jack Kemp, the Patriots responded with a touchdown of their own on a 37-yard Babe Parilli-to-Tony Romeo connection to end the first quarter down by one. the Bills took over in the second quarter when Kemp plunged into the end zone from the one-yard line and Pete Gogolak kicked a 12-yard field goal to give Buffalo an 11-point lead going into the half.
Both teams failed to score in the third quarter, but Jack Kemp kept his teammates engaged by again scoring from the one-yard line early in the fourth quarter to give the Bills a seemingly insurmountable 24-6 lead. the Patriots refused to go down quietly and mounted a drive late in the game. However, the drive that resulted in another Parilli-to Romeo connection was too little, too late for the Patriots.
After the Bills beat the Patriots 24-14, they beat the Chargers the following week to claim their first AFL championship. They would repeat the feat the following year while the Patriots fell back into mediocrity. But this didn't wasn't the end of their rivalry, it was merely a pause.
While 1963 and 1964 were filled with aggravation and excitement between the two teams, 1966 was more of a track meet rather than a head to head battle. Before the season began, the Bills were dealt a major blow when Lou Saban Left suddenly for the University of Maryland, citing the belif that he had done all he could do in professional football. In his place stepped in Joe Collier. Although he had never been a head coach, he had been with the organization since its birth in 1960.
Undaunted, the Bills started the year 3-2, fully intent on winning their third straight AFL championship. But the 1-2-1 Patriots had other ideas, beating the Bills 20-10 and starting a three game winning streak of their own.
After Boston beat Buffalo again 14-3 in the third to last game of the year, all they had to do was win out to steal the Eastern Division away from the Bills. It all came down to the final game of the regular season. While the Patriots lost to the Jets 38-28 at Shea Stadium, the Bills beat the Broncos 38-21 to give them a half a game edge of Boston.
For the third year in a row, the Bills were AFL East Division champions. They would go on to lose to the Chiefs 31-7 in the AFL Championship Game a week later, missing the opportunity to represent their young league in the first ever Super Bowl.