The glad day had finally arrived. A crowd of 12,703 fans came to Kezar Stadium to watch the Raiders host the Houston Oilers, a team coached by old Cleveland Browns warhorse Lou Rymkus and led on the field by quarterback George Blanda, a veteran of ten campaigns with the Chicago Bears. The weather was fine, if windy, and after long months of preparation and sweat, the locals in black were ready to embark on their big adventure.
For a long time, the Raiders held even with the Oilers. The defenses dominated play for most of the first quarter, with the only exception coming late in the period when the Houston offense linked a series of long passes and scored on a 43-yard pass from Blanda to rookie flanker Charley Hennigan for a touchdown. Then, on the last play of the frame, the Raiders picked up an Oiler fumble near midfield, that led to a Tom Flores-to-Tony Teresa touchdown toss of 13 yards two plays later.
After the brief flurry of excitement, the defenses gained the upper hand again and the rest of the second quarter passed without a score. The Raiders did get close enough for a field goal attempt just before the halftime gun, but Larry Barnes’s 37-yard attempt went wide.
On the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Houston up-man Al Jamison fielded the kickoff and tried to toss it back to returner Charley Tolar, but the play went awry and Alan Goldstein recovered for Oakland. The Raiders couldn’t get it into the end zone, though, and Barnes’s kick from the 17 was blocked by Dalva Allen, ending the threat. However, on the very next play, Blanda threw right to Eddie Macon and the Raider defensive back took it back 42 yards for the score.
And that was the high water mark for Oakland. The Houston offense finally caught fire and scored twice in the quarter, the first time on a 32 yard pass to Bill Groman and the second on a 3 yard toss to a wide open John Carson in the end zone. Suddenly the Oilers were up 20-14. It wasn’t over yet, though. Billy Ray Locklin got a finger on a Charlie Milstead punt late in the period and the Raiders were threatening deep in Houston territory heading into the fourth.
But they couldn’t make good. On fourth down at the three, Eddie Erdelatz chose to go for it and Billy Lott dropped Flores’s pass on the goal line, turning the ball over to Houston on a touchback. The Oiler offense continued to display their newfound spark and put two more scores on the board: an 18-yard Blanda field goal and an eight-yard end run by Dave Smith.
Down 30-14, the Raiders pulled it together for one last run at the thing, scoring on a 46-yard halfback pass from Jack Larscheid to Teresa, and added a two-point conversion, but that was finally it for the home team. The Oilers drove the last nail home with Carson’s second touchdown catch and the game ended in a 37-22 Houston win.
Without question, the Oilers ruled the day, but the Raiders had their chances. Had Barnes made his three field goal attempts and had they punched in the ball on their first drive of the fourth quarter, the outcome could have gone the other way, but they couldn’t overcome their mistakes and the Oilers could. Despite six fumbles and a blocked kick, Houston still gained 433 total yards on offense and put 37 points on the board.
Rymkus was cautiously optimistic about his team’s play. “We made fewer mistakes than they did and that’s why we won,” he said, “They stayed in there together and fought it out as a team. But there was nothing to crow about at the victory. The only thing good about the game was the fact that Oakland played worse than we did”
George Blanda blamed the novelty of a new league and a new season. “We were too excited in the first half,” he said, “It’s the inexperience of a young team. We’ll get over it now. We’re going to be tough.”
Blanda was the star of the day despite throwing an interception for a touchdown and fumbling three times. He ended the day completing 19 of 38 passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns, with six of those passes going to Groman for 115 yards. Dave Smith was the other offensive standout, gaining 104 yards on 19 carries.
Erdelatz was blunt about his team’s performance, calling it “a real bad one” and saying, “This team is capable of much better football than was played today. There really isn’t much that can be said after a game like this. Our guys were tight and tense. In fact, both teams were that way in the first half. I think we all had nerves and were trying too hard.”
There were some solid individual Raider performances, though. The Raider passing game showed well, with Flores completing 13 of 28 for 232 yards and no interceptions. Teresa and Larscheid each topped 100 yards receiving.
On the injury front the Raiders got off pretty light, too. Flores had to leave briefly in the second quarter after a hard hit, with Babe Parilli coming in for a couple of series, but Flores returned before the end of the half. Defensive end Carmen Cavalli re-injured an ankle on the first play of the game and sat out the rest of the way and halfback Luther Carr, whose appearance was a game time decision, missed the contest entirely. Everyone else stayed healthy.
The Raiders now had their first game jitters out of the way but there was no time to pause for breath. Friday night would bring the Dallas Texans to town, with both teams at 0-1 following the Texans’ 21-20 loss to the Chargers.
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