On a rainy Friday night in the Big Apple, the Raiders staged a ten-point comeback in the fourth quarter to beat the New York Titans, 28-27, before 10,000 spectators at the Polo Grounds. The Raiders entered the game coming off their worst loss ever, a 38-9 beating at the hands of the Bills. At 3-4, they had fallen back to the pack after challenging the Broncos for the Western Division lead just a week ago. They did come into the game mostly healthy, though. Larry Barnes, Tom Flores, and Charley Powell had all been suffering from various forms of mild illness in recent days but would be ready to go at game time.
The Titans were in rougher shape. They entered the game with a 4-3 record, but in their previous game, a 42-28 loss to the Oilers, both of their quarterbacks, Al Dorow and Dick Jamieson, had sustained significant injuries. For a while, the team wasn’t sure either would be able to play against Oakland, but while Jamieson was inactive, Dorow was able to get healthy enough to play. Still, he was a bit of a mess with ankle, rib, and knee problems slowing him down. Bob Scrabis would be his backup. On top of that, the team was still shaken by the October 9 death of guard Howard Glenn, who suffered a broken neck in Houston and died the same day as a result. The team dedicated tonight’s performance to his memory.
To add spice of a less somber variety to the proceedings, there was a bit of espionage drama leading up to the game. Eddie Erdelatz had been working out his squad at the Polo Grounds in prior days, but he abruptly moved practices to Fordham University, claiming there were Titans spies trying to get a glimpse of the team’s game plan in advance of the contest.
Barnes kicked off short to open the game and one of the upfield blockers, Larry Baker, returned the ball to the 40 where he fumbled. Nyle McFarlane recovered for Oakland, but the Raiders couldn’t do anything with it and had to punt. On New York’s second opportunity, Don Maynard, one of the team’s two outstanding receivers, drew a pass interference call against Riley Morris to get things going and later scored on a 47-yard pass-and-run from Dorow, beating Alex Bravo on the play.
Flores and the Raiders had better luck on their next drive. On the second play, Billy Lott ripped off a 34-yard rumble, and four plays later, from the New York 25, caught a pass at the 20 and beat the defense to the end zone to tie the game.
Chaos ensued on the next play. Barnes’s kickoff went a yard deep into the end zone. Leon Burton and Bill Shockley each went for it but collided. The ball bounced off one of them and out beyond the goal line. Before a Raider could get his hands on it, Burton recovered from the mishap, picked up the ball, and returned it 99 yards for the score.
Things calmed down for a while after that. The teams did nothing more than trade punts for a while, aside from an Eddie Macon interception, and it wasn’t until about midway through the second quarter that things got interesting again. The Raiders started a drive on their own 22, and five plays in, from the 39, Flores threw the long ball to Al Hoisington who caught it at the Titan 25 and took it in to score, tying the game back up.
Burton fumbled the ensuing kickoff and recovered it again, but this time the Raiders stopped him at the 15. However, just two plays later, Dorow connected on a bomb to Art Powell, Charley’s little brother, for a 76-yard touchdown, that put New York ahead again. The Titans had another chance to score before halftime, but Shockley’s field goal attempt from the 33 was wide, and his team went into the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
So far, it had been Titan miscues that had determined the direction of the game one way or the other, but early in the third quarter, the Raiders were the ones with slick hands. On their first play from scrimmage, Charlie Hardy caught a pass good for a 14-yard gain, but lost the ball, with Dick Felt recovering at the Oakland 48. The Titans drove to the two, but Morris and Bob Dougherty came to the rescue, dropping Dorow for a 17-yard sack and the team had to settle for an 18-yard Shockley field goal in lieu of a touchdown.
Down by ten, the Raiders slowly began to turn things their way. Barnes missed a 50 yard field goal try on their next drive. The Titans then put together an 11-play drive that was snuffed by Macon’s second interception. Erdelatz now pulled Flores in favor of Babe Parilli who led his team on a 13-yard march, culminating in a three-yard JD Smith run early in the fourth.
The team’s then traded interceptions before the Titans could maneuver close enough to let Shockley knock through his second field goal, this time from the 24. Up by six, with 6:13 left, it was on the New York defense to hold on. But they couldn’t. Parilli took the team on another extended drive, keyed by a gutsy Tony Teresa 12-yard run on third down, and ended with another Smith touchdown run, from the nine. Barnes’s extra point kick was true, and the Raiders led 28-27 with 3:34 to play.
The Titans went three-and-out on their first attempt to regain the lead, then on their second try, with time growing short, Charley Powell and Ramon Armstrong strip-sacked Dorow with Powell recovering. The Raiders were able to run a couple of plays into the line and come away with the thrilling win.
Erdelatz was a happy man after the contest saying, “it was another great team effort, just like all our other wins. These kids have as much hustle as any team I’ve ever been associated with.”
Some of the second half surge was attributed to an adjustment to the blocking in the running game put in place by Marty Feldman. Feldman credited both sides of the ball. “The blocking and pass protection were there,” he said, “and, defensively, the boys really took the battle to the Titans.”
To get the win, the Raiders had to overcome ten penalties, four of which gave the Titans a first down. They were aided, though, by five New York turnovers, including Macon’s pair of interceptions, giving him eight on the year in just eight games. On offense, a strong running game led the way, featuring Lott’s 62 yards on eight carries. Parilli was credited with the late game push but completed just three of six passes for 36 yards and a pick. Flores went 9-for-20 for 170 yards and got both passing touchdowns. Hardy topped receivers with three catches for 40 yards.
Despite a strong Oakland pass rush, the Titans did most of their damage through the air. Art Powell’s six catches for 123 yards led all receivers. Dorow completed 15 of 33 passes for 201 yards, but had three interceptions. Bill Mathis led New York runners, getting 55 yards on 14 attempts.
With the win, the Raiders moved back to .500 and could get within a half-game of the division lead, were the Broncos to lose to Dallas on Sunday. Oakland’s next stop was Boston, for a rematch with the 2-5 Patriots, who also played tonight, losing 45-16 to the Chargers. This would be another Friday night contest.
The Titans were now also 4-4 and would face those Chargers next Friday night at home.
Hayward Daily Review
Official American Football League gamebook
Pro Football Reference