Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1960: Oilers Repel Late Thrust to Win First AFL Title
1960 AFL Championship Game: Los Angeles Chargers @ Houston Oilers
The American Football League culminated its first season with its championship game on Sunday, January 1, 1961. ABC telecast the game to an audience estimated at 40,000,000 with Jack Buck doing the play-by-play. With the college bowl games moving to Monday, the AFL had the football airwaves to itself.
ABC's five-year deal was a major factor in the league staying in business and eventually forcing a merger with the NFL. However, the site of the championship clash gave fodder to those who dismissed the AFL as a minor league. The game was played at the Oilers' home field, Jeppesen Stadium, which belonged to the Houston Independent School District.
The teams split their two regular season meetings, each winning at home, Houston by 38-28 and LA 24-21. Their third clash would feature one sensational play and several strange decisions by the opposing coaches.

L-R: George Blanda, Bill Groman, Billy Cannon
After the Oilers led 10-9 at halftime, the teams exchanged touchdowns on their first possessions of the third quarter. Houston's 33-year-old QB George Blanda hit WR Bill Groman from the seven for six points. But the Chargers pulled to within one again on RB Paul Lowe's 2y plunge.
The final 15 minutes were packed with action. LA P Bob Laraba punted the Oilers into a hole at the 11 early in the period. After two plays gained just a single yard, the Oilers exe­cuted the play of the game. Blanda threw to HB Billy Cannon streaking past DB Jim Sears near the right sideline. Billy took the perfect pass over his shoulder at the 40 and outraced Sears to pay dirt. Oilers 17 Chargers 9

L-R: Dave Kocourek, The head coaches, Dave Smith
But Kemp responded by leading a 63y eight-snap touchdown drive of his own. The key play came when Jack, trapped 20y behind the line of scrimmage, shook loose from four pursuers to get off a 33y jump pass to FL Dave Kocourek, who went out of bounds on the two. Lowe plunged over the left side on the next play. One of the rules the AFL adopted to make their games more exciting than the NFL's was the two-point conversion, which col­leges had implemented in 1958. But LA Coach Sid Gillman chose not to go for two to tie. Oilers 17 Chargers 16
Gillman was counting on getting the ball back with a chance to kick a winning field goal. But the Oilers thwarted that strategy somewhat when Blanda's passes sparked a 65y time-consuming drive that reached the one. A field goal would put Houston up by four, forcing the visitors to score a touchdown to win. But Coach Lou Rymkus decided to keep his field goal unit on the sideline.
You'd think Blanda would put the ball in Cannon's hands to get the clinching touchdown. Instead, George handed to FB Dave Smith, who was dropped for a 1y loss to keep the margin at eight, just a touchdown and two-point conversion away from a tie with three minutes remaining.

Paul Lowe gets away for 24y as George Shirkey and Jim Norton close in.
Still, the Chargers had to gain about 50y to move within field goal range. Using passes and Lowe's sweeps, Kemp directed his unit to a 4th-and-10 on his 47 when officials stop­ped the action for the two-minute warning. When play resumed, Lowe took a handoff and sped 24y to the 29. The collar around Rymkus's neck got even tighter when Kemp tossed to FB Charlie Flowers to the 22. But Jack's 3rd down pass just eluded the clutches of E Don Norton, who sprawled at the four.
So the game came down to one play. Would Kemp give the ball to Lowe, a remarkable breakaway runner who had squirmed over the slippery terrain for 165y or would he trust the passing arm that had connected 21 times for 171y? Jack called his own number, rolled to his left, and shot a high pass in the direction of Norton at the 10. Don made a despera­tion leap, but the ball sailed beyond his fingertips. Rymkus dared to breathe again. FINAL SCORE: Oilers 24 Chargers 16