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.
1964: The Hit Heard 'Round the World
1964 AFL Championship Game: San Diego Chargers @ Buffalo Bills
The San Diego Chargers defended their AFL West Conference championship but just barely. After winning six in a row to run their record to 7-2-1, they lost three of their last four to limp home 8-5-1. That was still good enough to top the Kansas City Chiefs by 1.5 games.
In the East, Lou Saban's Buffalo Bills didn't clinch their spot in the AFL Championship Game until the last day of the regular season when they defeated the defending East champion Boston Patriots 24-14 at Fenway Park.
The Chargers lost twice to the Bills during the season. Buffalo won at home 30-3 in Week 3 when sensational San Diego WR Lance Alworth didn't play and 27-24 in San Diego in Week 12.

L-R: Lou Saban, Lance Alworth, Sid Gillman, Keith Lincoln
The Chargers received a piece of coal in their Christmas stockings as they prepared for the title game to be held in Buffalo December 26. Coach Sid Gillman announced that Alworth was "definitely out" of the championship game "unless there's a magic whirlpool. I haven't been able to find one yet." Lance suffered a hyper-extension of the left knee as the result of a block in the previous week's game against Oakland.
No one player could replace Alworth, whose 1,295y led the team in total yardage. Sec­ond on the team in yardage was Keith Lincoln, who led the Chargers in rushing with 632y and added 302y on 34 pass receptions. With Lance out of action, Lincoln would be count­ed on to pick up part of the slack.
Gillman also made a surprising decision on his starting quarterback for the title game. John Hadl, age 24, had started eight games, and 36-year-old Tobin Rote started six during the season, with Hadl throwing for almost twice as many yards as Rote–2157 to 1,156. Sid chose Rote to start against Buffalo because of his experience in championship games. When Gillman told him he was being benched, Hadl said, "I went haywire. We had a big fight about it."
Alworth's injury, coupled with a threat of snow, established the weather-hardened Bills as strong favorites to bring their football-crazy city its first pro football champion­ship going back to the All-American Football Conference.
The Californians couldn't help but be pleased with the game day weather. The thermome­ter reached an unseasonable 47°. However, the morning rain left the field damp and slip­pery in spots, especi­ally along the edges and in the end zones. Sand was spread on the worst spots.
Buffalo's defensive coordinator Joe Collier recalled: "Sid Gillman was fit to be tied because our field was in terrible shape. That was the only practice field we had. We just wore it out. ... So the field was not very conducive to the Chargers, who were based on speed. Gillman threatened to call the game off. He called the commissioner. We had bigger guys on the defensive line in those days than most teams. ... And our linebackers were big. We played in the mud and the snow a lot, and big guys have a little bit of an advantage.
A record playoff crowd of 40,242 saw the complexion of the game change on one first quarter play.
The Chargers started like a house afire after receiving the opening kickoff. Using the spread formation Gillman put in for the game, they moved 80y in 2:11 to take a 7-0 lead on Rote's 26y pass to TE Dave Kocourek.
Coach Saban said afterward that he was happy that the Chargers scored first. "It jarred us to our senses. It woke us up. He admitted, though, that the early touchdown scared him. I thought immediately–could it be another 51-10 rout?" He was referring to the score by which San Diego clobbered the Boston Patriots in the 1963 championship tilt.
San Diego's momentum continued when their defense forced a three-and-out to take possession on their seven after the punt.
The Chargers again started strong, striking quickly to their 34. Then came the play that would forever be known as the "hit heard round the world." On a 2nd-and-10 situation with DT Tom Sestak in his face, Rote threw a swing pass in the left flat to Lincoln. The ball and All-Star LB Mike Stratton arrived simultaneously, the tackler smashing his shoulder into Keith's midsection. The fullback who had averaged 13y per rush to that point, left the game with the help of three Chargers. He would not return. Video of the hit ...
Stratton in the locker room after the game: "I thought Lincoln had nothing more than the breath knocked out of him. I never realized I had broken a rib."
Years later, Mike recounted the play. "They always ran kind of a curl pattern to the wide receiver and would run a flare with the back. It seemed as if the quarterback would take his cue from the linebacker. If the linebacker was in the line of fire and far enough back, they would dump it off to the running back. They'd already run that once or twice, so I decided, 'I'll try something new.' When I saw the pattern develop, I just turned my back to the quarterback and took several steps to the wide receiver, then stopped and turned back and went back toward the quarterback. If they caught me, the most they could do was throw to the wide receiver. I started back for Lincoln, and I saw they were throwing to him. It was just, put your head down and try to dig the dirt because, golly, if Lincoln caught the ball in time to give me a juke, hell, he could have been gone.'"
Lincoln recalled: "We were pretty confident about how we had just scored. But we decided we were going to show Buffalo a new look on offense. We called it a delayed double-flare action to the left side. I went out of the backfield for a flare pass. ... The first time Tobin looked at me, Stratton was about 20 yards downfield. He saw me out there, knew I was his man. So he started coming. In the meantime, Rote decided he was coming to me; the rush was in on him; he threw the Goddamn ball to me like you'd throw a snowball down a chimney. It seemed as though it would never get to me. And just as the ball got to me, Stratton hit me. It was a solid hit, a clean one, nothing dirty about it. When I went up for the ball, I exposed the sides of my chest and stomach area. That's where Stratton hit me. He separated my sternum, rib case."
Stratton: "You just kind of get up and go back to the huddle. I didn't have any idea what was happening. When we got back to the huddle, all of us looked over there. I think Harry Jacobs, the middle linebacker, went ahead and called the defense that we were going to run for the next play. We were getting ready to break the huddle, and Lincoln was still down."
Joe Collier: "I later told a writer from Sports Illustrated that a thrill went up and down the bench. When that was in the magazine, I got 10 or 15 letters from people saying I was a sadist: 'How could you say that after he got hurt?'"
"The hit heard round the world ..."

L: Mike Stratton belts Keith Lincoln. R: T Ron Mix tries to help his fallen teammate.
With their top two offensive weapons out of action, the Chargers would not score ano­ther point.
When the Bills got the ball back after Lincoln's injury, they drove to the five before bogging down. So Pete Gogolak, the first of the "side-saddle" kickers, booted a field goal to cut the San Diego lead to 7-3.
The Chargers squandered a good chance to add to their lead. Leslie "Speedy" Duncan took the kickoff 6y deep in the end zone and raced upfield. Behind expert blocking, he ram­bled 71y to the Buffalo 35. The last men standing were Gogalak, who didn't even wear shoulder pads, and former Charger Paul Maguire, who just managed to pull him down. The run set a record for a kickoff return in an AFL championship game. However, the effort was wasted when, two plays later, Rote went against conventional football wisdom that says never throw crossfield when you're rushed. DB Charley Warner picked off the pass and returned to the Bills 28.
Midway through the second quarter, Buffalo took the lead on HB Wray Carlton's 4y run that culminated a 55y march. Bills 10 Chargers 7 (7:49)
The home team scored again before halftime on Gogalak's second field goal. Bills 13 Chargers 7 (2:28)
After a scoreless third period, a steady drizzle started falling that lasted the rest of the game. The Bills' second touchdown was set up by a 51y catch and run by WR Glenn Bass to the one. Bills 20 Chargers 7 (9:32)
The closest San Diego got to scoring came minutes later when Duncan again electrified the SD sideline with a 49y kickoff return to the Buffalo 46. A great catch by Kocourek advanced the ball 26y. Paul Lowe darted for 13. Then Lincoln's replacement, Keith Kinderman, gained six to the seven. But an offside penalty stalled the drive. Forsaking the field goal, Hadl threw toward E Jerry Robinson running open in the end zone, but the receiver slipped down. The play epitomized the Chargers' frustrating afternoon. Gillman said, "I thought we had a chance right up to then." He had made up his mind to go for an onside kick if they scored the touchdown.
With 26 seconds left, Buffalo's impassioned fans broke through police restraining lines, took down both goalposts, and continued to run and circle the field while San Diego tried to get off its last play. Part of the mob surrounded their captive quarterback, Jack Kemp, and carried him around the field until the gendarmes liberated him so he could join his teammates in the locker room.

Lou Saban, Pete Gogalak, Jack Kemp, and Wray Carlton rejoice.