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News » Kemp name forever etched in Bills lore

Kemp name forever etched in Bills lore

Kemp name forever etched in Bills lore
The airplane was somewhere between Buffalo and Boston when coach Lou Saban finally decided who would start at quarterback in the most important game in the history of this young Buffalo Bills franchise.

You might think that, with the Bills 11-2, quarterback would have been a non-issue. Instead, it was their most pressing concern. Neither Jack Kemp nor Daryle Lamonica had distinguished themselves along the way. Neither had set himself apart from the other.

Two games earlier, in a loss at Oakland, Kemp was benched after six pass attempts. The following week, in a game at Denver, Lamonica made his first start and completed 6 of 21 in a victory. And now the Bills were off to Fenway Park to play the Boston Patriots in the regular-season finale, with the winner advancing to the 1964 American Football League championship game.

The snowy, blustery weather conditions were made to order for the Patriots. Their vaunted blitz had stymied many a running game, and Saban expressed little hope of the Bills making headway by pounding away with star back Cookie Gilchrist. If the Bills were to prevail they would have to find their answers within a passing attack that had sputtered much of the season. That bit of common knowledge had the Pats all but guaranteeing victory.

Saban weighed his options: the veteran 29-year-old Kemp or NFL sophomore Lamonica?

"I thought Jack was entitled to take us in," Saban would later say. "He has the experience and he's the top thrower."

A record 38,021 fans wedged their way inside Fenway that Sunday afternoon fully expecting their Patriots would earn a championship game rematch with the San Diego Chargers, who had routed them, 51-10, the previous season. What they witnessed was a performance that defied all the trends, all the scouting reports.

Down the field Buffalo marched early in the first quarter, a drive culminated with a 57-yard TD hookup between Kemp and Elbert Dubenion. When the Pats answered with a field goal, the Bills responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by their quarterback, a plunge set up by his 45-yard throw to Ernie Warlick. It was never much of a game as Kemp completed 12 of 24 passes for 286 yards and twice ran a yard for scores in a 24-14 victory that more than justified Saban's hunch.

"If there was an individual hero in the Bills' biggest victory ever -- which was played with remarkable skill, especially under such weather conditions -- it was Kemp," wrote Larry Felser, The News' Bills beat writer.

And from the Boston Globe: "An old pro named Jack Kemp, who was demoted and not sure of employment only four days ago, got a last-second reprieve and passed the Buffalo Bills to the championship of the American Football League's Eastern Division."

A crowd estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 overran security and spilled onto the tarmac at Buffalo International Airport when the Bills arrived home that night. Airport officials, fearing injuries, ordered the plane to halt a mile from the terminal and arranged for ground transportation for the players and coaches. A hero had been born.

Six days later, on a Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium, in a game televised on ABC but blacked out locally, Kemp completed 10 of 20 passes for 168 yards and again snuck for a 1-yard score as the Bills beat the Chargers, 20-7, for the first of their two straight AFL championships.

His career in jeopardy just two weeks earlier, Kemp, who died Saturday at 73, had become forever part of Buffalo Bills lore.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 6, 2009

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