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Pats' Past: 1963 AFL Eastern Division Title Game

The Patriots play in Buffalo today. They earned their first ever division title there.

Vito "Babe" Parilli: the first quarterback to lead the Patriots to a division title.
Vito "Babe" Parilli: the first quarterback to lead the Patriots to a division title.

The American Football League was a little different than the NFL we know today. The entire league was organized in two divisions of four teams with the two division winners playing for the AFL Championship. Since the league's inaugural season of 1960, the respective division winner always had a better record than the rest of the teams. 1963 was different, though.

While the AFL Western Division's San Diego Chargers won their division with an 11-3 record, the AFL Eastern Division saw two teams have an identical 7-6-1 record: the Boston Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. Because of that, the two teams had to play the AFL's first ever Division Playoff game. The game took place on December 28, 1963 in Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium.

In front of 33,000 spectators, the Patriots dominated from the moment the game was kicked off. The game's first drive ended with Boston's Gino Cappelletti kicking a 28-yard field goal to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. New England's kicker and wide receiver was the most promintent player of the first half as he kicked three field goals and an extra point to account for 10 Patriots points.

The other six of the first half came when Larry Garron took a Babe Parilli swing pass 59-yards to the end zone. At halftime, the Patriots were up 16-0. Not only did the team's offense make big plays, its defense did as well: safety Ross O'Hanley intercepted Bills quarterback Daryle Larmonica in the second quarter to stop Buffalo's best scoring opportunity of the first half.

O'Hanley had two interceptions during the game, as the Patriots defense registered six takeaways overall. This was the major reason why the Bills were never able to overcome the 16-point halftime deficit, even though they cut the lead in half when Larmonica threw a 93-yard touchdown to Elbert Dubenion in the third quarter and successfully completed a two-point pass afterwards. Boston's defense made the plays when it needed to make them and the offense did enough to keep the game out of reach: Parilli and Garron connected for another touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Cappelletti kicked his fourth field goal of the day to give his team a 26-8 victory.

Boston would travel to San Diego to face the Chargers for the AFL title game the next week but would lose in blowout fashion 51-10. Still, the win over Buffalo was a historical one, as the Patriots won their first division title on that December day.

While New England can't win a division championship today, a win in Buffalo would put them in a good position in the race for their 18th title since that 1963 season.