It is rivalry week at SB Nation NFL! All week long, the entire network will focus on rivalries between franchises and people — the famous and the obscure. Today, we’ll kick things off with arguably the New England Patriots’ oldest rival.
It was a Saturday in September and the start of a rivalry that is still intense almost 60 years later. The second week of the American Football League’s inaugural season saw the Boston Patriots travel to the Big Apple to face the New York Titans — a team that would later re-name itself and from 1963 onward be known as the New York Jets.
The Titans entered the game at 1-0 after beating the Buffalo Bills 27-3 on opening day 1960. The Patriots, on the other hand, were 0-1 after losing the franchise’s first game — which also was the first AFL game ever — 10-13 to the visiting Denver Broncos. 19,200 people visited New York’s Polo Grounds to watch the Titans, coached by legendary former Washington Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh, take on the visiting Patriots, coached by Lou Saban.
The game started well for the visitors when running back Walt Livingston scored from one yard out to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead. It would be Boston’s only points of the first three quarters, however, as the Titans quickly took control of the contest. The home team went on to score 24 unanswered points, courtesy of a Bill Shockley field goal and three Al Dorow touchdown passes.
By the start of the fourth quarter the scoreboard read 24-7 in New York’s favor and the Patriots looked destined to start their inaugural season 0-2. However, they would not quit and instead started to fight back. A Tom Greene to Oscar Lofton touchdown pass brought the Patriots within 10, another touchdown pass — this time from Butch Songin to Jim Colclough — would cut the Titans’ lead to just three points.
Late in the final period, with the Titans still leading 24-21, the home team held the ball but a defensive stand by the Patriots forced New York to punt with 12 seconds left in the game (the victory formation was not yet a part of the game). What followed was the first noteworthy chapter in a rivalry that is still going strong 120 games later.
Titans center Mike Hudock’s snap was low and, as a result, punter Rick Sapienza fumbled the ball. During the ensuing scrum both a Patriot and a Titan appeared to kick the ball forward until it was finally scooped up by Boston defensive back Chuck Shonta. A member of the Patriots team of the 1960s, Shonta returned the loose ball 25 yards to the end zone.
Patriots 28, Titans 24. Game over — at least for the moment.
After all, Baugh and Titans owner Harry Wismer were furious and filed a complaint at the AFL league office. But even though AFL commissioner Joe Foss later acknowledged that the referees made a mistake and should have whistled the play dead, he stuck with the original ruling claiming that games should not be decided by retroactively watching film. And thus, Boston’s professional football team earned its first ever win.
The Patriots would go on to also win their second meeting with the Titans later during the year — a relatively lopsided 38-21 game in Boston. However, they would finish their inaugural season with a below-.500 record of five wins and nine losses. Overall, the 1960 season was not just the first chapter in Patriots history but also the first in one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries.
The start was an appropriate one.