This article was originally posted Nov. 24, 2011
The Bills have not played a game on Thanksgiving day in 17 seasons. Their last appearance came in 1994 when they dropped a 35-21 decision to the Detroit Lions. That’s why it might be surprising to know that during the AFL days there was a stretch where Buffalo played on Thanksgiving Day five times in six years. Below we give you the top 5 Thanksgiving games in Bills history.
#5 – Detroit Lions 27 – Buffalo Bills 14
Nov. 25, 1976
This game was less about the result on the scoreboard and more about O.J. Simpson’s shoes, which practically burst into flames en route to a 273-yard rushing day that included a pair of touchdowns. Simpson topped his own NFL record for rushing yards in a game with the performance. The problem was the rest of the Bills offense managed just 49 yards in the game.
Quarterback Gary Marangi was just 12 for 51 passing for 112 yards and four interceptions. Making matters worse was kicker George Jakowenko missed a pair of field goal attempts in the first quarter.
It was also O.J.’s fifth 200-yard rushing game breaking Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s all-time record. His touchdown runs went for 48 and 12 yards, with the 12-yarder coming on a 4th-and-7 draw call.
“The purpose of coming in was to win, not set a record,” said Simpson after the game.
“O.J. is one hellacious player,” said Lions coach Tommy Hudspeth. “There’s only one O.J.. He’s in a class by himself, no doubt about it.”
#4 – San Diego Chargers 20 – Buffalo Bills 20
Nov. 25, 1965
The Chargers had dismantled the Bills in the first meeting between the clubs that season piling on 34 unanswered points in a 34-3 rout at War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 10. Buffalo was not going to lose to the hated Chargers a second time.
San Diego had a 10-7 halftime lead, but the Bills went ahead 14-10 with a 79-yard drive in the third quarter with Daryle Lamonica scoring on a one-yard sneak after Jack Kemp exited with a shoulder injury. On the ensuing possession Lance Alworth pulled in a 65-yard pass, but shockingly Booker Edgerson caught Alworth from behind forcing a fumble, which was recovered by the Bills John Tracey in the end zone. Buffalo would get a field goal off that turnover for a seven-point lead going into the fourth (17-10).
The Chargers came back with 10 straight points in the fourth quarter, getting a short field goal followed by an unconventional touchdown when San Diego QB John Hadl fumbled at the Bills three-yard line only to have teammate Paul Lowe recover it in the end zone for a touchdown to go ahead 20-17 with six minutes remaining.
Buffalo had to punt it away with two minutes left in the hopes of getting the ball back one last time. Fortunately their defense held and Jack Kemp, who had re-entered the game had 1:16 on the clock and no timeouts with the ball at Buffalo’s own 25.
Kemp moved the offense down the field with a big 35-yard pass play to Paul Costa on a 3rd-and-10 play and then hit Bo Roberson for 16 more yards. With 18 seconds remaining Kemp scrambled for nine yards to the Chargers 15 before going out of bounds to stop the clock. Pete Gogolak then kicked the tying 22-yard field goal as time expired.
With a Jets loss to the Patriots the following Saturday the Bills clinched the East Division.
“We played the percentages punting with less than two minutes to go,” said head coach Lou Saban. “We figured we could get the ball back again. That (drive) was one of the finest efforts an offensive club of mine ever made.”
Buffalo would finish that season with a second straight AFL title beating the Chargers 23-0 in the championship game.
3 – Buffalo Bills 31 – Oakland Raiders 10
Nov. 24, 1966
Wray Carlton and Bobby Burnett combined for 156 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 465-yard day for the Buffalo offense as they broke a 10-10 second quarter tie with 21 unanswered points the rest of the way.
Burnett’s touchdown actually came on a 26-yard reception from Jack Kemp as the back had 141 all-purpose yards in the game. Carlton scored on an 11-yard run less than a minute before the half and then scored from two yards out early in the third quarter.
Buffalo rushed for a season-high 226 yards in the game with the defense shutting the Raiders out in the second half.
“The execution matched anything we’ve done this year,” said head coach Joe Collier. “Bobby Burnett had a real fine game and Wray was real sharp and our defense in general was its usual tough self.”
2 – Buffalo Bills 32 – St. Louis Cardinals 14
Nov. 27, 1975
A snowstorm delayed the Bills arrival in St. Louis until just two hours before the game, but it didn’t seem to matter as Buffalo wiped out the Cardinals’ six-game winning streak in convincing fashion. Jim Braxton was a wrecking ball with a career-high 160 rushing yards on 34 carries and three touchdowns.
During their winning streak the Cardinals had not allowed a rushing touchdown. In their turkey day game with Buffalo they allowed four with O.J. Simpson taking one in from 11 yards out.
The Bills defense intercepted Cardinals QB Jim Hart four times and forced him to fumble three times in the game. The St. Louis turnovers led to 27 of Buffalo’s 32 points in the game.
Braxton bulldozing style helped Buffalo maintain possession for almost 40 minutes as the Bills rushed for 264 yards in the game.
“I don’t know about the spotlight,” said Braxton. “I’m still the blocking back on this team. They just keyed on O.J. and I had to be open sooner or later.”
1 – Buffalo Bills 27 – San Diego Chargers 24
Nov. 26, 1964
The Chargers jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, but Buffalo had the lead at halftime thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by Joe Auer and Jack Kemp in the second quarter. San Diego came out in the second half and put up 14 straight points on 17 and 53-yard touchdown passes by John Hadl and halfback Keith Lincoln to make it 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo looked dead in the water when they were stopped at the San Diego two-yard line with just under seven minutes in the game. But Mike Stratton tackled Hadl in the end zone for a safety and Charley Warner returned the free kick back to the Chargers 18-yard line. Daryle Lamonica capped the drive with a one-yard sneak. He then tied the game when he ran it in for a two-point conversion (24-24).
On the ensuing possession Tom Day tipped a Hadl pass at the line and it was intercepted by Stratton at the Bills 44-yard line. Cookie Gilchrist then had runs of 18 and 11 yards out of a double wing formation to move into field goal range.
Lamonica then ran three plays to the middle of the field to set up Pete Gogolak, who put a game-winning 33-yard field goal through the uprights with three seconds remaining for a 27-24 victory.
“That’ll be the damndest turkey you ever see,” said head coach Lou Saban. “I never had a more satisfying win. This was a big one. Gee, Gogo really hit one when we needed it didn’t he? These guys never quit and never lost their poise when things looked tough in the fourth quarter.”
Buffalo would face the Chargers again in the AFL title game at the end of the season winning 20-7 at War Memorial Stadium.