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Sacco Sez: A father-son Super Bowl connection

Connections abound as the entire football world eagerly awaits the kickoff of Super Bowl LI. 

Houston is a great host for this game, befitting the city's status as the fourth largest municipality in America. 

This is not the first pro football championship game hosted by Houston, which has served in the past as proud host of Super Bowl VIII (Miami defeated Minnesota, 24-7) and, 25 years later, Super Bowl XXXVIII (New England defeated Carolina, 32-29).

But neither of those games were Houston's first foray into hosting a pro football championship, either. You have to go all the way back to 1960 for that, and that game has a great connection to Super Bowl LI, in the national television broadcast rather than on the field.

This year's Super Bowl will be in the race for the most-watched television program of all time, as the top ten list of most-viewed programs already reads like it came right out of a Super Bowl almanac.

But back in 1960 the American Football League played its first season, and the Eastern and Western Division champions were the Houston Oilers and the Los Angeles Chargers, respectively (an ironic twist, as the San Diego Chargers are moving north to their ancestral home).

The game was scheduled to be played in the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but league officials were concerned that the fan attendance would appear sparse in the 92,000 seat venue, so the game was moved to Houston's home field, Jeppesen Stadium, which seated 32,000 spectators.

There were no parades or celebrations for the first AFL championship game, which was in every way a far cry from championship games of today. But it was on national television, and here we come to a first.

The play-by-play announcer for the first pro football championship football game played in Houston was Jack Buck, the legendary play-by-play voice who is one of a mere handful of announcers to have worked for NBC, CBS and ABC back when they were the big three of football play by play. This particular game was broadcast on ABC, which had a contract with the AFL in 1960.

Buck's partner as color man that day was George Ratterman, the former Notre Dame quarterback who made his home in Denver and was a familiar face and voice on early AFL telecasts.

And now, 56 years later, Joe Buck of FOX joins his late father as the only father and son play-by-play combinations to call the action in a pro football championship game (as there was no Super Bowl played in 1960) played in the same city.

They already are the only father and son to do network play by play for the Super Bowl.

Jack did Super Bowl IV and Joe is doing his fifth, having previously done Super Bowls XXXIV, XLII, XLV and XLVIII, which Denver Broncos fans watched as we suffered a crushing defeat in the New York-New Jersey Super Bowl.

But despite their previous father and son history, this is still a first. Some fans might scoff that the AFL Championship Game does not count for anything, because it pales compared to the pageantry of today. But just because this is now and that was then, prior history is not diminished.

They played for a championship, they had blood, sweat and a few tears (the game ended with the Chargers failing to convert at the Houston 22-yard line on the final, potential game-tying drive), the Oilers got rings and Jack Buck called the action. As Harry Bosch, the "Dirty Harry" style detective hero of so many Michael Connelly novels, waxes as his personal credo, "Everybody counts or nobody counts."

And that game counted.

The game featured two future Hall of Famers, Houston quarterback George Blanda and Los Angeles tackle Ron Mix, a Heisman Trophy winner in the Oilers' Billy Cannon, and a future presidential candidate in Chargers' quarterback Jack Kemp. 

Houston had two future Broncos in the lineup that day, linebacker Wahoo McDaniel and backup quarterback Jacky Lee, and the Chargers had a future Bronco player and coach in their backfield, former Wisconsin safety Bob Zeman, who played here in the 1960s and coached here during my early Bronco years.

The Chargers also featured pro football's first kicking specialist, "Bootin' Ben" Agajanian, still the oldest living ex-Los Angeles Ram and a fascinating character about whom I have written in the past.

The game was played on Sunday, January 1, 1961. 

The New Year's Day bowl games were on Monday that year, as was the Rose Parade, due to turn of the century laws still in effect that prevented parades in Pasadena on Sunday, out of concern that the parade music would scare the horses lined up outside the city's churches. 

Blanda had a hand or foot in every Houston point, throwing three touchdown passes and kicking a field goal in addition to his three extra points, and the Oilers posted a 24-16 win in the AFL's first championship game before a more-than-sellout crowd of 32,183 in Jeppesen Stadium that delighted league officials and ABC executives.

One of his scores was an 88-yard pass to Cannon, who is an SEC hero for his immortal punt return touchdown for LSU against Ole Miss in what was to be a national championship year for the Tigers and a Heisman Trophy season for Cannon. 

The sands of time put us a long way from 1960, but we're reminded of that year as Joe Buck joins father Jack Buck as the only two men ever to call the play by play of a pro football championship game from the same city, 56 years apart. 

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