Buffalo’s original QB controversy– Kemp vs Lamonica

By Steve Cichon

It’s the Buffalo battle that pitted brother against brother, father against son, bartender against guy on the third stool to the left.

In a manner that seems to echo in our own day, longtime friends were becoming estranged over the question, who should be the Bills starting quarterback?

The back and forth over the wise old sage Kemp and the young gunslinger Lamonica was really a win-win — both were talented and capable leaders and all-league passers.

The 1965 Buffalo Bills used both quarterbacks though the season on the way to winning the team’s second-straight American Football League title.

The Bills are the only undefeated team in professional football because of a young Notre Dame quarterback named Daryle Lamonica.

Whether the Bills are great or terrible, nothing seems to excite Western New York football fans more than being able to argue about which of the team’s quarterbacks is better — or at least less terrible. It’s played out over and over, especially when an understudy steps into the starring role.

Think of all of the time spent on gin mill barstools fighting over Ferguson or Marangi, Ferragamo or Mathison, Kelly or Reich, Collins or Van Pelt, Flutie or Johnson, Edwards or Losman, or Fitzpatrick or Edwards through the decades. And then remember Buffalo’s first real quarterback controversy, one that pitted brother against brother over cans of Genesee beer in the stands at the Rockpile.

While many of these arguments seem futile, silly or mismatched in retrospect, the Jack Kemp/Daryle Lamonica discussion of the mid-1960s set two championship level quarterbacks against one another in the hearts of Bills fans.

Kemp was the senior statesman in the Bills backfield long before he held that title in Washington. Having spent 1957-59 as a backup on NFL rosters, he led the AFL Chargers to the championship game in 1960. He was an AFL All-Star for Buffalo in 1962. Kemp was under center as the Bills won AFL Titles in 1964 and 1965. His last season with the Bills was in 1969, when injury limited him to three appearances.

Lamonica was drafted by the Bills in 1963 out of Notre Dame. He was Kemp’s backup, and when he came in to relieve Kemp, he usually made the most of it with dazzling long passes that always ignited the imaginations of Bills fans. Vexing many to this day, Lamonica was traded to the Raiders in 1967 and was named the league MVP that year. He led Oakland to a losing effort in Super Bowl II.

This article, written as the Bills were the only undefeated team in football, does some measure of introducing Lamonica to Bills fans, many of whom are still arguing his case 50 years later.


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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.