Happy 50th, AFL

September 9 is the first day of the 2010 NFL season. That, I suppose, we all know.

What you might not realize is that the date also marks the 50th anniversary of the AFL’s inaugural regular season game. On September 9, 1960, the Boston Patriots hosted the Denver Broncos at Boston University Field.

The Pats were expected to beat the Broncos handily. They didn’t. And the biggest part of the difference was a spectacular punt return touchdown by Denver’s rookie running back/placekicker (and, as the result of an injury to halfback Al Carmichael, kick returner) Gene Mingo.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter in Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in New England Patriots History in which I look at the game and Mingo’s back-breaking play.

“It sort of freaked me out that during my first game I was going to have to do something I had never prepared for,” Mingo remembers. “But in those days, football wasn’t so specialized. We had 33 guys on that team. If you wanted to keep your job, you did what your coach asked.”

Mingo did a bit more than anyone could have expected.

As the clock ticked away in the third quarter with neither offense accomplishing much — a fact at least partially attributable to poor lighting, which made passing the ball increasingly difficult as the night wore on — Mingo took a punt from Tom Greene at the Broncos’ 24-yard line.

He started left, saw that he had good blocking to his right and cut over to take advantage of it. Eluding coverage, Mingo charged up the right sideline leaving only Greene, the backup quarterback and punter, between him and the end zone.

“Not only did I punt the ball that Gene Mingo returned for the TD, I also was the last Patriot player to have a chance to tackle him,” Greene recalls. “I tried, but he ran over me like a truck in what was surely a testimony to his determination and ability.”

Mingo powered the full 76 yards down the field and into the end zone, logging the first punt return touchdown in AFL history and posting the points that would decide the game.

Wanna know the rest? Buy the book. It’s worth it. I promise.

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