In 1975, the Oakland Raiders spent an inconceivable seven straight weeks away from home as they finished the preseason with trips to Dallas and Los Angeles and started the regular season with five consecutive road trips. The Silver and Black went 3-0 with wins at Miami, Baltimore and San Diego before finally faltering at Kansas City. A hard-fought, loss to the Bengals in the rain in Cincinnati brought the nearly two months of travel to a close.
The Bengals joined the American Football League as an expansion team in 1968, while the AFL was in the midst of the merger with the National Football League. The Raiders had won six of the first eight meetings between the two clubs. The Raiders had become perennial championship contenders since their breakout 1967 AFL title run, while the Bengals had managed to qualify for the playoffs in 1970 and 1973, bowing in the AFC Divisional round each time. In fact, the Raiders faced and lost to the Baltimore Colts team that had defeated the Bengals in the 1970 AFC Divisional Playoffs in the first-ever AFC Championship game. In 1973, the Bengals fell to a Miami Dolphins team that would go on to defeat the Raiders in the AFC title game and win the Super Bowl.
The Bengals were 4-0 when they hosted the Raiders on Oct. 19, 1975, and rushed out to a 6-0 start before falling to Pittsburgh. The Raiders were 3-1 heading into that match-up. After a combined 16 punts, eight interceptions and just 12 pass completions, the Bengals came out on top 14-10 at Riverfront Stadium. Marvin Cobb’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the difference. The Raiders did manage to rush for 188 yards as a team.
Both teams finished the season with identical 11-3 records, with the Raiders winning the AFC West and the Bengals finishing second in the AFC Central behind Pittsburgh. Two thrilling overtime victories, at Washington and vs. Atlanta, coupled with two rare shut-outs of the San Diego Chargers propelled the Raiders to a seven-game winning streak. The Bengals won five of their last seven, while the Raiders won eight of their last nine.
A key member of the Bengals squad was Pro Bowl and All-Pro tight end and longtime radio and TV analyst Bob Trumpy.
“We thought we were pretty damn good,” Trumpy said. “We had Isaac Curtis and Charlie Joiner on the field at the same time. But we lost twice to Pittsburgh and as I remember, we lost to Cleveland and that was 11-3. I don’t know why but from 1968 on we always played the Raiders very well no matter where we played, either out there or in Cincinnati. We always felt no matter what their record was, we were very self-confident playing the Raiders.”
When the 1975 regular season was all said and done, a Raiders vs. Bengals re-match was set for Dec. 28 in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
“Our practice field ran east to west, the week that we played the Raiders we practiced north to south. You know, ‘what the hell is going on here?’ Above our practice field up on a bluff in Cincinnati was a big high-rise,” Trumpy recalled. “[Bengals Head Coach] Paul [Brown] was convinced that Al Davis was filming all of our practices, he was going to trick Al and we practiced north to south every time we played the Raiders. It was amazing and it was one of those quirks that Paul Brown had.”
On a 51-degree December day in Oakland, the Silver and Black jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the visitors. Kicker George Blanda missed from 41 yards out on the Raiders opening possession. Quarterback Ken Stabler’s 36-yard pass to wide receiver Cliff Branch and an 18-yard running back Clarence Davis scamper set up a 27-yard field goal that gave the Raiders a 3-0 lead.
Trumpy’s one catch on the day came on a 3rd and 10 at the Cincinnati 26. “I always had good games against the Raiders, and in the Raiders playoff game, they tried a tight end screen with me,” Trumpy said. “I caught it for minus seven yards, George Atkinson made the tackle, dammit. And that was it for me for the day.”
After that three-and-out, Stabler engineered an eight-play, 50-yard drive, aided by a personal foul penalty, that he capped with a nine-yard TD toss to wide receiver Mike Siani. Raiders 10, Bengals 0.
The teams then exchanged blocked kicks – Oakland linebacker Ted Hendricks blocked a Dave Green punt, while defensive end Sherman White got his mitts on a 31-yard Blanda field goal attempt. Quarterback Ken Anderson hit wide receiver Charlie Joiner for 28 yards and fullback Boobie Clark for 26 to set up a 1-yard running back Stan Fritts touchdown run that cut the Raiders lead to 10-7 with 5:50 left in the second quarter.
Davis returned the ensuing kickoff to the Raiders 46. Stabler directed a nine-play, 54-yard drive that culminated with his second touchdown pass of the day, this time an eight-yard toss to tight end Bob Moore. The Raiders led 17-7 with 1:54 left in the first half.
Thanks in part to a Hendricks’ sack, the Raiders held the Bengals to a three-and-out to start the third quarter. Safety Neal Colzie returned the Green punt to the Bengals 35. Two fullback Marv Hubbard runs totaling 13 yards and a 16-yard Davis gash set up fullback Pete Banaszak’s six-yard touchdown run. The home team led 24-7 with 11:00 left in the third quarter and looked well on their way to a date in the AFC Championship game.
Anderson and the Bengals were not about to go quietly.
The Raiders pinned the Bengals at their own nine-yard line with good kickoff coverage. Undaunted, Anderson directed an 11-play, 91-yard drive, that was capped off by a six-yard running back Lenvil Elliott touchdown run. The successful extra point cut the Raiders lead to 24-14 with 4:46 left in the third.
Davis returned the ensuing kickoff to the Oakland 35. Stabler guided the Raiders down the field on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a two-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dave Casper. Blanda’s extra point put the Raiders up 31-14 with 13:03 left in the game.
After a three-and-out, Green punted the ball back to the Raiders. Four plays later, cornerback Ken Riley picked off a Stabler pass and returned it to the Oakland 34. Two plays later, Anderson connected with Joiner for a 25-yard touchdown pass to cut the Raiders lead to 31-20 with 10:13 left to play.
The Bengals held the Raiders to a three-and-out and took over at the Oakland 49 after a punter Ray Guy boot and subsequent return. Anderson overcame two offensive penalties, hooked up with wide receiver Chip Myers for a 37-yard gain and found wide receiver Isaac Curtis for a 14-yard touchdown to trim the Silver and Black’s lead to 31-28 with 5:44 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals just wouldn’t go away.
On the third play of the Raiders next possession, Banaszak fumbled the ball and defensive lineman Ron Carpenter recovered for Cincinnati at the Oakland 37. Hendricks sacked Anderson on first down and the Bengals were forced to turn the ball over on downs as the Raiders defense held firm. The Raiders took over with 3:02 left in the game and the Bengals never saw the ball again as Stabler and Co. were able to run out the clock. The Raiders were able to keep possession when Cincinnati was flagged for running into the punter with 50 ticks left.
Stabler finished the game 17-of-23 for 199 yards and three touchdowns, while Anderson completed 17-of-27 for 201 yards and two scores. Davis rushed for 63, Banaszak 62 and Hubbard for 33, while Clark paced with Bengals on the ground with 46 yards. The Raiders defense sacked Anderson five times, with Hendricks recording four.
The Raiders held on for a 31-28 victory and advanced to the AFC Championship game, eventually falling to the Steelers 16-10 in Pittsburgh.
After the game, Bengals Head Coach Paul Brown said, “I was proud of my team. They never quit. But Oakland is a splendid team, especially on their home grounds.”
“We knew one thing, and that was Cincinnati us a very explosive team,” Raiders Head Coach John Madden said after the win. “Hell, they’re a good football team. We’re not playing the Sisters of the Poor.”