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Was Houston QB Jacky Lee leased to another pro football team?

May 10, 2012

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A professional football team once leased a quarterback to another team.

Strange trades have long been a part of professional sports history. Heck, just recently in Sports Legends Revealed I've featured a quarterback that the New York Giants acquired an entire franchise just to add to their team and a trade by the San Diego Padres where they dealt a player for a pair of treadmills. However, I don't believe I have ever encountered a trade like the one the Houston Oilers and the Denver Broncos made in 1964 where the Broncos traded a player to lease a quarterback from the Oilers!

Upstart professional leagues naturally tend to have a tougher go of it when it comes to competing with their rivals who have already cemented a place on the market. Therefore, it seems like they spend more time trying to establish competitive balance (since they need to give fans a reason to follow their league instead of their established rivals).

When Ban Johnson helped form the American League as a rival to the National League in 1901, he stressed the importance of keeping each of the teams competitive. Over the next two decades, he would arrange deals between teams to improve teams.

Similarly, when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) debuted in 1946 as a rival to the National Basketball League (NBL) and the American Basketball League (ABL), the BAA became the first pro basketball league to introduce an amateur draft in 1947 to help competitive balance in the league.

Finally, when the American Football League (AFL) started in 1960, they were concerned about balance, as well. This came into play in 1964 with a bizarre trade.

You see, when the Houston Oilers began play in 1960, their starting quarterback was George Blanda, who had been retired since 1958 and was already in his early 30's. No one expected him to be the long term answer in Houston, so they drafted a quarterback in the first round of the 1960 draft - Jacky Lee. The Oilers won the first AFL championship behind Blanda in 1960 but he was benched five games into the 1961 season by embattled coach Lou Rymkus as the defending champs opened the season 1-3.

Lee (who had played in every game of the 1960 season and the first four games of the 1961 season, as well. And get this, Lee's first three touchdown passes in 1960 went for 78, 92 and 72 yards respectively!) came in and set an AFL record for most passing yards in a game with 457 yards in a tie against the Boston Patriots. It was not enough to keep Rymkus employed and the new coach, Wally Lemm, put Blanda back into the starter's role. In his second game back, Blanda set a new AFL passing record with 464 yards. The Oilers won nine in a row to end the season and won their second straight AFL title.

Going into the 1964 season, Lee and Blanda were quite a pair. Lee played in every game in the 1960-1963 season, but Blanda remained the starter. In addition, the Oilers drafted Don Trull in the 1963 AFL Draft. Trull had just finished fourth in the balloting for the 1963 Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos were coming off a 2-11 season in 1963 having never had a winning season in their first four years in the AFL. They were desperate for a quarterback and the AFL Commissioner, Joe Foss, was desperate to keep an ownership group in Denver (the team nearly moved to Atlanta in 1965 before a new ownership group purchased them and kept them in Colorado). So Foss helped work out a deal with the Broncos and the Oilers.

The Broncos would trade the Oilers a first round draft pick and Bud McFadin, one of the top defensive tackles in the AFL and in exchange, the Oilers would give the Broncos Jacky Lee...for two seasons. At which point, Lee would then return to Houston! The idea was the Houston would lose their back-up (that they did not want to trade) but get him back in time for Blanda to retire and Denver would be respectable for the next two seasons and draft a quarterback to groom to replace Lee when he went back to Houston. The trade did not work out for either team (well, Houston got McFadin for two seasons, at least) as Lee was pretty bad for Denver for two seasons (they went 6-22 in Lee’s two seasons in Denver, and he did not even play much his second season) and when he returned to Houston, he still couldn't displace the ageless Blanda. Lee ended up behind both Blanda and Trull on the depth chart.

In 1967, he ended up in Kansas City midseason. He played two and a half seasons for the Chiefs as the back-up quarterback behind Len Dawson. An injury caused him to end the season as the third-string QB behind Dawson and Mike Livingston. Still, he was technically part of the Chiefs' 1970 Super Bowl championship. Lee retired after the season due to his shoulder injury.

The legend, therefore, is...

STATUS: True.

Be sure to check out my Sports Urban Legends Revealed for more sports urban legends! I have archives of all the past urban legends featured on the site in the categories of: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, the Olympics and Soccer/Football! Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more! Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com. And please buy my book, "Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed! here.

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