Green Bay Packers cornerback Willie Buchanon tied an NFL record in the Packers 24-3 win over the San Diego Chargers. The game had so many strange statistics and outcomes and changed the future of the Chargers and the NFL. The record-setting performance was even more meaningful for Buchanon who was playing an NFL game in his hometown for the first time in his career.
“That was probably the best game of my NFL career,” Buchanon said. “I played at San Diego State and hadn’t been back in San Diego in seven years.”
A Record Setting Performance for Packers CB Willie Buchanon
The game was played in 105-degree heat in San Diego and was a game full of mistakes, sacks, and turnovers. Buchanon tied an NFL record that still stands by intercepting four passes in the game. The record still stands. Former Packers defensive back Bobby Dillon also had four interceptions in a game back in 1953.
Another NFL Record Set
The game featured 11 turnovers by the Chargers. Three San Diego quarterbacks combined to throw five interceptions. The team also fumbled nine times and lost six of them.
The game also set a new NFL record with 18 total sacks in one game. The Packers recorded eight sacks while Green Bay’s starting quarterback, David Whitehurst, was sacked 10 times in the game.
“I feel like I was in a street fight,” Whitehurst said. He finished the game by completing just 7-of-14 passes for 92 yards. The Packers allowed more sacks in the game than the number of passes they completed. They finished the game with nine net passing yards.
The Chargers meanwhile played three quarterbacks in the game. James Harris was sacked three times and intercepted twice. Dan Fouts was sacked three times and picked off twice as well while Cliff Olander was only intercepted once and sacked twice.
The two teams also combined for 18 penalties with the Packers committing 11 for 105 yards and the Chargers seven for 51 yards.
Willie Buchanon Starts His Record Day
Buchanon got his first two interceptions in the second quarter off Harris. The Packers were unable to score on either of the ensuing drives, however.
Green Bay got on the board in the second quarter after Chargers punter Jeff West dropped the snap on a punt. The Packers recovered on the San Diego 13. On the next play, running back Terdell Middleton ran 13 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0 Green Bay. That remained the score at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Packers special teams scored to double their lead. Cornerback Estus Hood blocked a punt and reserve running back Walter Landers recovered it and ran it back 15 yards for a touchdown. The Packers led 14-0.
Later in the third quarter, the teams traded field goals. Rolfe Benirschke kicked a 43-yarder for the Chargers followed by a 37-yard field goal by Green Bay’s Chester Marcol. That made it 17-3 Packers after three quarters.
Packers CB Willie Buchanon Clinches the Win
Buchanon had three picks in the game but none of them had led to Green Bay touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, he closed out the scoring by running back his fourth interception 77 yards for a touchdown. That made the final score 24-3 Green Bay.
Buchanon finished the season with nine interceptions and earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time in his NFL career. But the former San Diego State star had some extra motivation that season.
“I was playing out my option at the same time,” Buchanon recalled. “I kind of wanted to let San Diego know that Willie Buchanon could still play football. We got together with the defense. We huddled together and said we were going to have a great game. My friend Steve Luke decided that everybody was going to play for me because we were in San Diego.”
The Significant Aftermath for Buchanon and the Chargers
The win increased the Packers record to 3-1 on the season. They’d finish the season 8-7-1 and gave Bart Starr his first winning season as a head coach. The loss dropped the Chargers to 1-3.
After the game, the Chargers fired head coach Tommy Prothro and replaced him with Don Coryell. Coryell helped turn the Chargers season around 9-7 and brought his innovative “Air Coryell” offense to San Diego. Fouts led a record-setting offense that featured Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow, and helped turn the Chargers into a perennial playoff team.
“I started thinking I was responsible for Don Coryell,” Buchanon joked after he retired. A year later, when they couldn’t sign Buchanon, they traded him to San Diego where he played the final four seasons of his career. In return, the Packers got a first-round pick and a seventh-round pick which they turned into linebackers George Cumby and Rich Wingo.
“I was very happy in Green Bay, and I didn’t want to leave,” Buchanon admitted. “But it boiled down to a fair salary—we were only $25,000 apart—and I moved on to San Diego.”
Buchanon retired after the 1982 season and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1993. The four-interception game remains a special moment in Packers history.
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