The Buffalo Bills (12–2) of the Eastern division hosted the defending AFL championSan Diego Chargers (8–5–1) of the Western division. The two had met twice in the regular season and the Bills won both, most recently by three points in San Diego a month earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Hall of fame wide receiver Lance Alworth of the Chargers was injured in the final regular season game (left knee hyperextension) and did not play. The Chargers had lost three of their last four games to end the regular season, and the Bills were slight favorites to win the title at home; with Alworth out they became strong favorites.
San Diego opened the game with an 80-yard drive in four plays, but it was their only score as the Bills won 20–7 for their first league championship. Combined with the next season, the Bills' consecutive AFL titles are the only two championships ever won by a major league team based in Buffalo.
One of the game's most iconic plays was one known as the "hit heard 'round the world," when Bills linebacker Mike Stratton laid a particularly hard hit on Chargers running back Keith Lincoln that broke a rib and forced him out of the game midway through the first quarter. Lincoln had over 330 yards of offense in the previous year's title game and had already rushed for 47 yards, caught a pass for 11 yards, and kicked an extra point (as the reserve placekicker) in the first 6½ minutes. Without Lincoln and Alworth, the San Diego offensive attack was severely hindered. War Memorial Stadium was filled with a sellout attendance of 40,242.
It was the final game for Chargers quarterback Tobin Rote, who had led the Detroit Lions to the NFL title seven years earlier in 1957 and the Chargers to the AFL crown in 1963. He was replaced in the game by John Hadl, who had played most of the regular season.
The 1964 AFL championship game was the penultimate pro football championship game played in Buffalo (the Bills hosted again in 1966, but lost in their attempt for a third consecutive AFL crown). Held six days after the completion of the 1964 regular season, it was the only AFL title game not played on Sunday. The NFL'schampionship game was played the following day on Sunday, December 27.
This was the last AFL game on ABC television; rights were sold in January 1964 to NBC for $36 million over five years, beginning with the 1965 season. This infusion of cash helped spur a bidding war for talent with the NFL, which led to the merger agreement in June 1966. With the exception of the 1966 Continental Football League championship, ABC did not carry pro football again until after the completion of the AFL-NFL merger and the subsequent creation of Monday Night Football for the 1970 season.
The winning Bills split their players' shares for the title game 43 ways for $2,668 each, while the Chargers split theirs into 44 shares for $1,738 each. These shares were about one-third of those for the NFL title game in 1964, at $8,000 and $5,000 each. With the new television deal with NBC, the players' shares for the AFL title game nearly doubled in 1965.
1 – From 1966 to 1969, the first four Super Bowls were "World Championship" games played between two independent professional football leagues, AFL and NFL, and when the league merged in 1970 the Super Bowl became the NFL Championship Game.
2 – Dates in the list denote the season, not the calendar year in which the championship game was played. For instance, Super Bowl XLI was played in 2007, but was the championship for the 2006 season.