View Full Version : Chiefs USA Today article on the Chiefs place in AFL History

07-27-2009, 11:18 PM
USA Today has been doing a series of articles this summer on each team from the old AFL and today is the Chiefs turn:


Chiefs were the toast of the AFL ... after they left Dallas

By Nate Davis, USA TODAY

The history of the American Football League literally begins and ends with the Kansas City Chiefs franchise.
Lamar Hunt not only founded the AFL, which began play in 1960, but he also owned the Dallas Texans, who relocated to Kansas City and became the Chiefs after the 1962 season.

"Before there was a player, coach or a general manager in the league, there was Lamar Hunt," late Boston Patriots owner William Sullivan said at Hunt's Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio, in 1972. "Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL."

The Chiefs concluded the AFL's 10-year run by thumping the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV after the 1969 season. The AFL officially merged with the NFL before the 1970 season.

Stram found an able triggerman for his offense in 1962 by throwing a lifeline to quarterback Len Dawson, who had been stagnating in the NFL. "A lot of my skills had eroded after not playing for five years," says Dawson, who also had been recruited by Stram to play at Purdue. "(But) he was an excellent quarterbacks coach. It was a close bond."

Dawson, who still owns franchise records for passing yards (28,507) and touchdown passes (237), knocked off the rust and mastered an offense that featured such wrinkles as a moving pocket, a litany of pre-snap movements and multiple formations. His 182 TD passes between 1962 and '69 are an AFL record.

"As a quarterback, you've got to have an opportunity to play," Dawson says, explaining why he failed to flourish in the NFL but saw his career skyrocket in the upstart establishment. "Back in those days, quarterbacks didn't get hurt. I never got a true shot to play."

But even though Stram and a revitalized Dawson helped engineer a successful title run in 1962 the Texans knocked off the two-time champion Houston Oilers 20-17 in overtime the club left Dallas, to the dismay of many players, according to Dawson.

"We had guys from the state of Texas (on the roster) that didn't want to move," he says. "They wanted the Cowboys to leave."

In an attempt to impede the AFL's progress into a market thirsty for pro football, the NFL placed the expansion Cowboys in Dallas in 1960, this after repeatedly rebuffing Hunt's attempts to bring an NFL team to the city.

The Texans and Cowboys began their existence by sharing the Cotton Bowl as their home venue, and Dawson says the Texans players closely monitored the Cowboys' progress in what became a fierce civic rivalry.

And though the Texans went 25-17 in their three seasons and won the '62 AFL title, Hunt ceded the Dallas market to the Cowboys, who struggled to go 9-28-3 and didn't sniff the postseason between 1960 and 1962, long before they laid claim to the title of "America's Team."

"He was more concerned about the league succeeding," Dawson says of Hunt, who moved his team north even though his family's lucrative oil business gave him the financial means to keep the club in Dallas indefinitely.

But Hunt knew the NFL was trying to sink the AFL by dominating a shared market "(They) tried to kill the league before it started," Dawson says so he opted for an untapped one.

The Chiefs went 19-19-4 their first three years in Kansas City but returned to their championship form in 1966.

Dawson led the '66 club to an 11-2-1 mark, a second AFL crown and a berth in what later would be called Super Bowl I.

Few gave the Chiefs any chance against the Green Bay Packers, a dynasty coached by Vince Lombardi. But after the first half of the first AFL-NFL championship game, Green Bay clung to a 14-10 lead.

Then it all unraveled for Kansas City. Dawson was intercepted by safety Willie Wood on the fourth play of the third quarter. Wood's 50-yard return to the Kansas City 5-yard line set up a Green Bay touchdown, and the Packers cruised to a 35-10 victory.

Despite the Packers' first-half struggles, Lombardi did little to quell the notion that AFL football was an inferior product, saying afterward, "I think the Kansas City team is a real tough football team, but it doesn't compare with the National Football League teams."

But Dawson didn't think the gap between the leagues was all that wide.

"At halftime, I really thought we could beat these guys," he says. "One mistake by me turned the whole thing around. That was the ballgame. Of all the passes I've thrown, that's the one I'd like to have back."

The Chiefs got a small measure of payback in the 1967 preseason, thrashing the NFL's Chicago Bears 66-24 in Kansas City. "There was some real animosity and people out to prove something," says former Chiefs linebacker Jim Lynch, who was a rookie at the time.

The Chiefs mascot at the time was a horse named "Warpaint." The gelding would do a celebratory lap around the field after each touchdown. "(Bears Hall of Famer Dick) Butkus said we damn near killed that horse," Lynch says.

However, if the chasm between the leagues was narrowing on the field, even a successful AFL team such as the Chiefs often had to resort to creative means to put fans into the seats.

Rather than relying on the Kansas City news media for exposure, the Chiefs gladly allowed Dawson to become a member of it. He served as the sports anchor on the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news on the local ABC affiliate.

"The Chiefs recommended it," Dawson says of a gig that forced him to rush to the station after practice ended at 5 p.m. to make the 6 o'clock news. "The Chiefs were interested in selling tickets. That would never happen today."

Straying from the era's conventional norms also greatly helped the Chiefs field a superior product on the field. At a time when many NFL clubs were still slow to integrate, the Chiefs were scouting players from historically black colleges.

Defensive tackle Buck Buchanan (Grambling), linebacker Willie Lanier (Morgan State) and cornerback Emmitt Thomas (Bishop College) came from historically black schools before their Hall of Fame careers in Kansas City.

Other Chiefs came from the more traditional college pipeline on their way to Canton, including linebacker Bobby Bell, who was also African-American, Dawson and kicker Jan Stenerud. (Hunt and Stram also are in the Hall.)

"He didn't care what color you were," Bell says of Stram. "He wanted to know if you could play. If you could play football, then he wanted you."

Bell also underscores the social significance and the long-term impact on pro football that the Chiefs' equal-opportunity mind-set cultivated.

"That was a time when things changed," says Bell, who would typically count as many as 45 black players in the team's training camp. "We were bringing 'em in from all over. If it hadn't been for Lamar Hunt, a lot of players at black schools (might) still be looking for opportunities."

Lynch had played at Notre Dame, where his only black teammate was future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page. Lynch went to Kansas City and found himself battling fellow rookie Lanier for the starting job at middle linebacker in 1967.

Lanier ultimately won the job becoming the first black player to start at the position in the pros and Lynch settled in at outside linebacker. But a bond was formed between two men who would become roommates on the road for the next eight years and lifelong friends. "It was news back then, but it shouldn't have been news," Lynch says.

Lynch was in the minority on a defense that only started three white players. "Bobby Bell was the best athlete I've ever physically seen," Lynch says, "until Bo Jackson came to Kansas City to play for the Royals."

The Chiefs effectively employed Stram's stack defense the linebackers lined up (or stacked) directly behind the defensive linemen rather than in the gaps between them and used a variety of man-to-man and zone defenses.

By the start of the 1969 season, everything was in place for a championship run in the AFL's final season.

But then Dawson went down with a knee injury in the second game of the regular season.

The defense stepped up while Dawson recovered.

The unit finished first in yards and points allowed in the AFL in 1969. It also scored four touchdowns off turnovers.

"We were probably a team that proved the axiom that you can't win without great defense," Lynch says of a starting 11 that featured four Hall of Famers along with established stars such as safety Johnny Robinson, end Jerry Mays and nose tackle Curley Culp, who revolutionized that position.

Bell says the team's weekly goal was to limit the opposition to one touchdown. The Chiefs almost succeeded, surrendering 16 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games.

Dawson returned midway through the '69 campaign, and the team ultimately finished 11-3. But the Chiefs had to beat the league's previous two champions, the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, on the road to reach Super Bowl IV.

That path began with a 13-6 win in New York as the defense grounded Joe Namath's Jets a year after their landmark Super Bowl III win against the Baltimore Colts. "The Jets thought they were gonna repeat," Bell says. "We shut 'em down."

The Chiefs then beat the Raiders 17-7 for their third AFL crown, avenging their two regular-season losses to Oakland.

Then it was on to meet the Vikings. And, oddsmakers aside, many Chiefs players didn't think Minnesota stood a chance.

"We had a different attitude," Dawson says when comparing the '69 Chiefs to the '66 team that lost to Green Bay.

Dawson remembers telling his roommate, Robinson, "We're gonna put some points on the board."

Robinson's response?

"We might shut 'em out," Dawson says.

The Chiefs nearly did in their decisive victory, a triumph that would even the championship scoreboard between the AFL and NFL at two wins apiece.

"We wiped 'em out, manhandled them," Bell says.

Everything Stram tried seemed to work that day. His famous "65 toss power trap" call, which resulted in a touchdown, was forever immortalized by NFL Films.

"That was coach Stram, whether he was wired or not," Bell says of the famous play call. "Everybody remembers that: 65 toss power trap. Everybody talks about it. It worked, oh my gosh like the movies."

Everything else worked, too. The defense forced three fumbles and picked off three passes. Stenerud kicked three field goals. And Dawson was named the game's MVP.

"With the merger coming, it proved we had arrived," Dawson says. " 'Mickey Mouse league' is what they used to call us. (But) we dominated that football team."

Just like the Chiefs dominated the AFL for most of the decade, a time that many of the league's players, Dawson chief among them, look back upon with fondness.

"All of us owe a great deal of gratitude to Lamar Hunt," Dawson says, "because of his dream to form a league and own a football team."

07-28-2009, 12:29 AM
great article..

07-28-2009, 01:27 AM
great article..

Well, this.

If only I had a time machine...

07-28-2009, 01:29 AM

07-28-2009, 06:13 AM
Kinda brings a tear to your eye. RIP Lamar and Hank.



Skip Towne
07-28-2009, 06:39 AM
Stram aso invented the play action pass. He left that out.

07-28-2009, 06:43 AM
Thanks for the read.