1969 Kansas City Chiefs
Maybe The Best Team I Ever Saw
By Raymond Lee
From PFRA Coffin Corner
This is not another story about comparing and rating football teams. This is a story of the most awesome team of my lifetime, 1969 Kansas City Chiefs. You might say to yourself, what, the 1969 Chiefs, is he out of his mind or is he kidding? No I’m not kidding and I don’t think I’m out of my mind even though some people may disagree about that point. I was a young child when the Chiefs were in midst of winning their first Super Bowl and I suppose I was very impressionable. Every Sunday I enjoyed watching Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis announcing the American Football League games. It seemed that very often the Chiefs were playing in one of the games of the week. In their red uniforms the Chiefs seemed so massive, especially when they surrounded Len Dawson in the huddle. They all seemed like giants, Paul Bunyans all playing football. Heck, they looked liked a bunch of giant redwood trees. Perhaps my memory is failing me but I recall (I think it was in the first Bengal-Chiefs game that year) Curt Gowdy saying that the Chiefs were the greatest group of athletes he had ever seen. I thought he meant that the Chiefs had the most athletic ability of any team he had ever seen at the time and I still believe he meant that. Aside from that, the Chiefs were truly an impressive team. Despite the fact they were only 11-3 and finished in second place that year, they were clearly the best team in the league, even with Len Dawson, the starting quarterback out for a good portion of the season with a bad knee. They scored 359 points and gave up 177 points for the best point differential in the American Football League and led the league in virtually every defensive category. They lost two games to the Raiders with the first being a very close game which they totally dominated and lost the second game because, according Hank Stram’s book They’re Playing My Game, and I quote “The Raiders had a tremendous pass rush, and I worried about their getting to Lenny and that weak knee. It would have to be a war of attrition. I decided to go at them on the ground and keep the passing to an absolute minimum because, win or lose, we would have to play them once more, and that next game would be for all the marbles.” Now that seems like a bold statement considering that the Chiefs had to play the defending World Champion New York Jets and Joe Namath in the first round of the postseason but the Chiefs were so superior to the Jets that it was not an unreasonable statement to make. Let’s look at some of the personnel on the team. The QB was Len Dawson, one of most accurate passers of the era who led the AFL four times in passing. For many years he was the number one rated passer in pro football history. Among the offensive linemen blocking for him were Ed Budde and Jim Tyrer, voted as two of the five offensive linemen on the all time AFL team. George Allen, the superb coach of the Rams and Redskins gave an excellent description of Jim Tyrer in his book Pro Football’s 100 Greatest Players, “Jim Tyrer was out of the mold of Jim Parker, actually a little taller and heavier, massive man, yet quick on his feet and with his hands. He had a thick upper body but slender legs. He was so large and so strong he literally intimidated opponents. As a pass blocker it was almost impossible to get around him. As a run blocker you couldn’t go through him and it was difficult to get around him. But I think he was at his best as one of the great pass blockers. “ The other offensive line starters were Mo Moorman at guard, Dave Hill at tackle and E. J. Holub at center. It was an excellent and strong offensive line. The starting running backs were Mike Garrett at HB and Robert Holmes at FB. Top flight backs with quickness, especially Garrett, who was a former Heisman Trophy winner. The starting tight end was Fred Arbanas, also the all time AFL tight end. In 1969 he probably was past his prime but still a good player. Arbanas was in his seventh year in the AFL. The starting wide receivers were Otis Taylor and Frank Pitts. Taylor was a receiver with stunning speed, power, height and quickness. In my opinion (if that means anything) Taylor was a receiver who was born too early. In today’s game with the emphasis on passing, Taylor would be a monster. I am shocked that when they talk about the great receivers of yesteryear that Otis Taylor is never mentioned among the greats at his position. Taylor played for eleven years, had 410 receptions for 7,306 yards (17.8 yard per reception) and 57 touchdowns. This was on a team that concentrated on the running game. If Taylor played for the Raiders or Chargers, it’s very possible he would have been rated up with Lance Alworth as the best receiver in football. You wonder what could have been if Otis Taylor was in his prime and played with the Bill Walsh 49ers of the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s. Even so, Taylor was rated by many at the top or near the top of the receiver standings at that time. For a bit of a comparison, Lynn Swann, who some have ranked as of the one of the greatest receivers of all time and a Hall of Famer had 336 receptions for 5,462 yards (16.3 yards per reception) and 51 touchdowns in nine years of playing. Taylor tops Swann in every category. Paul Zimmerman, the excellent football writer included Taylor as one of the six receivers he thought belonged in the Hall of Fame. The others were Lynn Swann, James Lofton, Mac Speedie, Harold Carmichael, and Art Powell. Incidentally Swann and Lofton made the Hall of Fame after this article was written. In the NFL films highlights of the Super Bowl in 1970 that the Chiefs won over the Vikings 23 to 7, Taylor showed his immense athletic ability when he faked the Viking defensive back into the ground and ran down the sidelines for a 46-yard touchdown that clinched the game. The defensive line of the Chiefs seemed bigger than the Great Wall of China and I think like the Great Wall, they would have been visible to the naked eye from outer space. While the Vikings and Rams defensive lines at the time got all the publicity (and they deserved it) the Chief defensive line may very well have been just as good, perhaps better. Buck Buchanan was listed at 6’7” and his arms seemed longer than most people in total height. Buck would be a six time all pro. He was very durable, and had a great combination of speed and strength. Buck was rated the number nine defensive linemen of all time by Rick Korch’s excellent book The Truly Great, which is a book which the author interviewed hundreds of football experts—players, former players, coaches, assistant coaches, historians and sportswriters. The other linemen was Jerry Mays, an all star that year at defensive end and the one of the two all time AFL defensive ends. Curley Culp was also an all star that year and rated the best Nose Tackle of all time by The Truly Great. The other end was Aaron Brown, a very talented player who never quite lived up to which people expected of him but is remembered for his tormenting the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks in their playoff game that year. The linebacking corps was among the very best of all time with Willie Lanier as middle linebacker, Bobby Bell and Jim Lynch as the outside linebackers. It was considered by many to be the best linebacking group in football. Lanier was rated number six in Korch’s book for inside linebackers and Bell was ranked number three in the same book for outside linebackers. A very athletic and quick linebacking group, probably the best in the game at that time. The defensive backs were also a very good group with Jim Marsalis and Emmitt Thomas as the cornerbacks and Johnny Robinson and Jim Kearney as the safeties. Jim Marsalis made the AFL all star team that year and Robinson was on the all time AFL team. The kicking game was perhaps the strongest in history, relative to the times. The kicker was Jan Stenerud, a Hall of Famer who is perhaps the greatest field goal kicker of all time. Stenerud gave the Chiefs the ability to score perhaps ten yards further than just about any team. He was a weapon that no other team could match. The discovery of Jan Stenerud is unbelievable. I think it’s somewhat similar to the story Lana Turner being discovered in the drug store, although even Chiefs fans will admit Lana Turner was more pleasing to the eye. Jan Stenerud came to the United States on a ski-jumping scholarship at Montana State. (And don’t we all want our children to get ski-jumping scholarships) Apparently Stenerud just happened to walk by a football practice as the ball bounced off the field. He kicked it back to the scrimmagers at the other end of the field who were stunned at the distance he kicked it. Hank Stram and Tommy Boyle (the Chiefs Director of Personnel), hearing about this, checked out the skier turned kicker. Here’s is Stram’s account from They’re Playing My Game describing Stenerud’s kicks - “Gees,” I said, following its long flight. “Anything that goes that high and that far ought to have a stewardess on it.” The ball sailed, straight and true, right through the opposition’s uprights—75 yards away and seven rows up into the bleachers beyond. The punter was Jerrel Wilson who average 44.4 yards per punt that year and was named the all time AFL punter. The Chiefs clearly had the best kicking game in football by a good margin. Nine of the 1969 Chiefs were named to the all star team that year and nine of them were included in The Truly Great of the 200 top football players of all time. To me that’s amazing. One team out of the hundreds of different football teams in history having nine players out of the top 200 players in history named in a poll of experts. To put it in perspective, the Steelers Dynasty of the mid to late 1970’s, a group some feel is the most talented collective of football talent in history had 8 out of the 200 in this book. The first game of the postseason was the defending Super Bowl Champion and the Eastern Division Champion New York Jets. The 10-4 Jets, while not nearly as strong as the previous year were a major threat with an explosive offense that had Joe Namath at quarterback, excellent receivers in Don Maynard and George Saucer, a decent running attack plus an excellent run defense. The Jets’ pass defense was very vulnerable that year however. The game was played in cold weather and the howling winds of Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. On the first drive, Namath completed his first few passes as he marched the Jets on a drive that resulted in a field goal by Jim Turner. The Jets led 3-0. The Chiefs came back to take the lead 6-3. The turning point of the game was when Namath took the Jets to the Chiefs’ one yard line. Some accounts called it the one foot line. The Jets at this point seemed assured of scoring the go ahead touchdown to lead 10 to 6 and having an opportunity to defend their World Championship. As you may have guessed, the mammoth Chiefs defense stopped the Jets on three attempts from the one and the Jets had to settle for a field goal to tie the game at six. After watching this sequence of plays you almost got the impression the Jets couldn’t have scored a touchdown if they tried 100 rushing plays from the one. On the very first play following the kickoff after the Jets tied the game, Dawson hit Otis Taylor for 61 yards to get to the Jets 19 yard line. Then Dawson hit Gloster Richardson for 19 yards for the go ahead touchdown and the Chiefs led by 13 to 6. With the seemingly impenetrable Chiefs defense and the horrid weather conditions, it probably may well have been a fifty point lead. Final score Chiefs 13 to 6 over the Jets and on to the last AFL championship game. The AFL Championship game was played at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum which at the time was the Temple of Doom for virtually all football teams. The Raiders looked better than ever as they annihilated the Houston Oilers 56-7 in the first round of the postseason. So it was good versus evil, with the Hank Stram led, clean cut Kansas City Chiefs against Silver and Black Renegade Oakland Raiders. This was the football rivalry at the time and would be for years afterward. The Raiders had an array of tremendous players and characters with such names as Daryle Lamonica (the Mad Bomber), Fred Biletnikoff, Warren Wells, George Blanda, Ben Davidson, Ike Lassiter, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. In watching these two teams play you felt the Hundred Year War was a tea party compared to this. It was pretty obvious that these two teams did not like each other. Also there was the feeling by a number of football experts, general sentiment of NFL superiority aside that these were the two most talented teams in football and perhaps very well the two best teams in the game. The Raiders took the early lead 7-0 and led for most of the first half until the Chiefs tied it at 7 just before the end of the half on a run by Wendell Hayes. The Raiders threatened a number of times in the second half but the rush from the Chief front four and great defense stopped the Raiders from scoring. The key play of the game was when the Chiefs were backed up on their own two yard line and Dawson scrambled around and found Otis Taylor, who made an incredible catch at the 37 yard line. The Chiefs went on to score a touchdown and led 14-7. Lamonica was injured in the game and threw three interceptions. The Chiefs mounted a fierce rush and Aaron Brown seemed to be a permanent fixture in Oakland’s backfield. The Chiefs added a field goal. Final score Chiefs 17, Raiders 7. On to the Super Bowl. The Scandal, NFL films and the Hank Stram Super Bowl Show.
Apparently before the AFL Championship a story was about to come out that Len Dawson was involved in a potential betting scandal. According to Len Dawson, he was introduced to a Donald Dawson, a supposed gambler and bookmaker, by the former quarterback Bobby Layne. Donald Dawson was apparently just an acquaintance, according to Len Dawson. The league tried to stop it but it was announced by NBC news five days before the game. The second thing that happened was one day before the game, Ed Sabol of NFL films called Hank Stram and asked if he could be wired before the game! There were several reasons Sabol wanted to wire Stram. One was Stram was more animated than the opposing coach Bud Grant, another was that Stram did not curse and third was that Sabol felt the Chiefs would win. The Super Bowl was played on January 11, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The Vikings, due to the general feeling of NFL superiority, were 13 point favorites in the game. The Chiefs on their first possession reached the Viking 41-yard line whereupon Jan Stenerud kicked a Super Bowl record 48-yard field goal and the Chiefs took the early lead 3 to 0. According to Len Dawson, the Vikings were shocked that the Chiefs even attempted a field goal. The Chiefs controlled play and kicked two more field goals and led 9-0. One of the plays that drove the Vikings crazy were the reverse plays using Frank Pitts that gained excellent yardage for the Chiefs at key moments of the game. On the kickoff following the Chiefs last field goal, the Viking returner Charlie West fumbled and the Chiefs recovered the ball. Eventually the Chiefs moved to the Viking five yard line where Stram called for the 65 Toss Power Trap play (Stram must have said 65 Toss Power Trap a billion times on the NFL films highlights and that’s only a slight exaggeration), which allowed Mike Garrett to move into the end zone. The Chiefs led 16-0 at the half and totally dominated play. Incidentally, I seem to recall the Vikings saying the usual clichés about the game. Stuff like “We have to out hit them to win” or words to that effect. My first thought when I heard that was how can you out hit the Chiefs? If Superman tried to out hit the Chiefs he would get hurt was my thinking. How can the Vikings possibly out hit them? The Vikings, with Joe Kapp did score a touchdown to bring the score to 16 to 7 early in the second half. However on the next possession Otis Taylor caught a short pass (as Stram said throughout the game about the short passes, “It’s like stealing.”) from Dawson and turned it into a 46-yard touchdown that essentially ended any drama left in the game. Len Dawson was vindicated of the scandal as he won the MVP award, completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The Chiefs dominated the game so much so that there was no doubt which team was the better team, at least on that day. It proved the AFL could play with the top NFL teams and disproved the idea the Jets Super Bowl win the previous year may have been a fluke. The NFL highlight film of that Super Bowl is perhaps the best Super Bowl film ever. It’s my personal favorite. It had comedy, drama and a happy ending, except to Viking fans. Hank Stram deserved an Oscar for his performance. I think Stram did win for the category, Best Line delivered in a football highlight film, which was “65 Toss Power Trap.” Nowadays they would have made a reality show out of it. Now do I think the 1969 Kasnas City Chiefs are the greatest professional football team of all time? Far from it but if you asked me if I thought the 1969 Chiefs were the most talented and most physically impressive team I’ve seen, I may possibly answer yes. I believe if the 1969 Chiefs had the same players and they were born years later, with the training techniques and foods we have today that they would be bigger and stronger and just and talented relative to today’s players. I guess that would make Buck Buchanan 10 feet tall today. The Chiefs would win the division in 1971 before losing to the Miami Dolphins in the longest game in football history 27 to 24 in a game the Chiefs totally controlled. After that there was a decline and they never were the same again. Well even the Roman Empire fell eventually but frankly I would have made the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs the favorites to defeat the Roman Empire.