Looking back at the Kansas City Chiefs first Super Bowl appearance
The NFL post-season is hitting its zenith this coming Sunday as Super Bowl LVII is almost upon us. At this time of year we think it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game. Which is why we started out with the 50th anniversary retrospective of Super Bowl VII recently.
But I also thought it might be fun to look into a little history more specific to each team too. So I thought it might be interesting to look back at the first time both teams made the show. Starting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Those Chiefs were huge Super Bowl underdogs. Because they were representing the AFL in the first ‘NFL-AFL World Championship game’. That snappy title didn’t stick thankfully and by Super Bowl III they were retrospectively naming these games as Super Bowl games.
The Arrival of the AFL in the 1960’s
Rival football leagues had been and gone before. Ultimately they all disappeared. The AFL would surprise the NFL by arriving and then thriving.
Texan oil millionaire Lamar Hunt decided to form his own league after being rejected by the NFL in a bid to purchase a franchise with them. Hunt got fellow Texas oilman Bud Adams on board and they ultimately created a league that would begin playing in 1960. The new American Football League was officially named on August 22nd in Dallas.
Like their predecessors, the AFL was given little chance to succeed. Much to the dismay of NFL stalwarts however, the AFL prospered and even broke down the control the NFL had over its players. Higher salaries were one way the AFL could entice the better players to cross over. In 1965 NBC’s $36 million television contract to the AFL intensified a bidding war.
When Al Davis became AFL commissioner a year later, he declared war on the NFL and encouraged AFL owners to sign as many players as possible away from the older league. Joe Namath was perhaps the biggest name to benefit, receiving what was then a massive $427,000 salary from the Jets.
The NFL owners gradually realized the upstart league wasn’t going away. As fiscal control over players slipped away and costs rose, they decided it was in everyone’s best interest to come to a settlement.
Lamar Hunt held talks in secret with Tex Schramm, the president of the Dallas Cowboys. Talks began in March 1966 and an agreement was reached on June 8th that year.
A joint statement was issued, “The NFL and AFL today announced plans to join in an expanded major professional football league. It will consist of 26 teams in 25 cities with expectations of additional in the near future.”
Because of the existing commitments for the individual leagues, a four year transition period was put in place. Which meant that the game that would later be know as Super Bowl I was the first of the transitional title contests.
The Chiefs previous Championship appearances
The Chiefs have a special place in the history of the AFL and the Super Bowl. Quite possibly neither would have existed without Kansas City’s first owner Lamar Hunt. He was the principal founder of the AFL and helped organize the league in its early stages.
When they began, they began in Dallas as the Dallas Texans in 1960. A season they went 8-6. By 1962 they had climbed to an 11-3 record, first in the AFL West. They faced the 11-3 Houston Oilers, (vying for their third straight championship), for the title. The game ran into double overtime before the Texans won out 20-17.
On to Kansas City
After the season the Texans moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs. Their next AFL title would come in 1966 as an 11-2-1 Chiefs team upeneded the 9-4-1 Buffalo Bills for the right to represent the AFL in the first title tilt against the NFL’s finest.
Opposing them was an NFL juggernaut. The Green Bay Packers were on an incredible run. Since 1960 they had posted a 73-20-3 record that had delivered five NFL championship game appearances and four titles. Now they were back to back NFL champions having won the title 23-12 against the Browns in 1965 and 34-27 against the Cowboys in 1966.
With the rivalry that had developed between the two leagues this was a game that both sides desperately wanted to win.
Leading up to the game Chiefs & Packers
The Chiefs were going into this one as heavy underdogs. They came into this game having gone 11-2-1 in the AFL. Whilst scoring 448 points, 90 more than any other club and they also led the league in total yardage with 5,114.
The Packers meanwhile were 12-2 and their losses had come by a combined total of 4 points. While the Chiefs were all about attack, the Packers strenght lay in a D that had allowed just 163 points.
The Chiefs & Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson
Many teams have had flamboyant players down the years. Or players who couldn’t resist a pre game jibe. For the Chiefs of this period that player was CB Fred Williamson. At 6’3″ and 210lb he was big for a corner in this era. His signature move was a forearm chop to the helmet – a move that he called the hammer and gave him his nickname.
Williamson promised in the run up to the game to deliver his hammer blow to Packers receivers. He also took shots at Boyd Dowler, Jimmy Taylor and more in the run up to the game. It was a distraction Head Coach Hank Stram didn’t need.
Williamson would be burned by the Packers receivers and knocked out during the game when Donny Anderson’s knee collided with his helmet. Eventually he was knocked out of the game entirely because of a team-mate falling on him and breaking his arm!
The Game Itself: Super Bowl I
61,946 attended the game and saw a competitive first half. The Packers had the ball first and despite starting out driving were foced to punt following a sack. On that first drive Dowler was out injured and replaced by Max McGee – which many saw as a downgrade.
The Chiefs were held and eventually Green Bay got rolling. Six plays took them 80 yards. Finished in style as Bart Starr hit Max Mcgee who made a one handed grab and raced in for a 37 yard touchdown.
The Chiefs had a solid drive starting at their own 13 which resulted in a missed 40 yard Field Goal attempt. They then forced a three and out and responded by driving 66 yards in six plays keyed by a 31 yard gain by Otis Taylor. Eventually they capped that drive with a 7 yard TD pass from Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.
By now the game had really opened up. Starting at the 27 yard line Green Bay went on a 13 play 73 yard drive of their own. This one resulting in a 14 yard touchdown run by Jim Taylor. They led again, 14-7.
Kansas City weren’t done however. They managed a 7 play 50 yard drive of their own to end the half trailing 14-10. If they had got the other FG it could have been 14-13 – and a few NFL fans were susrprised to see how competitive it had been. After this however, the Packers would be the only team to score.
The Second Half
Turnovers win games is one of the oldest adages in the game. It would prove to be the case here. Because a promising Chiefs drive to start the second half was shattered by an interception. Green Bay blitzed and Dawson’s throw was picked off by Willie Wood who ran it back to the Chiefs five yard line. The Packers converted their chance in one play. Elijah Pitts ran in for the score and a 21-10 lead.
Now that Green Bay had a two score lead the D could tee off more readily on Dawson. The teams exchanged posessions and Green Bay will have been happier because they were winning the field position battle.
Eventually they converted that with a 10 play 56 yard drive that resulted in another Starr to McGee TD. This time from 13 yards out. Going into the final frame Green Bay led 28-10.
The Final Acts
Dawson was nearly picked off again early in the fourth quarter. But the Chiefs did get a turnover. They intercepted a pass intended for Max McGee marking the first time Bart Starr had thrown a pick in 174 pass attempts. They weren’t able to make anything of it though.
Instead it was Green Bay who scored again. A 1 yard touchdown run rounded out the scoring at 35-10. The biggest diffrence in the game had been on third down where the Packers had gone 11 of 15 converting into first downs but the Chiefs only managed to convert on 3 of 13 third downs.
What came next
The Chiefs would go 9-5 the next year, whilst Green Bay returned to win another Super Bowl. However, Kansas City weren’t done. By 1969 they were back in Super Bowl IV. And this time they won 23-7 against the Vikings.
The Chiefs would not be back to defend their title. In 1970 they went 7-5-2 and missed the playoffs. They returned in 1971 going 10-3-1 & losing to the rising Miami Dolphins 27-24 in double overtime in the longest game in NFL history.
That was the beginning of a decline in Kansas City. 8–6 and 7–5–2 seasons in 1972 and 1973, were followed by years of mediocrity. They would not appear in the playoffs again until 1986.
Now however they are once again one of the most successful teams in the league. Having appeared in five consecutive AFC title games they will be making their third Super Bowl appearance in four years. Whenever they appear it will always be bookeneded by their time in Super Bowl I.
Banner Image: Kansas City & Gree Bay contest the retrospectively named Super Bowl I. Image from history.com