40 Years Ago, The Chiefs Were Champions

It was 40 years ago today. With a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Kansas City Chiefs solidified the AFL's case for the upcoming league merger with the NFL.

The detractors had plenty to say about the Chiefs that season. They were 13-point underdogs. Most felt there was no way the Chiefs could shut down Vikings' quarterback Joe Kapp and the NFL's top-ranked offense. On the other side of the ball, it seemed inevitable that Kansas City's top weapons, Otis Taylor and Mike Garrett, would be shut down by Minnesota's Purple People Eaters.

Doubters said that quarterback Len Dawson was jinxed. He was playing on a bum knee after a severe injury, and was linked to a federal gambling investigation just days before the AFL-NFL Championship Game. To top it all off, the Chiefs hadn't even won their division that year.

Kansas City seemed primed to meet the same fate they suffered in January 1967, when they were embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers.

They all said it wasn't supposed to happen. But it did.

The two-touchdown underdogs never trailed in Super Bowl IV, and head coach Hank Stram was carried off the field in the AFL's finest hour. Len Dawson, the quarterback who couldn't find a home in the NFL, was awarded the game's Most Valuable Player award. On January 11, 1970, the Kansas City Chiefs weren't just AFL champions, they were World Champions.

I wasn't lucky enough to see the 1969 Chiefs in person, but I've grown up hearing the stories. For our generation, the team's players and coaches are like characters in a fairy tale. They were said to have had the greatest linebackers in football, the coolest quarterback and a genius head coach. Even football historians and fans outside of Kansas City consider the team one of the best ever.

The 1969 Chiefs began their season with four away games, but lost just one. They were defeated by the Oakland Raiders twice, but would earn some revenge later on. They silenced the home crowds at Shea Stadium when they beat the AFL-champion New York Jets—first in the regular season and again in the postseason. By season's end, the Chiefs would hold the distinction of being the most successful AFL franchise ever with three league titles and a record of 92-50-5.

In Week 2, Len Dawson suffered a knee injury against the Boston Patriots, and his status for the rest of the season was in question. Backup quarterback Jacky Lee stood in for Dawson the following week against Cincinnati, but suffered a season-ending injury. That meant second-year quarterback Mike Livingston had to take over. After losing his first game, Livingston led the Chiefs on a four-game winning streak.

Dawson returned by Week 8, leading the Chiefs to a victory in Buffalo. By then the Chiefs were 7-1 and leading the 6-1-1 Raiders for the Western Division title. It seemed like it was all downhill for the Chiefs before the Raiders snapped KC's winning streak, took control of the division and never relinquished it. The Raiders completed their regular-season sweep of the Chiefs just a month later.

For the 1969-70 playoffs, the AFL instituted a four-team playoff tournament featuring second-place teams from each division facing the division champions, and it worked in the Chiefs' favor. In the Eastern Division, the Houston Oilers (6-6-2) lost to the New York Jets (10-4), but in the Western Division, the Chiefs played the Raiders for the third time in six weeks.

The third time was the charm for the Chiefs against Oakland. Combined with a win over the Jets, the Chiefs returned to the AFL-NFL World Championship game.

Super Bowl IV was played on January 11, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, LA. The game attracted the biggest audience in the stadium and on television for all the AFL-NFL interleague games, and it only cost advertisers $78,000 for a 30-second commercial.

Three field goals by kicker Jan Stenerud gave the Chiefs an early 9-0 lead. The Vikings' offense never woke from its slumber, and so Stram sought a dagger - 65 Toss Power Trap.

As Dawson would recount, the play hadn't been executed in years prior to its use against the Vikings. He handed the ball to Garrett, who gave the Chiefs a commanding 16-0 halftime lead that stood up thanks to Taylor's 46-yard touchdown catch late in the game, capping the victory.

It was 40 years ago today, and there's no telling when it will happen again. The Chiefs defied the odds and put the finishing touches on the AFL's revolutionary decade. The following season the Chiefs merged with the NFL and, despite brief flashes of brilliance, have never again reached the pinnacle.

On January 11, 1970, the Chiefs were on top of the mountain.

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