Even after 50 years, Chiefs’ Super Bowl legacy storied
MIKE BURKEAllegany Radio Corporation Sports
The last time the Kansas City Chiefs played in the Super Bowl, they did so as the final champion of the American Football League and, as the New York Jets had done the year before, they defeated a team from the National Football League that was deemed to be unbeatable.
It would mark the first time the game would officially be called the Super Bowl, the first three games between the NFL and the AFL champions having been officially billed as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
The name “Super Bowl” was first proposed by the Chiefs’ owner at the time, Lamar Hunt, in 1966 when plans were being made for the first title game between the two professional football leagues, as Hunt said he got the idea watching his children play with a very popular children’s toy at the time, the Super Ball.
(The Chiefs, by the way, lost to the Green Bay Packers in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game.)
The game was referred to as the Super Bowl by fans and media alike through the first three years, although the name was not officially adopted until the fourth title game, 50 years ago, in which Hunt’s Chiefs took on and defeated the Minnesota Vikings.
The 1969-70 professional football seasons would mark the end of a pair of eras, as the following season the AFL-NFL merger took place, with the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) coming together to form one National Football League.
From the old NFL, the Baltimore Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns would switch to the AFC, the Colts finishing their final season under head coach Don Shula at 8-5-1, while the Steelers, perennial cellar dwellers at the time, went 1-13 in their final season in the old NFL.
The Browns were 10-3-1 and won the Eastern Conference’s Century Division (Baltimore and Atlanta, by the way, were in the Western Conference Coastal Division with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers … Conversely, this was also the only season Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, who finished second behind the Dallas Cowboys in the Eastern Conference Capitol Division with a 7-5-2 mark).
The Browns then crushed the Cowboys, 38-14, to win the Eastern Conference, and then lost to the Vikings, 27-7, in the final NFL Championship Game. The Vikings, who had finished 12-2 in the regular season, had won the Western Central Division and entered what was officially known as Super Bowl IV as the prohibitive favorite.
The AFL, while being known as the brash, new cutting-edge league, went about its final season of existence in a more traditional way than did its long-established counterpart, which had begun the process of reinventing the wheel in order to give itself a newer brand.
In the AFL, the defending champion New York Jets won the East Division, but fell to the West Division runner-up Chiefs (11-3 in the regular season) in the first round of the playoffs. The Oakland Raiders (12-1-1) won the West Division and beat East runner-up Houston, before falling to the Chiefs, 17-7, in the final AFL Championship Game.
The Chiefs, who had moved to Kansas City from Dallas, where they had been the Texans, in 1963, entered Super Bowl IV as 13-point underdog to the powerful Vikings.
The Chiefs, however, were so popular in Kansas City that local bettors continued to put their money on the home team, which, with the Chiefs’ win over the Vikings, would lead to the arrest of the boss of the Kansas City underworld when a phone call he made to his mob-run betting house was caught on wiretap by the Feds.
The reason for the call was with all of the local bets being put on the underdog Chiefs, the house had fallen so far out of balance it would lose what would amount to $300,000 today.
That wasn’t the only mob-related news for that game, as Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson had been linked to Donnie “Dice” Dawson (no relation), a top bookmaker and connected mafia associate at the time. Quarterback Dawson admitted to having a social relationship with the Detroit bookmaker, as had several former and current NFL players, including Bobby Layne, Alex Karras, Joe Namath, Bill Munson and Karl Sweetan.
Dawson denied any wrongdoing to a federal grand jury investigating point shaving and the bookie Dawson’s relationships with professional athletes, and played through the embarrassing headlines (perhaps the first Super Bowl hype) to lead the Chiefs to a convincing 23-7 win over the Vikings and being named Most Valuable Player of the game.
The so-called experts had sold the AFL short for the second straight year, as the Chiefs handled the heavily-favored Vikings as though they were a jayvee squad. And though some of us will go to our graves with doubts about the first time, the Chiefs’ victory marked the second straight win for the AFL over the established NFL, and the pre-merger era concluded with both leagues having two wins in what was fast becoming the annual Our Version of the Fall of the Roman Empire Bowl.
Oddly enough, the next NFL champion would be the Baltimore Colts, who, in their first season as an AFC team, would defeat the Dallas Cowboys long before they began calling themselves America’s Team in Super Bowl V, but what almost immediately became known as The Blooper Bowl because it was just a horribly-played game by both teams.
Aesthetically speaking, the Super Bowl game itself, even though everybody watched it, wasn’t really much to look at in those days. The first nine, as a matter of fact, were actually quite ugly. The first one that wasn’t a dog is still widely considered to be Super Bowl X when the Steelers beat the Cowboys, 21-17, to become the third team to win back-to-back Super Bowls (the Packers and the Dolphins being the first two).
Still, every Super Bowl, it seems, has come with its own story besides the actual game. Hard to say what that story will be for this year’s version, because what has all the makings of being a great game should be pretty hard to top on its own merits. For it really does seem the two best teams in the league are in place to play for world supremacy.
Or at least the championship of the first Joe Montana Bowl.
Or is it the LIV Tyler Bowl?
Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT
Even after 50 years, Chiefs’ Super Bowl legacy storied