It has been 50 years since the Kansas City Chiefs last appeared in the Super Bowl. For most of us, our memory gets a little foggy or is non-existent that far back. So before we look ahead to what could be, let’s take a look back at what was 50 years ago.
The world was a different place when the Chiefs took on the Minnesota Vikings on January 11, 1970, in Super Bowl IV. Richard Nixon had been President of the United States for less than a year. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon less than six months before the game. A 30-second commercial for the game cost $78,000 and you could have gotten into the game for $15.
That season for the Chiefs, much like this one, was a roller coaster of emotions for Chiefs’ fans. The Chiefs started the season on the road with two big wins over the San Diego Chargers and Boston Patriots. The victory came at a high price as starting quarterback Len Dawson sustained a knee injury against the Patriots. Backup quarterback Jacky Lee didn’t survive a full game as he went down for the season thanks to a broken ankle against the Cincinnati Bengals. This put a season with high expectations in the hands of the third-string quarterback Mike Livingston.
If all of that sounds a little too familiar it’s because it is eerily similar to the Chiefs quarterback situation this season. In both seasons the starter (Patrick Mahomes, Dawson) suffered knee injuries that kept them out of multiple games. The second string quarterbacks (Chad Henne, Lee) both were lost for the season because of broken ankles. Finally, the third-string quarterback (Matt Moore, Livingston) was forced into action for multiple games.
Moore did a solid job for the Chiefs this season, but Livingston went above and beyond going 6-0 in place of Dawson. Livingston threw for 1,123 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. Those numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but when your defense has six future Hall of Famers on it you don’t have to be perfect.
That Chiefs defense was one of the greatest defenses of all time. It included three players from the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team: Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, and Buck Buchanan. Those three along with many others led the Chiefs defense to the second-fewest points given up in the league at 12.6 PPG. While the defense this season has carried their fair share of the load, the defense in 1969 was the elite unit of the team.
Unlike this season, in 1969 the Chiefs would play all their playoff games on the road. They started their run to the Super Bowl facing Joe Namath and the New York Jets in New York. Despite being on the road the Chiefs were favored by three points and proved why on the field. They dominated the Jets from start to finish despite the final score only being 13-6. The Hall of Fame defense held the Jets to under 250 total yards and forced four turnovers.
The offense moved the ball well, but Jan Stenerud missed three field goals in a windy Shea Stadium. Dawson threw for 201 yards and one touchdown while Mike Garrett rushed for 67 yards. With the defense shutting down Namath and the offense doing their job, the Chiefs moved on to face the Oakland Raiders.
Just like if the Chiefs want to make it to the Super Bowl this season, in 1969 the Chiefs had to play two games to get to the big game. The second opponent for the Chiefs was the Raiders coming off a 56-7 beatdown of the Houston Oilers. Oakland had beaten the Chiefs twice already and was the top seed playing at home.
This game was a purely defensive battle. The two offenses were held to under 450 yards combined, including just 200 yards from the Chiefs offense. Dawson completed only seven passes for a total of 129 yards. It was an offensive performance that this year’s Chiefs team can’t afford to have in the AFC Championship game.
While the offense was just good enough to beat the Raiders, the defense was dominating as usual. They wreaked havoc on the Raider quarterbacks registering four sacks and intercepting them four times. The Chiefs defense held the Raiders to 233 total yards and allowed a single touchdown.
Beating the Raiders 17-7 not only sent the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl in four years, but it also signaled the end of the AFL. The league merged with the NFL to form one league after the season ended.
A week after the AFL Championship game win over the Raiders the Chiefs took on the NFL Champion Minnesota Vikings. So-called “experts” at the time didn’t believe the Chiefs stood a chance against the Vikings. Many believed that the NFL was far superior to the AFL even after the Jets had won Super Bowl III. This was evident as the Chiefs came into the game as 13.5 point underdogs.
This was expected to be a defensive battle as the Chiefs’ strong defense was going up against the Purple People Eaters defense of the Vikings. It may have been the expectation, but it is not how the game played out. The Chiefs came out and dominated the game from the minute Al Hirt finished singing the National Anthem.
With the game being played in New Orleans the Vikings may have been hungover from spending too much time in the French Quarter, but whatever the reason the Vikings never showed up. The Chiefs dominated the first half leading 16-0 at halftime including the Chiefs scoring their first touchdown of the game on the now famous 65 toss power trap play.
While the offense was matriculating the ball down the field and putting points on the board, the defense was dominating the Vikings offense. The Chiefs proved your defense doesn’t need a cool nickname to get the job done as they held the Vikings to seven points for the game. Vikings quarterbacks where harassed all-day throwing for 172 yards, three interceptions and being sacked three times. Add two fumbles and the Chiefs defense forced five total turnovers.
The Chiefs rode a dominating defensive, MVP performance by Dawson and head coach Hank Stram leading the way to their only Super Bowl win in team history 23-7. It was the culmination of the greatest era of Chiefs history and punched the Hall of Fame ballots for many of the team’s stars.
It has been 50 years since that beautiful day in New Orleans. That team had a Hall of Fame quarterback, head coach and an elite unit that would go down as one of the greatest in league history. This season we once again have a future Hall of Fame quarterback, head coach and an elite unit that will go down as one of the greatest of all time. We will see if this team can win three more games and bring Kansas City their first Super Bowl in 50 years.