It’s Championship Sunday in the NFL, and it’s been a long time since Kansas City Chiefs’ fans have had reason to get excited on this day—14 years to precise, when they played Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game. Kansas City lost that game 30-13, and it’s been even longer since the KC Faithful has been able to celebrate a Super Bowl trip. The last time it happened, it wasn’t even in the NFL. 1969 was the last year before the merger, and Kansas City celebrated it by winning the AFL title.
The opponent was the Oakland Raiders. The two teams had been the league’s best all year. Both head-to-head games took place late in the season and both were close. Oakland won the first 27-24 and in the second they took home a defensive battle, 10-6. The Chiefs still finished 11-3. The AFC’s playoff format had two division winners meeting the two second-place teams, with divisional crossover setting the first-round matchups. Kansas City beat the New York Jets and Joe Namath, who’d electrified the sports world one year earlier when they stunned the Baltimore Colts, an 18-point favorite, in the game that put the AFL on the map. Oakland destroyed Houston and a third matchup was set for the league title and a berth in Super Bowl IV.
Kansas City was coached by Hank Stram, and had veteran quarterback Len Dawson running the offense. His top receiver was Otis Taylor, while the running game was a balanced attack led by Mike Garrett. Up front the strongest part of the offensive line was the left side with Ed Budde and Jim Tyrer. The defensive interior was particularly strong, with Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, while the second level was ably handled by Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier. Stram’s defense had further benefitted from the strong rookie year of corner Jim Marsalis.
Future TV analyst John Madden was on the other sideline for Oakland and quarterback Daryle Lamonica bore the nickname “The Mad Bomber” for his love of the home run ball. This was decidedly “not” the era of West Coast offenses. The Raiders were loaded up front with the line anchored by veteran center Jim Otto and including future NFL Players Association Chief, Gene Upshaw. Defensively, they didn’t have elite talent in the front seven, but the secondary was outstanding, with corner Willie Brown, and safeties George Atkins and Dave Grayson.
Oakland drew first blood with a three-yard touchdown run from Charlie Smith, but the difficulty of beating a good team three straight times took hold. The Raiders had scored their last points of the 1969 season. Kansas City got short touchdowns in both the second and third quarters, and then kicker Jan Stenerud booted a lock-up field goal to clinch the 17-7 win. Kansas City went on to beat heavily favored Minnesota in the Super Bowl. If the previous year’s Super Bowl had put the AFL on the map, this one gave the league real legitimacy, just in time for the merger. After Kansas City’s win, no one could say the new league was just a one-game wonder. But they got the chance with their workmanlike win over Oakland on the day we now call Championship Sunday.