September 9, 2011

1967: Dawson Sets Passing Record as Chiefs Beat Oilers

The Kansas City Chiefs began the defense of their 1966 American Football League title on September 9, 1967 against the Houston Oilers. The Chiefs had won the Western Division with an 11-2-1 record in ’66, easily defeated Buffalo for the AFL Championship, and then lost the first Super Bowl to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Head Coach Hank Stram’s team boasted the league’s most efficient passer in QB Len Dawson (pictured at right), a fine running game with halfbacks Mike Garrett and Bert Coan and FB Curtis McClinton, an excellent deep receiver in flanker Otis Taylor, and a solid defense.

The Oilers, on the other hand, had lost their last eight games in 1966 and were in a rebuilding mode under GM Don Klosterman. Wally Lemm, who guided the club to the 1961 AFL title, had returned as head coach in 1966 and by the opening game of the ’67 season, many of Houston’s veteran stalwarts were gone, including QB George Blanda, FB Charlie Tolar, flanker Charley Hennigan, and safety Fred Glick. Jacky Lee, long-time backup to Blanda at quarterback (except when loaned out to the Denver Broncos in 1964 and ‘65), was promoted to the starting job. Second-year FB Hoyle Granger had moved into the starting lineup during the ’66 season. Garland Boyette was moved from defensive end to middle linebacker and was joined by promising rookie OLB George Webster. Another rookie, safety Ken Houston, joined a revamped and talented defensive backfield.

There were 28,203 fans in attendance for the Saturday night game at Rice Stadium. Following a scoreless opening period, Kansas City capped a seven-play, 85-yard drive early in the second quarter with Garrett’s two-yard touchdown run. The possession was helped along by Dawson passes to split end Chris Burford and Garrett.

With Lee starting at quarterback, the Oilers responded with an 80-yard drive in 10 plays that was highlighted by the running of the fullback Granger and HB Sid Blanks. Granger started it off with an 18-yard carry and ended it with a four-yard TD. Blanks had a 35-yard run along the way.

The Chiefs came back with another scoring possession, this one capped by a 54-yard field goal by rookie placekicker Jan Stenerud with just under four minutes left in the half. Houston again put together a scoring drive of its own, this time aided by a 39-yard pass interference call against the Chiefs. Granger and Blanks combined for 41 rushing yards, with Blanks going the final seven yards for the touchdown. Following the successful extra point, the fans gave the home team a standing ovation.

Dawson’s passing keyed the next Kansas City drive, which covered 82 yards, as he threw for 12 and 19 yards to Garrett and 16 yards to TE Fred Arbanas for a touchdown with just seconds left on the clock before halftime. The possession was helped along by a pass interference call on Houston CB W.K. Hicks and the score stood at 17-14 in favor of the Chiefs at the intermission.

In the second half, Kansas City LB Bobby Bell intercepted a Lee pass and returned it 32 yards for a TD. The Chiefs went for two points and were successful as Dawson threw to TE Reg Carolan.

Dawson completed 15 straight passes before finally throwing an incomplete sideline pass during the fourth quarter. He was also victimized when Houston’s rookie Ken Houston intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for Burford and returned it 77 yards, with Webster and CB Miller Farr throwing key blocks along the way. On the next play, Lee tossed a short pass to Granger who went the remaining 28 yards for a touchdown, but the two-point conversion attempt failed. The Chiefs held on to win by a final score of 25-20.

Houston actually had the most total yards (336 to 312) although Kansas City accumulated the most first downs (20 to 17). The Chiefs only turned the ball over once, while the Oilers suffered four turnovers. Kansas City was penalized 10 times, at the expense of 117 yards, while Houston was flagged on seven occasions and lost more yards (128).

With his high efficiency, Len Dawson completed 17 of 19 passes for 193 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Mike Garrett (pictured at left) led the Chiefs in rushing with 80 yards on 19 carries, including one for a TD, and also had the most pass receptions with 6, for another 42 yards. Otis Taylor gained 60 yards on his four catches.

For Houston, Jacky Lee was successful on 16 of 25 throws for 158 yards with a TD and two interceptions. The running game was proficient as Hoyle Granger gained 101 yards on 13 carries, including a score, and Sid Blanks added 79 yards on 18 attempts with a TD. WR Charley Frazier caught 6 passes for 82 yards.

Dawson’s 15 consecutive completions were a then-pro football record (NFL as well as AFL). It broke the existing mark of 13 by the NFL’s Fran Tarkenton and the AFL record of 11 by Dick Wood of the Jets in 1964. Joe Namath of the Jets tied the mark several weeks later and it stood until 1974.

The Chiefs had another good season, but couldn’t beat the Raiders or Chargers and ended up second in the Western Division with a 9-5 record. Len Dawson again topped the AFL in completion percentage (57.7) and was among the leaders in passing (83.7 rating by the current system).

Houston’s rebuilding process was more successful than anticipated, although Jacky Lee was traded, ironically enough, to the Chiefs for Dawson’s backup, Pete Beathard. Beathard proved to be a good fit, the defense was outstanding, and the Oilers won the Eastern Division with a 9-4-1 tally, although they were routed by Oakland in the AFL Championship game. Hoyle Granger (pictured below) ranked second in the league with 1194 yards rushing (Mike Garrett ended up third with 1087) and first in yards from scrimmage (1494).