January 11, 2012

1970: Chiefs Beat Vikings in Last Pre-Merger Super Bowl

The 1969 season marked the last pre-merger campaign for the American Football League as it prepared to be absorbed into the NFL for 1970. The AFL’s New York Jets had stunned the NFL Colts in the Super Bowl following the ’68 season, thus giving notice that the teams from the new league were ready to compete with their longer-established brethren. On January 11, 1970 in Super Bowl IV the AFL was represented by the Kansas City Chiefs against the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings, with the AFL hoping to end its existence as a separate entity with another win over the NFL’s best – it was especially meaningful in that the Chiefs were owned by Lamar Hunt, the founder of the AFL, and the Vikings had originally been slated to join the new league before jumping ship and accepting an offer to become a NFL expansion franchise for 1961. Also, Kansas City had been the younger league’s representative in the first Super Bowl against Green Bay following the 1966 season, and there were still many players from that team that lost 35-10 who were looking forward to another shot.

The Chiefs, coached by the innovative Hank Stram, had finished second in the Western Division with an 11-3 record but benefited from a playoff system utilized for the AFL’s last year in which each second place team faced off against the opposing division’s first place club. After unseating the reigning-champion Jets in a close-fought game in New York, they beat the Raiders for the AFL Championship by a 17-7 score. QB Len Dawson (pictured above) had missed much of the year due to strained knee ligaments but was back and healthy in the playoffs, although reports that his name had come up in a federal gambling probe added a layer of distraction in the days prior to the Super Bowl (he was later cleared). The team employed a running back-by-committee approach that was highly effective and flanker Otis Taylor was one of the best receivers in the league. The defense was tough and strong and featured tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, CB Jim Marsalis, and FS Johnny Robinson. Another significant weapon was PK Jan Stenerud, a strong-legged soccer-style kicker (when they were still something of a rarity) who had kicked 27 field goals during the year.

Minnesota, in the third year under Head Coach Bud Grant, had topped the Central Division with a 12-2 record, losing only the first and last contests of the regular season. The Vikings came from behind to beat the Rams for the Western Conference title and then dominated Cleveland for the NFL Championship. Defense was Minnesota’s strong suit, giving up the fewest points in the league (a mere 133). All four of the linemen were selected for the Pro Bowl (ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, tackles Alan Page and Gary Larsen), along with FS Paul Krause. The offense was conservative but still led the NFL in points scored. QB Joe Kapp lacked passing finesse but was a fiery leader and a good fit in the ball-control attack while the running game featured HB Dave Osborn and FB Bill Brown. WR Gene Washington had earned a trip to the Pro Bowl with his 39 catches for 821 yards and 9 TDs. The line was excellent and contained All-Pros in OT Grady Alderman and C Mick Tingelhoff.

There were 80,562 fans in attendance at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans on an overcast day with a wet field. The highly-favored Vikings had the ball first and made it to the Kansas City 39 yard line on a series highlighted by a Kapp completion of 26 yards to TE John Beasley. However, the drive stalled and the Vikings punted. Now it was the turn of the Chiefs to move the ball effectively as Dawson completed passes to HB Mike Garrett for 17 yards and to WR Frank Pitts for 20. The drive lasted for eight plays and Stenerud capped it with a 48-yard field goal.

The Vikings got a break when they were forced to punt from their 27 yard line but retained possession thanks to a roughing-the-kicker penalty. They were unable to capitalize, though, making it to midfield before punting again. Taking over at their 20, the Chiefs got 20 yards on a Dawson pass to Pitts down the middle and then nine more on a throw to Taylor. The series extended into the second quarter and was helped along by a 17-yard pass interference penalty. Stenerud booted another field goal, from 32 yards, and Kansas City was ahead by 6-0.

The teams traded turnovers as WR John Henderson caught a pass from Kapp for 16 yards but fumbled, Johnny Robinson recovering for the Chiefs. Two plays later, Dawson went long for Taylor and was picked off by Krause at the Minnesota seven.

The Vikings were unable to move the ball (and in fact lost yards thanks to a delay-of-game penalty) and punted, with Kansas City starting off with good field position at the Minnesota 44. Pitts picked up 19 yards on a reverse and an offside penalty on the defense added another five. The drive stalled at the 17 and Stenerud was called upon for a third time, successfully kicking a 25-yard field goal that made it 9-0.

With 7:52 to go in the first half, Vikings safety Charlie West fumbled the ensuing kickoff and C Remi Prudhomme recovered for the Chiefs at the Minnesota 19. Dawson was immediately sacked by Jim Marshall for an eight-yard loss, but FB Wendell Hayes gained 13 yards up the middle on a draw play and Dawson connected with Taylor for 10 more to the four yard line. Three plays later, and after losing a yard on an end run, Garrett ran for a five-yard touchdown and Stenerud added the extra point.

Following a 27-yard kickoff return by West, Kapp threw to Henderson for another 27 yards, but the drive ended at the Kansas City 49. Fred Cox attempted a 56-yard field goal that fell short and was returned 17 yards by HB Warren McVea. There was no further scoring and the teams went into halftime with the Chiefs ahead by 16-0.

Kansas City had the ball first in the third quarter, maintained possession for six minutes, and punted. The Vikings proceeded to put together their best drive of the game, going 69 yards in 10 plays. Kapp completed four passes and had a seven yard run along the way. Dave Osborn ran four yards for a touchdown and, with the conversion, it was 16-7.

It took the Chiefs just six plays from scrimmage to respond decisively. They ran the ball five times, with a short passing play nullified by a penalty, and including a seven-yard gain for a first down by Pitts on another reverse. Dawson then threw to Taylor along the sideline. The star wide receiver made the catch, broke two tackles, and sprinted to the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown (pictured below).

As the game moved into the fourth quarter, Kansas City asserted its domination on defense. Kapp was intercepted to end each of the next two Minnesota possessions and the Chiefs kept the ball on the ground and punted to keep the Vikings in their own territory. Finally, Kapp was sacked by DE Aaron Brown and knocked out of the game. Backup QB Gary Cuozzo entered and, following a 15-yard carry by RB Oscar Reed on a second-and-23 play, threw to Henderson for 16 yards and a first down. But two plays later, Cuozzo was picked off by CB Emmitt Thomas, and that was it. Kansas City controlled the ball for the remaining four minutes and came away with a 23-7 win.

The Chiefs outgained Minnesota, 273 yards to 239, and had 18 first downs to 11 for the Vikings. While both teams recorded three sacks, Kansas City consistently put heavy pressure on Kapp and the Vikings turned the ball over five times, to just one turnover by the Chiefs.

Len Dawson completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception and was named as the game’s MVP. Otis Taylor caught 6 passes for 81 yards, including the one long TD. Mike Garrett ran for 39 yards on 11 carries that included a score and Frank Pitts was right behind with 37 yards on his three reverses. All members of the running back committee contributed with Wendell Hayes running the ball 8 times for 31 yards and Warren McVea accumulating 26 yards on 12 attempts. Jan Stenerud (pictured below) was successful on all three of his field goal attempts as well as two extra points.

For Minnesota, Joe Kapp was successful on 16 of 25 throws for 183 yards, giving up two interceptions. John Henderson had 7 catches for 111 yards, but Gene Washington was held to just one catch for nine yards. Bill Brown paced the ground game with 26 yards on 6 carries.

In the restructured NFL, the Chiefs made it to the postseason in 1971 but went into a long dry spell thereafter. But in winning Super Bowl IV, they allowed the AFL to achieve a split in the four contests that were played between champions of rival leagues. Wearing AFL ten-year commemorative patches on their jerseys, the Chiefs commemorated the American Football League’s tenure in the most meaningful way of all – by coming out on top.