Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson hands off to Wendell Hayes.
The Survival of
January 11, 1970
For Len Dawson, the 1969 AFL season had consisted of misery and misfortune.
In the second game, against the Boston Patriots, he had suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for six games.
Later, his father had died and when the Kansas City Chiefs lost their final regular season game to Oakland, 10-6, a cloud of controversy swirled about the veteran quarterback because of a questionable game plan.
Harassment grew so formidable that the Dawson children were reluctant to go to school and Mrs. Dawson hesitated to mingle socially.
With it all, however, Dawson and the Chiefs had survived. After finishing second to the Raiders in the Western Division race, the Chiefs eliminated the New York Jets in the inter-divisional playoffs, 13-7, and defeated Oakland, 17-7, in the AFL championship game to qualify for their second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
Nothing, it seemed, could heap further grief on the Chiefs. They already had had more than their fair share.
But in the early afternoon of Tuesday, January 6, after the team had finished its noon meal at the Fontainebleau Hotel in New Orleans and as Dawson prepared to attend a quarterbacks' meeting, he was beckoned aside by Hank Stram. The news from the coach was ominous. A few hours later, the National Broadcasting Company, on its Huntley-Brinkley newscast, would report a federal investigation into sports gambling and say that Dawson and other players would be summoned to testify in Detroit.
The disclosure struck Dawson like a blind-side tackle.
Dawson's involvement, he was told, stemmed from the arrest of Donald (Dice) Dawson, who was carrying more than $400,000 as well as Lenny's telephone number.
The quarterback admitted that he had known Donald Dawson (no relation) casually for about 10 years and had received phone calls from him on several occasions, the most recent after his knee injury and the death of his father.
That evening a statement was issued by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, saying:
"It is unfortunate that any sports figures' names be mentioned loosely with an investigation of other persons, especially Len Dawson's, just prior to his playing in the world championship game. We feel the act of some individual or individuals in involving certain professional football players with this investigation by unattributable comment to news media representatives is totally irresponsible.
"More than a year ago, during the 1968 season, rumors were circulated regarding Dawson. At that time Dawson and his attorney cooperated fully with our office and Dawson volunteered to take a polygraph examination to establish his innocence in regard to the rumors. The test and our own independent examination proved to our satisfaction that the rumors were unsubstantiated. We cooperated with a federal investigative agency throughout the course of the investigation in accordance with our long-standing policy.
"While the entire matter has been under investigation by our security department for several days, we have no evidence to even consider disciplinary action against any of those publicly named."
In addition to Len Dawson those named were quarterbacks Joe Namath of the New York Jets, Karl Sweetan of the Los Angeles Rams and Bill Munson of the Detroit Lions, and tight end Pete Lammons of the Jets.
Meanwhile, in Stram's suite, the coach was in conference with Lamar Hunt, the Chiefs' owner who had founded the AFL and christened the Super Bowl; Dawson and Jim Schaaf, the team's publicity director. The purpose of the meeting was to draft a statement explaining Dawson's position in the controversy.
Eventually, a satisfactory statement was completed. The group agreed that Dawson should read the statement to the media persons assembled on another floor. "If he doesn't read it himself it will look like an admission of guilt," Schaaf contended, and the others assented.
"Okay," added Stram, "but there will be no questions. He goes in, reads the statement and leaves."
At 11 p.m., five hours after the NBC newscast, Stram and Dawson confronted the newsmen.
"Gentlemen," began Stram, "I'm sorry we've kept you waiting, Lenny has a statement to read. He will not answer questions."
In his statement, copies of which were distributed to the media, Dawson said:
"My name has been mentioned in regard to an investigation conducted by the Justice Department. I have not been contacted by any law enforcement agency or apprised of any reason why my name has been brought up. The only reason I can think of is that I have a casual acquaintance with Mr. Donald Dawson of Detroit, who I understand has been charged in the investigation. Mr. Dawson is not a relative of mine. I have known Mr. Dawson for about 10 years and have talked with him on several occasions. My only conversation with him in recent years concerned my knee injury and the death of my father. On these occasions he called me to offer his sympathy. These calls were among the many I received. Gentlemen, this is all I have to say. I have told you everything I know."
With that, Dawson retired to a room other than the one to which he was assigned, so as to avoid disturbances.
Reaction to the story among Kansas City players was hot and instant.
"We're angry as hell the story came out the way it did," snapped defensive end Jerry Mays.
"Lenny is too smart to get mixed up in something like this," said running back Mike Garrett. "To me there's nothing to it and it doesn't bother me at all."
"The club was investigated before because it was playing erratically," recalled center E.J. Holub. "We were put through the wringer pretty good. There was nothing to it then and I don't think there's anything to it now."
"You've got to believe in something and I believe in Lenny," said guard Ed Budde.
As l'affaire Dawson cooled in the following days, attention switched to the participants in Super Bowl IV, the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings and the AFL champion Chiefs.
The Vikings had lost only to the New York Giants, 24-23, in the opener, and to the Atlanta Falcons, 10-3, in the regular-season finale, while winning 12 games in between. They had allowed only 133 points while scoring 379.
The Chiefs outscored their opponents, 359 to 177 points, and had been beaten only three times, by Cincinnati, 24-19, and Oakland, 24-17 and 10-6.
The Minnesota quarterback was Joe Kapp, who had come out of the Canadian League in 1967 with the reputation of a two-fisted brawler.
The Vikings enjoyed telling the story of Kapp and linebacker Lonnie Warwick after the Vikings had lost a game to Green Bay in
Following an extended period drinking tequila at the bar, the two reached violent disagreement on the causes for the defeat, Kapp insisting his fumble was responsible and Warwick maintaining that the defense was at fault.
When reason could not resolve the dispute, the two adjourned to the sidewalk where Warwick's right to the eye sent Kapp sprawling on the concrete.
Finesse was not a part of Kapp's game. His passes wobbled and found their mark as if by accident. Still, he tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a 52-14 rout of Baltimore, the Vikes' first victory in 1969.
Kapp welcomed contact. In the words of Coach Bud Grant: "Other quarterbacks run out of bounds. Kapp turns upfield and looks for a tackle to run into."
In the Vikings' 51-3 rout of Cleveland, Kapp barreled into Jim Houston, knocking the linebacker out.
It was Kapp who had coined the Vikes' slogan for the 1969 season: "40 for 60," meaning 40 players giving their all for the full 60 minutes. "Such inspirations come along once in a lifetime, they're no great thing," said Kapp, minimizing his contribution.
The Chiefs had the highest regard for Kapp, the former California All-America who had chosen the Canadian Football League over the Washington Redskins, who had picked him 18th in the 1959 NFL draft. He was signed as a free agent by Minnesota in 1967.
"I respect him as much as any guy I've ever played against," said Jerry Mays. "He is a sorry passer and really not a great quarterback, but he's a great leader and a real fireball. I hated to play against him.
"You felt his presence no matter where he was, on the sidelines or on the field. He'd look at you and challenge you with his eyes. When I think of him, I think of his eyes."
"There's not another guy like him," asserted K.C. linebacker Jim Lynch. "He's such a threat as a passer and a runner he puts pressure not only on the pass rush but on the linebackers and secondary as well."
To all this, Kapp replied, "When you're on the field, you have to use every tool you have. I can't afford to be cautious. I prefer to pass and give the ball to the backs to run, but if a play breaks down and I have to run, yes, I enjoy running. I don't think I've called my own number ten times this season and those have only been sneaks. The job of a quarterback is to pass and I'm a passer."
In contrast to the reckless, gambling Kapp, Dawson represented coolness and calculating conservatism.
Running into defenders was not a part of his game plan.
The onetime Purdue All-America who failed to distinguish himself with Pittsburgh and Cleveland of the NFL was sized up by one observer in this manner: "He keeps a lot to himself. He doesn't show a lot of emotion. He keeps his cool."
"Although his passes have guided the Chiefs to the AFL championship," wrote Dave Anderson in the New York Times, "Dawson's aloof manner has contributed to his relatively insignificant niche among pro football's leading quarterbacks. He doesn't possess the flair of Joe Namath or Joe Kapp or even the somewhat silent stature of Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr.
"But during his eight AFL seasons Dawson has thrown 192 touchdown passes, the most of any pro quarterback during that span.
"His manner can be as tough as his mechanical style. He was asked once why he chose to throw a pass on a critical third-and-one situation.
"'I knew it would work,' he said.
"When he was an All-America at Purdue, an assistant coach wished him good luck on the sidelines.
"'Luck won't win the game,' he said.
"When he was being recruited by Purdue after an outstanding schoolboy career at Alliance, 0., the basketball coach attempted to entice him by saying that Len 'might be a big help' in that sport as well.
"'You don't know that,' said Dawson. 'You've never seen me play.'
"And when he stopped smoking, someone asked him how he was able to do it so easily.
"'I just wanted to,' he said."
With the gambling specter in recession, Hank Stram was able to concentrate on the Vikings. The Chiefs had met the Vikes in a preseason game, but now Stram was studying Minnesota game films, trying to spot a weakness that he might exploit to the advantage of the Chiefs, who had been established as 13-point underdogs.
The more he watched the movies, the more curious Stram grew over one aspect of the Vikings' defense. Why, he wondered, with Minnesota cornerbacks playing deep, did other clubs throw the short pass so sparingly?
Further analysis revealed that the Browns and Rams had employed such tactics in playoff games, but hard-charging ends Jim Marshall and Carl Eller had forced quarterbacks into hurried passes that were either deflected or intercepted. The strategy was quickly abandoned.
"Why not," mused Stram, "double-team the ends so they can't interfere with the passer, and then pass short?"
Accordingly, tight end Fred Arbanas and tackle Dave Hill were assigned the job of containing Eller while left tackle Jim Tyrer and a running back were assigned to Marshall.
Bud Grant was not so fortunate in formulating a game plan. "It's hard to plan for a team when you've only seen them on three films," he noted. "We've got nine years of Bart Starr on film. All we know about the Chiefs is that their style is similar to that of the Dallas Cowboys."
Three days before the January 11 engagement in Tulane Stadium, a wire service story out of New Orleans reported:
"Outside the Fontainebleau Hotel where the Kansas City Chiefs are lodged, there is a large fountain against a backdrop of palm trees. But today the water in the fountain was frozen and the palms were almost blue.
"The temperature is expected to drop to 24 degrees tonight matching last night's reading, a record low for January 7 here and the coldest night in seven years. The Weather Bureau has issued the following advice: 'Protect your water pipes and your tender vegetation.'
As the day of the game drew near, offerings of Super Bowl tickets appeared more frequently in the classified sections of New Orleans dailies.
One ad offered a paint job on a pick-up truck in exchange for two tickets.
A shotgun was worth two tickets to another ducat-holder, who announced that a motor bike would be worth another pair.
Still another offered two tickets in exchange for round-trip fare to Jamaica while a fourth ad blared:
"BARGAIN: You can have my two seats to the Super Bowl in exchange for an A.K.C. registered boxer puppy with fawn coloring."
As the mercury plunged, however, the supply of tickets mushroomed. On the night before the game, one man took a position in the lobby of a midtown hotel, trying to unload ducats for $3 apiece. At a basketball game, a man strolled through the throng and gave away 24 tickets free.
A cab driver accepted two Super Bowl tickets as payment for a $5 fare. The sports editor of a Minnesota weekly was handed 50 tickets by a Vikings official with a request to peddle them. Later the newspaperman reported, "I unloaded a few of them, but it's tough, awfully tough."
But interest was still high elsewhere. Dawson received countless letters offering moral encouragement in his hour of crisis.
From his old Canadian haunts, Kapp received a telegram bearing 3,000 signatures.
"Go, go, Super Joe," it read. "You gave British Columbia its first and only Grey Cup. We know you will deliver the Super Bowl to Minnesota. We're with you all the way."
On Super Bowl Eve, while funlovers were crowding the French Quarter to gape at Ricki Corvette, 6-8 and 41-25-38, Dawson and his roommate, free safety Johnny Robinson, retired at 10:30. At midnight, Robinson was in dreamland, while Dawson contemplated the walls and what lay ahead on the following afternoon. The quarterback dozed briefly, then was awakened by cramps and nausea at 4 o'clock. He was up the rest of the night.
Before the Chiefs departed for the stadium and the 3:35 kickoff, Stram received a telephone call from Washington, D.C. "I know there is nothing to the rumors about Dawson," said President Richard Nixon. "He shouldn't be upset by them. Will you please tell him for me."
Stram promised to convey the message and then boarded the bus for Tulane Stadium, where overnight rains had made portions of the field soggy and footing a bit uncertain.
Catching sight of Bart Starr, hero of the first two Super Bowls who was on hand to conduct radio interviews, Jerry Mays introduced himself, shook hands and then quipped, "Maybe some of your poise will rub off on me."
As things developed, Mays overflowed with poise, but the same was scarcely true of other featured entertainers.
The big pre-game race between two balloons, one labeled AFL and piloted by an ersatz Indian, and the other labeled NFL and piloted by a Viking, terminated ignominiously when the NFL craft, after bobbing precariously over the field, crashed into the stands.
The NFL aerialist, an experienced hand, blamed his misadventure on an inexperienced crew that released the ropes prematurely.
"I'm hanging up in the stands and the crowd's reaction shocked me," related George Stokes of Fountain Valley, Calif. "There was no sympathy, not even laughter. The crowd was ugly. It started ripping my balloon apart, tearing at it and pulling the sign off. All I could think of was the late 1700s in France when they used to have balloon launchings and charged people to watch. Lots of times when the balloon didn't take off, the people would attack it and rip it to shreds, then go after the guy inside. But I'm saying to myself, 'This is 200 years later and this is a silly old football game. Why are these people acting this way?'
"There were several 40-foot tears in the balloon. My balloon cost $4,000 and lucky for me I was able to repair the damage myself. If I learned one thing it's never to rely on amateurs when you want a professional performance."
While Stokes cursed his luck, the AFL balloon drifted out of the stadium, a portent, Kansas City fans hoped, of what was to come on the field.
There was still one more snafu in store for the 80,988 spectators and the estimated 60 million who crowded television sets for the CBS transmission.
As Pat O'Brien recited the national anthem to the accompaniment of Doc Severinson's trumpet, the public address system went dead. When sound was restored, spectators heard the actor recite "land of the free and the home of the brave," while the musician was in the vicinity of "the rockets' red glare."
Having dispensed with aerial mishaps and electronic failures, the Vikings and Chiefs eventually were permitted to occupy center stage.
Jan Stenerud, the Norwegian who had earned a ski scholarship to Montana State University and emerged as a soccer-style kicker, booted the opening kickoff into the end zone and the Vikings started from their own 20. The Vikes moved to the Kansas City 39, where the Chiefs, who had led the AFL in 17 of 24 defensive categories, braced, forcing a punt out of bounds on the K.C. 17.
Five plays, including two passes to wide receiver Frank Pitts, carried the Chiefs into Minnesota territory from where Stenerud booted a 48-yard field goal.
On their second possession, the Vikings pushed to midfield and again were forced to punt, this time into the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, Stenerud kicked a 32-yard field goal to increase the Chiefs' lead to 6-0.
The Vikings' third possession was little different, only that this time the punt sailed out of bounds on the Minnesota 44. Dawson moved the Chiefs inside the 20 and Stenerud connected again, from the 25, and the AFL champions enjoyed a 9-0 cushion.
On the ensuing kickoff, Charlie West waited at the goal line for a routine return. Either a sudden gust of wind -- 14 mph winds were recorded out of the south -- or a simple misjudgment caused West to make a sudden lunge for the ball which slipped through his hands and bounced upfield to the 19, where Remi Prudhomme fell on it for the Chiefs.
On the first play Dawson was sacked for an eight-yard loss, and yet it was not a total loss.
Dawson noted that, on the snap, tackle Alan Page had charged straight ahead. Page was ripe for a trap, concluded Dawson, who called a draw-trap on which Ed Budde cut down Page, permitting Wendell Hayes to gain 13 yards. A pass to wide receiver Otis Taylor moved the ball to the 5, from where Garrett scored through a gigantic hole created by tackle Jim Tyrer, guard Mo Moorman and tight end Arbanas. Stenerud's conversion accounted for a 16-0 halftime lead.
The Chiefs' first-half superiority was remarkable. They registered 10 first downs to only four by the Vikings, who made none by rushing. The Chiefs also had outgained their opponents, 147 yards to 95. The Vikes had crossed midfield only twice and had not advanced beyond the Chiefs' 38-yard line.
Analyzing their first-half efforts, the Chiefs found agreement on one point, the uncivilized manner in which Dawson was being assaulted by Viking defenders.
"Eller was trying to hurt Lenny," Dave Hill, the Chiefs' 260-pound tackle, said of the Vikings' 250-pound end. "He pounced on Lenny after he had handed off one time and Eller knew he didn't have the ball. That was a cheap shot and we let him know it. Another time Page punched Lenny when he was down. That's high school stuff and I'm ashamed of them for doing it."
Meantime, on the soggy turf of the stadium, a halftime extravaganza was in progress, featuring Al Hirt, Marguerite Piazza and "The Battle of New Orleans, Part II." In this military pageant, musket-bearing individuals clad in period uniforms waged a skirmish that would have been unrecognizable to the British or their conqueror, Andy Jackson.
Battle casualties, it was announced, totaled 1,975 Britons and 13 Americans.
Stram's halftime lecture to the Chiefs emphasized: "When we defeated the Jets, we were two weeks away from our goal. When we defeated Oakland, we were one week away. Now we are only 30 minutes from being champions of the world. Go out there and give it everything you've got."
After the Chiefs controlled the ball for six minutes at the start of the second half, the Vikings mounted their most impressive offense of the day. Starting on their own 31, the Vikings moved to the Kansas City 4 in nine plays. Dave Osborn rammed over right tackle for the TD which, with the extra point, reduced the Minnesota deficit to nine points, 16-7.
The Vikes drew no closer. On their next possession, starting on their 18, the Chiefs moved to the K.C. 32, where Dawson faced a third-and-seven situation. A pass seemed to be the logical call, but Lenny crossed 'em up, calling a flanker reverse for the third time and, for as many times, it paid off as Pitts gained a first down by inches.
Although the flanker reverse had been in the Chiefs' playbook throughout the season, it was not in the films sent to the Vikings.
A 15-yard penalty for roughing Dawson set the Vikes back to their 46. When the Vikings blitzed a safetyman and linebacker, Dawson passed for six yards to Otis Taylor in the right flat. At that point things started to happen. Twisting and charging, Taylor broke from the grasp of cornerback Earsell Mackbee at the 40-yard line and headed toward strong safety Karl Kassulke at the 10. But the safetyman was no match for the 215-pound wide receiver, who stormed into the end zone. When Stenerud converted, his 11th point of the game, the Chiefs again enjoyed a 16-point advantage.
On his touchdown play, Taylor remembered, "I got hit on the left side and spun out. Then I hit the last guy downfield with my hand. I always try to punish a pass defender just as he does me. I wanted to score that touchdown because I remembered how Minnesota came back to beat the Rams and I felt we needed to continue to keep scoring today."
"I didn't know they had the safety blitz on until I saw Paul Krause coming," confessed Dawson. "If it had been a pocket pass or a play-action, I would have been hit for a loss. I was just lucky I could get the ball away quickly."
Taylor's touchdown was scored with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter, but the Vikings were unable to capitalize on any of their three remaining possessions. Twice they were halted by interceptions, by linebacker Willie Lanier and Johnny Robinson. Subsequently, Kapp was tackled hard by defensive end Aaron Brown while back to pass and left the game, his arm hanging limp at his side. Gary Cuozzo replaced him.
Cuozzo also was charged with an interception, on his fourth play, concluding the Vikings' offensive activities for the afternoon.
As time was running out, Buck Buchanan, the 6-5, 276-pound defensive tackle of the Chiefs, sidled up to Pat O'Brien.
"Pat, I'm Buck Buchanan," beamed the super Chief.
"I know," responded the actor.
"How about getting a picture with you?" asked Buck. "You know, just one for the Gipper."
The laugh came easy for O'Brien, who had portrayed Notre Dame football Coach Knute Rockne in a 1940 movie, "Knute Rockne, All-American." In that film, Rockne delivers the immortal "win one for the Gipper" speech, inspiring the Irish to do their best in memory of the late fullback George Gipp.
In the Chiefs' genteel clubhouse celebration, Dawson critiqued the victory. "I don't think the victory vindicated anything," said the quarterback. "Unfortunately, the gambling report put a great deal of stress and strain on me and more so on my family. But I asked the Good Lord to give me the strength and courage to play my best and I asked him to let the sun shine on my teammates today.
"No, the gambling thing didn't give me any extra incentive. How could it? I approached this game as a big game, as an opportunity to be the best. You don't need any outside motivation."
Later, Dawson received a phone call from the White House in which President Nixon said, "The world looks up to pro football players for courage."
"Thank you, Mr. President," replied the game's Most Valuable Player. "We try to exemplify the best in professional football. I appreciate it, Mr. President, but it wasn't me, it was the whole team that did it."
The six-minute conversation, a money-minded observer estimated, cost the American taxpayers $2.68 at Sunday rates.
Because of his injury, Kapp was unable to conduct a conventional post-game interview with the media, but relayed some impressions through an intermediary.
"The Kansas City defensive line resembled a redwood forest," said Kapp. "I don't remember that one individual stood out -- they were all very active. They took the running game away from us. We went into the game wanting to run the ball, and they were able to take it all away with great defensive play. We couldn't come up with the big play when we wanted to. That's what got us here, but we couldn't do it today."
Added Coach Bud Grant: "Maybe we could play better tomorrow, but today we played as well as we could.
"I can't say that Kansas City is the toughest team we've played all year, but production-wise and point-wise, they outplayed us the toughest."
"We made a batch of mistakes," added Kassulke, "more mistakes today than we made in 23 other games."
One representative of the AFL, remembering that the Chiefs had finished second in the Western Division, quipped: "Imagine what one of our first-place teams would have won by!"
Hours later, when Stram entered the Chiefs' midtown party room, he was greeted by a round of cheers and hoisted onto strong shoulders for a victory parade. Owner Hunt, a teetotaler, raised a glass of champagne with the others, toasting the club that as of this date would move with other AFC clubs into the NFL family. The AFL passed from the scene, departing in regal splendor.
The demise of the AFL inspired Arthur Daley, sports columnist for the New York Times, to write:
"'Not many people realize,' said a smiling Billy Sullivan, president of the Boston Patriots, 'the extra measure of satisfaction that all American Football League owners get when one of our teams beats the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl.
"'It was great for us a year ago, of course, when the Jets beat the Colts, but there wasn't the same undercurrent that was running against the Vikings, the same deep feelings.
"'To put it in proper perspective, I'll have to backtrack 10 years, to when we were organized as an eight-team league, and the eighth team was the Minnesota Vikings. A few days earlier, though, the Vikes had jumped to the National Football League and our dinner meeting was on the somewhat tense side when we had a confrontation with Max Winter, the president of the Vikes.
"'We all were upset, but nobody more than Harry Wismer of the New York Titans. You know Wismer -- mercurial, flighty and explosive. At the sight of Winter, Wismer really exploded. He even got a little sacrilegious.
"'"Max, when I see you at the supper table," Harry shouted, "I can't help but think how admirably you fill the role of Judas."
"'They almost had a fistfight. But after the AFL lost the Vikings we filled in the gap at the last minute with Oakland. At our first meeting with Wayne Valley, the president of the Raiders, he described our desperate situation best.
"'"Gentlemen," he said, "welcome to the Foolish Club."'"
In truth, the AFL had been a joke league at the beginning, but a decade had erased a heap of hostility. Two successive Super Bowl victories had gone far toward supplanting the sword with the olive branch.