Unsuccessful in his attempt to acquire a National Football League franchise for Dallas, Lamar Hunt founds and organizes the American Football League with six original cities: New York, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Hunt’s home, Dallas. In the months ahead, Buffalo and Boston are added, and Oakland replaces Minneapolis. “Before there was a player, coach, or general manager in the league, there was Lamar Hunt,” is the way Boston owner Billy Sullivan later put it. “Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL.” Not long after the Dallas Texans go into business, the NFL announces it will establish a team in Dallas. The other Dallas franchise is awarded to Clint Murchison, Jr. and Bedford Wynne. Hunt hires an little-known college assistant named Hank Stram as his head coach. A self-styled disciplinarian, Stram is a short, barrel-chested man who says, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser—period.” The Texans’ first draft choice is a local hero, Don Meredith of SMU. But the All-America quarterback signs with the rival NFL Cowboys.
Lamar Hunt is named the first president of the AFL, January 26. For their inaugural season in the Cotton Bowl, the Texans have a strong home-state identity. The quarterback is Cotton Davidson from Baylor. Fullback Jack Spikes has been an outstanding player at TCU, and halfback Abner Haynes has played at North Texas State. After winning five straight preseason games, the Texans draw 51,000 people for their final preseason game against Houston, a 24-3 victory. Haynes leads the new league in rushing with 875 yards and is named the AFL’s first player of the year. The Texans have a flashy, high-scoring club, and only three losses by a total of four points keep them from winning the division championship. They do beat the Western Division champion Los Angeles Chargers, 17-0, and the AFL champion Oilers, 24-0, however. A variety of promotional ploys help the Texans average 24,500 for their home games, highest in the league.
E.J. Holub, the Texas Tech All-America center described as “the best football player in America” by many scouts, is drafted first by both Dallas teams. Lamar Hunt considers it a major victory when Holub decides to play for his club. Hunt also signs three more quality rookies, SMU’s Jerry Mays, Michigan State’s Fred Arbanas, and Ohio State’s Jim Tyrer. The revitalized Texans win four of their first five games preseason games and three of their first four in the regular season. But during that period, Spikes is injured, and his absence from the running attack puts even more pressure on Davidson’s already erratic passing. The team falls into a six-game losing streak, then rallies to win three of its last four to finish second in the Western Division at 6-8.
Don Klosterman is named the club’s player personnel director. Hank Stram makes his most important acquisition when he invites Len Dawson, a quarterback he once coached at Purdue, to join Dallas. Dawson, waived by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, becomes a star for the Texans. Another key addition is Curtis McClinton, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 227-pound fullback who had enough speed to run the high hurdles at Kansas. With Dawson directing Haynes and McClinton, the Texans clinch the Western Division championship in November. They finish with an 11-3 record. Fred Arbanas, fully recovered from a back injury that had kept him out of the 1961 season, is instrumental in the Texans’ turnabout both as a receiver and an excellent blocker. His contribution to the ground game helps Abner Haynes to his greatest year, which includes 1,049 yards and a record 13 touchdowns rushing, 19 overall. AFL writers vote Len Dawson, who throws 29 touchdown passes, player of the year, Curtis McClinton rookie of the year, and Stram coach of the year. Frequently overlooked is the defense, which gave up the fewest points in the league and features all-AFL performances by E.J Holub and Sherrill Headrick at linebacker and Jerry Mays and Mel Branch on the line. Dallas wins the AFL championship in the second overtime period when rookie Tommy Brooker kicks a 25-yard field goal to make the final score 20-17 over Houston, December 23.
With the first pick in the AFL draft, the Texans choose Buck Buchanan, a defensive tackle from Grambling. H. Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City, invites Lamar Hunt to move his team to Missouri. Bartle promises to enlarge Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium and guarantees Hunt three times as many season-ticket sales as the Texans had in Dallas. Impressed with the inducements and the fact the nearest pro football rival is 250 miles away, Hunt announces he is shifting the franchise to Kansas City and renaming it the Chiefs (after Bartle’s nickname, The Chief), May 14. Rookie Stone Johnson suffers a fatal injury in a preseason game in Wichita, Kansas. Kansas City opens the regular season with a 59-7 victory over Denver, but the new-look Chiefs manage only one win and two ties in their next 10 games. Appropriately, the victory is in their home opener in Municipal Stadium, where they defeat Houston, 27-7, before 27,801 fans. A three-game winning streak at the end of the season gives the Chiefs some measure of respectability, and the play of rookies Buchanan, linebacker Bobby Bell, and guard Ed Budde give them hope for the future.
Ten regulars are hurt at one time or another during the season. Curtis McClinton breaks a hand in training camp, and is bothered by it all year. E.J Holub tears a knee and misses the last five games. Johnny Robinson, the outstanding safety, suffers a rib injury in November and is out for the season. Fred Arbanas, the tight end, is mugged on a Kansas City street and blinded in his left eye. Burdened with such ill fortune, the Chiefs play erratically. They beat the Chargers, 49-6, and the Raiders, 42-7, but they lose to Denver, 33-27. Even the performances of Len Dawson, who leads the league in passing with 2,879 yards and 30 touchdowns, and rookie Mack Lee Hill, who averages a league-high 5.5 yards per carry, can’t make the Chiefs a regular threat. Attendance is as disappointing as the final 7-7 record. Seven home games at Municipal stadium draw only 126,881, and when AFL owners’ meetings are held, there is concern about the Chiefs’ future in Kansas City.
Gale Sayers, the spectacular breakaway runner from Kansas, is the club’s number-one draft choice, but the Chicago Bears also make him their first selection and finally win him in a bidding duel. Otis Taylor, a wide receiver from Prairie View, joins the team. Abner Haynes is traded to Denver for linebacker-punter Jim Fraser and cash. In a relatively routine knee surgery late in the season, Mack Lee Hill dies on the operating table. The Chiefs finish 7-5-2; two of the losses are by three points or less.
Halfback Mike Garrett, the Heisman throphy winner from USC, is drafted in the twentieth round. Garrett also is drafted by his hometown Los Angeles Rams, but the Chiefs sign the swift runner for $400,000. “In the past we ground out yardage inch by inch. We moved by bus; now we travel by jet,” said Hank Stram. A crowd of 43,885, largest ever to see a sports event in Kansas City, turns out for the home opener against Buffalo. The Chiefs lose 29-14, but after the game, in the middle of the field, Stram and Bills’ coach Joe Collier negotiate a trade. Kansas City gets field goal kicker Mike Mercer for a fifth-round draft pick. The deal solidifies the one weak link in the Chiefs’ attack. Mercer proves his worth in a title-clinching 32-24 win over New York in late November hitting from 32, 15, 47, and 33 yards. Garrett’s lateral swiftness gives the Chiefs an outside threat. Garrett is second in AFL rushing with 801 yards, and his 5.45 yards per carry is the league’s best. Len Dawson leads the league in passing, and Otis Taylor and Chris Burford tie for third in pass receiving. The Chiefs finish three games ahead of Oakland. Using a flashy I-formation offense and an assortment of defenses, the Chiefs confuse and outplay Buffalo to win the AFL championship, 31-7, and gain a berth in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Kansas City goes wild, with Chiefs boosters mobbing the airport to greet the team upon its return from Buffalo. In Super Bowl I, in Los Angeles, the Chiefs play Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers close for a half, trailing 14-10. But the Packers take charge in the final two periods for a 35-10 victory, January 15.
The loss to Green Bay prompts an emphasis on defense in the Chiefs’ draft. They get linebacking strength in Maxwell Trophy winner Jim Lynch from Notre Dame and Little All-America Willie Lanier from Morgan State. Specialists Jan Stenerud and Noland (Super Gnat) Smith also join the team. Interest in the team skyrockets. Season-ticket sales go over 30,000, and seating capacity for Municipal Stadium is increased from 40,000 to 47,000. In June, the voters in Jackson County approve a $43 million general obligation bond issue for construction of a sports complex that will feature both a football and baseball stadium. A two-thirds approval is required, and the bond carries with 67 percent of the vote. The Chiefs start well, but injuries to center Jon Gilliam and linebackers E.J Holub and Willie Lanier weaken the middle of the offensive and defensive teams. The Chiefs have to scramble for three consecutive wins at the end of the year, finishing second with a 9-5 mark. Stenerud, from Norway via Montana State, leads the league in field goals with 21. Noland Smith, the 5-foot 6-inch, 154 pound sprinter from Tennessee State, tops the AFL in kickoff-return yardage.
The Chiefs’ offensive firepower is depleted early in the season by injuries to backs Mike Garrett, Curtis McClinton, and Bert Coan, and receivers Otis Taylor and Gloster Richardson. Kansas City’s offense scores no touchdowns in a 20-19 loss to the Jets. Hank Stram improvises, bringing quarterback Jacky Lee and running back Robert Holmes off the bench, and both are outstanding in a 34-2 win over Denver in the third game. Len Dawson returns the next week to direct a 48-3 bombing of Miami. The Chiefs run the winning streak to six en route to a 12-2 finish and a tie with Oakland for the Western Division championship. Dawson finishes as the league’s top passer for the fourth time, Holmes is the number two rusher in the AFL, and the defense gives up the fewest points in the league. But in the playoff game, the Raiders build a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and advance to the championship with a 41-6 victory, behind five touchdown passes by Daryle Lamonica. All the Chiefs’ scoring comes in the second quarter, when they run 10 plays inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line and net just two field goals.
The Chiefs post a 6-0 preseason mark and keep the string going with comfortable victories over San Diego and Boston at the outset of the regular schedule. But in the 31-0 drubbing of the Patriots, Len Dawson injures a knee: he is replaced by Jacky Lee against Cincinnati. The Chiefs lose the game 24-19, and lose Lee with a cracked bone in his ankle. Mike Livingston becomes the third quarterback in as many weeks, and helps turn things around in a 26-13 victory over Denver that begins a seven-game winning streak. Behind the running of “mini-backs” Mike Garrett, Robert Holmes, and Warren McVea, the Chiefs establish the best ground game in the AFL. Two months into the season, Dawson returns to action. The Chiefs finish with an 11-3 record, second to Oakland’s 12-1-1. But this is the first (and last) year of the new playoff system in the AFL, pitting first- and second- place finishers in the opposite divisions against each other in the opening round. Kansas City relies on strong defensive play, which, during the season, saw them lead the league against scoring, passing yards, and rushing yards, to turn back the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets 13-6 in the first round. The Chiefs, after losing to Oakland twice in the regular season, rally from an early 7-0 deficit to win 17-7 over the Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Their opponents in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans are the Minnesota Vikings, and the Chiefs use the game as a crusade for the AFL. They wear patches on their jerseys saying “AFL-10”, which symbolizes the 10-year existence of the AFL. Odds-makers establish the Vikings as two-touchdown favorites, but the Chiefs come out with three Stenerud field goals and a second-quarter fumble recovery on the Minnesota 19-yard line that leads to Mike Garrett’s five-yard touchdown run and a 16-0 halftime lead. A 46-yard pass from Dawson to Otis Taylor in the third quarter seals Kansas City’s first Super Bowl championship, 23-7.