The 1966 American Football League season kicked off with an added air of anticipation. The merger between the AFL and the NFL had been announced during the summer, meaning that after seven years of battling off the field, the winners of the two respective leagues would finally meet on the field at the end of the season, in the newly created AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
Even before the first game was played, the season marked a breakthrough for the Chiefs in Kansas City. The community had rallied around the team after the death of star running back Mack Lee Hill in December 1965, and a successful season-ticket drive in the offseason had brought the Chiefs record levels of support. Their first three years in Kansas City, the team averaged just over 20,000 per home game. But in 1966, the Chiefs drew more than 37,000 fans per
game. “The Wolfpack,” the group of vociferous fans who sat on the north side of the Municipal Stadium, just behind the Chiefs bench, had plenty to cheer about, as the team posted a franchise-best record of 11-2-1. Kansas City started fast, winning its first three games on the road. With first place in the AFL West on the line, the Chiefs beat San Diego, 24-14, at Municipal Stadium on November 6 (it was the first game AFL game ever attended by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle), then clinched the division title three weeks later after a road win over the New York Jets.
The Chiefs’ explosive offense was sparked once again by Len Dawson, who led the AFL in completion percentage (56.0), touchdown passes (26), and yards per attempt (8.9). He found a reliably potent deep threat in second-year flanker Otis Taylor, who caught 58 passes for 1,297 yards and eight
touchdowns, and led all AFL receivers by averaging 22.4 yards per catch. Though rookie running back Mike Garrett didn’t become a starter until the 11th game, he finished second in the AFL in rushing, with 801 yards. The Chiefs defense led pro football with 33 interceptions, including 10 each from safeties Johnny Robinson and Bobby Hunt.
as the Chiefs punched their ticket for Los Angeles.
AFL Championship Game
Their division title earned the Chiefs a berth in the AFL Championship Game, played New Year’s Day, 1967, at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, against the two-time defending AFL champion Bills. Kansas City led 14-7 near the end of the first half when Johnny Robinson intercepted a Jack Kemp pass near the Chiefs’ goal line and returned it 72 yards, with Mike Mercer’s late field goal giving Kansas City a17-7 halftime lead. Mike Garrett added two fourth-quarter touchdowns to close the scoring, the last one on a thrilling, mazy, 15-yard touchdown run that must have covered 70 yards in all, with Garrett beginning his run around left end, then reversing field and backtracking before finding an opening on the right side.
In dethroning Buffalo and winning the franchise’s second AFL title,
the league’s founding franchise punched its ticket for the first AFL-NFL battle, already being referred to by fans and the media (but not yet the NFL) as the Super Bowl.
“Do you think Kansas City will be happy?”
Champagne flowed in the visitors’ locker room after the game, as Hank Stram was tossed into the shower by his players, and Tony Di Pardo and his band played “California Here I Come.” In the midst of the bedlam, offensive tackle Jim Tyrer asked, “Do you think Kansas City will be happy?” Upon their return to Kansas City, the Chiefs charter had to first circle the Municipal Airport, because the 12,000 fans waiting to greet the team had spilled out onto the tarmac.
AFL-NFL World Championship Game
Two weeks later, on Jan. 15, 1967, the Chiefs faced the Green Bay Packers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the world championship of professional football.
Both teams were tense beforehand. CBS announcer Frank Gifford recalled Packers coach Vince Lombardi “shaking like a leaf” during a pregame interview. In the Coliseum tunnel before pregame introductions, Chiefs Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell both had tears streaming down their face.
The teams were evenly matched for the first half, with Green Bay taking a 14-10 lead into the locker room. The big play came with the Chiefs driving in the third quarter. A Packers’ blitz forced Len Dawson into a hurried throw, which was intercepted by Green Bay safety Willie Wood, who returned it to the Kansas City five-yard-line.
Elijah Pitts scored on the next play, and Green Bay was on its way to a 35-10 win.
After the game, Dawson took responsibility for Wood’s interception, but also defended his own club. “I’m still not convinced they’re a better football team than we are,” he said. “We started out in the first half and did a fine job. If we had played the second half the way we did the first, we could have won.”
Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills