On the plane that carried the Kansas City Chiefs, the champions of the American Football League, across the shadow of the Rockies to their opening game against the Denver Broncos last week, Abner Haynes, the team's fancy running back and a virtual symbol of the league itself, was giggling and twisting in the aisle and winning an argument about Texas. Haynes was claiming that his home state, and the place from which the Chiefs had moved, had given pro football a greater number of stars than California. "Just name the position, baby," said Haynes to talent director Don Klosterman, a Californian. "Halfbacks," said Klosterman. "Go, baby," said Haynes. Klosterman said, "Jon Arnett." Haynes's eyes flashed and he said, "Oh, give me Doak Walker, quick." Klosterman hurriedly offered, "Hugh McElhenny." Haynes paused a second, snapped his fingers and said, "Abner Haynes. Ooh, baby." And Abner danced away.
A day and a night later Abner Haynes and astonishingly powerful Kansas City danced away from the Denver Broncos in such fashion that it looked as if Lamar Hunt, the 31-year-old owner of the Chiefs, might have to find another league for them to play in. Hunt's team revealed so many weapons in defeating Denver by the record-smashing score of 59-7 that the possibility arose the AFL might have a team too strong for its own good.
Coach Hank Stram had brought his defending champions along slowly through the exhibition season, exploring the possibilities of the top rookies that Don Klosterman had signed for him. Quarterback Lennie Dawson had been spared the grind of extensive warm-up game exposure, and Stram had reserved a new and exciting I formation to use against Coach Jack Faulkner's improved but soon-to-be-stunned Broncos. From the instant that the game got under way in a rainstorm that swept over the turf of the University of Denver's quaint little stadium, the Chiefs knew they were hot. Dazzling the Broncos with the new formation, Dawson drove his team straight to a touchdown, using Haynes and Fullback Curtis McClinton on outside runs, befuddling Denver's uncertain cornermen, then throwing a 17-yard pass to McClinton for the score. Before the evening was over, Dawson passed for three more touchdowns, setting a record for himself, and the merry-go-round Kansas City offense sped to a new AFL scoring record. The Chiefs even had the audacity to let McClinton throw a left-handed touchdown pass and to let Abner Haynes set up a touchdown by throwing a pass. The Kansas City defense, led by Middle Guard Jerry Mays, intercepted five passes, scored twice and smothered Denver's attack. Nor could Kansas City's defense be too vicious for Hank Stram, a man who labored 12 years as an assistant coach at four universities (Purdue, Notre Dame, SMU and Miami) before Hunt gave him his chance. Once during the massacre at Denver, Stram noticed his giant rookie lineman, Junious Buchanan, helping up a Bronco player he had plowed under. "Let him get up by himself," Stram hollered. "It's your job to knock him down, Buck, not pick him up."
Stram's prekickoff pep talk to the grim and solemn Chiefs, who were only six-point favorites, had consisted of a short, simple lecture. "There's no mystery to this game," he said. "Just hit and win. You're the Yankees of the AFL." Stram was as right as Houk. After the game he pointed at Dawson.
"There's the story," said Stram. "Look at his pants. Not a spot on 'em."
Dawson smiled and said quietly, "I'm glad we outscored the defense."
Said Abner Haynes, "Oh, give me Lennie Dawson, quick."
Owner Hunt, huddled under a rain slicker, watched from the top row of the stadium, his emotions oscillating between immediate joy and long-term worry as his Chiefs steadily rode the Broncos.
"He's got a no-hitter going," said Hunt as Dawson completed his first seven passes. "They're all strikes."
When McClinton unloaded his left-handed bomb to End Chris Burford, a 33-yard surprise that sailed high and end over end rather than in a spiral, Hunt grinned and said, "McClinton throws the satellite ball."
But when the scoreboard reached 49 to 7 with the entire fourth quarter yet to play, Lamar Hunt's thoughts turned from his team to his league. "That score is double unreal," he said. "This might be a bad thing. It's really bad for Denver to open up like this."
It was only natural that Hunt should worry. He worries about everything in the AFL. Four years ago the joke was that Hunt invented the league because every time he tried to invest his money in something he discovered that his father already owned it. Things like Louisiana, Dallas and Libya, which the Hunts own. There were a lot of jokes about H. L. Hunt's oil millions and his youngest son's hobby, the AFL. Last week, however, when the AFL happily began its fourth season with a sane, solid, exciting, here-to-stay look about it, the joke was on all of the skeptics who had predicted that a second professional football league would fade away like Norman Thomas campaign buttons and hula hoops.
But as the AFL opened its first week of play in Denver, San Diego, Boston and Houston before a combined audience of nearly 100,000 (and millions more on television), Lamar Hunt had a lot of things to be pleased about, not the least of which was the winning performance of the Kansas City Chiefs. They had a new name and a new following, and in defeating the Denver Broncos they looked better than they had when, as the Dallas Texans, they won the championship from Houston last December in a prolonged sudden-death game that thrilled even sophisticated NFL fans.
In Kansas City, where Hunt moved the team last June, there are signs everywhere indicating that the Chiefs will make money and, even more important to its hero-worshiping owner, be appreciated. "It's impossible, of course, for anything to be appreciated and not be on a paying basis," says Hunt, "but if there was any way that we could break even just by having the stadium filled with fans who like and follow the team the way I do, I guess I would be happy. Yeah, I can be called a hero worshiper, I suppose."
The first sign of instant success was Kansas City's season-ticket drive to obtain the franchise from Hunt's home town of Dallas. Kansas City civic leaders had promised to deliver 25,000 season-ticket sales. It was an elaborate undertaking, and the final total will be closer to 15,000, but the enthusiasm alone was more than enough to convince Hunt that the area was fertile and that the struggle in Dallas with the NFL Dallas Cowboys was hopeless for both. In Kansas City 52 different companies purchased at least 50 season tickets each, whereas in Dallas, in three years, no more than four ever had done so—including the Hunt Oil Company. As Coach Hank Stram prepared for the opener in Denver, Kansas City's local booster club for the Chiefs held its first downtown luncheon. Hunt was amazed to count 270 guests, with standing room only. In Dallas, at the first boosters' meeting in 1960, he had counted 46.
"It feels strange to be in a city that does not suffer from an overpopulation of professional football teams," Hunt said. "But it feels good."
Local enthusiasm is not the only thing that makes Hunt and his Chiefs feel better in Kansas City. There is a modern new office building, located in a lovely area of Swope Park, and an adjoining walled-in practice field, both rent free. The Chiefs will be charged just $1 rental on Municipal Stadium for the first two seasons and then only 5% of the gross if the gate receipts exceed $1.1 million in a season. "For the Cotton Bowl in Dallas," says Hunt, "it would cost three times as much for the same gross." Moreover, the Chiefs get half of the concession profits in Kansas City; in Dallas they received nothing.
Despite all this, Hunt and Stram still wanted to call the team the Kansas City Texans. And they were quite serious.
"People are still laughing at me," says Hunt. "Jack Steadman, our general manager, can't get over it. But I still wish we were the Texans. I know it's foolish and I hope the people in Kansas City forgive me. But, you know, the struggle in Dallas was so deadly and we fought to a championship as the Texans and, I don't know, we just hated to give it up. I thought, too, that a lot of other teams move and keep their nicknames. The Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Lakers, and others. I was hoping we could get away with it, and Hank almost had me talked into it. But I guess it's better we didn't."
Even though the club held a contest in hopes of finding a nickname that would please Hunt, and even though 5,200 suggestions were sent in, it came down to a choice between Chiefs and Texans. "We had some funny ones," says Hunt. "The Mid-America Royal Hearts, for example, which has a historical significance that I can't explain. And, of course, some great ones from Dallas people, like Chicken Rat Finks."
The finally-chosen name has a double significance for which Hunt is grateful. Aside from being representative of the old Indian territory, the name honors the man who had more than anyone else to do with luring Hunt to Kansas City, former Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who is known on every street corner as "The Chief."
Hunt, a quiet, mild, cleanly handsome young man in glasses whose most notorious vice is eating strawberry cheesecake in unlikely quantities, was frankly overwhelmed by the eloquent, exuberant, outgoing H. Roe Bartle, a 67-year-old, 300-pound campaigner.
Bartle approached Hunt about the move last winter. Then, after a series of secret meetings in Kansas City, during which time Lamar Hunt was introduced as "Mr. Lamar" and Jack Steadman was known as "Jack X, a government investigator," Bartle sold Hunt on Kansas City and sold Kansas City's business leaders on the Dallas Texans. There were code words used in telephone conversations, and some of the conversations were on private lines. No one in Dallas besides Hunt and Steadman ever knew what was going to happen. Nor did Kansas City's city council and business leaders like ex-Kansas All-America Ray Evans, now president of Traders' National Bank and leader of the ticket drive, spill the big secret.
At the first meeting between Hunt and the city council, Roe Bartle said, "Gentlemen, you have known me a long time and you have never known me to make love to another man, but, Mr. Hunt, I have courted you and wooed you like a princess, have I not?"
Says Hunt, "Kansas City can be sure that Mr. Bartle and Ray Evans are two of the biggest reasons why we went to Kansas City."
There were at least seven other reasons for the move: the rest of the AFL owners, who had been begging Hunt to get out of Dallas since the antitrust suit against the NFL was lost and buried in appeal. "He can go to Tokyo just as long as he leaves Dallas," said San Diego's Barron Hilton. Torn between his loyalty to the league he originated and the city he loved, Hunt struggled with the problem—and might still be struggling if it had not been for KC's attractive offer.
Hunt has worried about the league as much as he has about the players that he boyishly and gleefully serves meals to on the team planes and joins for workouts on the practice field.
"In my enthusiasm," says Hunt, who belies the old tales about rich, obtrusive Texans, "I have probably been responsible for as many bad ideas as good ones. I invented the secret draft, a totally embarrassing calamity. I voted against the two-point conversion rule, which I now like. I keep suggesting mandatory kick-off returns, elimination of the fair catch on punts, sudden-death playoffs for all games, names on the fronts of jerseys, a silent draft and lie-detector tests twice a year for all game officials."
And he says cheerfully, "I keep getting voted down 7-1." Hunt, however, has been instrumental in doing a lot of good things for his league. He has been at least partly responsible for the equal division among clubs of television revenue ("The NFL copied us"), the hiring of Commissioner Joe Foss, who got off to a slow start but is now showing strength, the equalization draft of players, the antitrust suit against the competing NFL "which showed them we were serious and meant to stay in business," and, comically, getting rid of the Denver Broncos' vertical-striped socks.
Although Hunt continues to live in Dallas, he also continues to devote most of his time to league promotion. He is an ardent letter writer. He writes to league officials, sportswriters over the nation, owners and publicity men, always making suggestions and offering congratulations on things well done and well said.
"He's so observant," says the Chiefs' imaginative publicity man, Bob Halford. "He walked into my office one day and told me that the AFL and NFL standings in our game program the previous week were an eighth of an inch off center. He would never interfere with Hank Stram's coaching, but he worries about every tiny detail that might affect the image of the league."
Just recently Hunt wrote the Oakland Raiders and suggested that they should never send out a publicity photograph of their best-known player, Center Jim Otto, wearing a number other than his familiar 00. "I saw a picture of him wearing No. 50, which he has never worn," says Hunt. "I hate to see pictures of pros not wearing long socks, either. That's really bush."
What is not bush and therefore first class is the team that Hunt has put together in just three years. It is a team that knows its owner as Lamar, that jokes with him, loafs with him, is around him socially. More important, it is a team that is working for him, and working just as hard in Kansas City as it did in Dallas.