The Kansas City Chiefs were ahead of the Chicago Bears by 36 points, and now, with less than a minute to play, one of their invisible linebackers intercepted another pass and ran it down to within two yards of the Chicago goal line. At this wild and exhilarating moment not even their own fanatical followers—more than sated with the 60-24 score already in neon—expected the Chiefs to go all out to score again. The clock flashed past 50 and Quarterback Pete Beathard did the expected. He sent Halfback Bert Coan into the line for no gain, obviously content to run out the clock. The Chiefs on this night had no intention of violating the code of professional sports that decrees mercy today because it could happen to you tomorrow.
Then a stunning thing happened. Beathard called for time out. "Man alive, look down there at the Papa Bear, I believe I see him cryin' myself," said Bobby Bell, the Chiefs' monstrous linebacker, pointing to the limp figure of Chicago Coach George Halas. "He can't believe all this stuff. Man, but it's time for another touchdown."
On the next play Beathard executed a perfect quarterback bootleg. Almost contemptuously he walked—did not run—around his naked left side into the end zone. Touchdown. Surely now the vengeful Chiefs would not dare attempt to fake a conversion kick and pass instead for two points? They had done this successfully earlier in the game when they were 17 points ahead, and that was shame enough. Fortunately, the Bears will never find out. The snap from center was bobbled, and the slaughter was ended.
Still, the humiliation was complete. The 66-24 defeat was the third worst ever inflicted on the Bears in the 830 games they have played since Halas organized them as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. It represented, in addition, the most emphatic victory ever scored against anyone by an American Football League team.
September 3, 1967
"Well, I wonder what the world will say now?" asked sarcastic Chris Burford, the Chiefs' good split end, after the game. "Ever since we lost the Super Bowl last January we have listened to a lot of nonsensical comment about the National Football League and the Green Bay Packers and Mr. Lombardi and how he said we aren't as good as the other top teams in the National Football League—like the Chicago Bears. Now maybe everyone will get off our backs."
The Chiefs, of course, were seeking vindication against the Bears, not only for their 35-10 loss to Green Bay in the Super Bowl, but also for the entire American Football League, which the NFL has casually ignored for most of the past eight years. Kansas City is the best team in the AFL, and if the Chiefs could not beat one of the "top" teams in the NFL, the stature of the American League consequently would suffer. And if you should question whether Chicago is, indeed, a top team, remember that just five days before the Bears lost to the Chiefs in Kansas City, they played the Packers in Milwaukee and lost by only 18 to 0—permitting the Packers to score only one touchdown. The Chiefs, four days after scoring six touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders, scored nine against the Bears.
NFL teams, however, won the three other interleague exhibitions played last week, although only one of those came as easily as had been expected. The NFL now has won eight of the 11 games played so far during this training season. In all four games last week the NFL teams scored at least a field goal—if not a touchdown—the first time they had the ball, thereby substantiating one AFL coach's observation that his team seemed somewhat awestruck for 10 minutes until his players realized that all shoulder pads go on over the head.
The Washington Redskins, who had whipped both the Bears and the New York Giants in their previous starts, beat the Patriots, who have won only two exhibitions in five years, 13-7 in Boston, with help from an odd penalty. Trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, the Patriots had a first down at the Redskins' four. Quarterback Johnny Huarte rolled back, while simultaneously the officials signaled that the Redskins' Brig Owens was guilty of defensive holding near the goal line on Boston Fullback Jim Nance.
Huarte finally was tackled back around the 13-yard line, and then the officials marked the five-yard penalty off from there, which gave the Patriots a first down at the eight-yard line instead of the two and, in effect, penalized them and not the offending Redskins. It was an unfortunate call but proper under the rules.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who decisively beat the New York Jets the week before, scored two touchdowns in the last 45 seconds to overtake the Buffalo Bills 38-30. Quarterback Norman Snead first threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to rookie Flanker Chuck Hughes, and Sam Baker kicked the point that put the Eagles ahead 31-30. Then Joe Scarpati, who spent most of the day driving a National Guard truck from Indiantown Gap, Pa. to Philadelphia and later flew to Buffalo in time to play, intercepted his third pass of the night at the Bills' 30-yard line. He went in to score his second touchdown of the game with 11 seconds to go.
The Bills, who have lost four straight exhibitions, including one to the Detroit Lions, led 27-24 late in the fourth quarter when they stopped the Eagles on a fourth-and-one play at the Philadelphia 26-yard line. The Bills had been successful all night on down-and-out patterns to Art Powell, who caught 10 passes, and to Elbert Dubenion, who caught five, against a rookie corner back named Taft Reed. But for some reason Coach Joe Collier elected to control the ball and play for the field goal.
He got the field goal with slightly less than two minutes to play. "I figured maybe they might be able to get down-field again, and I wanted to take away the field goal that could tie the game," explained Collier after the game. But said Joe Kuharich, the Eagles' coach, "We don't ever play for the tie in a game like this."
The Los Angeles Rams were the NFL's biggest response to AFL claims. They massacred the San Diego Chargers. The fearsome foursome of Deacon Jones, Roosevelt Grier, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen threw San Diego quarterbacks for losses continuously during the first half, while the L.A. secondary intercepted two of John Hadl's first five passes and returned them for touchdowns. The score, 50-7, could have been worse, but Ram Coach George Allen sent in his reserves.
Like the Rams' rout of the Chargers, the exhibition staged earlier in the week was never a game, not, at least, after the first quarter when the Chiefs learned how the Bears' sorrowfully impotent defense would react—or, rather, fail to react—to all the formations they execute with military precision. Most teams in professional football use only two or three formations and try to win the way the Packers do: with perfect fundamental execution. The Dallas Cowboys use a number of formations, and now even the Baltimore Colts are beginning to operate from an I formation once in a while. But the Chiefs use at least seven and as many as 12 formations in a game, giving them the most varied offense in football. "We thought we were prepared for everything they had," Richie Petitbon, the Bears' safety man, tried to explain after the game. "But there's a difference going up against them and watching them on film."
The afternoon before the game Coach Hank Stram of the Chiefs sat in his training-camp office at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. He explained what he expected both teams would do that night.
"Remember, this is not just another exhibition," he said, "but I haven't said too much about it. They know it's the Bears they're playing. Sometimes words don't have any meaning, they're unimportant. This may be that time. We don't want to get so emotional that we won't play our game. If we do the job with the shoulder pads, all else will be taken care of."
Looking at the Chiefs' new offense on the blackboard, Stram said: "This is our new Tight-I formation, with the tight end always lined up behind the quarterback. He can go out from there and create more formations. This provides variety, and that is the personality of our club. Variety reduces the effectiveness of the other team, because they don't know what to expect. A team that plays basic formations, for instance, is somewhat easy to defense, because there are so few things to look for."
The problem of trying to contain a formation such as the Tight I is relatively simple to explain. When the Chiefs set up in the formation, the Bears, Stram pointed out, would set up in a very loose Oklahoma preshift defense. When the Chiefs' tight end moved somewhere into the line, the Bears could shift their defense to compensate. The Chiefs, however, had one simple method for dealing with this nonsense: to work on quick counts—say at hup, instead of three or four—so the defense would not have enough time to adjust correctly.
The Bears' offense, meanwhile, did not concern Stram too much. "They'll probably take the same approach Green Bay did and run the left side," Stram said, "and they'll try to set up a mismatch between Gale Sayers and a linebacker on one-and-one situations. We expect that. But to me teams that win have solid quarterbacks, and the Bears don't have that established leader."
That night it appeared for a time that aged Rudy Bukich, who started at quarterback for the Bears (Jack Concannon, the scrambler they received in the trade with Philadelphia for Mike Ditka, had a sore arm), might be Bart Starr in disguise. He calmly moved the Bears from their own 20 to the Chiefs' 28, and then Rookie Bruce Alford kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile the Chiefs were doing nothing with the Chicago defense, led by Dick Butkus at middle linebacker. Then suddenly it started to happen. "We figured out what they were doing defensively, and we started to catch them with our fast counts as they were shifting their defenses," said Chiefs' Quarterback Lennie Dawson. "And they were covering Otis Taylor real close. I don't think they knew our personnel, because otherwise they would have known that you can't cover Otis too close or else he'll be gone all the time."
Taylor was. Flaring out to either side in a variation of the I the Chiefs call the Cock-I, the flanker back seemed to move at will. Toward the end of the first quarter, Dawson rolled right at his own 30 on one of the Chiefs' play-action passes, stopped and fired to Taylor down along the sidelines. He was standing alone when he caught the ball, and in a matter of moments he high-stepped away from Bennie McRae, who had rushed up, and was gone for a touchdown. The Chiefs scored touchdowns the next four times they had the ball, with Dawson passing for three of them and Mike Garrett running for the fourth. They led 39-10 at the half. The Bears' only touchdown came when Dick Gordon returned a kickoff 103 yards.
"I figured," said Dawson, "that once we got them playing our type of game we could do everything we wanted. Then it got like any game that is out of hand—a little ridiculous." The Chiefs simply were a better team, deeper and smarter, and they had an offense that the Bears had never seen in a game before and probably hope they will never see again. "It was easier to win," said Hank Stram, "than to explain why we didn't."
Two nights later in Buffalo Joe Collier had some difficulty trying to explain why the Bills had lost to the Washington Redskins in the final 45 seconds, while next door Joe Kuharich was saying, "We were the ones who lucked out at the end this time."
The Bills and the Eagles were a close match. Buffalo's defensive line, the best in the AFL and somewhat comparable to the front four of the Los Angeles Rams, and linebackers—Mike Stratton, Harry Jacobs and John Tracey, who have started 72 straight games together—harnessed the Eagles' running game, but the Bills' secondary was weak against Snead's passes, especially to Tight End Ditka. The Eagles' left side on defense, Don Hultz, Floyd Peters and Linebacker Mike Morgan, forced the Bills to concentrate the other way, and Scarpati in the secondary helped to compensate for some of Taft Reed's mistakes. "The longest night of my life," said Reed, trying to explain how Powell and Dubenion caught all those passes.
If anything, the interleague exhibitions so far have proved that American League football, in general, is still behind the NFL on a collective basis, although Kansas City, for one, could play any NFL team today with an equal chance of winning. The Chiefs' overpowering victory impressed everyone except, perhaps, Buffalo's Collier.
"What does it prove?" he asked. "What do they all prove? Chicago wasn't that good, and these are exhibitions. They mean a lot to the fans, maybe, but not really that much to the players and the coaches. The only way to find out how good the respective leagues are is to play during the regular season, when you use your best offensive and defensive personnel the entire game. Then you can learn something."
Maybe so, but as Mike Pyle, the offensive captain of the Chicago Bears, reflected on the debacle in Kansas City: "We didn't get beat by a bunch of plumbers."