As Daryle Lamonica went onto the field his lobo eyes surveyed the banquet: 11 juicy Kansas City Chiefs in appetizing red and white, lambs for his delectation. And just a Sunday beyond this last American Football League championship, the swan song before merger with the NFL, lay the feast of feasts, the Super Bowl, for which he longed with all his hungry heart. But after he chewed a little way into the sheepfold, this tall, strong Oakland quarterback—the very best in the league to all but diehards for Joe Namath—made a terrible discovery. There were lions in there, and maybe a bear or two. And they ate him up. When it was over, and Oakland had lost 17-7 after as feckless a fourth quarter as any fan might fear to witness, Lamonica had no feast to remember but the awful rushes and grizzly hugs of Jerry Mays and Aaron Brown, Kansas City's quarter-ton of defensive end.
The Raiders, a deep, tough team on more normal Sundays, had run up a 12-1-1 record during the regular season, including two hard-fought victories over the Chiefs, and a vicious 56-7 interdivisional playoff win over the Houston Oilers. Kansas City had a respectable 11-3 record on the year and had twice thrashed the world champion New York Jets.
A beguiling aura of secrecy surrounded the championship game—a shroud of mystery that would have done justice to the Continental Op. In their last game, Kansas City's dapper, innovative coach, Hank Stram, had the Chiefs run at the Raiders, allowing his quarterback, the 13-year veteran Len Dawson, to throw only six passes. Ostensibly, Dawson was still fragile about the knees (he had missed six games earlier in the season), but Stram also figured that if he could beat Oakland on the ground, he wouldn't have to reveal any of the new passing wrinkles which he hoped to use in the championship playoffs.
Borrowing a leaf from Vince Lombardi, Stram took his team to Santa Barbara for the week prior to Sunday's game. The warmer weather allowed Dawson to sharpen his long passing game, frozen for a month in the snow and ice of Kansas City, and also permitted the Chiefs' fleet receivers, Otis Taylor, Frank Pitts and Gloster Richardson, to add some frills to their moves.
Oakland's rookie coach, John Madden, also added a few plays to his book. Armed cops kept close guard on the Oakland Coliseum throughout the week, and even shooed away the troops of Commissioner Pete Rozelle when the team was working out. On the eve of the game, Madden aped Paul Brown and sent his players to the movies before bed-check at an undisclosed motel (psst, it was the Edgewater West). The flick was Faulkner's The Reivers, but in the end it was Madden who got reived.
The game, when they got around to playing it, turned out to be two almost completely different contests. Kansas City took the opening kickoff and moved well for two series of downs. Then Dawson broke with his earlier conservative image and sent Taylor on a deep fly under the bomb. But Oakland's "soul patrol"—the four high-flying defensive backs—were not to be bombed out just yet. All-League Cornerback Willie Brown managed to get a hand between Taylor and the perfectly thrown pass, and suddenly the Chiefs seemed to go limp.
The first half was all Oakland—almost. Lamonica got the Chiefs thinking about flare passes to his backs, notably Charlie Smith, and the outside run. Then he moved his attentions to his tight end, Billy Cannon, and Wide Receiver Warren Wells. With the first quarter waning, Lamonica hit Wells for 24 yards to the Kansas City three. Smith hopped in on the next play untouched, and Oakland was halfway to the 14-point lead Lamonica thought he would need to win. It looked like the perennial inability of Kansas City to win the big ones was not to be overcome. "It was all over town," said Aaron Brown. "K.C., the jinx club. You don't believe it, but you can't help but think about it. It makes you want to fly in the face of the fates."
Plenty of flying was to come, and one of the top aviators was Middle Linebacker Willie Lanier. When the Raiders went ahead, Lanier found himself with tears in his eyes. "They're not going to score again," he raged. The Chiefs began to toughen. All during the season, with Dawson out for a spell and later fragile, the Chiefs had had to learn determination. "Our defense was aged in disaster," Strain said afterwards.
With less than three minutes remaining in the half, and fans beginning to yawn over what was an obvious mismatch—even if the score was only 7-0—Dawson began a drive from his own 25. Throwing under intense pressure from the Raider front four, and with Oakland's linebackers gobbling up his running backs, Lenny suddenly got a break—two of them, in fact. First, Oakland was caught holding, then the Raiders jumped offside and Kansas City had a first down at midfield. Fullback Robert Holmes slogged for eight yards up the middle, and then Dawson unwrapped one of Stram's new sets. It broke Pitts clear for a pretty 41-yard pass reception down to the one-yard line, and Wendell Hayes went off tackle for the score.
It was an augury, the only penetration of Oakland's turf in the whole first half, and it permitted the Chiefs to go into the locker room with a tied score at half-time. It also gave the Chiefs' front four a new life.
"We'd had to play close and conservative after that first Raider score," said Aaron Brown. "We couldn't afford to let Daryle break off a draw or a screen on us for the big gain. Now we could freewheel."
During the intermission, Stram waxed inspirational. "I dwelled on the championship," he said later. " 'Turn it on,' I told them. 'Give it all you've got. It's in our grasp, now squeeze it.' "
If the first half had been Oakland's, the second was even more impressively Kansas City's. It turned on the immense strength of the Chiefs' pass rushers: Mays and Brown at the ends, Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp at the tackles. Johnny Madden had foreseen the results. Almost prophetically, on the day before the game, he said, "It's going to be a match of great strengths, a very physical game. If Kansas City is stronger, we'll lose."
Finesse was forgotten as Brown and Mays blew in, from the inside mainly rather than taking the long way round. Lamonica denigrates the statistics on how often a passer is dumped, but Brown alone got to him three times. On one of those sackings, the second time Oakland had the ball in the second half after a Mike Garrett fumble at the Chiefs' 33 put the Raiders in scoring position, the whole game came unstuck. Brown blasted through and bore down on Lamonica just as he was releasing the ball.
"As I clocked Daryle, he hit me with the follow-through," said Brown later, "right in the face mask." The jolt strained a tendon in Lamonica's passing hand and jammed his thumb and first two fingers. In came aged George Blanda, and suddenly it was like the past recaptured. The chance to recall the jinx mood was lost. Blanda missed on a pass to Running Back Larry Todd near the 20, then tried a field goal from the 40. It missed—his second to fail. There was a quick exchange and Blanda got another shot, moving the Raiders to the K.C. 24.
But then Blanda's pass to Wells was picked off in the end zone by the Chiefs' Emmitt Thomas, who ran it out to the six, and K.C. was off on a 10-play tear to the go-ahead touchdown. Two plays, both of them long passes from Dawson to Taylor, were crucial. The first brought the Chiefs up out of the shadow of their goalposts to the 37, where Taylor just managed to keep his feet inside the right sideline long enough to be legal. The second took the Chiefs from the 32 all the way to the Raider seven on an interference call on Nemiah Wilson—a close, tough call involving some of the day's lightest contact. Holmes rumbled five yards for the touchdown three plays later. Lamonica returned to the game—sorehanded, but flinging the ball anyway—and then the fun began. Ultimately three of his passes were intercepted by the Chiefs. Not to be thought less generous, the Chiefs delivered three fumbles to the Raiders—each of them representing a scoring chance. It was ludicrous. At one point, Bobby Holmes literally ran up the back of Tight End Fred Arbanas, fell off and dropped the ball.
With 6:50 left in the game, Emmitt Thomas grabbed his second interception, this one at his own 20-yard line, and returned it to the Raider 18. Four plays and three yards later, Jan Stenerud booted a 22-yard field goal and K.C. had some insurance, but the confusion wasn't over. Dawson fumbled a hand-off to Hayes, and Oakland Defensive End Ike Lassiter recovered on the Chiefs' 13. No way Oakland was going to score, though. Not Sunday.
As Willie Lanier explained it, "We got the jump. We made the Raiders divert from their game plan. They couldn't play it safe. When they're ahead of you, they whipsaw you, but when they're behind, they're a very predictable team, like anybody else playing catch-up."
In a sense, Lamonica was the saddest figure of all. Proud almost to the point of arrogance, he now stood chastened with pain and defeat. Yet he stayed in the locker room until the last reporter had asked the last question before he packed up and headed for the hospital. In the Chiefs' quarters, where the big cry was, "The Ring! The Ring! We've got the Ring!" Lanier was already thinking ahead. "Next week," he said with a laugh, "Joe Kapp, the kangaroo quarterback."