Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Kansas City Chiefs: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Kansas City Chiefs Historyby Bill Althaus, Len Dawson
Genuine fans take the best team moments with the less than great, and know that the games that are best forgotten make the good moments truly shine. This monumental book of the Kansas City Chiefs documents all the best moments and personalities in the history of the team, but also unmasks the regrettably awful and the unflinchingly ugly. In entertaining—and
Genuine fans take the best team moments with the less than great, and know that the games that are best forgotten make the good moments truly shine. This monumental book of the Kansas City Chiefs documents all the best moments and personalities in the history of the team, but also unmasks the regrettably awful and the unflinchingly ugly. In entertaining—and unsparing—fashion, this book sparkles with Chiefs highlights and lowlights, from wonderful and wacky memories to the famous and infamous. Such moments include the upset win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV but also the loss to the Miami Dolphins on Christmas when Garo Yepremian’s double-overtime field goal ended the longest game of the National Football League. Whether providing fond memories, goose bumps, or laughs, this portrait of the team is sure to appeal to the fan who has been through it all.
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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Kansas City Chiefs
Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Kansas City Chiefs History
By Bill Althaus
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2007 Bill Althaus
All rights reserved.
LENNY THE COOL
Sitting behind the anchor desk on the set of the KMBC-TV 6:00 news, Len Dawson still has the commanding presence that helped him become one of the most successful quarterbacks in the history of both the AFL and the NFL.
He still has a square chin, trim build, and long, perfectly manicured fingers that threw tight, perfect spirals during a 14-year career that saw him win a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award and earn his place among the game's immortals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Under his leadership, the franchise won three AFL titles and a world championship. He earned the nickname "Lenny the Cool" because no matter what situation he faced, he never blinked when facing danger.
"Lenny was just a remarkable leader and quarterback," former Chiefs coach Hank Stram said. "He was cool, but I called him the quiet assassin. He said a lot with expressions. He never had to open his mouth because he said a lot with his eyes."
When a teammate fouled up, Dawson never said a word.
"He didn't need to," said former running back Ed Podolak. "He'd just give you a quick glance and you'd know what he was thinking. We all respected Lenny. He was our leader and he was the Chiefs."
Dawson didn't just earn that respect on the playing field; he was oftentimes at his best during a demanding practice session.
"I remember one practice when it was about 105 degrees with 95 percent humidity. It was so hot you couldn't breathe. It was like practicing in a sauna. Coach Stram had a thing called the Winning Edge, which was a series of drills we did before practice even began. I mean, they knocked you out."
During one lackluster practice session, the Chiefs coach stopped practice. Sitting atop his cherry picker, a device Stram had placed on the back of a truck and carted out to the field so he could get an overview of the entire practice session, Stram demanded that his players go through the Winning Edge.
"There was a lot of moaning and groaning, and all of a sudden Lenny yells, 'He ain't gonna kill me. I love this!' And he takes off and begins doing the drills. If that's not leadership, I don't know what is."
When asked about the incident, Dawson simply smiled.
"I didn't say much," Dawson said. "I didn't need to. But when I did, the guys took notice. It's a compliment that Ed would remember something like that after all these years."
Today, instead of calling the plays for the Chiefs, Dawson provides expert commentary on 101 The Fox, the Chiefs Radio Network, where he serves as an award-winning color analyst.
"I was one of the first pro athletes to take a television job," Dawson said, pausing a moment to recall how many years he'd been at Channel 9. "When we moved to Kansas City from Dallas, they talked to me about being a sports anchor. I thought it sounded interesting, so we would get done with practice at 5:30, I'd shower and get to the studio and do the 6:00 newscast. Then I'd go home, have dinner with my family, and go back and do the 10:00 show. I had someone ask me the other day if there was anyplace I like to go when I'm not working, and I told them, 'I'm always working.' I've been doing this for 40 years."
Believe it or not, his schedule is less hectic now than it once was. When he retired from the Chiefs in 1975, he worked network broadcasts for NBC and hosted Inside the NFL on HBO. He would leave on Tuesdays for New York, tape the HBO program on Wednesdays, and catch a flight back so he could anchor the 10:00 PM news that evening.
"I'm too old for that now," said Dawson, who looks years younger than 72. "But I still enjoy my work here at Channel 9 and I enjoy working with the Chiefs. When I left NBC, I began broadcasting Chiefs games back in 1984 — during the down years. They just weren't very good back then. It was pretty lean until Carl [Peterson] and Marty [Schottenheimer] came in 1989. They turned things around and there was no more exciting place in the NFL than Arrowhead Stadium on a Sunday afternoon.
"I don't know if the fans here realize how highly regarded they are around the league and by our opponents. It's tough to play at Arrowhead because it's so noisy. That sea of red really makes a difference. Just ask our coaches or our players."
Unlike many former players who become announcers, Dawson doesn't believe in sugarcoating what's taking place out on the field.
"I just tell the listener what I see. If I see a bad play, I call it a bad play. Then I try to explain what happened. It's almost like watching game film with a player. You go through what happened and analyze it. I really think that the transition from sports to the real world was made easier because of my broadcasting career."
While many of today's Chiefs fans may think of Dawson as an announcer, he now stands alongside Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett and golfing legend Tom Watson as a Kansas City sports icon.
But it didn't begin that way for the former Purdue All-American, who sat the bench for five years with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns before finally getting the chance to join his former Purdue assistant coach, Stram, who was now coaching in the new AFL.
"I asked for my release from the Browns because I had to go and see if I could still get the job done," Dawson said. "I hadn't played since Purdue and I didn't know if I could still play quarterback. I started two games and didn't finish either one of them. I played about five quarters in five years and didn't really have a lot of confidence."
Dawson saw Stram at a coaching convention in Cleveland and they later met for lunch.
"Hank asked me how things were going and I was honest with him. I told him I wasn't very happy and he said he'd love to have me with this new team he was coaching in Dallas [the Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City in 1963]. Hank was going to an All-Star game in Buffalo, so he stopped in Pittsburgh and I went to the airport to meet him. I signed the contract and was ready for a new opportunity with a great coach and a new league."
When Dawson arrived in Dallas, Stram didn't really know what to expect.
"Lenny wasn't very good when he first came down to Dallas," Stram said. "A friend of mine watched one practice and he said, 'That quarterback is going to get you fired.'"
Dawson knew he needed to shake off the rust, but he didn't realize just how rusty his entire game had become while languishing on the bench with two NFL teams.
"I was just plain terrible. My timing was off, I didn't have any footwork, anything I had done at Purdue had just about disappeared. But Hank stuck with me; he had more faith in me than I had in myself. He would break down my game — the stance, ball handling, footwork, your release, everything. Hank was so patient, and I will always be grateful to him and Lamar [Hunt, the team owner]. If it hadn't been for Hank, I'd have been out of pro football and if it hadn't been for Mr. Hunt moving the team to Kansas City, well, I don't know what path my life might have taken. When we heard we were moving to Kansas City we all thought it was some cow town. We didn't know anything about it. Now, just think of all the players over the years who still live here. It's pretty remarkable."
It's not quite as remarkable as the transformation Dawson made under Stram's tutelage.
"I finally felt like I'd put it all together by the final preseason game. Things were coming back to me. I started the opener against Boston and played well and all of a sudden football was fun again."
Dawson and the Dallas Texans won the AFL championship in the third year of the new league. When they moved to Kansas City, they became the toast of the Midwest.
"Well, that took a while," Dawson said, chuckling. "There were a lot of empty seats those first two years in Kansas City. But Hank built a great offensive and defensive team. We had Jan [Stenerud], one of the best kickers in the history of the game, and Jerrel Wilson, a punter who should be in the Hall of Fame. We played in the first Super Bowl and lost [35–10 to the Green Bay Packers] but made it back to Super Bowl IV and won it all [23–7]."
Fellow Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan recalled back then how Dawson handled himself before that classic victory over the heavily favored Vikings.
"I'll never forget the way Lenny handled himself before Super Bowl IV," the late Buchanan said. "It inspired all of us."
He was referring to the bogus allegations that NBC broke about Dawson's possible involvement with a Detroit gambler. The allegations were false, and Dawson went on to win the Super Bowl MVP award.
"I actually think some of the pressure from the gambling allegations took away the pressure of the game," Dawson said. "I was there to prepare for a football game and to help my team win a world championship. I think the way I coped with it charged up the guys on the team."
And it made a lasting impression on his teammates.
"Lenny the Cool," Buchanan said, "He was our leader. He was the man."
Added Podolak, "You always had the feeling you were going to win a game because of Lenny. He just made you feel that way, and that's what a leader is supposed to do, isn't it?"
After several snubs, Dawson earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and true to his nickname, he kept his cool.
"I remember talking to [Hall of Famer] Bobby Mitchell after it was announced that I was going to be inducted and he said, 'Lenny the Cool, I'm going to watch you melt.'"
Not hardly — with the style and grace that personified his career with the Chiefs, Dawson read his induction speech and barely broke a sweat.
"You don't get up here by yourself," he said. "You need an awful lot of help. I was very fortunate."
THE NFL'S FIRST GIANT
Buck Buchanan was a mountain of a man — even by NFL standards. When he enrolled at Grambling to play basketball, he was a 6'7? youngster who tipped the scales at 212 pounds. When he left, he weighed 281 pounds and led the College All-Stars to a stunning upset of the world champion Green Bay Packers in 1963.
"I loved to eat; still do," the late Buchanan said more than a decade ago as he sank his teeth in a mound of pancakes that resembled a mini skyscraper. "Back in college, it was nothing for me to eat six or eight eggs and five or six pieces of toast for breakfast.
"For the longest time, I thought basketball was going to be my sport; then I played football at Grambling and before long, I started to get a lot of attention from pro scouts."
The Dallas Texans won a furious bidding war with the NFL and signed Buchanan with the number one pick in the draft. He proved to be a wise choice as he won two team MVP awards and was a six-time All-AFL player and two-time Pro Bowl pick.
"I didn't feel that much pressure being drafted number one," Buchanan said, "because I had played against some of the best college players in the country and I could hold my own with them.
"There weren't many players as big as I was back in the 1960s and I knew Coach [Hank] Stram was going to make the most of my size and ability. But I kept putting on weight and he was always after me to get into better condition. I played between 286 and 292 pounds.
"I didn't play right away because we had some pretty good defensive linemen — Jerry Mays, Mel Branch, Paul Rochester, and Bobby Bell [who went on to become a Hall of Fame linebacker]. Bell got hurt about five games into the season and Coach put me in at defensive end and I never left."
Buchanan was part of a draft class that also included future Chiefs Ring of Fame members Ed Budde and Bell.
"You knew that we were going to be good; you could just sense it," Buchanan said. "We moved from Dallas to Kansas City my rookie year and it took a while for us to really become a team. We had some great players, and when we became a team, we became a team of champions."
Buchanan was part of the 1966 Chiefs team that walloped Buffalo 31–7 to earn the right to play Green Bay in the first championship game between the two rival leagues.
"That meant a lot to me to play in that game," Buchanan said. "It meant a lot to all the guys. I remember walking down the tunnel to the field before the game. So many people had called us the Mickey Mouse League and said some pretty bad things about us and here we were, ready to play the Green Bay Packers."
Although the Packers claimed a 35–10 victory, Buchanan thought his team could play with the perennial NFL powerhouse.
"Bobby [Bell] and I weren't afraid of them because we'd played on that College All-Star team that beat them in 1963," Buchanan said. "But names like [Vince] Lombardi and [Bart] Starr carried a lot of weight. I don't know — our guys just didn't have a lot of confidence going into that game."
But that all changed two years later when the Chiefs manhandled heavily favored Minnesota 23–7 to win Super Bowl IV.
"We had big defensive games against the Raiders and the Jets to get to the Super Bowl and we were so much bigger than the Vikings. We were all relaxed and confident. We were so dominating in the first half, when Jan [Stenerud] kicked the third field goal and we went up 9–0, we felt like they couldn't come back. Then Otis [Taylor] scores on the long touchdown pass and that was it. It was a great feeling."
Buchanan's emotions flowed following the game.
"I was so proud when the New York Jets beat Baltimore the year before, because an AFL team had beaten an NFL team in the Super Bowl," Buchanan said. "Now, I'm part of an AFL win in the Super Bowl. I remembered the NFL players and coaches calling us Mickey Mouse, and now, it didn't matter. We were the champions."
Perhaps the only thing that surpassed the feeling he experienced following Super Bowl IV came when he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
"That was incredible," he said.
By the time of the induction ceremony, Buchanan had begun chemotherapy treatment in his battle against cancer. His body weakened by the disease, he accepted his Hall of Fame ring before a sold-out crowd at Arrowhead Stadium as fellow Chiefs Hall of Famers and former teammates applauded and wiped away tears.
In typical Buchanan fashion, he told the cheering fans, "This belongs to Kansas City."
That was his last appearance at Arrowhead Stadium. He died at the age of 51 on July 16, 1992.
Buchanan's wife, Georgia, who is still active in the community and represents her husband at the annual Chiefs Reunion Game, still remembers the love team owner Lamar Hunt and his wife Norma showed following her husband's death.
"Lamar was on his way to Dallas," Georgia said, "and when he heard about Buck's death, he came to our home for three days. He answered the phone, answered the door, made sure Buck's funeral plans were followed. I'll never forget what he did for our family. He was there when we really needed him."
No mention of the greatest players in the history of the NFL would be complete without focusing attention on the first player from the Kansas City Chiefs to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I don't know if I ever coached a greater athlete than Bobby Bell," Stram said of the outside linebacker who revolutionized the way the game was played by starring in Stram's famous "stack defense."
"He could do it all. He could throw a football the length of the playing field, outrun most halfbacks, and punt with the best of 'em. He was our long snapper and a standout on special teams. If you wanted to make a highlight reel of how to tackle in the open field, you could use Bobby Bell as a role model."
Bell was an honor student at the University of Minnesota, where he won the Outland Trophy, given to the top interior lineman in the country. At 6'4?, 228 pounds, he was small by defensive end standards, but the Chiefs were depleted at that position in 1963 and they used their seventh round pick of the draft to select the future Hall of Famer.
"I didn't know anything about the Chiefs or Kansas City," Bell said. "I know that when Mr. [Lamar] Hunt picked me up at the airport, he didn't have enough money to pay the cabbie and I immediately called my [agent] and asked, 'Did I do the right thing by signing with this team?' Looking back on it, I now know I did the right thing."
So did the Chiefs.
"Bobby was amazing," Dawson said. "They talk about Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke — and they were great linebackers — but they weren't any better than Bobby or Willie [Lanier, another Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker]."
While Bell starred on the field, he would often drive his coach nuts at practice. It wasn't for a lack of effort — no one worked harder than the nine-time AFL and NFL Pro Bowl star. It was because Bell was one of the greatest practical jokers in the history of the team.
"Coach liked to watch practice from this cherry picker," Bell said, laughing at the memory. "He was a short guy and he could see the entire practice field from up there. He'd be yelling at us, and getting on our nerves, so one day he goes up in the picker and I take the distributor cap so it can't come back down."
In a move that was highly unusual for Stram, he congratulated the team on a great practice and said over his loud speaker, "No running today, boys! Great practice!"
Bell was wondering what was going on, and he found out as he walked to the locker room.
"They had [groundskeeper] George Toma out there with this long ladder and Hank was climbing down from the cherry picker," Bell said. "I was laughing so hard I was crying."
The next day, when Bell and his teammates arrived at practice, the cherry picker's inner workings were protected by a couple of padlocks.
"He told me it was my butt if I ever did it again," Bell said, "but that was just the relationship we had. I loved to play practical jokes on him, but I loved playing for him even more."
When Bell strapped on the shoulder pads, he was all business.
"There was a lot of talk back then about why Bobby was playing defense," former Chiefs defensive lineman Mays said. "He would have played tight end, running back, or even wide receiver. He was so fast — I think there were maybe three guys in the league who could outrun him. I know he was faster than [San Diego Hall of Fame wide receiver] Lance Alworth [the first player from the AFL to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]."
Bell never cared about his position. His passion for the game was all the fuel he needed to stoke the fires that burned deep within his soul.
Excerpted from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Kansas City Chiefs by Bill Althaus. Copyright © 2007 Bill Althaus. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Bill Althaus is a sportswriter with the Examiner of Missouri. He won the Gordon Docking Award for Media Personality of the Year in Kansas City, and the Morris Excellence in Journalism Award. He has also been honored by the Missouri Press Association, the Associated Press, and United Press International. He lives in Independence, Missouri. Len Dawson is the sports director at KMBC-TV in Kansas City and a color commentator for the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network. Previously he was a longtime host of Inside the NFL on HBO. He is a former collegiate and professional football quarterback, most known for his time with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. He won Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs, for which he was named Most Valuable Player. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has been the National Football League Man of the Year. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
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