Wham, Bam, Stram
In the Super Bowl the ingenious boss of the Kansas City Chiefs aimed a devastating machine at Minnesota, and Engineer Len Dawson used it to outhit, outmaneuver and eventually destroy the Vikings
Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:20PM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 4:30PM
This story was originally published in the Jan. 19, 1970 issue of Sports Illustrated.
An unlikely-looking little man who favors red vests, checked trousers and infinite variety last Sunday put the art of invention back into football. Hank Stram, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, threw some of his fanciest formations at the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl and beat them for the championship of the football world by a humbling margin, 23-7.
Of course, Stram did not do this all by himself. His strategy was implemented by what must be recognized now as the finest team in pro football; that is what the winner of the Super Bowl is. The Chiefs' lines -- on both offense and defense -- gave the Purple People Eaters a world- champion case of indigestion. Len Dawson (see cover), who before this game was considered a rather namby-pamby type of quarterback, given to collapsing in a heap before any kind of rush, faced the famous charge of Minnesota's Four Norsemen coolly and threw with marvelous aim, completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. And he threw only one interception. He sorted through the multiple options of the vastly complicated Stram offense as deftly as a computer and came up with the right call on almost every occasion.
Before the more than 80,000 spectators assembled in New Orleans under cloudy skies -- there was a threat of a tornado -- Stram explained a bit of his philosophy of football.
"This game will match the offense of the future against the offense of the past," he said. "The decade of the '60s was the decade of simplicity. During the '60s the good teams -- the Green Bay Packers, for example -- came out almost all the time in the same set and ran the play. In effect, what they said was here we come, see if you can stop us.
"Well, the '70s will be the decade of difference -- different offensive sets, different defensive formations. What we try to do is to create a moment of hesitation, a moment of doubt in the defense.
"It will be a decade of experiment. I think football teams reflect the personality of coaches, and I like to think my personality is reflected in the variety of the Chiefs' attack and defense. I like to see Hank Stram in the stacked defense and the 18 different offensive sets we use and the 300 and something plays we can run off those sets."
There are only so many places you can run on a football field against any pro defense, and only so many ways you can run there, but Stram strives mightily to mask where his team will go and how it will arrive at the point of attack.
"Let's put it this way," he said. "It's always the same face, but with different makeup. And I'm a good makeup man with a complete set of tools." Between Stram and Dawson, the Chiefs showed Minnesota everything but mercy in this performance.
As much of the country saw for itself, the Vikings were never in the game. Kansas City began the scoring, ominously enough for Minnesota, with a record 48-yard field goal by Jan Stenerud. When he added another, from 32 yards out, and yet another, from the 25, the Vikings resembled anything but two-touch-down favorites. And when Frank Pitts picked up 19 yards to help set up the third goal on the kind of play nobody but Stram uses anymore -- the old familiar end-around with some new KC quirks -- Minnesota was bewitched, bothered and beginning to panic.
The Vikings fumbled Stenerud's kick-off after that third field goal, and the Chiefs struck quickly for a touchdown, little Mike Garrett carrying for the last five yards on a pretty piece of deceit by the KC line, which had the Viking defenders looking for a sweep as Garrett knifed through the left side of the line.
As the third quarter began, the Vikings woke up briefly and managed a 69-yard drive, Dave Osborn lunging acrobatically for four yards and a touchdown in typical Osborn fashion. With the score 16-7 Minnesota needed a touchdown and a field goal to go ahead -- and had time to achieve them. But time ran out on the Vikings when Kansas City scored its second touchdown. With the ball on the Viking 46, Dawson dropped back and fired short to Otis Taylor, who ran Long -- all the way in for the score. Taylor went into the end zone standing up, and the Chiefs were Superchiefs.