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Judged purely on their potential, the Chiefs are one of the three best teams in the AFL and must be considered as possible champions. However, something usually happens to the Chiefs about midseason. Last year it was injuries. Ten regulars were hurt in one way or another and missed games. Some of Coach Hank Stram's critics blame the injuries, in part, on his policy of working the veterans hard during the exhibition season, and there is a lot of grumbling in the ranks at Kansas City. But Stram certainly had nothing to do with the injury to Tight End Fred Arbanas, who was attacked by two men on a Kansas City sidewalk and was blinded in the left eye. Nor did Stram's policy break the nose of Quarterback Len Dawson, who was the league's leading passer although he sat out part of three games. Much of what was wrong last year in Kansas City—and there was not all that much wrong, since the Chiefs finished second in the West by a game and a half—must be put down to bad luck. Stram, though, is aware of the morale problem and is trying to cure it. The surest cure is to win, and if the Chiefs enjoy reasonably good health they will challenge San Diego for the division championship.
Dawson proved in 1962, when the Chiefs (then called the Dallas Texans) beat Houston in an overtime game for the AFL title, that he can be a winning quarterback, and he was at the top statistically last year. But Dawson gets trapped often for losses and seems to prefer to hold the ball rather than throw it away for an incompletion that would lower his percentage. He has another problem. His nose has been broken nearly as often as Carmen Basilio's; as a result, he has a breathing obstruction, which means that strong-armed sophomore Pete Beat-hard is likely to play at least a few games for the Chiefs this year. Eddie Wilson, who was Dawson's backup man for three years, has been traded to Boston. The pressure will be on Beathard, since the betting is Dawson cannot go 14 games.
The Chiefs' best runner, Abner Haynes, has also been traded away, as has Haynes's roommate, All-AFL Corner Back Dave Grayson. Gone, too, is Fullback Jack Spikes. The Chiefs remain wealthy in fullbacks, with Mack Lee Hill and Curtis McClinton, but the loss of Haynes is serious. Bert Coan, who had one excellent year at Kansas before he broke his leg, has not shown that he is very interested in pro football. But the receiving will be good again if Chris Bur-ford's knee heals and Arbanas' vision is satisfactory. Flanker Frank Jackson is the Lance Alworth type, with outstanding speed and fine hands.
The offensive line has quality, with Ed Budde (also a mugging victim in Kansas City) and Curt Merz at guards, Jerry Cornelison and Jim Tyrer at tackles and Jon Gilliam at center. But it is the defensive line that is the pride of Kansas City. Jerry Mays, one of the league's top tackles, has been moved to end to pair with Mel Branch. Buck Buchanan will be one tackle, and the other will be either blue-chip rookie Ernie Borghetti or Ed Lothamer. The outstanding rookie Alphonse Dotson and second-year man Hatch Rosdahl are also very much present.
At linebacking the Chiefs have no betters and few peers. Bobby Bell, an exceptionally quick mover and punishing tackier, has the strong side. E. J. Holub, three-times All-AFL, will work the middle if his seventh knee operation is a success. Behind Holub are Sherrill Headrick, himself a former All-AFL selection, and prime rookie Ron Cave-ness. Jim Fraser is on the right side.
The weakest part of the Kansas City defense is the secondary. Safety Johnny Robinson was injured last year and has been slow to recover. His replacement, Bobby Ply, and the other safety, Bobby Hunt, lack speed. Sophomore Willie Mitchell had a fair season at left corner against some of the league's most dangerous receivers but will be playing right corner this year. The left corner will be one of the AFL's most controversial figures—Fred Williamson, a dandy who wears an ascot and was the author of a magazine article entitled "I Am the Greatest Lover in Pro Football." Williamson says he is looking forward to covering his former Oakland teammate, Art Powell. "He's good, but he's never been covered the way I cover a man. For me, two yards is playing a man loose," Williamson says. Stram considered Haynes an agitator, and the Chiefs unloaded him shortly after he was identified as a leader in the Negro player revolt at the All-Star game in New Orleans. But Williamson will be at least as difficult to control.
Kansas City Scout Don Klosterman, one of the sharpest men in the game, does not miss many of the rookies he goes after. One that got away was the Chiefs' No. 1 draft choice, Running Back Gale Sayers, to the Chicago Bears. Consequently, Stram may have to use Hill and McClinton in the same backfield. Hill, 236, signed as a free agent and rushed for 567 yards in 1964. "He was so good we kept waiting for something to be wrong with him," said Stram. McClinton, 232, was the AFL Rookie of the Year in 1962 but was hurt early last season and never did regain his form. The Chiefs will need a first-rate performance from McClinton if they are to edge out the Chargers. When the Chiefs get together, they can do amazing things—such as their 49-6 smashing of San Diego late last year. "But too many of us are playing for individual pride rather than as a team," said one veteran. That is an outlook Stram must try to alter. Even if he does not the Chiefs are good enough to finish second.