If that world championship pro football game—the one Lamar Hunt calls the Super Bowl—ever does come off, the first team to represent the AFL could very well be Hunt's own, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have one of the finest collections of athletes ever assembled on one club. If they can find the solid running back they need, and if they do not have excessive injuries in their line, especially on defense, the Chiefs should finish ahead of two other good clubs, Oakland and San Diego, in the Western Division and eventually win the AFL title.
When healthy, the Chiefs' first units on offense and defense can be overwhelming. The problems in the past have been injuries, inconsistencies and, to an extent, morale. The latter problem appears cured, and that could cure the other two. According to the Chiefs themselves, much of the credit goes to their coach, Henry Stram, who often has been maligned but is entering his seventh season as the only head coach the Chiefs have ever had. "We're relaxed and happy. We think we can win, but we don't worry about it and don't talk about it," says Defensive Captain Jerry Mays, an All-AFL player. "Stram is at least half responsible for the way we feel. He ran a great training camp. Our outlook now is about like it was in 1962 [when the Chiefs—then the Dallas Texans—won the AFL championship in an overtime game with Houston]."
Stram's primary concern is with depth in the lines. Other than that the Chiefs can find little to worry about except to wonder whether Bert Coan or Mike Garrett can become the quality running back they must have. Coan has been around for years and has the needed ability, but he frequently has been injured. Garrett, the Heisman Trophy winner of 1965, is small but is quick and tough and began to show it in the final preseason game. One of them must come through, for Curtis McClinton, last year's running back, has been moved to fullback to replace Mack Lee Hill, who died after surgery late last season.
The Chiefs have heated competition at quarterback. The No. 1 man is veteran Len Dawson, the AFL's second-ranked passer of 1965. Dawson, who does not seem to play well in warm weather, throws few interceptions but is often trapped for losses. His sub is young, strong-armed Pete Beathard, who may make AFL fans forget about Joe Na-math once he becomes a regular. Beathard, a superb runner when necessary, can throw the ball 50 yards with a snap of the wrist. He probably will spend another season as Dawson's relief, but Beathard has the knack of producing touchdowns. The Chiefs have never thrown much to the outside and have had trouble against clubs with good middle linebackers jamming up their running game. That flaw, however, may be remedied by Beathard's arm. And in Flanker Otis Taylor the Chiefs have a deep receiver who will replace Frank Jackson—lost to Miami in the expansion draft and subsequently injured—with no drop in the team's offensive force.
Kansas City's offensive line is big and talented. The Chiefs rely heavily on the blocking of their tight end and have one of the game's best in Fred Arbanas. The tackles are Dave Hill and Jim Tyrer, the guards are Curt Merz and Ed Budde and the center is underrated veteran Jon Gilliam. The split end, Chris Burford, is a top clutch receiver.
But it is Kansas City's defense that usually draws the most compliments. The linebackers—Sherrill Headrick in the middle, E. J. Holub and Bobby Bell on the outside—are experienced and work well together. Bell, who weighs 228, is as fast as most backs. But he is no faster than rookie Defensive End Aaron Brown, a 270-pounder who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6. Mays, one of the league's outstanding tackles in 1965, is a defensive end now and has a secure job. That leaves Brown to compete with Chuck Hurston, a 240-pounder in his second season, at the other end. The tackles are Ed Lothamer, 270, and Buck Buchanan, 287. Rookie Linebacker Bud Abell, a first-rate prospect, and the veteran Smokey Stover supply depth, but the Chiefs suffer if anything happens to Lothamer or Buchanan.
At right cornerback the Chiefs have Willie Mitchell, a comer in his fourth season. The left corner is the controversial Fred Williamson, who wears white shoes and enrages the fans with his statements and his antics but has steady employment. The safety men are veterans Johnny Robinson and Bobby Hunt, with experienced Bobby Ply to back them up. The Chiefs' defense should be good enough to compensate for any erratic behavior by the offense.
The kicking is top quality, with Tommy Brooker for the field goals and Jerrel Wilson for the punting, and rookie Wayne Walker able to do either. The question on offense keeps returning to running back. Coan is 6 feet 4, weighs 220 and is a slashing runner but has been unable to protect his elongated form from injury over any span of time. Garrett, 5 feet 9 and 200 pounds, had a difficult breaking-in period, and many contended he does not have the necessary tear-away speed. But he is about the same size as the Rams' Dick Bass, has good moves and demonstrated during his college career at USC that he is durable. It is most likely that Coan will be listed as the starter, but he may be used as a spot player, lessening his risk of injury.
Kansas City's season ticket sales have passed 21,000, considerably brightening the club's outlook toward the home it has had since 1963. A date in the Super Bowl should erase the last frown.