When the Kansas City Chiefs play a game at home a visitor can't help noticing the fans known as the Wolf-pack. The group got its name in the days when the Chiefs were stumbling—playing to crowds of 20,000 or less—and a reporter for The Kansas City Star wrote that sitting in a section of particularly aroused fans made him feel as if he were in the middle of a wolf pack. Now there are sell-outs in the 40,000-seat Municipal Stadium, and there are Wolfpack buttons, Wolfpack license plates, Wolfpack shirts and Wolfpack membership cards that entitle the bearer to snarl, howl and yell as long as he stays off the field.
By playing a fired-up Boston team to a 27-27 tie last Sunday, the Chiefs remained 1� games ahead of Oakland in the AFL's Western Division, and if the wolves were not howling as loud as usual, they were confident that the Chiefs would go on to the championship and the supergame. That confidence is justified. If the Chiefs get that far, it could be a better game than NFL fans anticipate.
The Chiefs have long had some of the finest personnel in professional football, including a number of players who would be stars in the NFL. But after winning the AFL championship in a double-overtime game in 1962, they went into something of a decline for the next three seasons. They would beat a good team one week and lose to a bad team the next. As usual in such situations, everybody in the locker room had his own explanation. Perhaps the most common complaint was over Owner Lamar Hunt's moving the club from Dallas to Kansas City in the spring of 1963. The veterans, many of whom are Texans, resented having to settle in a foreign place. All-League Linebacker E. J. Holub, for example, made it quite clear that he missed his horses and his ranch and would no more have considered signing with a team in Missouri than with one in Guatemala. Holub, who was a top draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys, started talking about playing out his option and going home, as did Jerry Mays, who has been All-AFL in two positions, and several other key players.
Soon after the move, bad luck hit. Rookie Stone Johnson was killed in a game in Kansas City. The players, already unsettled, seemed to take his death as an omen. Halfback Abner Haynes, the AFL's Most Valuable Player in 1960, ceased to be an effective runner for the Chiefs but became one of their outstanding critics. He got himself traded to Denver in 1965 when his roommate—All-AFL Corner Back Dave Grayson—was traded to Oakland.
Through it all, Coach Hank Stram stuck doggedly to his system and Lamar Hunt stuck doggedly to Stram. Being professionals, the players soon realized they were going to have to work in Kansas City, and most of them eventually came to like the town. The trouble was that, with Haynes gone, the Chiefs lost their one game-breaking runner, their only outside threat.
Stram is an inventive, imaginative offensive coach. But without Haynes he found himself using two fullbacks—Curtis McClinton and Mack Lee Hill—and a stereotyped offense. Quarterback Len Dawson led the AFL in passing in 1962 but thereafter was bothered by a chronic sore arm. Concerned about not being able to put enough muscle on the ball, he began to hesitate to throw unless his receiver was completely open, and he was knocked down for many big losses. At the end of last season Mack Lee Hill died in a freakish way, from massive shock while being operated on for a routine knee injury. Then, in the expansion draft, Miami selected the Chiefs' flanker, Frank Jackson, and Stram's offense lost its only deep receiver.
In order for the Chiefs to have any success this season, four things had to happen. Dawson had to get his arm cured, the field-goal kicking had to be improved, second-year man Otis Taylor had to come through as a flanker and a running back had to turn up from somewhere. All four of those things did happen—with the result that the Chiefs, now 8-2-1, are the best bet to go all the way to the championship.
Dawson began building up his arm with an exercise device. He started working 20 minutes a day on February 1 and kept it up through the training-camp season. Now he is throwing the ball better than ever before, is leading the league again and Stram calls him "the most accurate passer I ever saw." It is a good thing for Dawson that his exercising paid off. He is being pushed for his job by Pete Beathard, who, many observers think, is the young quarterback in either league.
"If Beathard had gone to the Jets and Namath had gone to the Chiefs, Beathard would be a star and everybody would be wondering what happened to Namath," says one AFL coach. Stram says, "We could win with Pete right now."
Also, Dawson has finally emerged as a thinking quarterback. He has become very sharp at checking off plays at the line of scrimmage. Against Houston, he noticed the Oilers slipping into an eight-man line overshifted to the wide side of the field. Dawson changed the play to a quick pitchout to Mike Garrett heading to the short side, and Garrett went 77 yards for a touchdown—the longest run from scrimmage in the AFL this season. Dawson also has learned to find alternate receivers. Half a dozen of his touchdown passes have gone to receivers who were second or third choice. "After all these years," says Stram, "Lenny has come into his own."