As the scoreboard in Oakland's Coliseum kept changing like an illuminated ticker on the wall of a broker's office, the San Diego Chargers, some 650 miles to the south, could not help but pause from their sport now and then to gaze at the relayed numbers and ponder their meaning. At the time, last Sunday afternoon, San Diego was involved in beating the Miami Dolphins, an achievement that hardly qualifies the Chargers for the Guinness Book of Records. The significant game, the Chargers knew, was the one going on under the oyster sky up in the Bay Area, the one that put numbers beside the names of the Oakland Raiders (38) and the Kansas City Chiefs (21). What those numbers meant was that the Western Division of the American Football League had become so scrambled that it will be surprising if a late December playoff is not required to unscramble it.
With six weeks remaining in the season, Kansas City leads the Western Division with a 7-2 record. Oakland and San Diego, each 6-2, are tied for second, one-half game behind. From here in, the schedule is kindest to Kansas City—primarily because the Chiefs have a bye to use for healing their lame and weary—and cruelest to San Diego, which must play New York, Kansas City and Oakland in three of the four final weeks.
One of the Chargers who was watching the Oakland- Kansas City score with concern was Tackle Ron Mix. The week before, San Diego had been matched against Kansas City and lost 27-20.
"I'll tell you how that game affected me," Mix said. "I didn't get rid of my headache until Friday. There comes a time when the body rebels. I'm sure that happened to a number of Kansas City bodies. That's the reason I was expecting Oakland to win."
In a period of three weeks the Chiefs met Oakland, San Diego and Oakland again. For the first Oakland game the Chiefs were disrupted by injuries to the extent that their coach, Hank Stram, took his club behind locked gates and produced an offense that was so old it looked new. With their outside receivers hurt, the Chiefs trotted out a T formation that they call a Full House, used two tight ends for blocking, threw only three passes (an AFL record) and rushed for 294 yards. The Raiders, gaping at this formation their fathers had told them about, were beaten 24-10.
The following week the Chiefs, somewhat healthier, returned to a more conventional offense and defeated their other major rival, San Diego. Last week facing Oakland again, Kansas City was in its top physical condition of the season. Naturally, Oakland Coach John Rauch was puzzled over which style of offense to expect from the Chiefs. "I know the Raiders were surprised to see our Full House," Stram said as he was working up his game plan for the second meeting. "They probably thought we would go to two tight ends with a single flanker. I'm sure they never dreamed we would do what we did. I don't blame them. I never would have dreamed it, either. But with our physical situation the way it was, we had to find some way to express ourselves. For this game they'll have to be prepared for us to use either style."
Stram intended to mix the styles, offering a glimpse of the Full House, a look at the various pro formations—of which Kansas City employs more than any other team in the league—and even a peek at what Stram calls the Cock I, where Quarterback Len Dawson, Fullback Robert Holmes and Running Back Mike Garrett line up one behind the other and the split end stations himself beside Garrett as another running back.
The Chiefs had won six games in a row when they flew to Oakland. "We're winning on good defense and great kicking," Stram said. "The injuries have been very serious, but I think we've got through the critical stage. Our people are starting to come back."
For whatever interest it may be to anyone looking ahead to the Super Bowl, Stram believes the Chiefs, this year, are a far better team than the one Kansas City sent to the first Super Bowl against Green Bay after the 1966 season. "There's really no comparison," Stram said. "We were not nearly as solid in 1966 as we are now."
John Rauch, whose Raiders last season carried a 13-1 record into the Super Bowl, has had problems of his own. Linebackers Bill Lasky and Duane Benson and Cornerback Kent McCloughan were out of the Kansas City game with ailments. Fullback Hewritt Dixon—the league's leading rusher—has a sore knee and Split End Warren Wells has a badly bruised leg. The Raiders have definitely missed Defensive Tackle Tom Keating, who has a torn hamstring. And then there is the case of Quarterback Daryle Lamonica, who was the AFL's Most Valuable Player in 1967 but went into the Kansas City game with a completion percentage of only 44.4%—though he was second in touchdowns (14), third in yardage (1,440) and second in lowest percentage interceptions.