SI Vault
September 22, 1969
Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are like three lobsters in a trap—only one can survive. If the Chiefs avoid the injuries which devastated them last year, they'll be that one.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 22, 1969

Afl West

Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are like three lobsters in a trap—only one can survive. If the Chiefs avoid the injuries which devastated them last year, they'll be that one.

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Hank Stram of the Kansas City Chiefs and Sid Gillman of the San Diego Chargers are unique in pro football. Each has been his team's only head coach. They took over at the formation of the AFL in 1960 and have endured through thick and thin, but mostly thick.

The Chiefs and the Chargers are perennial contenders for the AFL title, and no doubt the continuity of command has had a good deal to do with this. (Or, vice versa, if they hadn't been contenders, the command wouldn't have been so continuous.) At Oakland, the other Western power, the continuity is on a higher level—Managing General Partner Al Davis, once the Raiders' coach, still spends a lot of time peering over the head coach's shoulder. He breathed so heavily on the neck of John Rauch, who took the Raiders to the conference title last year, that Rauch went to the Buffalo Bills.

At Cincinnati, the head coach is Paul Brown, who, win, lose or tie, will last as long as he wants to—he is also one of the owners. The head coach of the Denver Broncos is Lou Saban, back for his third year of sufferance. But the strength in the West is undeniably Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego, and there is little to choose among them.

When Lamar Hunt formed the Chiefs (as the Dallas Texans), he immediately hired Stram, and Hank has done a remarkable job. He is one of the real innovators in pro football. It was Stram who invented the "moving pocket" for his quarterbacks, inhibiting the pass rush, and he came up with the "stack" defense to make his linebackers hard to find. More recently he has used the Tight End I, an attack which puts the tight end in the backfield before the snap, so he can shift out of the I into a variety of sets designed to confuse the pass defenders.

Last season the Chiefs probably were as hard hit by injuries as any team and still managed to tie for the regular-season lead in the West. They lost to Oakland in a playoff, but this year, with the old injuries healed, save for Ernie Ladd's knee (and despite a new injury to Tight End Reg Carolan, who is probably out for the season and has been replaced by Fred Arbanas), and with some help from the draft, it looks like the Chiefs will win without a playoff.

Stram has an excellent quarterback to operate his varied attack in Len Dawson, who appears to be at his peak at 34. Dawson has had a history of early season sore arms, but he claims off-season exercise has cured that; indeed, he has thrown extremely well in the exhibitions. Since he led the AFL in passing last year, Dawson's sound right arm is essential to the Chiefs' attack.

Dawson will be operating behind an offensive line which will be better this year. It better be. His receivers—notably Otis Taylor, who gained 1,297 yards on 58 catches in 1966 when the Chiefs won the AFL title, but was hobbled by a groin injury last year—are tops. " Taylor is a key man," Stram says, but if Taylor is a bit off, the Chiefs have Frank Pitts (no kin to the Packers' Elijah) and Gloster Richardson (brother of the Colts' Willie).

Sound on the Ground

Mike Garrett, the 1965 Heisman Trophy winner, heads a corps of brilliant runners. Garrett came to camp 10 pounds lighter this year and seems faster. Stumpy Robert Holmes, runner-up to Cincinnati's Paul Robinson as Rookie of the Year in 1968, was the second leading rusher in the AFL.

When the Chiefs stumbled in 1968, it was due to defensive difficulties, mostly in the secondary. Although Ladd will be sitting out the season, the front line, with Jerry Mays at end and Buck Buchanan at tackle, remains massive and mobile and is, if anything, stiffened by the development of Aaron Brown.

Continue Story
1 2 3