And that's the Chiefs for you—deceptive even in their manners. Big and hard-hitting, they can also be gentlemen. But can they win the big ones? By the evidence—the '67 Super Bowl, last year's AFL West playoff—maybe not.
But what too many people fail to recognize is that the Chiefs are a team in the process of rebuilding, a fact that makes their performance to date doubly impressive. As Stram points out, with an understandable touch of pride, only four of his defensive regulars started in the 1967 Super Bowl. Clearly, Stram is a superlative trader and drafter, as well as a hard-driving, innovative coach. Witness his defensive secondary: Jim Kearney, a so-so cornerback released by Philadelphia and converted by Stram into a strong strong safety; Marsalis, the No. 1 draft choice from Tennessee State who fits into the silent intercommunications of the defense like a veteran; Emmitt Thomas, the other corner, a free agent from Bishop (which is a small college in Dallas), who has supplanted Goldie Sellers; Johnny Robinson, the free safety, who with his speed and savvy provides the continuity—indeed, the spirit—of Stram's defensive backfield.
Two other trades serve to underscore Stram's canniness. He picked up Tackle Curley Culp from Denver and plugged him into the already impressive front four. Culp was an NCAA wrestling champion at Arizona State and combines that talent with sound football sense in his clever, grappling pass rush. The other smart trade was on offense. Stram, blessed with the accurate toe of Stenerud, dealt his other soccer-style kicker, Horst Muhlmann of West Germany (along with a fourth-round draft choice), to Cincinnati for McVea. The diminutive (he's 5'9", too) and cantankerous McVea had been used by Paul Brown at flanker, but Stram chose to employ him at his first love: running back. McVea, who shaves his head to enhance his bulletlike image, has the speed the Chiefs have heretofore lacked—he turns the 40 in 4.2.
Working for Stram can be rugged. A stickler for fitness, he has festooned the walls of his practice field with inspirational graffiti. One reads:
YOU can't be FAT...
...and FAST, too.
FAT IS HARD TO SEE, FAT IS HARD TO DETECT, IT HIDES UNDER THICK SKIN, IT ENSLAVES AND SLOWS THE WHOLE BODY, AN UNTRAINED EYE CANNOT FIND FAT.
And if you don't, Chiefling, then Stram will fine you $50 a pound. One Chief who learned about fat the hard way is Willie Lanier, the All-League middle linebacker. Now he nibbles salads for lunch with the dyspeptic disgruntlement of a matron at the Golden Door. His teammates used to call him Contact for his brutal tackling, usually effected with his head. Then, in a game last year against the Chargers, Lanier found himself tackling two John Hadls instead of one. He missed them both—the double vision being the result of a mild concussion acquired in earlier tackles. Now Lanier uses his bowling-ball shoulders and thick upper body in his tackling, and his buddies call him Honey Bear. Concussion or no, Lanier has one of the finest signal-calling heads in football defense; he is that anomaly, a black middle linebacker.
There is no racial friction on the Chiefs. "We're almost weirdly compatible," says Mays, the white Christian athlete from Texas. "The ratio of black to white is 8-3 on defense, and we have nothing but mutual admiration for one another. There's a strange sort of confidence evident here—a poise that we never had before. Last year you could feel it on its way to happening, and now we finally have the talent to match the earlier effort."
Fittingly, perhaps, it was Lanier who really ended any Jet hopes for a last-minute comeback Sunday. Namath had moved the ball down to the Chiefs' 10-yard line with a shade more than two minutes left. Sure, it was 34-16, but Namath's Namath, and the odds—at least to a diehard—weren't insuperable. Joe Willie sent Sauer out on a curl to the inside. Good call—it was third and half a yard for the first down. Who would have thought Joe would pass? Well, Willie Lanier, for one. He called a zone and, when Namath's pass popped out of Sauer's hands, Lanier was there to snatch it away. The Honey Bear gallumphed 44 yards, and that was it for New York.