As Daryle Lamonica went onto the field his lobo eyes surveyed the banquet: 11 juicy Kansas City Chiefs in appetizing red and white, lambs for his delectation. And just a Sunday beyond this last American Football League championship, the swan song before merger with the NFL, lay the feast of feasts, the Super Bowl, for which he longed with all his hungry heart. But after he chewed a little way into the sheepfold, this tall, strong Oakland quarterback—the very best in the league to all but diehards for Joe Namath—made a terrible discovery. There were lions in there, and maybe a bear or two. And they ate him up. When it was over, and Oakland had lost 17-7 after as feckless a fourth quarter as any fan might fear to witness, Lamonica had no feast to remember but the awful rushes and grizzly hugs of Jerry Mays and Aaron Brown, Kansas City's quarter-ton of defensive end.
The Raiders, a deep, tough team on more normal Sundays, had run up a 12-1-1 record during the regular season, including two hard-fought victories over the Chiefs, and a vicious 56-7 interdivisional playoff win over the Houston Oilers. Kansas City had a respectable 11-3 record on the year and had twice thrashed the world champion New York Jets.
A beguiling aura of secrecy surrounded the championship game—a shroud of mystery that would have done justice to the Continental Op. In their last game, Kansas City's dapper, innovative coach, Hank Stram, had the Chiefs run at the Raiders, allowing his quarterback, the 13-year veteran Len Dawson, to throw only six passes. Ostensibly, Dawson was still fragile about the knees (he had missed six games earlier in the season), but Stram also figured that if he could beat Oakland on the ground, he wouldn't have to reveal any of the new passing wrinkles which he hoped to use in the championship playoffs.
Borrowing a leaf from Vince Lombardi, Stram took his team to Santa Barbara for the week prior to Sunday's game. The warmer weather allowed Dawson to sharpen his long passing game, frozen for a month in the snow and ice of Kansas City, and also permitted the Chiefs' fleet receivers, Otis Taylor, Frank Pitts and Gloster Richardson, to add some frills to their moves.
Oakland's rookie coach, John Madden, also added a few plays to his book. Armed cops kept close guard on the Oakland Coliseum throughout the week, and even shooed away the troops of Commissioner Pete Rozelle when the team was working out. On the eve of the game, Madden aped Paul Brown and sent his players to the movies before bed-check at an undisclosed motel (psst, it was the Edgewater West). The flick was Faulkner's The Reivers, but in the end it was Madden who got reived.
The game, when they got around to playing it, turned out to be two almost completely different contests. Kansas City took the opening kickoff and moved well for two series of downs. Then Dawson broke with his earlier conservative image and sent Taylor on a deep fly under the bomb. But Oakland's "soul patrol"—the four high-flying defensive backs—were not to be bombed out just yet. All-League Cornerback Willie Brown managed to get a hand between Taylor and the perfectly thrown pass, and suddenly the Chiefs seemed to go limp.
The first half was all Oakland—almost. Lamonica got the Chiefs thinking about flare passes to his backs, notably Charlie Smith, and the outside run. Then he moved his attentions to his tight end, Billy Cannon, and Wide Receiver Warren Wells. With the first quarter waning, Lamonica hit Wells for 24 yards to the Kansas City three. Smith hopped in on the next play untouched, and Oakland was halfway to the 14-point lead Lamonica thought he would need to win. It looked like the perennial inability of Kansas City to win the big ones was not to be overcome. "It was all over town," said Aaron Brown. "K.C., the jinx club. You don't believe it, but you can't help but think about it. It makes you want to fly in the face of the fates."
Plenty of flying was to come, and one of the top aviators was Middle Linebacker Willie Lanier. When the Raiders went ahead, Lanier found himself with tears in his eyes. "They're not going to score again," he raged. The Chiefs began to toughen. All during the season, with Dawson out for a spell and later fragile, the Chiefs had had to learn determination. "Our defense was aged in disaster," Strain said afterwards.
With less than three minutes remaining in the half, and fans beginning to yawn over what was an obvious mismatch—even if the score was only 7-0—Dawson began a drive from his own 25. Throwing under intense pressure from the Raider front four, and with Oakland's linebackers gobbling up his running backs, Lenny suddenly got a break—two of them, in fact. First, Oakland was caught holding, then the Raiders jumped offside and Kansas City had a first down at midfield. Fullback Robert Holmes slogged for eight yards up the middle, and then Dawson unwrapped one of Stram's new sets. It broke Pitts clear for a pretty 41-yard pass reception down to the one-yard line, and Wendell Hayes went off tackle for the score.
It was an augury, the only penetration of Oakland's turf in the whole first half, and it permitted the Chiefs to go into the locker room with a tied score at half-time. It also gave the Chiefs' front four a new life.