Stram didn't get a chance to put all his ideas into effect until 1960, when he was hired as head coach of Lamar Hunt's entry in the new American Football League.
"I traveled all over the country talking to coaches," Hunt said the other day. "The league was just starting, and most of the big names I talked to didn't want to take a chance. I had met Stram in the locker room after an SMU-Notre Dame game when he was at SMU and the Mustangs had upset Notre Dame. A lot of people recommended him to me, and I finally interviewed him on a trip to Miami when he was an assistant at the university there. He took me into a room and showed me game movies and explained his theories to me and I was impressed. And when I offered him the job he didn't hesitate."
Hunt's selection of a rather obscure college assistant as head coach for a new pro club seemed ridiculous at the time, but it worked; Stram won more games than any other coach in the 10-year history of the AFL.
"It was an advantage, growing with the team," Stram said. "We all matured together—staff, players and me. It's ideal when you all learn together and grow up in the same system."
Dawson, by Strain's evaluation, is the perfect quarterback for the intricacies of The Football of the Future, since he began learning the Stram system as an undergraduate. "The key to proper execution is that you can't ever go any faster than the quarterback's comprehension," Stram said. "Len is a coach on the field; he has a total understanding of the philosophy and principles of my system."
The basis of Stram's attack is what he calls a dictator offense. "By that I mean we dictate to the defense what it can do," he explained. "In the old offenses, operating from one or two formations, the defense had very little adjustment to make. They could use an abundance of blitzes, for instance. You can't do that against 66 different offensive formations. Then the defense has to work out one defense and try to adjust it to all of our sets, and they can't adjust perfectly to any of them. Early in a game we'll discover which of our formations they have worked on most, then we'll shift to something else. The same thing, of course, is true of defense. A good example of that is what happened in the Super Bowl."
During the regular season the Chiefs had used Stram's triple-stack defense—with the linebackers playing behind the linemen instead of in the gaps between them—only about 20% of the time. "We used the stack 95% against the Vikings," Stram said. "They had a tough time adjusting."
Stram's varied and perplexing offense was responsible for the opening touchdown in the first New York Jets game last year, which Kansas City won. The Chiefs had the ball on the Jet 18-yard line and Dawson brought his club out in the I, a formation that puts two backs and either the tight end or a wide receiver in a vertical line behind the quarterback and keeps the defense in front of him, where he wants it. When Kansas City shifted, Otis Taylor, a wide receiver who had been the up-man in the I, dropped into a slot between the offensive guard and tackle—a formation called slot over right (or left,) or the camouflage slot. The ball was snapped on a quick count, and Dawson hit Taylor for a touchdown. No defender was within shouting distance of Taylor when he caught the ball.
"After the game," said Stram, "when the reporters asked the Jet coaches who had the responsibility for Taylor, they said they wouldn't know until they saw the films." (Taylor probably should have been picked up by Safety Jim Richards.)
"The I and some of the other sets are designed to shrink the reaction time of the safeties," Stram explained. "The strong safety usually keys on the tight end. If the tight end is in the backfield, the safety has to wait for the shift until he can react, and if we go on a quick count he doesn't have much time to read his key. In effect, the multiple formations deprive the defenses of their recognition experience. They have spent years reading certain keys, reacting, pursuing. What I wanted to do—what I think the I does—is hit and go while they're still reading."