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Last January, when Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in the Super Bowl, the chesty little coach proclaimed the victory as a harbinger of The Football of the Future. Last Sunday, in Bloomington, Minn., The Football of the Future became a thing of the past as the very same Vikings, who had brooded about the defeat for eight months, drubbed the Chiefs 27-10 with some plain old-fashioned football.
In truth, it was probably more a victory of emotion than of strategy or tactics, although Bud Grant, the seemingly unemotional man who coaches the Vikings, tried to deny that implication. The day before the game, sitting in his small office under the stands of the ball park in St. Paul where the Vikings practice, he talked quietly about the Sunday just ahead.
"This isn't a game for vengeance or anything like that," he said. "We approach it like we would any other game. I'm sure Stram will have a few changes for us. For instance, I doubt that he'll use the end-around, because he knows we'll be prepared for it, but he may have some variations off it. The Chiefs are a basic club and their offense and defense aren't that much different. They've won because they have fine people. I think we have good people, too. But I don't think this will be that emotional a game."
Grant was going into the game minus Joe Kapp, the holdout quarterback who took the Vikings to the NFL championship last year, but he appeared unconcerned. " Gary Cuozzo is our quarterback now," he said. "That doesn't hamper our offense at all. If anything, it enlarges it. Gary is a very intelligent man with exceptional retention. Since your offense depends upon your quarterback's retention, we can do more with Gary than we did with Kapp. I'm not trying to derogate Kapp. Joe is a fine quarterback, but he's an intuitive type and Cuozzo is an intellectual. I'm perfectly sure Gary will do well."
He smiled faintly, although his light-blue eyes were cold. "I think all of our players will do well," he said. Then, contradicting his assertion that revenge would play no role, he added, "We've been lying behind a log for eight months waiting for this game."
In extenuation, the game aroused no strong feelings on the Chiefs' part. All during the overlong exhibition season they had been fiat. This wasn't due to a lack of work. They put out before their game with Dallas, which they won easily. And they felt they had prepared for this game, too, which is probably the case. But they were getting ready to play a good game against a respected opponent, and the Vikings were girding themselves for Armageddon.
Mike Garrett, the Chiefs' best all-round back, put the game in perspective beforehand. "It's important we win because it's the first game," he said, "not because it's Minnesota. If you lose your first game playing in our division, it's like cutting your throat."
Stram took the confrontation coolly enough, too, and he was unconcerned about the Chiefs' 4-3 preseason record. "I think we've graduated to the right tempo," he said. "A coach has to have mother instincts, an inner feeling to know when to push and pull and when to lay off. This is a mature team. They know what to do."
After Sunday's debacle, Stram better forget about motherhood and start pushing and pulling.
As for the Vikings, most of them tried to act as if the contest had no special significance for them, either, but as actors they were no better than their coach. Among the things that have rankled them for the eight months was the highlight movie of the Super Bowl, in which Stram was wired for sound. In the course of the game Stram, an extroverted, voluble man, characterized Defensive Back Karl Kassulke's play as being reminiscent of a Chinese fire drill. Whenever a Viking made a mistake in practice in the week before the game, an assistant coach yelled, "Chinese fire drill." The Vikings didn't make many mistakes.