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TGS SPECIAL REPORT... BEST OF BELICHICK IN BUFFALO 

                                      by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

It's Chiefs-Raiders week, which for those of us who remember the days of the AFL is always a treat and a walk down memory lane. (Remember, TGS began operations in 1957...three years before the AFL came into existence!) But watching last Monday’s Patriots-Bills root canal at Orchard Park reminded us of a memorable Kansas City-Oakland classic (and that’s how we’ll refer to series history, never minding the Raiders’ subsequent moves to Los Angeles and now Las Vegas).

As a quick refresher, weather conditions, more specifically gale-force winds, forced Biil Belichick into a buttoned-down approach last Monday night, with rookie New England QB Mac Jones adhering to a gameplan so conservative that it might have as well have been devised by Pat Buchanan. It was hand-off after hand-off, Belichick not wanting to risk passes with strong gusts blowing more across the field at Orchard Park than either in the face, or from behind, each offense. Until their second-to-last possession of the night, when Jones would try two passes, Josh McDaniels called runs on every single play save one. By the time the survival test mercifully concluded, the Patriots had attempted all of three passes, though in a nod to Belichick’s instincts to trust his defense to win the game, it was good enough for a 14-10 New England victory.

Immediately, and given that it was KC-Oakland (sorry, Vegas) week on deck, Chiefs-Raiders lore came to mind, and their first meeting of the 1968 season that was right in the middle of what burned as the hottest pro football rivalry of the era. Though the Chargers were also involved in the race in the old AFL West at that time, and had just beaten the Raiders the previous week, snapping a long Oakland regular-season win streak that had reached 14 games, Kansas City was setting the pace in the division, a half-length ahead of the Bolts and Raiders. No matter, as the defending AFL champion, Oakland was still regarded as the team to beat, and expected to bounce back from the stunning loss to Sid Gillman’s troops the previous week.

Moreover, the Chiefs were shorthanded. With top flankers Otis Taylor and Gloster Richardson both sidelined, Len Dawson’s passing attack would be sharply compromised. No fool he, Kansas City HC Hank Stram deduced that his offense was not in much of a position to engage in a shootout with Daryle Lamonica and the ultra-potent Raiders offense.

The matchup, at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, promised to break franchise attendance records, as more than 3000 fans would cram into the old ballpark in standing-room areas, as the crowd count would hit 50,015, a Chiefs record. The kickoff at 3 PM local time would be telecast to the nation on NBC (except in KC, with pro football blacout rules of the day in effect) as the second half of the AFL TV doubleheader that Sunday, which was also smack dab in the middle of the memorable Mexico City Olympics, telecast by rival ABC (in the good 'ol days of Jim McKay before NBC's syrupy Olympics coverage in the modern era). Indeed, the USA’s Bill Toomey graced the front page of most sports sections that Sunday, October 20, after winning the decathlon the night before. Sports news that weekend also centered upon another Oakland entry, the ABA’s Oaks, with Rick Barry making his long-awaited league debut in the opening game that Friday night.

The innovative Stram, however, decided to go backwards in football strategy to employ an offensive scheme not seen in decades on the pro level. Without his top pass-catchers, Stram decided that trying to overpower the Raiders was his best, and perhaps only, chance at victory.

The “Straight T” formation was already a football relic by the 1960s, though variations of it were still used on the college level (Oregon State’s Dee Andros was one of the few proponents in his aptly-named “Power T” that simply lined up three running backs straight across, behind the QB. The old “full-house” backfield, if you will.) Stram was one of a handful of modern pro coaches of the day who would still occasionally employ the Straight-T, or full-house, in short-yardage situations, and a familiar look for Kansas City when it would get inside of an opponent’s 10-yard line.

The Straight T gained impetus as a leading formation for colleges and pros in the early 1940s. George Halas used it with his Chicago Bears after it was brought onto the college scene by Clark Shaughnessy, who installed it at the University of Chicago in 1939. When the Maroons gave up football the next year, Shaughnessy took his offense to Stanford, which had been a loser the previous season. The then-called Indians would proceed to stun the college football world, by going undefeated in 1940 and moving into the Rose Bowl, where Nebraska was dispatched, 21-13. Frankie Albert, a little southpaw passer, was the Stanford QB.

The power-oriented single wing, which with the Notre Dame “box” was en vogue for most of the 1930s, gave way to the Straight T. Eventually, defenses caught up with the Straight T, and many colleges would modify their attacks into the Split T as first championed by Missouri HC Don Faurot. The pros went to more wide-open sets, with flankers eventually sent wide, though the colleges were reluctant to adopt the latter until Ara Parseghian made it a regular look for his Northwestern offenses of the early 1960s, featuring Paul Flatley as an early version of the new “receiver flankers.”

But to use the “Straight T” as a base offense in modern pro football of the late 1960s, a decade revolutionized by the AFL’s wide-open style? No one considered as much, even given Stram’s proclivity to use the full-house in short-yardage situations. Nobody was thinking that Stram might decide to go this route full-bore for the Sunday showdown vs. Oakland. The oddsmakers, realizing the Chiefs were shorthanded, and still respectful of the Raiders, made Oakland a slight road favorite.

What happened next still amazes to this day, not because of the sheer boldness of the strategy, but that the colorful Stram, a proponent of wide-open offenses of the day, would resort to such tactics. For a one-shot deal, however, and for a big game he had to win without his top receivers, Stram’s “high-button shoes” offense, as he liked to call it, was made to order.

Dawson was the engineer of the Kansas City Express, getting the offense cranked up on the first possession. After the Raiders gained a pair of first downs on their initial drive, the advance bogged down inside of Chiefs territory, from where George Blanda would miss a 50-yard field goal. Dawson then went about executing Stram's unorthodox gameplan.

Taking over on their own 20, the Chiefs immediately went to work. Stram had KC lined up in the Straight T from the outset, complete with a double tight-end look bookending the line, as Dawson proceeded to feed the ball to either Mike Garrett, Wendell Hayes, or Robert Holmes, who would gouge out consistent yardage between the tackles. Not all runs, however; Dawson did hit TE Fred Arbanas with a 12-yard strike for a first down at the Oakland 42. Then, back to the ground, and a 21-yard burst by the squat, powerful Holmes moved the ball to a first-and-goal on the ten. Nothing fancy out of the Straight T; Garrett, Garrett again on Holmes on three straight plays moved the ball to the 1, where on fourth down it was Hayes leaping into the end zone on the left side. Objective one for KC thus fulfilled, as Stram was loathe for his team to play catch-up with limited personnel.  The Chiefs had their 7-0 lead, having exhausted almost 10 minutes of the clock on the drive.

The next time KC got the ball, more of the same. With Oakland’s defensive keys rendered useless by the Straight T, the Chiefs stayed committed to the ground game. Ten plays, including a crucial 3rd-and-four conversion when Dawson sent Hayes crashing 15 yards thru the Raider defense, expecting pass, on a draw play. Holmes got the score two plays later for a 14-0 lead. The pattern continued well into the 3rd Q, when KC, up 17-0, took the second half kickoff and slammed 64 yards in 15 plays, all but one of those a run, and none over nine yards. The Chiefs chewed up five more first downs, and again it way Hayes’ high-flying act from the one that pushed the lead to 24-0.

Oakland HC Jon Rauch had spent the previous six days preparing for the normal Kansas City offense, but six days of film study and prep and their planned defensive keys were wasted. When the Raiders finally adjusted their defense, they switched to a 5-man line, but by this time the Chiefs had rolled up their big lead. Stram would finish the game still running the ball, but out of Kansas City’s basic offense, with Frank Pitts and little Noland Smith used as traditional flankers. But the damage had been done. By the end of the day the Chiefs would pile up 18 first downs by rushing alone, an AFL record, and had secured a 24-10 win.  Like the Patriots' Mac Jones last Monday night vs. the Bills, KC's Len Dawson also tried just three passes, which marked an AFL all-time low.  And, like Jones, won the game!. 

One of those who didn't applaud Stram's strategy was none other than Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis, who saw nothing unique about KC's approach.  "Bulls**t college offense" was the only quote from Davis as he left the press box era in the early evening hours.  Stram's scheme, however, was built for the short-term, one game, really.  And while the Dawson-led offense would stay in conservative mode the rest of the season, Stram would not again revert to the Straight T as the base offense, or for anything other than short-yardage plays near the opponent' goal.  The Straight T was devised to only work in such a manner on October 20, 1968...and it did.

Davis would still get the last laugh, as the eventual storyline of the AFL West in 1968 would be written by the Raiders, who two weeks later avenged the loss at home, and after a breathless stretch drive when going neck-and-neck with the Chiefs (including the dramatic “Heidi Game” for Oakland), eventually routing KC 41-6 in a West playoff for a berth in the AFL title game vs, Joe Namath and the Jets. But for one afternoon in October, Hank Stram reminded the masses that there was still room for old-fashioned, power football in the pro game. A lesson Bill Belichick reminded us all last Monday vs. the Bills.

Following is another Chiefs-Raiders piece first penned on these pages three years ago, and recalling what might have been the high-water mark of the Kansas City-Oakland rivalry of the era.  (To see what we think of this week's renewal of this old rivalry dating to the AFL days, and all of our pro football game previews, check out our NFL Analysis). 

                                                                          ****
 
Thanks to the Raiders' generally feckless performance pattern over the past two decades (only one winning season, that coming in 2016, since the 2002 Super Bowl qualifier!), the rivalry vs,. the Chiefs has rarely come to a boil in recent memory.  But beneath the surface still lurks the potential to reignite what was, for a short time, maybe the most-intense of pro rivalries since we began publishing TGS in 1957.
 
The period when Chiefs-Raiders really burned was in the late ‘60s into the early '70s, including the final few years of the AFL, when Kansas City and Oakland between them would qualify for the Super Bowl a combined three times in the pre-merger era of 1966-69.  Joe Namath’s 1968 Jets were the only team to break the Chiefs-Raiders AFL title monopoly of those years, but even then, most football observers believed the Chiefs and Raiders were both probably better than the Jets in ‘68.  Namath would win a thriller vs. Oakland in the ‘68 AFL title game at cold and windy Shea Stadium, but that was a week after a playoff was necessitated between the Chiefs and Raiders to determine the AFL West champion after both finished level on 12-2 that season.  The fact that Oakland and Kansas City were so dominant in the late ‘60s AFL caused commissioner Pete Rozelle (who held that title jointly with both leagues from the merger announcement in 1966) to add an extra round of playoffs for the AFL in the league’s final year of existence in ‘69.
 
Rozelle, of course, had other motives, noting how the NFL’s introduction of an extra playoff round in 1967 had been embraced by the football fan base and treasured by CBS, then the sole NFL telecaster.  With more money to be made, NBC, which then held the TV rights to the AFL, was more than happy to add an extra round in the AFL for ‘69.  That way the colorful Oakland and Kansas City powerhouses, along with Namath’s high-profile Jets, would all likely be featured for an extra playoff round as the AFL would qualify second-place teams from its respective East and West divisions, becoming the first pro football “wild cards” (though that term wasn’t affixed until the 1970 merger year).  NBC wholeheartedly agreed, and it was not too surprising that both the Raiders (who had won another torrid race vs. Kansas City to win the West) and Chiefs (who, as the West division runners-up, would beat Namath’s Jets 13-6 at Shea in first-round action) would end up meeting for the final AFL title on January 4, 1970.  Kansas City, avenging a pair of close losses to Oakland in the regular season, won that showdown by a 17-7 count before advancing to Super Bowl IV and a win over the Vikings before the merger for the next 1970 season.
 
The Chiefs-Raiders rivalry, however, had yet to hit its boiling point.  That would wait for a much-anticipated first meeting in the 1970 merger year, a November 1 clash at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. As usual, the teams were involved in a pitched battle for the lead in the newly-named AFC West, though at that point it was a three-team race also involving Lou Saban’s fast-starting Denver, which would remain in contention past midseason.  The Broncos, in fact, exited October with a slight advantage in the division, standing 4-2, while the Raiders were at 3-2-1 and the Chiefs 3-3.  But the Broncos, minus an effective QB, were beginning to falter, and most believed it was only a matter of time before the Chiefs or Raiders took control of the division.  Nonetheless, with both having hit some bumps along the way, there was a foreboding sense about the November 1 game, as the loser would find itself in some trouble with season at the halfway mark. Even for Chiefs-Raiders, tension was uncommonly high for this late afternoon crucial that was also the featured “doubleheader” game on NBC, which sent its top announcing team of Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis to describe the action.
 
For sustained tension and drama, this first meeting in 1970 remains hard to top. While not a shootout, the game was contested on a razor’s edge, each play having the potential to turn the momentum in a nervy contest.  Neither could manage a breakthrough in a taut first half that ended 7-7 before Oakland grabbed a 14-7 lead early in the 3rd Q on a short Daryle Lamonica-to-Raymond Chester TD pass.  The Chiefs, however, clawed closer on a 33-yard FG by PK Jan Stenerud late in the 3rd Q.  Midway in the 4th Q, Kansas City finally forged its first lead of the game, as QB Len Dawson fired up an 85-yard drive that took 11 plays, and when Oakland DB Kent McCloughan slipped, WR Otis Taylor was wide open for a 13-yard TD pass and a 17-14 lead.  Old Municipal Stadium shook and the national TV audience could feel it as nighttime had descended upon Kansas City.  Beneath the floodlights, Lamonica, under heavy pressure all game, was not able to immediately answer.  The Chiefs got the ball back with under 5 minutes to play, hoping for a couple of first downs that would exhaust the time...and the Raiders.
 
With the clock approaching 1 minute to play, the Chiefs had moved to the Oakland 48, but were confronted with a 3rd and 11 situation.  While everyone was expecting Dawson to attempt a pass for a 1st down that would ice the game, the vet QB instead fooled the Raiders on a well-designed bootleg around right end, running for 19 yards. First down!  But after Dawson had tripped, he was speared in the back by Oakland’s villainous DE Ben Davidson, who led with his helmet in an egregious cheap shot, drawing an obvious flag for piling on.  The Chiefs, Otis Taylor in particular, took exception; Taylor would wrestle Davidson to the ground, generating his own flag from the referees for unsportsmanlike conduct, and triggering a wild melee that took almost ten minutes to clear!  
 
When the dust settled, and after first marking a penalty on Oakland to the Raider 14, the referees conferred and determined that since both fouls had been “continuing action,” the penalties should nullify, prompting offsetting fouls and a replay of 3rd down.  Municipal Stadium became borderline riotous.   Amid the confusion, the referees were also unsure where to re-place the ball after ruling the offsetting fouls, and in the unofficial first-ever use of video replaycalled up to the NBC booth to get the proper spot of the preceding play!  The referee would err by one yard, marking the ball at the Oakland 49.  Dawson, playing things conservatively on the third-down replay, called a run which gained little.  Jerrel Wilson would then punt into the end zone on 4th down.  Oakland had the ball back on its own 20, but only 46 seconds remained

Lamonica, heretofore frustrated for most of the late afternoon/night, had to make something happen in a hurry.  In the gloom of the evening with the hostile and now very agitated crowd howling menacingly in the background, Lamonica, with no time to spare, quickly got to work and managed to complete four passes in five plays, moving the ball to the Chiefs’ 41, perhaps close enough for a tying field goal try.  (Mind, you, these were the pre-1974 days when the goal posts were anchored at the goal line, not the back of the end zone).   The Raiders, however, were out of timeouts; fortunately (for Oakland), Chiefs S Jim Kearney had been injured the previous play, unable to pick himself up, forcing the referees to briefly stop action with an injury timeout.  Reprieved yet again, Oakland coach John Madden then rushed ageless PK George Blanda out for a 48-yard field goal try, just about at the edge of his range, with only 8 seconds remaining.  Chiefs HC Hank Stram, never one to miss a trick, stationed his giant 6-8 tight end, Morris Stroud, beneath the crossbar to play the role of Wilt Chamberlain if he must and swat away the long FG try if it was coming close to the crossbar.  Blanda hit the kick high and hard, and straight, but the mighty boot was looking as if it might not quite reach the crossbar.  Stroud, doing his best Nate Thurmond imitation to block the shot, er, field goal, rose up and tried to tip Blanda’s kick as it was approaching the crossbar.  Stroud missed by inches, which is about by how much Blanda’s kick also cleared the crossbar.  Three seconds remained; the score was now tied at 17-17!
 
With the crowd angered, the scene was near mutinous at Municipal Stadium, as Stram and the Chiefs were assessed two more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for berating the officials.  Oakland would actually kick off from the KC 30 and could have had one last chance at a further miracle finish, but the game ended at 17-17.  Though the action didn’t end; not by a longshot!
 
Municipal Stadium was under-policed, and referee Bob Finley’s officiating crew had to make a harrowing exit, with one of the refs accosted by a fan and the others subject to intense verbal abuse as they tried to escape the field and get to safety.  Meanwhile, Stram, not satisfied at the on-field explanations, tailed the referees into their changing room and apparently challenged Finley.  According to Joe McGuff, sports editor of the Kansas City Star, all heck was breaking loose behind the doors.  “We newspaper guys stood outside the door and all we heard was angry shouting,” said McGuff.  “Finally, the door opens, and one of the refs had his arms around Hank, restraining him from going after (Bob) Finley.  The first guy we hear is Finley, who’s yelling at Stram, ‘You can’t call me a bleeping crook!’  About this time Hank pulls back and finally leaves, calling the ref a bleepity-bleep-bleep-bleep.”  
 
The wild scenes at Municipal Stadium became the talk of the  NFL for the remainder of the season, and beyond.  The subsequent Super Bowl V program, in its season review section, described the 17-17 developments as “more of an upheaval of nature than a football game.”  It was also effectively the start of a month-long series of memorable last-second heroics by George Blanda, who would eventually win league MVP honors.  Anticipation began to build for a penultimate week rematch in Oakland in mid-December, which would be contested on a Saturday afternoon in another NBC TV special.  With Denver having faded out of the race, the much-hyped rematch would be for the AFC West title.  This time, however, no drama was necessary; the Raiders took control in the second half and pounded out a 20-6 decision, ending the Chiefs’ reign as Super Bowl champs.
 
Reverberations from the 17-17 tie were still being felt years later. In 1976, the league finally enacted the so-called “Ben Davidson Rule” which clarified the definition about downing a ball carrier. The re-made rule prohibited defenders from “running or diving into, or throwing his body against or on a ball-carrier who falls or slips to the ground untouched and makes no attempt to advance, before or after the ball is dead.”  Moreover, the “continuous action” rule was modified; in later years, a penalty such as Otis Taylor’s for fighting would not have offset the piling-on penalty on Davidson, it would instead be enforced after the play.
 
It will take some doing for this Sunday's matchup at Arrowhead to match Chiefs-Raiders 1970 at old Municipal Stadium. Will the bad blood resurface this week?  


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