TGS SPECIAL REPORT...KC-RAMS BUZZ & CHIEFS-RAIDERS WEEK
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Edtior
Perhaps it’s a good thing the Chiefs and Rams had their respective “byes” the week after their breathless shootout last Monday night in the L.A. Coliseum. Of course, the game was originally scheduled to be played at Estdadio Azteca in Mexico City, and the NFL has carefully made sure that all teams playing internationally this season have their bye weeks immediately following games abroad. In the case of the Chiefs and Rams, however, both ended up not having to leave the country before they got a chance to rest last weekend. And they might have needed a breather after that 54-51 fireworks display which generated more discussion in Vegas and our many radio show appearances last week around the country than any NFL regular-season matchup in years.
Interestingly, one of the talking points after that scoring extravaganza was how high the oddsmakers might have to post NFL “totals” considering the deluge of points from the Chiefs, Rams, and others this campaign. The assumption is that “over” tickets must be cashing a lot this season, but a quick look at our TGS NFL Logs doesn’t suggest as much, especially for the Chiefs and Rams. In fact, into Thanksgiving, both stood just 6-5 with the “overs” only slightly ahead of their “unders” in 2018. The fact neither team has been the primo “over” entry in the NFL might surprise a few, as would the identity of the NFL’s most notorious “over” team thru the first ten games of the season. That, folks, would have been none other than Tampa Bay, which was “over” 8-2 in its first ten. Of the other 31 NFL teams, only Chicago and Cincinnati (both 7-3 “over” thru ten weeks) were even close entering Thanksgiving week.
Veteran oddsmakers have often told us that they factor in the wagering public's tendency to look “over” much more often than “under” in almost every sport, especially the NFL. And while many casual bettors were incredulous that the oddsmakers posted the Rams-Chiefs “only” in the mid 60s, they should note that there hadn’t been an NFL regular-season game with a “total” that high since we began posting those numbers in our weekly logs beginning in 1986. (Editor’s note: if noticing that ESPN’s records always cite “since 1986" in any NFL “totals” factoid, it’s not by accident; the sports leader indeed has contracted to use The Gold Sheet logs for all of its historical pointspread/“totals” info.)
Oddsmakers are no fools, however, and while some of the uninitiated laughed at how Vegas undershot the Rams-Chiefs “total” by roughly 40 points, keep in mind some of the other numbers noted above; the mighty Chiefs had in fact gone “under” in three of their four previous games, and had been rather frustrated by the lowly Cardinals in their previous outing. The Rams also recently endured a string of three straight “under” results. We are relatively sure the sports books in Nevada and elsewhere in the country have not been getting burned too badly by the Chiefs and the Rams in the “totals” market this season.
Bottom line? Don’t expect the oddsmakers to begin posting Rams and Chiefs “totals” into the 70s anytime soon. Though we would be curious how high the “total” might climb should they meet in a rematch at Super Bowl LIII come February!
IT’S CHIEFS-RAIDERS WEEK!
Speaking of the Chiefs, they’ll be back in action next Sunday in Oakland against their longtime rivals, the Raiders. Thanks to Oakland’s generally feckless performance pattern over the past 16 years (only one winning season, that coming in 2016, since the 2002 Super Bowl qualifier!), the rivalry 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 those who wonder how any game could compare to last Monday’s Chiefs-Rams showcase, on the tension and drama scale we suggest by us, at least, the first meeting in 1970 gets the edge. 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 replay, called 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.
Granted, Chiefs-Rams last Monday was pretty entertaining. By us, however, it doesn’t quite measure up to Chiefs-Raiders 1970. Will the bad blood resurface this Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum? (To see what we think about Chiefs-Raiders and all of the pro football matchups on the upcoming weekend, check out our NFL Analysis).
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