In 1969, America was experiencing upheaval. Burning draft cards was all the rage, free love and peace were flowing at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, and Neil Armstrong was becoming a household name on grainy Zenith televisions. It was the age of self-expression. The year featured an infamous concert in Bethel, NY, kicked off with an unforgettable and controversial national anthem by Jimi Hendrix featuring the sounds of chaos and destruction half a world away.
The world was not a place where professional football was to take center stage. Sports were part of the everyday pop culture but of sidebar importance, not the main topic of conversation. It was a time of greater concerns, with the news showing napalm victims and the lists of soldiers who would not be returning home. There would be no time for the highlights those evenings. No apology was expected nor given.
It is with this backdrop that the greatest defense of the Super Bowl era played, earning an unlikely championship against the establishment. It was another upset in a year dotted with them across the athletic landscape. Outside of a Midwestern city split by a state line, the feat has almost been forgotten to time, with every season pushing it further into the abyss.
Yet, the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs defense is a portrait of greatness. They are a monument to what can be achieved on a gridiron 120 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide. This collection of men put forth an epic effort to be forever remembered.
In the years following Kansas City's resounding Super Bowl IV victory over the Minnesota Vikings on a dreary day in New Orleans, no team has fielded an equal level of talent on defense. That afternoon, Kansas City started five future Hall of Fame defensive players, a number unmatched since. Only the Green Bay Packers can top the feat in the Super Bowl era, starting six in 1966 and 1967.
The Chiefs were a team ahead of their time. Built in a progressive manner by owner Lamar Hunt, executive Don Klosterman, general manager Jack Steadman and scout Lloyd Wells, Kansas City employed a superior blend of size and speed.
The original building blocks of the 1969 defense came in the Dallas Texans' expansion year of 1960. Dallas selected running back Johnny Robinson in the first round out of Louisiana State, converting him to safety in 1962. In 1961, the Texans outbid the Vikings for defensive end Jerry Mays, laying the first brick of an eventually dominant defensive front.
In 1963, Dallas moved to Kansas City following the franchise's first American Football League championship. Using their inaugural pick as the Chiefs, the team selected Junious "Buck" Buchanan with the top overall selection, a selection acquired via trade with the Oakland Raiders. A defensive tackle of Grambling State, Buchanan was a historical marker, becoming the first black player in the American or National Football League to be drafted first overall. At 6'7 and 270 pounds, running a 4.9 40-yard dash time, Buchanan would revolutionize the position.
In the seventh round, Kansas City selected Bobby Bell, a two-time All-American from the University of Minnesota. Bell was the epitome of dominance in college, earning third place in the Heisman Trophy voting as a defensive lineman. Despite being taken by the Vikings in the second round, Bell signed with the Chiefs. Hall of Fame head coach Hank Stram once said Bell could play any position on the field, a claim given validity by Bell's 4.5 40-time and his winning of All-State honors as a high school quarterback in South Carolina.
In 1966, Kansas City used its first-round pick on defensive end Aaron Brown. Brown, a hulking 6'5, 255-pounder out of Minnesota, preceded the signing of an undrafted free agent cornerback from Bishop College in Emmitt Thomas. Thomas would pair with Robinson to form a dynamic duo in the secondary, eventually joined by safety Jim Kearney in 1967 and corner Jim Marsalis in 1969.
Between Thomas and Robinson, the pair amassed 115 interceptions, ranking 12th and 13th on the all-time list respectively.
After losing to the Packers in Super Bowl I, the Chiefs spent a pair of second-round selections in 1967 on linebackers Jim Lynch and Willie Lanier. The picks came three spots apart, putting the finishing touches on the preeminent linebacking core of the era. In the opinion of at least one man, that would be an understatement.
"I thought we were the greatest of all time," Bell said. "We could play anything. There are a lot of linebackers who are different now. I was the one back then as a linebacker who could rush the passer or cover. We had 11 guys on defense and we could play any defense. We didn't have to substitute for a nickel defense. We stayed on the field. We could cover, rush or stop the run. ... The defenses play totally different than we used to play. They bring in special guys to play special defenses."
Like Buchanan, Lanier tore down racial lines, becoming the first black middle linebacker in pro football.
In 1994, Lanier was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Lynch would earn a spot in the team's Hall of Fame in 1990, and the College Hall of Fame in 1992. Between Lanier and Lynch, the duo missed seven combined games in 22 cumulative seasons. Bell played 12 campaigns, and never missed one.
In 1968. defensive tackle Curley Culp was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos, only to be dealt to Kansas City during training camp after a failed attempt to move Culp to offensive guard. Culp, a NCAA wrestling champion at Arizona State in 1967, provided muscle and power alongside Buchanan.
All told, Kansas City's starting defense in 1969 featured nine players who were chosen for Pro Bowls, eight All-Pro selections and five Hall of Fame inductees.
"When people talk about the really great or top defenses they don't get mentioned nearly enough," said Ray Didinger, a renowned NFL writer since 1970. "Their defense has to be in that conversation. ... I would say historically they haven't gotten their due. If you look back at the Hall of Famers they have, Buchanan and Culp of front, Lanier and Bell at linebacker and then Thomas in the secondary. ... I always thought Robinson never got in and I think he should have. You can easily make a case for six (Hall of Famers). That's pretty exceptional."
The season began as always for the Chiefs, at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., amidst the oppressive humidity that envelops the Midwest in July. The school hosted the team from the time it moved from Dallas through 1991.
"You had to battle the heat and there wasn't water back then like there is now," said Len Dawson, Kansas City's Hall of Fame quarterback. "Hank was tough. If you felt tired he would get on your case. We would stay out there until they turn the lights on. We got the message; it was a tough training camp."
After Stram's conditioning program, the Chiefs broke camp and played four exhibition games against NFL competition. Kansas City rolled in the high-intensity contests, beating the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams by a combined score of 132-65.
Once the regular season began, Stram's charges earned a 27-9 victory in San Diego against the Chargers, holding eventual rushing champion Dickie Post to six yards while intercepting John Hadl four times.
Post, who gained 873 yards on the ground that season, gained three yards in two games against Kansas City.
The following week, the Chiefs went to Boston and hammered the Patriots 31-0. Boston gained 82 total yards, but disaster struck for Kansas City. Dawson injured his knee in the contest, forcing him out of action for the following six weeks.
It appeared a potentially season-killing injury for the Chiefs in an age where only four teams qualified for the postseason. Instead, Kansas City rode the back of second-year quarterback Mike Livingston after backup Jacky Lee broke his ankle in Week 3 in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Under Livingston, the Chiefs won five consecutive games before Dawson returned, largely because of a dominant defensive effort.
"The defense recognized that if the team was going to stay in the hunt, if the team was going to manage to stay a contender, it needed to do it with a third-stringer from Southern Methodist," said Michael MacCambridge, author of America's Game and Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports. "To Livingston's credit, he played within himself and the team played well under him. They won every game he started, and the defense held the ground that season. They were used to being accountable and not having much room for error."
Kansas City ended the regular season 11-3, finishing the slate with a bitter 10-6 loss to the Raiders in a contest that decided the Western Division.
Throughout the year, the Chiefs defense put together a statistical resume for the ages. In the 1969 regular season, Kansas City forced five or more turnovers five times, including nine in a shutout of the Houston Oilers. Only twice did a team gain over 300 total yards in a game, and opponents were held to 10 points or less on seven occasions. The Chiefs never permitted a 100-yard rusher, one 100-yard receiver in Don Maynard and one 300-yard passer in Joe Namath. Additionally, Kansas City limited teams to single-digit first down totals four times, and notched a pair of shutouts.
Still, with Dawson out for much of the season and an unknown in Livingston replacing him, there were plenty of doubters.
"It was amazing," Bell said. "Going back to that year, we had seven or eight games left and nobody thought we would make the playoffs. That's when we stepped up and played."
When the smoke cleared, the Chiefs defense had amassed a statistical resume which remains unparalleled.
Kansas City ranked first in fewest points (177), first downs (181), total yards per game (224.9), passing yards/game (148) and rushing yards/game (77.9) allowed. The Chiefs also topped the AFL in yards against per play (4.0), passing yards per attempt (4.4), rushing yards/attempt (3.5), passing touchdowns (10), rushing touchdowns (6), interceptions (32), turnovers (47) and quarterback rating (42.1).
Despite the total being unofficial due to sacks not becoming an official stat until 1982, the Chiefs racked up a league-leading 48 sacks, dumping the quarterback on an AFL-best 10.1 percent of dropbacks.
"I don't know of any defense I'd say is better than them," Dawson said. "I've seen a lot of football over my life span, since 1957 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I've been involved ever since, so that is a long run. I've seen great players. But that team, as the quarterback on the offense, I just thought ‘Don't screw up Leonard.' Just don't screw up because the defense will take care of what it needs to do."
Lloyd Wells is an anonymous name to most football fans.
Wells, a scout for the Chiefs throughout the 1960's, was perhaps the most influential personnel man Kansas City employed throughout the time. A columnist for a black newspaper and later a glamour photographer for Ebony and Jet magazines, Wells, who became the first African-American scout in professional football, was hired by the Chiefs to find overlooked athletes from historically black colleges.
In this role, Wells became a cornerstone of a championship. The AFL Hall of Famer found gold for Kansas City at little-known schools such as Grambling State, Prairie View A&M, and Morgan State. Wells recruited future Hall of Famers in Lanier and Buchanan, along with prolific wide receiver Otis Taylor. Wells' signing of Taylor became legend, happening during the height of the AFL-NFL war for players. Wells got his man by sneaking the two-time All-Pro out of a hotel room window with a Dallas Cowboys babysitter sleeping inside.
"He had a passion to present to the Chiefs and the American Football League that there was equal and better talent that needed the opportunity to express itself," Lanier said. "He was one of the architects doing it for Kansas City and doing it well, because a number of us ended up in the Hall of Fame. His hand probably touched all of us."
With the influx of black talent, the Chiefs became the first championship team to start more African-American players than whites. On the defense, Kansas City started eight black men, with only Robinson, Lynch and Mays the exceptions. Even in the AFL - a league known for its racial diversity - the Chiefs stood out.
"Hank Stram, to his credit, didn't care what race his players were," MacCambridge said. "He encouraged the Chiefs to make the picks, and it came together to form that magnificent defense."
Blessed with a loaded roster, Stram went to work devising new ways to demolish offenses. Stram, who took the reins as head coach in 1960 of the expansion Texans, came to Kansas City by way of the collegiate game.
Although he was known as an offensive innovator, Stram created a gaggle of defensive formations. Under Stram, the Chiefs played a 4-3 defensive scheme but in unconventional ways. Kansas City became known for its triple stack system, with the linebackers playing directly behind the linemen instead of in the gaps. The alignment caused confusion for the opposing offensive line, leaving a moment of indecision. With a front seven consisting of six Pro Bowlers, a split-second spelled doom.
"He knew both sides," Dawson remembered. "He was one of my coaches at Purdue, and the thing was he knew football. That was all he ever did. He was in coaching after playing at Purdue. When he got out of coaching he was doing Monday Night Football on radio. He was always doodling. If we went to a fine restaurant in Kansas City, they didn't want to see him because he would start drawing plays on the cloth napkins. They would ask if they could give him paper napkins. It was his life, he enjoyed it and he was good at what he did."
Under Stram, the Chiefs/Texans led the AFL in wins throughout its 10-year history. The franchise earned three league championships in 1962, 1966 and 1969, mostly on the back of its defenses.
Stram was always searching for an edge. He was the first professional coach to have Gatorade on the sideline, and put an emphasis on weight training. During a time when professional sports had not fully embraced the notion of adding copious amounts of muscle, Stram was all in favor of it. The decision would pay off handsomely.
"We were a strong, physical team because of Alvin Roy," Bell said. "He was the first weight coach. He was the weight coach for Dallas but they thought they didn't need him anymore and Stram picked him up. We lifted weights and went through the weight programs. From the smallest to largest guy, we were stronger than the Vikings. We knew if we didn't make mistakes like turn the ball over, we could force Minnesota into mistakes and make them do things they didn't want to do. Every time Joe Kapp went back to pass, Brown or Mays were hanging off his neck. ... We felt we had a better team, a better offense and a better defense."
Stram remains legendary for his running commentary while wired during Super Bowl IV. In an age when many coaches were hardened men with little use for chatting, Stram was an ever-gabbing bundle of energy, fidgeting with the knot of his tie while plotting against the enemy.
On December 20, 1969, the morning broke bright and cold in New York City. The Chiefs were in town for the newly-minted Divisional round of the AFL playoffs to face the New York Jets. Kansas City was tabbed as a slight underdog in the game, despite having beaten the host Jets 34-16 in November.
At game time, the temperature was 33 degrees, but it felt in the teens. Shea Stadium, known for its blustery conditions, was living up to its reputation. The wind was blowing at 18 miles per hour.
The contest began with a slow pace with the score tied 3-3 at halftime. The Jets, defending Super Bowl champions after their startling upset of the Baltimore Colts in 1968, fell behind 6-3 in the third quarter on a Jan Stenerud 25-yard field goal.
The Chiefs defense had been embarrassed by their standards against New York in the regular season, allowing a season-high with 333 passing and 410 total yards. Maynard was the star that afternoon, catching nine passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.
On this day, Namath and Maynard did little. Namath was brutal, completing 14-of-40 passes for 169 yards with three interceptions. Maynard was no factor with one reception for 18 yards.
Still, New York was in position to win deep into the fourth quarter. Trailing 6-3, the Jets were the beneficiaries of a pass interference call in the end zone. First and goal at the Kansas City 1-yard line.
On first down, the Jets attempted a dive over the right guard. Running back Matt Snell was met at the line by Lanier, halting his progress. On second down, Bill Mathis took the handoff and lunged behind center John Schmitt. Mathis was consumed by Lynch, Robinson and Lanier, holding New York inside the 1-yard line.
On both plays, Lanier had been the difference not only for a moment, but for the season.
"It was, in my career, the signature statement moment, because you had 36 inches to determine whether you or they had a chance to gain the advantage since only field goals were kicked," Lanier said. "It appeared it was going to be a low scoring game considering the time. It was a unique moment in time where those who play the game can rise to a decision, and for me trying to disrupt something they might do. I had to take some chance because I remembered Namath didn't want to go on a long count, because they didn't want to take a penalty and go from the 1-yard line to the 6. If I'm offsides, we lose half a yard. All I did was step sideways between the guard and center ... that disrupted the first play and then it was second and goal and we held, and then Namath gets held on the rollout by Bobby.
"You are lining up and thinking ‘What can we do?' I'm not Superman. I can't snatch some 250-pound person and throw them out of the way, it doesn't work like that. It is about thinking what their issues are, and the clarity of that allowed that decision. If I am offsides, tough, I'm going to do something to offset their advantage."
On third down, the Jets hoped to score on a play-action rollout pass, as aforementioned by Lanier. Bell did not take the fake and instead drifted outside along with Snell, the intended receiver. Namath continued rolling right, ultimately running out of room. Kearney hit Namath low as he threw the ball away, with Lynch and a pursuing Bell finishing him off high. New York sent out kicker Jim Turner to tie the game on a 7-yard field goal.
It was the pivotal moment of a team on its way to glory.
"The reason they won Super Bowl IV is because of that goal line stand against the New York Jets in the AFL Divisional playoffs," MacCambridge said. "That is one of the best. If you had to make a list of the top 10, because of circumstances and stakes, and where you were in that game; it belongs on that list. It is one of the great goal-line stands of all-time. ... Lanier said we make our stand here, and they did make it. The play Bell made on Namath; Namath still talks about. Bell was not where he was supposed to be and he played him perfectly. That was huge."
For Bell, the goal-line stand ended the competitive phase of the contest.
"We got in the huddle, and Willie and all of us said, ‘No way are they scoring on us, we have to stop them here. Everything is on the line.' We shut them down and that was it, we stopped them. It took all the air out of the Jets right then. It was like taking a pin to the balloon. The rest was history."
Kansas City would go on to score the eventual game-winning touchdown on the following drive, buoyed by a 61-yard completion from Dawson to Taylor. Ironically, the play was drawn by Taylor in the dirt during the goal-line stand. Dawson then hit Gloster Richardson for a 19-yard scoring strike, giving the Chiefs a 13-6 advantage they would not relinquish. New York, the highest-scoring team in the AFL at 26.9 points per game, was home for the holidays.
The next stop would be the final game ever played between two AFL teams.
Oakland went 12-1-1 in the regular season and had already beaten Kansas City twice, earning home-field advantage. The Raiders had reached the AFL title game by dismantling the Oilers in the Divisional round, 56-7, giving them the confidence to arrive at Oakland Alameda County Coliseum with bags packed, ready for New Orleans.
At the outset, it appeared the Raiders had reason to do so. Oakland took an early 7-0 lead over the Chiefs, behind a dominant offense, led by the AFL's leading passer in Daryle Lamonica. Oakland also had the top receiving duo in football with Warren Wells and Fred Biletnikoff. Wells paced the circuit with 1,260 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, while Biletnikoff tallied 12, finishing tops in the AFL, respectively. When the teams met earlier in Kansas City, Oakland scored 27 points, the most the Chiefs allowed that season (two touchdowns were scored on interception returns).
As it turned out, the Raiders were done scoring for the day. Kansas City stifled Lamonica, forcing him out of the game after he threw for 167 yards on 15-of-39 passing with three interceptions. The 42-year-old George Blanda came in with hopes of a comeback but added another interception to the pile. Oakland mustered just 233 yards, even with the Chiefs losing four fumbles. Brown was a terror for the Raiders, registering 2.5 of Kansas City's four sacks. In the secondary, Thomas enjoyed two thefts along with Marsalis and Kearney gleefully grabbing one interception apiece.
The Chiefs won 17-7, beating the Raiders after going 1-7 in the previous eight meetings. It was the first time Oakland had been limited to single-digit points since Week 2 of the 1966 season.
For the second time in four years, Kansas City would represent the AFL in the Super Bowl.
The AFL Championship game provided the desired result, but it also left the Chiefs' most underrated player with three broken ribs.
Johnny Robinson, the all-important free safety, was left wondering whether he could play in the Super Bowl. For Robinson, a Louisiana native, missing the showdown against Minnesota would have been impossible to think of. Then again, most who saw him play would have also said it would be impossible to fathom Robinson not getting into the Hall of Fame.
Robinson was one of the great players in the 1960's, regardless of league. The quarterback of the secondary, Robinson was a catalyst for Kansas City throughout the decade and into the ‘70's. In the opinion of some, he was at the pinnacle of his era.
"He was the best defensive back I ever played against," San Diego Chargers and Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth, speaking to Todd Tobias for an article in 2012. "He's my man."
Robinson was the Ed Reed of his era, tracking throws with incredible consistency. He finished his 12-year career (10 years at safety, two at running back) as a seven-time Pro Bowler, six-time First-Team All-AFL/All-Pro selection, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-AFL team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's team of the Decade - 1960's, and resides on the Chiefs All-Time Team and in their Hall of Fame. The 6'1, 205-pounder also led the league with 10 interceptions twice, in 1966 and 1970.
Following his retirement in the summer of 1972, Robinson became a finalist for the Hall of Fame six times in the 1980's before falling out of favor with the voters.
"Robinson remains of all the guys, the guy who most deservedly belongs in the Hall of Fame," said Bob Moore, Kansas City's official team historian. "He is kind of forgotten because when people locally talk about who belongs in the Hall of Fame, they gravitate to Otis Taylor. Johnny should be the guy, he should be the guy people talk about because of all the things he did. He was the fourth pick in the draft and so consequently he was a major player in this league. ... He went to seven pro Bowls, was All-Decade, went to three championship teams and led the league in interceptions. All those things took place in the AFL, and that probably hurt him over the years."
Robinson was able to play through the pain in Super Bowl IV, recording an interception. The safety also recovered a fumble near midfield, leading to an iconic photo appearing in the following week's Sports Illustrated with Robinson sitting down, hand enthusiastically raised with only the index finger extended.
It was a snapshot capturing an emotion which could be felt by all those adorned with arrowheads and the legions cheering for them.
Before Robinson's celebration, the Vikings were overwhelming 12-point favorites. Minnesota came into the contest fresh off a 12-2 regular season, followed by victories over the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns to earn the NFL championship.
The Vikings were one of the most devastating teams in NFL history, sporting a 12-game winning streak from Week 2-13, the longest the league had seen in 35 years. Minnesota led the NFL in points scored with 379 (27.1/game) while allowing the least at 133 (9.5/game). The Vikings had the league MVP at quarterback in Joe Kapp and four Pro Bowlers on offense, including Kapp, center Mick Tingelhoff, receiver Gene Washington and tackle Grady Alderman. All were also first-team All-Pros, ironically with the exception of the MVP.
Minnesota was built to win much like Kansas City. Featuring a dominating front four known as the Purple People Eaters, the Vikings swallowed up ball-carriers and sacked quarterbacks with ease. The secondary consisted of ballhawks, including the league's all-time leader in interceptions, Paul Krause. Along with Krause, Earsell Mackbee and Bobby Bryant helped the Vikings total 30 interceptions.
It seemed Minnesota could stake its claim as the greatest defense of its generation, if not the modern era. All it had to do was beat the Chiefs, an AFL team waiting for its comeuppance.
On Jan. 11, 1970, ancient Tulane Stadium welcomed patrons mostly expecting a blowout. The NFL was still smarting after losing Super Bowl III, when the Colts were stunned by the upstart Jets. Many within the league believed it would be sweet revenge in the final game before the AFL-NFL merger took place.
Before the contest began, a man dressed as a Viking made an attempt to go skyward in a hot air balloon from the field as part of pregame festivities. The balloon malfunctioned, leaving the Viking to bounce around along the field before careening out of control and into the stands. It would prove a portrait of things to come.
Kansas City's offense cut through Minnesota without resistance, notching 16 points in the first half behind three Stenerud field goals and a touchdown by running back Mike Garrett, a play simply known as 65 Toss Power Trap. Meanwhile, the Vikings were being stymied at every turn on offense, failing to deal with an adjustment Stram had made in the week's preparations.
To deal with Tingelhoff, Stram went away from a traditional 4-3 alignment on the defensive front. Instead, he rotated Culp and Buchanan to play the role of 3-4 nose tackle, known at the time as a stunt 4-3 technique. By doing this, Tingelhoff could not get to the second level and pick off Lanier, Bell or Lynch, allowing them free range. The scheme was brilliant.
Minnesota managed 67 rushing yards all afternoon on 19 carries. When Kapp dropped to throw, he faced constant pressure which resulted in three sacks, one each from Mays, Brown and Buchanan. Kapp was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter on a rollout, when Brown clobbered him during a pass attempt. The NFL MVP finished the day 16-of-25 for 183 with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Washington, the All-Pro receiver matched up against Thomas, caught one pass for nine yards.
"They shut them down, period," Dawson said. "They knocked Kapp out, and he's a tough individual. ... At 16-0, that game was over. With our defense, there was no way they were coming back and scoring three touchdowns."
The Vikings also committed five turnovers, giving the Chiefs 13 takeaways in three postseason games. In those contests, Kansas City did not permit more than 240 total yards in any game, despite playing two top-ranked offenses.
When the dust settled, Kansas City beat Minnesota 23-7, securing a legacy 10 years in the making; for the Chiefs and the American Football League.
"The conventional wisdom was if the Jets and Colts played 10 times, the Colts would win nine times," MacCambridge said. "There was some justification for that because the Colts had so many turnovers in what we now call the red zone. There was a feeling that Super Bowl III was this Namath freakanomoly, which is why the Vikings were two-touchdown favorites. ... The Chiefs not only outcoached the Vikings, they dominated and physically manhandled them... It cemented the notion of parity between the leagues. Before Super Bowl III, there was a feeling the AFL was 10 years away from being on common ground. That was a common view until the Chiefs played Minnesota and were dominant.
"It finally cemented the respect the AFL always desired, at the exact moment it ceased to exist."
The debate of greatest defense ever will never rest.
Throughout the seasons and decades, many teams have put forth claims. The 1969 Vikings were one such group, along with the 1966 Green Bay Packers, 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1977 Atlanta Falcons, 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Pittsburgh gets most votes for the defense which lasted the test of time, and deservedly so. The Steel Curtain won four Super Bowls with a collection of talent that includes Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Jack Ham and Joe Greene. Still, no individual season stacks up with Kansas City in 1969.
Chicago reveled in a tremendous defense in 1985, winning the Super Bowl after a 15-1 record after shutting out the Rams and Giants in the NFC playoffs. The Bears were known for their aggressive "46" scheme under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, causing chaos for offensive lines. Generally, they are accepted as the best defensive unit for a single season.
With a closer look, Chicago ranked first in many categories including points allowed (12.4/game), yards allowed (258.4), turnovers (54), first downs (236), rushing yards against (82.4/game), and rushing touchdowns (6), along with a pair of shutouts. The Chiefs matched them with top-billing in all these statistics.
The Bears could not match Kansas City elsewhere, checking in third against the pass, sixth in yards per rushing attempt (3.7) and second in yards per pass attempt (4.8). Chicago also surrendered over 300 total yards seven times in the regular season, while the Chiefs did so twice. Personnel wise, there is no argument. The Bears had three Hall of Famers in Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary compared to Kansas City's five.
The 1966 Packers were a terrific team. Under Vince Lombardi, Green Bay allowed a league-low 11.6 points per game and amassed a shutout. The defense does not have the merits of Kansas City's though, ranking a mediocre sixth against the run and permitting a half-dozen games of over 300 total yards. In the NFL Championship game that season, the Packers gave up 28 points to the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2000, the Ravens suffocated offenses. Yet, Baltimore was the second-ranked defense that season, behind the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens also finished eighth against the pass, seventh in yards per attempt, second in first downs allowed and second in yards per play.
The 1976 Steelers were sensational and notched five shutouts. Problem is, that group did not reach the Super Bowl, even with five offensive Hall of Famers. The 1977 Falcons and the unit known as the "Gritz Blitz" are largely ignored because they failed to reach the playoffs.
So why was Kansas City's magnificent defense forgotten? There are plenty of theories.
"The Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters happen to be a brand, the same with the Steel Curtain from the same period of time," Lanier said. "Kansas City had a different culture from a team and community standpoint that didn't have a writer that attempted to brand. Not to be in anyway negative to the Chicago Bears and the video they put out, but in 1967, ‘68 and '69, with men from historically black colleges, we had people much more serious about behavior because you felt you were under the microscope. You didn't feel you could express in other ways that could detract how you could be viewed as young men from historically black colleges. ... As you look back, change was going on from a social standpoint."
Perhaps, the Chiefs were simply a victim of circumstances. Maybe they picked the wrong time to win a Super Bowl for the sake of history.
"I think it gets lost on one side because the merger was in 1970, introducing the conferences and having the three teams moving over," MacCambridge said. "On the other side you have the first two years of the Super Bowl with Lombardi's dynasty and Super Bowl III with Namath, the Jets, and arguably the biggest upset in pro football history. I think that has a lot to do with why the Chiefs are forgotten. The temptation is to say they only won one Super Bowl, but of course the ‘85 Bears only won one, so it's not just that."
At Arrowhead Stadium, there remains a single championship flag flying over the masses dressed in red. It looms over the venue, a constant reminder of what once was.
Of the 39 players recognized in the Chiefs Ring of Honor, there are eight of the 1969 defensive starters included. Stram's name is also present, along with Steadman and Hunt. In 2010 and 2011, the ring had been replaced by a modern video ring with the team honoring its past within the stadium. The ring's alteration was met with disapproval from fans and in 2012, it was restored to its original glory.
"People who are not old enough, they want to know what it was about and what it was like in Kansas City," Dawson said. "It was a happening. Nothing had ever happened like that, winning a Super Bowl. In ‘85 when the Royals won the World Series, that was big too, but going to the Super Bowl against the Packers and then going back and winning, it generated a great amount of enthusiasm. ... It continues to this day."
Dawson would know. He still does the radio broadcasts, recently completing his 30th season behind the microphone. In September, a Kansas City bridge was named after him. Within the Midwestern city, the 1969 group remains magical, the fans all indebted to the men who brought them glory. Outside of it, they have wrongly become just another Super Bowl champion.
The 1969 Chiefs were a great team. Its defense is the greatest.