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Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV win ranked among most-underappreciated

The 1969 Super Bowl matchup was one for the ages.

January 11, 1970; Super Bowl IV- Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On Thursday, CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo published a ranking of the six most-overlooked Super Bowl champions. In his list headlined by the 1976 Oakland Raiders, 1984 San Francisco 49ers and 1998 Denver Broncos, the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs are ranked sixth.

6. 1969 Chiefs

• Final record: 14-3
• Roster included eight Hall of Fame players
• Defeated the previous two AFL champions and the reigning NFL champion in the postseason

The ‘68 Jets live in infamy as the first AFL team to defeat the NFL in the Super Bowl. But the Chiefs’ 23-7 victory over the mighty Vikings in Super Bowl IV (the final game before the two leagues merged) was equally impressive. After dethroning Broadway Joe and the rest of the Jets in the playoffs, the Chiefs edged John Madden’s Raiders to capture their second AFL title in four years. Against the NFL champion Vikings, Kansas City forced five turnovers while holding Minnesota to just 239 yards. Mike Garrett and Frank Pitts led a Chiefs rushing attack that churned out 151 yards on a muddy track, while Len Dawson’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Otis Taylor put the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl win on ice.

In addition to owner Lamar Hunt and coach Hank Stram, the ‘69 Chiefs boasted eight other Hall of Famers in Dawson, linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, cornerback Emmitt Thomas, safety Johnny Robinson and kicker Jan Stenerud. Kansas City’s star-studded defense allowed just 19 points in three playoff games after allowing an average of less than 13 points per game during the regular season.


So why has this championship game been overlooked?

The winner of Super Bowl IV will forever be in the shadow of the New York Jets, whose quarterback Joe Namath personally guaranteed his team would defeat the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The NFL Hall of Fame article about the game describes the situation perfectly.

In reality, the Super Bowl began with Joe Namath. Nit-pickers will point to Vince Lombardi, whose Green Bay Packers won the first two games in the series between the champions of the National Football League and the American Football League. Technically, that is correct. But the Packers won those two games with such remarkable ease, defeating Kansas City 35-10 and Oakland 33-14, that there was little drama. It was men versus boys, times two.

The Game did not become The Event until Namath led the New York Jets to a 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Broadway Joe, the roguish quarterback whose talent was exceeded only by his swagger, brought some welcome spice to the championship game. Millions flocked to their television sets to watch. Thirty years later, they still are watching.

“I don’t know that a day goes by that I don’t get reminded of that game,” Namath says. “I never get tired of talking about it. It’s a memory that never gets old.”

So to most observers, the Chiefs — whose against-the-odds victory a year later evened the AFL-NFL series at two games apiece — simply proved that the Jets’ victory in 1968 wasn’t a fluke.

But there was more to Kansas City’s victory than that.

DeArdo’s reference to the “mighty” Vikings is accurate — but doesn’t fully describe how dominant the Vikings had been in the senior league that season. They had led the NFL in both points scored and allowed — and on defense, had allowed 55 fewer points (in a 14-game season) than their nearest competitor. The Chiefs had also dominated the rival AFL, ranking second in offense and first in defense — and like the Vikings, possessed a defense that put others to shame, allowing 65 fewer points than any other team.

In the Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ defense held — and the Vikings’ did not. The Chiefs scored more points than the Vikings had allowed to all but one other team that season — and became just the third team to score more than 14 points against Minnesota in 1969.

In the years since then, there’s never been a Super Bowl matchup quite like it — and the Chiefs dominated the game from beginning to end. So it’s not just that Namath stole the headlines of the era. Super Bowl IV was also one of the greatest championship matchups of all time — and as winners of the game, the 1969 Chiefs deserve more credit than they receive.