December 16 1973
Kansas City Chiefs 33 – San Diego Chargers 6
We start the 2016 season by hosting our long-standing divisional rivals the San Diego Chargers. Back in 1973 the equivalent fixture was the final game of the regular season. Neither team could claim a playoff spot by this point, but a win for the Chiefs would at least ensure a winning record for the season.
The game was notable for the quarterbacks NOT on the field. For the Chiefs, veteran and hero of Superbowl IV, Len Dawson, had been inured mid-season, allowing his long-term back-up Mike Livingston a run as starter. And for the Chargers, legendary passer Johnny Unitas was on the bench: he was synonymous with the great Baltimore Colts team, with whom he won the NFL championship three times in the 50’s and 60’s as well as Superbowl V. He had moved to San Diego at the start of this season in the hoping of prolonging his career but the season wasn’t a success and he retired shortly after this game.
Unitas’ replacement on this day, rookie Dan Fouts, would turn out to be no mean player himself – elected to the Hall of Fame after spending all of his 15 years in the NFL with San Diego – but with 97 passing yards and no touchdowns, this wasn’t to be his finest day.
The Chiefs opened their account early with running back Ed Podolak punching home from 1 yard out, before KC and SD traded field goals to end the quarter at 10-3. Chiefs’ kicker Jan Stenerud got another field goal in the second quarter, then another in the third. Norwegian Jan Stenerud was the rock solid kicker for the Chiefs for years – his 48 yard field goals was the opening score of our win in Superbowl IV, and would remain the longest successful kick in a Superbowl for over twenty years. He was the first kicker to be selected for the Hall of Fame, and his number 3 jersey is only of only ten to have been retired by the Chiefs.
After another Chargers field goal, running back Jeff Kinney darted home from close range to extend KC’s lead. Kinney had been a first round pick in the previous year’s rookie draft, after his star performance in college in scoring four touchdowns to help the Nebraska Cornhuskers to beat the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners on Thanksgiving Day 1971 – but he never really found a place in the NFL, starting just 19 teams in his five year career. This touchdown was his only score of the 1973 season.
The Chiefs were now cruising, and extended their lead further in the fourth quarter courtesy of a third rushing touchdown, this time from Wendell Hayes. After playing for the Cowboys and Broncos early in his career, Hayes settled down with the Chiefs and played the final seven years of his career in KC, starting over 50 games and scoring 24 touchdowns. One of those touchdowns, in January 1971, was our opening score of the AFL Championship in which we defeated the Oakland Raiders and went on to our first Superbowl win.
That just left enough time for Stenerud to slot over one final field goal to bring his person total for the day to 15 points and to put the final nail in the Chargers’ coffin. The 33 – 6 scoreline was the team’s largest winning margin of the year – and is a score I’d happily take again in this year’s opener!
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The big news of the day came from the Shea Stadium in New York City, where Buffalo Bills running back OJ Simpson had a massive day, rushing for 200 yards and a touchdown. This took his season total to 2,003 yards, making him the first running back to ever pass the 2,000 yard barrier. Two thousand yards has only ever been broken six times since then (name the six players if you can!) – and all six times have come in 16 game seasons; back in OJ’s day there were only 14.
Elsewhere in the world:
Paula Radcliffe was born on December 17 – a medallist at World and European Championships in a range of long distance races, her Marathon world record time set back in 2003 still stands over a decade later.