December 17 1972: Kansas City Chiefs 17 – Atlanta Falcons 14
The last regular season game of 1972 saw both the Chiefs and Falcons playing for pride: with 7 and 6 records for each team, a victory would secure a winning record for the season, but a place in the playoffs was already out of reach. The game would be a low scoring one, but each of the five scoring plays would see the lead change hands.
A scoreless first quarter set the tone for a game where defences were largely on top (the Chiefs’ secondary kept Atlanta quiet all day, with Jim Marsalis and Mike Sensibaugh both chipping in with interceptions). Kansas City was able to finally get the scoreboard moving with a Jan Stenerud field goal, but the Falcons hit back quickly with an Art Malone rush for the first touchdown of the game and a 7-3 lead at half time.
The only score of the third quarter came at the end of a Chiefs drive, which was finished by a pass from quarterback Len Dawson to Otis Taylor. Taylor, who spent his whole career at KC, had been selected to the Pro Bowl the previous year, and was on course to be selected again this year as the Chiefs’ leading wide receiver. He is the Chiefs’ wide receiver with most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for the franchise (second behind tight end Tony Gonzalez in both categories).
Chasing the game into the fourth quarter, the Atlanta Falcons managed to take the lead for the second time when quarterback Ken Burrow found Bob Berry with a 17 yard pass. The home team now had a 4 point lead to hold onto with time running out… but it didn’t prove to be enough. The Chiefs drove down the field one last time, and Len Dawson managed to hit Ed Podolak from short range, to give KC a 17-14 lead that they were able to hold till the finish.
Podolak was another player who spent his whole career with Kansas City – like Otis Taylor he was part of the Superbowl IV winning team, and also like Taylor, he has been inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame. Podolak was the team’s leading rusher in four straight years (1970-1-2-3), and because of his contributions as a receiver and a returner, he piled up well over 8,000 all-purpose yards over his career.
The result left the Chiefs with an 8 and 6 record to close the season, missing the playoffs – which was something the team would have to get used to for the next decade. The season was even more disappointing for the Falcons, and especially for their running back Dave Hampton: in this game, he reached exactly 1,000 yards, the first player to reach this mark for Atlanta… but on the very next play he was tackled for a 5 yard loss, and finished the season on 995 yards!
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
Sanders wins it for the Lions with two touchdowns – but this was long before the era when Barry Sanders was lighting it up in Detroit! This was tight end Charlie Sanders, scoring his only two touchdowns of the season, to hold the Lions to a 34-17 win over the LA Rams.
Elsewhere in the world:
At the time of this game, Apollo 17 was headed back to Earth from the moon – it wasn’t realised at the time, but this would be the last of the Apollo missions, and to this date no man has walked on the moon since astronaut Eugene Cernan over 40 years ago.