After winning seasons in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968, the Kansas City Chiefs were an acknowledged powerhouse of the AFL. Under the management of Hank Stram, they had already secured another winning season in 1969 by the time the Denver Broncos came to town – but they still needed another win to book their place in the playoffs.
A quiet first quarter saw a Jan Stenerud field goal for the Chiefs as the only score. But early in the second quarter, a Chiefs drive was rounded off by a Warren McVea rush from short range, as the home side stretched into a 10 point lead.
Running back McVea had been in the public eye as a college student, when he became the first African-American student to be admitted to play football for the previously all-white Houston Cougars. In 1966, in the first game played on artificial turf, he was on the receiving end of a 99-yard passing play – he ended up being named an All-American twice, so the pressure of expectation clearly didn’t get to him! After being drafted to the Bengals in 1968, he was quickly traded to KC, where he scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,000 yards over his four years with the team.
After a field goal for the Broncos (the only three pointer made from five attempts, in a troubled day for Denver’s kicker), the Chiefs went down the field and repeated their previous score – once again a short rush, and once again taken home by McVea. At the half, the Chiefs led their divisional rivals 17-3.
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Broncos had to push hard to get back into the game, and the Kansas City defence made the pressure tell when defensive back Emmitt Thomas took an interception 45 yards back for a touchdown. This is one of 5 pick sixes – and one of a staggering 58 interceptions – made by Thomas over his 13 years as a Chief. The Hall-of-Famer is still the defensive backs coach with the team, and so he has had a direct hand in the success of Eric Berry and Marcus Peters among others.
Just when it looked safe for us to relax, the Broncos suddenly got their act together, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns in quick succession. A clear 24-3 lead had suddenly become a narrow 24-17 lead, and Denver took a short kick-off in the hope of recovering the ball and having a chance to tie up the game. It didn’t quite work out like that.
In fact, the ball went to linebacker Bobby Bell, who made the only return of his stellar career – and took it back over 60 yards for a game-clinching score. Never making a rush or reception, this was the only non-defensive play of any kind throughout his 12 seasons in Kansas City.
After being drafted by the Chiefs in 1963, Bell played every game for 12 straight seasons at a very high level. From 1964 to 1969 he was selected for the AFL end of season All-Star game – and then after the AFL-NFL merger, he was selected to the next three Pro-Bowls. Bell was chosen to enter the Hall of Fame in 1983, and like Emmitt Thomas, his jersey number has been retired by the Chiefs.
This win was enough to secure post-season football for the team, which ended as we know with a win in the 4th Superbowl.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The Boston Patriots quickly found themselves 9-0 down away in Miami, but turned it around in great style. Helped by three Mike Taliaferro touchdown passes, they beat the Dolphins comfortably, by 38 points to 23.
Elsewhere in the world:
Shortly before this game, John Lennon handed back his OBE, in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Vietnam War. And shortly after, the first Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet took off from Seattle.