October 24 1971: Kansas City Chiefs 27 – Washington Redskins 20
Following the AFL-NFL merger, 1971 saw the first ever meeting between the Chiefs and the Redskins. It was a high octane match-up between two in-form teams: Washington had raced to a 5 and 0 start to the season – while after losing their opener, KC had won four straight games, including a mauling of the Steelers the previous week. Small wonder that the crowd at the Municipal Stadium (51,000) was a record for any sporting event in Kansas City to that date.
The game started badly for the Chiefs. The Redskins defence was on song, and held the Chiefs’ star quarterback Len Dawson to only a single completion – and negative yardage – over the whole course of the first half. Washington’s offence was also playing well, with quarterback Billy Kilmer and wide receiver Charley Taylor (both former first round draft picks) linking up to provide the main danger. They combined seven times in the first half, for 125 yards and two scores. The first of these opened the scoring, while the other was a killer blow at the very end of the second quarter. In between, a couple of Jan Stenerud field goals was all that KC could muster, and they went into the dressing room at the break down by 17 to 6.
However, Charley Taylor’s second touchdown was his last play of the game – he was tackled hard by the Chiefs’ Emmitt Thomas, and was unable to take part in the second half. The Redskins had to change their focus of attack, with limited success.
At the same time, the third quarter saw the Chiefs’ offence spark into life. Dawson had been very unproductive, but coach Hank Stram encouraged him to keep going long and trying for the big plays – slowly but surely they started to come off for the home team, who clawed their way back into the game. Dawson passed for over 200 yards in the second half, in stark contrast to what had gone on earlier.
Dawson led the Chiefs on an 87 yard drive in the 3rd quarter, capped by a 25 yard scoring pass to wide receiver Otis Taylor. Early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins got close to the Chiefs end zone, but scuffed a third down snap and had to settle for a field goal and a 20 to 13 lead. With the clock starting to tick down, KC then managed a pass-heavy drive downfield – which sparked into life when Dawson found Otis Taylor for a long gain on a 3rd and 18 play, and was finished off with a 15 yard completion into the end zone for receiver Elmo Wright.
This brought the scores level, and the Chiefs had possession again soon after. With the Redskins watching for another Dawson bomb, Stram called six consecutive rushing plays instead to nudge the ball downfield. The QB then delivered the killer blow by finding Otis Taylor in the end zone for his second score of the game, grabbed under tight coverage from the Washington cornerback.
Taylor is one of the all-time greats for the team – drafted in 1965, he spent his entire 11 year pro-football career with the Chiefs, scoring 59 touchdowns in 137 games – none more important than the 46 yard catch and run which sealed victory in Superbowl IV.
The Redskins had one last possession, but were unable to string together a drive, and time ran out with the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 winners in a game where they had looked dead and buried at the half. The win ended the final unbeaten record in the NFL, ands set the Chiefs on course for a division winning 10-3-1 record.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The San Diego Chargers defence managed to keep up and coming Buffalo running star O J Simpson out of the end zone. On the Chargers side, journeyman wide receiver Billy Parks only scored 7 touchdowns in his whole professional career – but two of them came on this day as San Diego cruised to a 20-3 win.
Elsewhere in the world:
This week in UK politics, the British parliament voted to join the European Economic Community (whatever happened to that…), while a new political party called the Democratic Unionist Party was launched in Northern Ireland (whatever happened to them…