January 4 1970: Kansas City Chiefs 17 – Oakland Raiders 7
In January 1970, the Chiefs team travelled to Oakland, in what both team knew would be the final ever game in the American Football League.
An agreement had already been made, that the AFL and NFL would merge from the following season. The only remaining matter to be resolved was for the two leagues to confirm their champions, who would then meet in Super Bowl IV. The two teams had met at the Kansas City Municipal Stadium earlier in the year, with the Raiders winning narrowly. Then they had met again in Oakland in the last game of the season, with the West division on the line – the Raiders once again won narrowly to take the title.
However, the Chiefs then went to New York for a playoff game where, as outsiders, they beat the reigning Super Bowl champions the Jets, to set up a third and final meeting with their Oakland rivals.
KC success in reaching the Championship game was based heavily on its wonderful defence, which had led the league in giving up under 13 points per game, including twice holding opponents to nil. But this wasn’t obvious as the game got underway, as the Raiders marched downfield on the game’s opening drive. Quarterback Daryle Lamonica drove the team to the goal-line, and running back Charlie Smith scored from short range to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
The Chiefs offence wasn’t firing at all, with a string of three-and-outs, and only two first downs in total, by late in the second quarter. But finally, the Chiefs’ leader Len Dawson put a drive together, with completions to Otis Taylor and Frank Pitts getting the team down to the 1 yard line, allowing running back Wendell Hayes to take it home and tie up the score at the interval.
In the third quarter, the Raiders looked the likeliest team to get the next score. However, Lamonica left the field with an injury, and his replacement George Blanda threw a pick to defensive back Emmitt Thomas. It was no surprise that Thomas came up with the clutch play – he had led the AFL in interceptions this regular season with 9 picks. After going undrafted in 1966, he had made himself a fixture in the Chiefs team – he ended up with a haul of 63 interceptions in a career of 188 games, all of them as a Kansas City player. His number 18 jersey has been retired by the franchise, and in 1986 his name was added to the Chiefs Hall of Fame. Thomas is still involved with the team to this day, having been the defensive backs coach for almost a decade.
Thomas’ interception gave KC the ball, but it was on their own 5 yard line. Len Dawson managed to make the Raiders pay for the turnover, as long passing plays to Otis Taylor and Robert Holmes moved the ball right to the other end of the field. Running back Holmes then finished off the drive from 5 yards out to give the Chiefs the lead for the first time in the match.
The Raiders pushed hard in the fourth quarter to try to level the game. But three consecutive drives were killed by interceptions made by the rampant Chiefs defence. Jim Kearney and Jim Marsalis took a pick each, and then Emmitt Thomas caught his second interception of the game, which he returned 62 yards, deep into Oakland territory. This put the Chiefs in position to stretch their lead with a Jan Stenerud field goal.
The Raiders still had another chance to fight back, but Lamonica couldn’t get a pass to stick in any of his receivers’ hands. Time ran out with the Chiefs 17-7 winners, and headed to their second Super Bowl.
Well, we know what happened next – just for once, a happy ending for Chiefs fans! At Tulane stadium in New Orleans, the Minnesota Vikings offence was throttled – three more interceptions (one of them inevitably to Emmitt Thomas), as the good guys ran out 23-7 winners.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The NFL was holding its Championship Game on the same day – the Minnesota Vikings were firm favourites, and were playing the Cleveland Browns, who they had demolished 51-3 earlier in the regular season. Although they didn’t score quite as many this time, they raced into an early lead as QB Joe Kapp rushed for one touchdown and passed for another within the first quarter, and then cruised to a comfortable 27-7 win.
Elsewhere in the world:
As the new decade starts, the Beatles are at number 1 in the album charts, with ‘Abbey Road’. And it’s tough luck if you still have any half-crowns (that’s one-eighth of a pound, for you kids out there!) as they are no longer legal tender.