Two old American Football League rivals, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, play on the NFL’s schedule this weekend, and this week’s Throwback Thursday feature will travel back in time to 1967, when these two clubs met to decide not only the AFL championship for the 1966 season, but also who would represent the upstart league in the very first AFL-NFL Championship game, which of course, was the very first Super Bowl. The game was originally scheduled for December 26th, the day after Christmas, but when merger talks between the two leagues were completed, the new title game was created and this matchup was moved to New Year’s Day.
The Chiefs, under coach Hank Stram, were a powerhouse AFL team that year, blending a creative offensive attack with a menacing defense to post an 11-2-1 record, dominating the Western Division. Stram was a true innovator, from his team’s use of their unique “choir huddle” to their use of different formations and motion to confuse opposing defenses. The Bills were two-time defending AFL champs and a league dynasty at the time, but the ’66 season had been a bit of a struggle. Lou Saban, who coached the Bills to their consecutive titles, left abruptly following the previous season in a dispute with owner Ralph Wilson, and his top assistant, Joel Collier, took over as head man. Collier did a decent job of keeping the Bills afloat even though they were decimated by injuries to the defense, while quarterback Jack Kemp was getting up in years. Also, even though he’s widely considered one of the top defensive minds in pro football history, Collier was a bit in over his head as a head coach. The media’s feelings about this game showed up in the fact that even though Buffalo was a two-time defending champ and the game was being played in their home stadium, they were three point underdogs.
There was an omen of sorts for the Bills on the game’s first play, as they fumbled the opening kickoff, which the Chiefs recovered, setting up a touchdown pass from K.C.’s veteran QB, Len Dawson, to tight end Fred Arbanas. The Bills, trying valiantly to play like defending champs, countered with a 69 yard touchdown throw from Kemp to Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion, to tie the score. However, that would be the Bills’ only shining moment in this game. They turned the ball over three more times and the Chiefs’ offense made them pay, riding the passing of Dawson and the running of Mike Garrett, who scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns, to an easy 31-7 win. The Bills were clearly a team in decline, starting to show signs of age, and their fortunes dipped considerably in the years to follow. The Chiefs were just getting started. Although they lost to Green Bay in that first Super Bowl, they remained an AFL power the rest of the decade and a few years later stunned the Minnesota Vikings to win their first (and only) Super Bowl.
QB Len Dawson calls the play in the Chiefs’ unique “Choir Huddle”