Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Jets Are Grounded

29 Oct

It’s the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs taking on the lowly New York Jets on this week’s NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll zero in on a time when both of these clubs were powerhouses. It’s December 20, 1969 at frigid Shea Stadium for a divisional playoff game to begin the chase to see who will be the last American Football League champion before the league merges into the NFL. The Jets are defending champions, having shocked the world by upsetting the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The stage is set for the Jets – they are reigning champs, have home field advantage for the title game and most of all have their swashbuckling quarterback, Broadway Joe Namath, leading their offense. The Chiefs, however, enter the game with a better overall record, and, having beaten New York in the regular season, are installed as favorites to win.

The teams are both guided by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Namath and K.C.’s Len Dawson, but on this day, the cold weather and a pair of ferocious defensive units take command and dictate play. Scoring in the first three quarters is limited to field goals. Jim Turner boots one to give the Jets an early 3-0 lead, while Jan Stenerud answers with a three-pointer in each of the next 2 quarters to put his Chiefs ahead 6-3. New York gets a golden opportunity to crack the end zone when Kansas City cornerback Emmitt Thomas is called for pass interference in the end zone, setting up the Jets with first and goal at the one yard line. The Chiefs’ stout defense, particularly their linebacking corps, takes charge at that point. Future Hall of Famer Willie Lanier stuffs two running plays, while Jim Lynch and Bobby Bell combine to force Namath to throw the ball away on third down and inches, forcing another Turner field goal to tie the game. It was a dismal performance overall by Namath. He completed only 14 of 40 passes against the Chief defense and was intercepted 3 times, twice by Jim Marsalis.

Dawson finally musters up a drive that ends in 6 points when he hits Gloster Richardson from 19 yards out to supply the Chiefs with their final victorious margin of 13-6. The Chiefs, who were Western Division runnerups to Oakland, extract revenge on the Raiders the following week by beating them 17-7 to capture the final AFL title. They uphold the AFL pride that the Jets had gained the previous year a week later by upsetting the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.


It’s a cold, rough day for Joe Namath (12) and the Jets

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: An AFL Preview

22 Oct

The Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears face off on this week’s NFL schedule, which leads us to travel back to November 2, 1958 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was a wild game in L.A.’s Coliseum between these 2 clubs that saw an offensive explosion that wasn’t a common sight in those days, as the Rams won 41-35. Actually, the Rams were noted for high-flying offense in those days but on this day the usually defensive-minded Bears joined the show too. Chicago’s defense started the scoring onslaught when Erich Barnes intercepted a Bill Wade pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Wade and the Rams took control from there. The L.A. signal caller led drives that produced 4 touchdowns and a field goal, as he ran 3 yards for one score, hit Tommy Wilson and Leon Clarke with touchdown throws and saw Wilson run 9 yards to the end zone for another six-pointer. Those 4 TDs and a field goal gave the Rams a resounding 31-7 lead, and it looked like they were on there way to a one-sided victory. When Chicago QB Zeke Bratkowski hit Bill McColl from 10 yards out to cut the score to 31-14 at halftime, it was a harbinger of things to come. He hit Willie Galimore for a 12 yard score early in the second half, but the Rams got the momentum back with another Wilson touchdown run and a field goal to finish up the third quarter with what appeared to be a comfortable 41-21 lead. The proud Bears weren’t about to lay down, however. Rick Casares, who had 23 carries for 113 yards on the day, ran in from 5 yards out and Bratkowski found McColl open again for a 25 yard scoring connection. The clock ran out on the visitors from the Windy City from that point and the Rams escaped with the win.

One Ram player who had an outstanding afternoon that day, although he never reached the end zone, was halfback Jon Arnett, who carried the ball, caught passes and returned kicks for a massive 298 total yards from scrimmage. Wade’s performance must have gotten the attention of Chicago owner/coach George “Papa Bear” Halas. He later traded for Wade and was rewarded when the signal caller guided his Bears to the NFL championship in 1963. The offensive display the Rams put on was somewhat of a look into the future. Their coach, future Hall of Famer Sid Gillman, became the first head coach of the fledgling American Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, where he was the architect of some unstoppable offensive attacks that were a large part of the high-scoring attraction that the new league’s fans enjoyed. Gillman’s Chargers, who moved to San Diego in 1961, reached the AFL title game 5 times in the league’s first 6 years and won it all in 1963 behind stars like Jack Kemp, John Hadl, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln and Lance Alworth.


Rams’ Tommy Wilson had a huge day (Daryl Norenberg photo)

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The “Oilers” Return To Houston

15 Oct

For this week’s NFL Throwback Thursday feature we’ll go back to 2002 for a clash between the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, who meet on this week’s schedule. Being one of the youngest franchises in the NFL, this is the first time the Texans have been featured in a weekly TBT post here. The importance of the game lies in the fact that the Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers prior to abandoning the city to move to Tennessee, were returning to their old home for the first time since leaving in 1997. The Texans, the newly minted expansion franchise, were closing out their first season against their division rivals and were hungry to give their fans some measure of revenge in the game. The Titans had beaten them earlier in the season at Memphis in a relatively close 17-10 battle, so there was reason for optimism.

As far as how the game went, it was pretty forgettable. The Texans had valiantly played most of their opponents closely all year, an accomplishment for a new team, and also racked up 4 wins along the way. This game was no different, but Houston, led by prize rookie quarterback David Carr, couldn’t muster any kind of offense at all against the tough Tennessee defense. The Texans’ defense played strong also, and the only first half scoring was a pair of Joe Nedney field goals to give the Titans a 6-0 lead. Houston managed a third quarter field goal to pull with 3, but in the final quarter, the only player to have any success for either team, running back Eddie George, scored on a 4 yard touchdown run to give the Titans a 13-3 lead that wound up being the final score. George managed 102 yards rushing on 25 carries on the day.

Because the two clubs were placed in the same division, the AFC South, they had to play each other twice a year. Still, maybe because of the 5 years that Houston went without a team and the rebranding of their old team as the Titans in Tennessee (they remained the “Tennessee Oilers” for 2 seasons), there wasn’t a great deal of hatred generated by the rivals or their fans. Tennessee dominated play for the first 2 seasons, but the Texans finally did capture a measure of pride in the 2004 season by sweeping both games from the Titans.



Titans’ stars RB Eddie George, QB Steve “Air” McNair


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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Shocking The Future Champs

08 Oct

The Battle of Pennsylvania takes place on this week’s NFL schedule as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Philadelphia Eagles. The two clubs also took each other on in the penultimate game of their respective 1960 seasons on December 11th of that year, and that is the contest we feature for this week’s Throwback Thursday post. The Eagles were enjoying one of their best seasons in a long time, while Pittsburgh was slogging along to another in a line of mediocre to bad years. It was unknown at the time of course, but Philly would go on to win the league’s championship later that year as they caught lightning in a bottle behind the quarterback play of aging veteran Norm Van Brocklin. With a 9-1 record they entered Forbes Field on this day as heavy favorites over the Steelers, sporting a losing 4-5-1 mark. In a shocking turn of events, Pittsburgh rode a spectacular performance from future Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson to jump out to a 27-0 lead by halftime in the game. Johnson, who rushed for 182 yards on 19 carries on the afternoon, scored on scampers of 7 and 87 yards and added a halfback option touchdown pass of 15 yards to flanker Buddy Dial, all after quarterback Bobby Layne had opened the scoring with a 6 yard rushing touchdown.

The stunned Eagles replaced Van Brocklin with Sonny Jurgensen in the second half and after a scoreless third quarter the young red-headed signal caller restored some pride in his club in the final stanza. He led drives that saw him complete scoring tosses of 53 yards to Timmy Brown and 19 yards to Tommy McDonald, while Brown also ran 7 yards to paydirt to bring Philly to within 27-21. Brown would finish with 3 catches for 112 yards to lead all receivers on the day but the Eagle comeback fell short and the 27-21 score held up. Johnson’s big day was the highlight of the winning effort for the Steelers, but he wasn’t alone in contributing to the win. Tom Tracy added 95 yards on 22 carries and Dial totaled 6 grabs for 85 yards and his TD, while Layne, although he was intercepted 3 times, was responsible for a pair of scores. Van Brocklin would come back to eventually lead the Eagles over Green Bay in the title game, then go out on top as he retired after the season to take the head coaching job of the NFL’s new expansion team, the Minnesota Vikings, in 1961.


 Steeler QB Bobby Layne, sans face mask, sails a pass over Eagle defenders (Getty Images/Neil Leifer)



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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Paul Warfield Curse

01 Oct

The Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns lock horns on this week’s NFL schedule, and we’ll travel back to a game played between these 2 clubs on December 28, 1969 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was a divisional round playoff game between the Browns, the Century Division champs, and the Capitol Division titlist Cowboys. The NFL, in it’s last couple of seasons prior to the merger with the AFL, was divided into 4 divisions – Century, Capitol, Coastal and Central. Both clubs were perennial winners in the decade of the 1960s, although Dallas was beginning to gain the reputation as a team that “couldn’t win the big one”. Despite being molded into a perennial winning franchise by coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys had suffered crushing defeats in the prior 3 years’ playoffs. Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beat them twice in the NFL championship game and the Browns upset them in a divisional playoff game in 1968. The rematch in this 1969 clash would be a repeat of the previous season, and a certain nemesis that haunted the Cowboys was to be a major factor again. That nemesis was Browns’ wide receiver Paul Warfield. He had been a thorn in Landry’s side in the clubs’ two prior meetings – catching 7 passes for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns in Cleveland victories. Warfield again burned the Cowboy defense in this game. Although he didn’t reach the end zone, he racked up 99 yards on 8 receptions to lead all receivers in a resounding 38-14 win by the Browns.

Cleveland had control of this contest from the opening whistle as quarterback Bill Nelsen engineered drives that resulted in a pair of short rushing touchdowns from fullback Bo Scott, a scoring throw to tight end Milt Morin and a Don Cockroft field goal as the Cotton Bowl visitors built a 24-0 lead in the third quarter. Craig Morton, battling to get Dallas’ offense moving, finally got his club on the scoreboard with a 2 yard QB sneak, but after Leroy Kelly scored on a short run, his struggles reached the point of no return as Cleveland cornerback Walt Sumner intercepted him and ran it back 88 yards for a gut-punching touchdown to open up a 38-7 Browns’ lead. In what was to become an omen for the future, Landry turned to his backup signal caller, Roger Staubach, to salvage some dignity in the game. Roger the Dodger guided the Cowboys on a scoring drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel to complete the game’s scoring.

It took a few years and a couple more cringeworthy postseason losses before Dallas finally overcame the “can’t win the big one” stigma. In Super Bowl VI in 1971, they routed the young Miami Dolphins 24-3 to give Landry his first championship. To finally end their postseason failure string was one thing, but it also came with a cherry on top. Warfield, now a member of the Dolphins, was held to a pedestrian 4 catches for 39 yards in the win.


Browns’ QB Bill Nelsen surveys the defense (Getty Images)

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Double Doldrums

24 Sep

The NFL is on to week 3 of their schedule, and a matchup on the slate of games has the Detroit Lions taking on the Arizona Cardinals. Our Throwback Thursday feature is a game between these 2 franchises that was played on December 6, 1959, as both teams were winding down on seasons they couldn’t wait to get to the end of. Both were once proud NFL powerhouses that had fallen on hard times lately. Detroit, a club that won 3 titles in the 1950s and could be realistically put on a pedestal as the team of the decade, entered this contest with a lowly 2-7-1 record. The Cardinals were in even worse shape. Based in Chicago at the time, they were finishing off a dismal final season in the Windy City. Unable to compete with their neighboring team, the Bears, the Cards were slated to move to St. Louis for the 1960 season. Their 2-8 record entering the game was indicative of a franchise that was going nowhere. So basically this week’s TBT featured game is a contest with little historic significance between a couple of late ’50s bottom feeders.

The Lions, whose championship pedigree was much more recent than the Cardinals, reached back into that winning history to club their soon-to-be-leaving Chicago opponents, 45-21. Lion quarterback Tobin Rote, who had led his team to an NFL title just 2 years prior in 1957 and would later guide the San Diego Chargers to an AFL title in 1963, opened the scoring with a 9 yard touchdown run. They added a field goal, and in the second quarter the defense pitched in when Yale Lary scooped up a fumble and rambled 28 yards to paydirt to widen Detroit’s lead to 17-0. One Cardinal who refused to be disheartened was halfback John David Crow. He scored from a yard out to get his team on the board, but Rote got the points back with a 13 yard TD pass to Dave Middleton, giving the Lions a 24-7 lead going into the half. The Lions went to backup QB Earl Morrall in the second half, and he responded by hitting Jim Gibbons for a 33 yard score. When Terry Barr scampered 32 yards for a touchdown early in the final quarter, the game was all but over as Detroit took a commanding 38-7 lead. With John Roach being ineffective most of the day, Chicago turned to M.C. Reynolds to try to salvage some dignity. Reynolds hit Crow for a 36 yard touchdown and Woodley Lewis for another score from 20 yards out, but it was too little too late. Jim Doran recovered a fumble in the end zone for Detroit between the 2 Cardinal TDs, and the 45-21 final score was cemented. Crow’s 103 yards of total offense was tops for both teams, and Reynolds completing 8 of 10 throws for 170 yards and the 2 touchdowns in a relief role was impressive, but the Lions dug into their winning past to claim the victory, giving them a temporary respite from the doldrums they were mired in all year. Both teams lost the following week, which back then was the final week of a 12 game regular season. Little did either franchise know that their doldrums would continue to this day. The 1957 championship was Detroit’s last, and the Cardinals haven’t won one since 1947.



Detroit QB Tobin Rote (18) dodges Cardinal defenders

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tebow Mania!

17 Sep

As the NFL season enters week 2, we’ve picked out one of this week’s matchups, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, as our Throwback Thursday feature for the week. We harken back to an AFC Wild Card game played on January 8, 2012 between these 2 franchises that was the apex of a phenomenon, at least at the NFL level, known as Tebow Mania. The Broncos had used a first round draft pick on the quarterback from the University of Florida, Tim Tebow, whose skills weren’t really on par with a top NFL signal caller, but who definitely had one distinct quality- he was a winner. The game was arguably the crowning moment of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s mostly forgettable NFL career. It was Denver’s first appearance in the postseason since 2005, and with home field advantage at Mile High Stadium the excitement level among Bronco fans was high. The Steelers did all the scoring in the first quarter with a pair of field goals as Tebow struggled to get his team’s attack off the ground, but the controversial quarterback came alive in the second stanza by leading Denver to 20 unanswered points, firing a 30 yard scoring pass to Eddie Royal and then finishing a drive with an 8 yard rushing TD. He guided the Broncos to two more field goals to lift Denver to a 20-6 halftime lead. The Steelers, a proud franchise with a rich winning tradition, rallied back in the second half. Wide receiver Mike Wallace cut the lead to 20-13 with a one yard end around run for a touchdown, and after both clubs traded field goals, the Steelers capitalized on a Willis McGahee fumble to drive to a tying touchdown on a 31 yard Ben Roethlisberger to Jericho Cotchery pass. Both defenses stiffened from there and the game went into sudden death overtime.

After winning the OT coin toss, Tebow and the Broncos wasted no time. Tebow, who had guided his team to an 8-8 record and an AFC West title after being named the team’s starter following a 1-4 start to the season, connected with his favorite target, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, on an 80 yard throw-and-catch touchdown pass that gave Denver a 29-23 victory and sent the Mile High crowd into a frenzy. For Thomas, the play capped a record breaking afternoon, as he finished with 4 catches for an incredible 204 yards receiving. The excitement only lasted a week for the Broncos and their fans. They were brought back down to earth the following week in the divisional round when Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots handed them a resounding 45-10 defeat.


Denver’s Tim Tebow in action vs. Steelers

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Freezer Bowl

10 Sep

The 2020 NFL season, in all it’s Covid-19 weirdness, is finally here beginning this week. Rayonsports is back with our weekly Throwback Thursday feature. To start the year, we’re looking at a week one matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. For the opening TBT post of the season, we’ll travel back to January 10, 1982 for the AFC Championship game of the 1981 season played between these 2 teams. The contest went down in NFL lore as the “Freezer Bowl”. Played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, is was the coldest game in NFL history as the temperature was -9 degrees Fahrenheit which, combined with the day’s wind chill factor, made it feel like -37 degrees. For the Chargers, based in San Diego, it was a rude awakening. Besides making their home in sunny southern California, they were coming off of a grueling overtime duel in Miami that was played in polar opposite conditions – 88 degrees with high humidity. The weather affected the coin toss as the Bengals won the opening toss and elected to take the wind at their backs instead of the ball. So when San Diego took the ball to start the second half, the Bengals wound up kicking off to start both halves.

Bengal coach Forrest Gregg used the unusual strategy figuring the howling winds would affect the Chargers’ high-powered passing attack, and it worked as Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Jim Breech field goal and an 8 yard scoring pass from Ken Anderson to M.L. Harris. San Diego put together a drive against the wind that stalled, and their first attempt to get on the board was thwarted when kicker Rolf Benirschke missed a 37 yard field goal attempt into the harsh wind.  The Chargers got on the board in the second quarter, with the wind at their backs, as Dan Fouts found his All Pro tight end, Kellen Winslow, for a 33 yard touchdown. But that’s all they could muster, and the Bengals drove downfield against the wind, thanks to a long kickoff return from David Verser, to beat the wind and add a score on a one yard plunge by fullback Pete Johnson, upping their lead to 17-7. Johnson was the unsung hero for the Bengal offense on the day as he ground out 80 hard-earned yards. The Chargers were stymied the rest of the way by the weather and a tough Bengal defense. They drove into Cinci territory 5 more times but came up empty on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Bengals added another Breech field goal, and when Anderson found Don Bass on a 3 yard TD pass to put his team up 27-7, the game was all but over. That wound up being the final score as the Bengals advanced to their first Super Bowl, where they would become the victims of Joe Montana’s magic in a 26-21 loss.

Ironically, Cincinnati’s coach Gregg had also been part of the other iconic cold weather game in NFL history as a guard for Green Bay in the 1967 “Ice Bowl”. For the Chargers, it was an especially long and sad trip home from the loss, as their return flight to San Diego was delayed for over 3 hours due to ice buildup on the plane.


Bengals, Chargers battle in the Freezer Bowl


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NFL – Throwback Thursday: AFL Western Division Rivalry Is Born

26 Dec

This is the seventeenth and final week of the NFL’s regular season, but for the final Throwback Thursday feature of the year we’ll go back to a game from the opening week, of the opening season, of the American Football League. The Los Angeles Chargers play the Kansas City Chiefs on this week’s schedule, and those two franchises also met on the first week of scheduled AFL games in 1960. This particular matchup was played on September 10th of that inaugural season, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Chiefs’ franchise was located in Dallas and known as the Texans. They would relocate to Kansas City in 1963 and be rechristened as the Chiefs, while in a bit of irony, the Chargers would play only that first season in L.A. before moving to San Diego, where they would stay until shuffling back to LaLa Land a couple of years ago. The two teams were led by future Hall of Fame coaches, Hank Stram of the Texans and the Chargers’ Sid Gillman. The players in this contest weren’t exactly the ones anyone would identify with these clubs as the AFL progressed through the 1960s. When the Texans opened the scoring with a 12 yard touchdown pass to Chris Burford, it wasn’t thrown by the QB most linked to Stram, Len Dawson. It was Cotton Davidson, who would have moderate success in later years with the Raiders but who isn’t a household name with Chiefs’ fans. Jack Spikes scored on a short run to give the Texans a 13-0 lead before the Chargers scored on a 46 yard pass from Jack Kemp to Ralph Anderson. Kemp would go on to lead Buffalo to a pair of AFL titles in the mid-1960s but isn’t generally associated with the Chargers, and Anderson isn’t exactly Lance Alworth when it comes to memorable Charger receivers. Davidson hit a forgotten superstar of the early AFL years, Abner Haynes, with a 17 yard TD pass to widen the Texans’ lead to 20-7. Kemp then took over the fourth quarter, scoring on a 7 yard run and hitting Howie Ferguson, another forgotten player, with the winning touchdown pass from 4 yards out to give the Chargers a hard-fought 21-20 win.

Haynes was the leading Dallas receiver on the day, grabbing 7 passes out of the backfield for 62 yards while Spikes led his team’s ground attack with 62 yards on 9 carries. Kemp threw for 275 yards and the 2 scores, and his leading receivers were the forgettable Anderson, with 103 receiving yards on 5 catches, and Royce Womble, with 7 grabs for 92 yards. The Texans would extract revenge later in the season, defeating the Chargers 17-0 in Dallas. The Chargers won the Western Division but lost to the Houston Oilers in the AFL’s inaugural title game. Haynes would go on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award for the season. Stram and Gillman would continue to develop excellent teams throughout the ten year existence of the AFL, and the rivalry between the franchises has continued to this day.



Program from Chargers/Texans inaugural AFL game

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NFL 100 – Hank Stram

25 Dec

“Keep matriculating that ball down the field, boys!” That NFL Films video, of Kansas City Chiefs’ coach Hank Stram on the sidelines of Super Bowl IV, is a treasure for football fans who love the game’s history. No history of the NFL can be written without including Stram, the subject of our NFL 100 post today. He began his coaching career as an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at Purdue in the 1940s, and it was during his eight year stint there that he first met the future quarterback his pro football coaching success would be tied to – Len Dawson. He coached at three other schools, Southern Methodist University, Notre Dame and Miami, as an assistant during the 1950s and it was at the one-year stop at S.M.U. that he would meet a fringe Mustang player who would eventually alter his life – future American Football League founder and Kansas City Chiefs’ owner Lamar Hunt.



Hank Stram in a Purdue yearbook photo

When Hunt founded the AFL in 1959, he placed his own franchise in Dallas and named them the Texans. Although he’d never been a head coach, Stram was hired for that job with the Texans. Stram wasn’t his first choice. He had tried to hire Bud Wilkinson and Tom Landry but was turned down by both. Of course Landry, a successful New York Giants’ assistant coach at the time, took the job as coach of the expansion NFL team in Dallas, the Cowboys, instead. Stram turned out to be a good hire, however. The Texans were immediately successful and won the AFL championship in 1962 by knocking off the Houston Oilers in overtime. The Oilers had won the league’s title in it’s first 2 seasons. Despite the success on the field, the Texans could not compete at the box office with the NFL’s Cowboys, and Hunt moved the franchise to Kansas City for the 1963 season and renamed them the Chiefs. Their success continued there, as Stram and Dawson led them to 2 more AFL titles, including a 31-7 win over Buffalo in 1966 that would earn them the right to play Green Bay in the first Super Bowl, known as the AFL/NFL Championship Game at the time. They lost that contest but won the AFL crown again in 1969 and upset the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, recording the newer league’s second straight title win, establishing once and for all that the AFL had reached parity with the older NFL. Stram’s Chiefs fell on hard times as the 1970s progressed, and he was fired in 1974. He returned to the NFL to coach the New Orleans Saints in 1976 but had no luck turning around the moribund franchise. His shining moment with the Saints came in 1976 as the team recorded their first win of the Stram coaching era there, beating his old team, the Chiefs, 27-17. He was highly successful as a color analyst on radio and CBS television broadcasts when he was through coaching, working in that capacity into the 1990s.


The always well-dressed Stram discusses strategy with his QB, Len Dawson

Stram was deservedly enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Like many who labored in the AFL, he was an innovator who helped change the game. His Chiefs’ were the first professional team to use Gatorade on the sidelines, he introduced the “choir huddle” where his players lined up in organized lines, rather than the traditional circle. His offensive strategies included using both the I formation and the double tight end set, both used widely in the NFL today. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the game was doing intense scouting of small black colleges, where he uncovered gems like Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Wendell Hayes, Otis Taylor and Emmitt Thomas. The pioneers who guided the AFL through the 1960s into reaching parity with the NFL are all a huge part of helping grow the game into the monster it is today, and Hank Stram belongs at the top of that list of pioneers.

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