St. Louis' Loss, KC's Big Win!
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 - jacksongov.org
Love Of Westerns Leads To KC Chiefs Hall Of Fame Career
Fred Arbanas had a choice to make in 1961. After a stellar collegiate football career at Michigan State University, he had been drafted twice. And at two different positions.
"In college back then, you had to play both ways, offense and defense," recalls the former MSU Spartan. "You had to play both ways. It was a rule. When the ball changed hands, only one guy could come off the field, and that was usually the quarterback.
"There were some guys who were darn good at either offense or defense, but they never got on the field because they were just too bad on the other side of the ball."
Arbanas' offensive and defensive prowess had teams from both the staunch National Football League and upstart American Football League interested in acquiring the Detroit native's services as either a linebacker or tight end.
The St. Louis (football) Cardinals chose Arbanas in the second round of the '61 NFL draft, looking to add him to their linebacker corps. Meanwhile, in the AFL draft's seventh round, the Dallas Texans picked Arbanas as a tight end. While the NFL draft now attracts millions of television viewers each spring, with experts spending the months proceeding it posting multiple mocks on sports media websites, Arbanas didn't know the Cardinals and Texans had selected him until the teams called him — two days after the rival leagues held their drafts.
"The draft wasn't such a big deal in those days."
Did a preference for playing offense over defense lead to Arbanas' decision to become a Texan? Did Dallas owner Lamar Hunt, the young business man who started the AFL in 1960 after his attempts to launch an NFL expansion franchise were spurned, simply offer Arbanas a better contract?
No and no.
"The money was about the same, I had always just wanted to live in Texas," says Arbanas, smiling. "I was a big cowboy movie fan when I was a kid, and that's why I wanted to go to Texas."
Where's Kansas City?
"Getting whacked in the back" in his first exhibition game for the Texans aggravated an injury Arbanas suffered as a junior at Michigan State. A subsequent surgery not only ended his rookie season in Dallas before it ever got started, it also nearly ended his life when a staph infection set in.
He recovered in time for the 1962 season, which ended with the Texans claiming the AFL title after outlasting the two-time defending league champion Houston Oilers 20-17 — in professional football's first-ever double-overtime game. Within six months, the Texans, struggling to compete with the NFL expansion Dallas Cowboys, relocated.
The team's move to Kansas City stunned Arbanas.
"I had to get a map and see where Kansas City was," he says. "I had no idea. I had seen it in western movies, but that's all I knew about Kansas City.
"It turned out to be the greatest thing ever."
The Kansas City Chiefs, with Arbanas helping pave the way as a mostly blocking tight end who caught the occasional pass, would conclude the 1960s football's undisputed champs, having played in some of the sport's most historic games. Like Super Bowl I.
Except it wouldn't be called Super Bowl I for nearly two years.
Super Bowl I
After the 1966 season ended with Kansas City claiming the franchise's second AFL crown and the Green Bay Packers the NFL title, the league champs were paired against one another for first time to decide football supremacy. The two teams from the Midwest clashed on a neutral field on the West Coast — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — January 16, 1967 in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
No one gave the Chiefs a chance.
"We weren't shown any respect at all," Arbanas says, shaking his head. "None. We were the new kids on the block, going up against Green Bay. We wound up giving them hell for a half, though."
Trailing only 14-10 at halftime, the Chiefs drove to mid-field to start the third quarter when disaster struck. Packer safety Willie Wood intercepted a Len Dawson pass and returned it 50 yards to the KC 5. One play later, Green Bay running back Elijah Pitts ran in for a touchdown, the gap swelled to 21-10, and the Chiefs never recovered. The Pack prevailed 35-10.
Despite being billed as the World Championship Game, the historic match-up generated little interest at the time. Memorial Coliseum, with a seating capacity exceeding 90,000, was only two-thirds full. While the average ticket price was $12 (the equivalent of $82 today), many fans paid far less than that — just $4 or $5 — to attend. A lot simply snuck into the stadium.
Advertisers were charged $42,000 (equal to $289,174 in 2014) to air 30-second commercials.
"We had no idea what that game would evolve into," says Arbanas. "No idea whatsoever."
Named After A Toy
A second AFL-NFL World Championship would be played — Green Bay thrashed the Chiefs' most bitter rivals, the Oakland Raiders, 33-14 — before Lamar Hunt suggested a less unwieldy moniker for the big game: the Super Bowl. And the name stuck.
Hunt's inspiration was the Super Ball, one of his children's favorite toys. A vintage Super Ball is displayed at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Today, the Super Bowl is an unofficial American holiday — undeniably the nation's biggest sporting event. The average ticket price to the game's last incarnation, Super Bowl XLVIII this past February, topped out at $3,715 and a 30-second TV spot sold for $4 million.
Super Bowl IV
The Super Bowl's popularity was certainly on the rise when 80,562 spectators filled Tulane Stadium on a drab day in New Orleans on January 12, 1970. The Chiefs were back for another crack at the NFL. They had defeated the hated Raiders 17-7 to earn a spot opposite the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the last one pitting the AFL against the NFL before the leagues merged.
The Chiefs were 13-point underdogs.
It wasn't that close a game. Kansas City dominated, winning 23-7 after jumping out to a 16-0 lead.
The Kansas City Times reported:
NEW ORLEANS -- About 5:20 o’clock yesterday afternoon the Kansas City Chiefs officially were crowned pro football champions of the world.
Maybe it should be the universe. From the way the Chiefs handled the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in the Super bowl they looked a step ahead of the regular football world.
Not only did the Chiefs win the big one for themselves, they fired a resounding parting shot for the American Football league in its final hour.
Although the New York Jets' 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III still generates more buzz — with Broadway Joe Namath's famous guarantee of a win and then his delivering the shocking triumph for the AFL over the supposedly unbeatable NFL — Arbanas notes the significance of the Chiefs being able to even the series for the AFL at 2-2.
"We showed the AFL was no fluke, that the two leagues were on even footing going into the merger," he says.
As for what it felt like to be champions of the universe, he just smiles and says, "We felt like we were 10 feet tall."
Within a few months, Arbanas would retire, ending his career with a reputation for, as Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson once observed, playing every down.
Today, the 75-year-old Arbanas' fingers show the wreckage 10 years of waging hand-to-hand combat in the trenches of professional football can do. His knuckles are knotted. One middle finger is now permanently bent.
"I can't wear my Super Bowl ring anymore," he says.
Then he grins. "But I've still got it."
A Most Memorable Score
He played for one of professional football's greatest teams ever — the Kansas City Chiefs of the 1960s. They literally closed out that decade atop the "universe" as The Kansas City Times reported after the Chiefs concluded the 1969 season with a 23-7 Super Bowl IV win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Yet that's not the one score Fred Arbanas remembers from his days wearing KC red and gold.
"The only score I remember is from an exhibition game," says the Chiefs Hall Of Fame tight end.
His career included three AFL championship contests and two Super Bowls, including that 23-7 thumping of the Vikings, but the one and only score Arbanas has etched in his memory is from a meaningless exhibition?
66-24 is a hard score to forget, and this was no ordinary pre-season game.
When the Chiefs took the field August 23, 1967, at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium to clash with the Chicago Bears, they knew this game, which wouldn't count in the standings, really counted more than any regular-season match-up possibly could. They were the defending American Football League champions, facing a founding member of the older, supposedly vastly superior National Football League.
"Every one of those exhibition games between the NFL and AFL was like another Super Bowl," Arbanas explains. "You were representing your league. They were always pretty hot and heavy games."
Before the opening kickoff that hot August Wednesday night, Bears legendary linebacker Dick Butkus threatened to tackle the Chiefs' mascot, Warpaint — a Pinto horse ridden around the field following each KC score.
When the final gun sounded ending the 66-24 assault, both Butkus and Warpaint would be exhausted.
"We beat them 66-24," says Arbanas proudly. "I can remember Butkus — he was out there puking after spending the whole game running all over the field after our guys.
"This was our first game against an NFL team after losing Super Bowl I in January of '67. We couldn't wait to get after them.
"I grew up in Detroit rooting for the Lions, but I liked the Bears, too. I liked George Halas a lot."
After seeing his beloved Bears get throttled like they had never been before in their previous 47 years, Papa Bear Halas, about to embark on his 40th and final season as Chicago's head coach, stood on the field — in Arbanas' words — "looking completely shell-shocked."
FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE'S COVERAGE OF THE 66-24 WIPEOUT: "Len Dawson, an uncanny slingshot artist, got out of a sickbed to lead the Chiefs in the most devastating assault seen in these parts since the long-ago days of Quantrill’s Raiders."
A Restrained Disdain
For The Raiders
"We knew we had to go through Oakland to win the championship, and they knew they had to go through Kansas City... that made it a very bitter rivalry." — Chiefs Coach Hank Stram
Ask Fred Arbanas how he feels about the Oakland Raiders and he'll show restraint: "The words I would use to describe them I can't really say publically. My grandkids might read them."
The Chiefs carried coach Hank Stram off the field after winning the final AFL Championship Game, 17-7, over the Oakland Raiders.
More than 44 years have past since Arbanas last suited up in the No. 84 jersey for the Kansas City Chiefs. Time has only slightly tempered his ill will for the Raiders, whom the Chiefs defeated 17-7 in the last-ever AFL Championship Game.
"I'm just now getting to the point where I can watch a Raiders game without having total hatred in my mind," he says.
Arbanas' Chiefs coach, Hall of Famer Hank Stram, and his Oakland counterpart, Al Davis, had a personal disdain for one another that simply carried over to their entire teams.
"Al Davis and some of his players, like Ben Davidson, liked to take pot shots," Arbanas says. "They might have thought we had some guys who took pot shots at them. We were always fighting with them every year for the division title, so I am sure that had a lot to do with it."
Davidson, the Oakland Defensive end, relished the rivalry.
"Those were my favorite games," he once said. "I always likened them to a heavyweight fight. You knew you were going to get beat up, but it was fun. We needed the Chiefs. We wouldn't have been as good without them."
Running back Harvey Williams played for both Kansas City and Oakland in the 1990s. He summed up the feud between the two teams in one word: "Blood."
On a lighter note...
Arbanas laughs when recalling how Stram and the other Chiefs coaches would search the visiting locker room in Oakland for listening devices.
"Stram would swear to God that Al Davis had our locker room in Oakland bugged. We'd get off the bus and Stram and the other coaches would go in the locker room first. They would look under the toilets and in the tiles in the ceiling for bugs. Hank just knew Al Davis was bugging the locker room.
"Could be he thought that way because maybe Hank bugged Oakland's locker room when the Raiders came to Kansas City. I'm not saying he did that, but who knows? I don't know.
"Those were some crazy days — a lot of fun."
Fred Arbanas was a first or second team All-AFL selection for six straight seasons (1962-67). The NFL Hall of Fame named him to the All-Time All-AFL team. As a tight end playing for a team famous for "matriculating down the field" running the ball, he was used predominately as a blocker rather than a pass catcher. The Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame website notes he "was known for his tenacious blocking and courage."