Michael Maccambridge’s new book, ’69 Chiefs: A Team, A Season, and the Birth of Modern Kansas City, brought to life the greatest memory of my youth: the Chiefs running roughshod over the old American Football League to earn the right to vanquish the Minnesota Vikings and their “Purple People Eaters” in Super Bowl IV.
My 1960s life in Olathe revolved around two things: Smaks drive-in and the Chiefs. My earliest childhood memory involved relatives screaming at a small black and white television as the Chiefs choked against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I. We likely drowned our sorrows with “Smaky meals.”
My family moved to Oregon in 1969, and the Chiefs’ destruction of Minnesota gave me playground cred at my new school. MacCambridge’s descriptions of every game from the Chiefs’ 1969 season brought that pride roaring back to life like a Patrick Mahomes sidewinder.
MacCambridge’s prose and Rod Hanna’s photographs revved me up to the point where I decided the Chiefs are destined to win Super Bowl LIV. How could they not in the 50th anniversary of the franchise’s greatest accomplishment? Every single Chiefs fan needs to buy this book to mentally prepare for the moment.
Were you old enough to watch the 1969 Chiefs play games on TV?
Yes, I was 6. My first vivid memory of watching football was following the Chiefs that season.
Who was your favorite player on the 1969 Chiefs?
Len Dawson because he was a quarterback and was perpetually cool. His comportment was impeccable. We all wanted to have the same calmness and grace under pressure that Dawson possessed. And we’d all imitate him. In cold games, Dawson would cup his hands together and then blow into them to keep them warm. Out on the playgrounds and in the backyards, we used to do the same thing, regardless of whether it was cold or not.
What role do you think the ’69 Chiefs played in pushing the city into a new era?
Any city is going to embrace a champion. But there was something particularly significant about Kansas City being represented at that time by a team that was so innovative, so cutting-edge. A lot of the country still thought of Kansas City as a cowtown and likely would have expected the Chiefs to have a simple, basic philosophy. But under Stram, the Chiefs were an inversion of all the myths of the meat-and-potatoes Midwest. Here was a visionary, historic team — the first team in pro football history in which a majority of the starters were African American. So the Super Bowl IV win not only brought the city attention; it did so with a team that was well ahead of the times. That mattered.
You quote Joe Greene stating KC was “the first great defense.” How does that team’s defense stack up against the later greats?
I’d argue that the Steelers and 1985 Bears never had a run where they completely shut down as many high-powered offenses as the Chiefs did in ’69. After holding Joe Namath and the defending world champion Jets to six points, they faced the two highest-scoring teams in pro football, the Raiders and Vikings, and held them to seven points each.
The Harry Truman story at the airport was great. Do you think he ever sent Stram plays, like Richard Nixon did with the Washington NFL team’s coach George Allen?
Accounts vary on how much of a fan Truman was. But that season, at the very least, he was avid enough to be as upset as most other fans by how conservative the game plan was for that last regular-season game at Oakland.