Fifty years later, Chiefs relish Super Bowl run
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fifty years later, Jan Stenerud still remembers just about every detail from the Super Bowl.
The longtime Kansas City Chiefs kicker remembers that they were almost two-touchdown underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings, whose fearsome defense line carried the nickname “The Purple People Eaters.”
He remembers that the weather wasn't very good in New Orleans, and that the week leading up to the game was spent listening to tornado sirens.
The tarp used to cover the field at Tulane Stadium was filled with holes, leaving patches of the turf a muddy quagmire.
“When we had to kick extra points,” Stenerud recalled, “I told our coach, Hank Stram, that we had to move the ball to the side a bit because there was a big mud hole where I wanted to kick from. It was a real mess.”
More than anything else, though, the Hall of Fame kicker remembers never once thinking that it would take one of the original AFL franchises a full five decades before it returned to the championship game.
“How could you?” said Stenerud, who also was a member of the team that lost to the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl. “No, I never thought about it. It's a long time.”
As the Chiefs prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Stenerud finds himself reflecting on history quite a bit these days. So many of his good friends and close teammates never lived to see the team return to the championship game, and many others are in failing health.
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Stram died 15 years ago this summer, and the team's beloved founder Lamar Hunt passed away the following year. Thousands of fans lived their entire lives without seeing the Chiefs in a Super Bowl.
“To lose a Super Bowl is devastating. You have to explain that forever,” Stenerud told The Associated Press this week. “I just remember the total, total elation when you win."
By the 1969 season, the Chiefs had a roster filled with veterans — quarterback Len Dawson, tight end Fred Arbanas and offensive lineman Ed Budde — who chose to play in the AFL when it was largely considered a second-tier league. Many of the players had followed the franchise from Dallas, where it was known as the Texans.
They played with a chip on their shoulder, both because they lost that initial Super Bowl and because nobody expected them to win three years later. They were the underdogs when they went to New York to play the reigning champion Jets, and they had lost twice to Oakland in the regular season before beating the Raiders to reach the Super Bowl.
It was no surprise that the Chiefs were such heavy underdogs against the Vikings, who were led by coach Bud Grant and their ferocious defense. They had mowed through their schedule and beaten the Rams and the Browns, giving them the chance to play the Chiefs for the final championship before the AFL and NFL officially became one.
But the Chiefs were playing their best football of the season down the stretch, in part because Dawson was finally healthy after missing several games with a knee injury.
Much of the anxiety dissipated by halftime. Mike Garrett ran for a touchdown and Stenerud kicked three first-half field goals to send Kansas City into the locker room with a 16-0 lead.
The Vikings finally scored late in the third quarter, but Dawson answered with a 46-yard touchdown pass that all but put the game away. The quarterback who had put so much pressure on himself wound up being the MVP in the Chiefs' 23-7 win.
Dawson and many of the Chiefs from that championship team remain close to the organization, returning for anniversaries and other celebrations.
Super Bowl LIV
Chiefs vs. 49ers
When: 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: Fox (Cox 12/HD 712, Dish 25, DirecTV 25, U-verse 25/HD 1025)