Chiefs: From Heart Breakers To Dream Makers


There’s a moment. It happens in most people’s lives. A moment when their dreams can come into focus. When the possibility becomes a probability. There are also moments in our lives when our hopes are dashed and it can affect us negatively for eons—sometimes for what seems like forever.

The Chiefs have had one of those moments. It was a seminal game—the longest game ever played in NFL history—and it was the last game ever played in Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium.

In simple terms, it was a playoff loss to the Miami Dolphins. However, the length, the energy and the agony of that game—for the Chiefs organization—was incredibly devastating. The game was played on Christmas Day, 1971, and has been a “gift” that keeps on giving. To this day, for older Chiefs fans, it is hard to erase from the memory or the heart.

However, the ghost of Christmas past may have been exorcised this past Sunday, Sept. 23rd, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

There’s something eerie about the facts surrounding these games and teams.

It was in New Orleans (Tulane Stadium) that the Chiefs won their last championship in Super Bowl IV.

Also, the Chiefs lost that longest game ever in double overtime to Miami who eventually lost in the Super Bowl that year, increasing the sense among Chiefs faithful that if the Chiefs had played in that Super Bowl, the game would have turned out differently. And, their future may have forever been altered.

There’s something that breaks your spirit when you lose a game like that. Even for husky men with iron wills. The Chiefs were 10-3-1 in 1971 but, following the loss to Miami in 1971, the Chiefs didn’t win their division again until 1993. They also only had two winning seasons in the next 10 years—and those were the following two seasons: an 8-6 record in 1972 and 7-5-2 in 1973. Then, Hank Stram left town, seemingly taking the fortunes of the Chiefs along with him.

When the “will” is broken it can leave a gaping hole. Boundless possibilities are replaced by ifs and limitations. What was once energy unending turns to hopeless endeavors and uninspired efforts.

It’s that hopelessness which I believe the Chiefs organization has been carrying with it for decades. The players and coaches may all be gone, but the fans remember. The city readily recalls. Even more than that: the fans know of the decades of losing since then—and it’s lasted long enough for them to forget why it may have all begun in the first place.

In my recent post called “Chiefs And Saints = Curse Vs Curse” I suggested that the Chiefs or the Saints might possibly break a curse they have both experienced — as organizations — with a win on Sunday. In the dramatic fashion that this game unfolded I would affirm that the Chiefs may well have done exactly that. Broken the bonds. Changed the course of the tides that have seemingly been flowing against them.

In another such game—I recall the very day, I remember the timing of it all—I was watching the Raiders-Steelers game almost a year to the day after the Chiefs’ participation in the longest game ever. It was Dec. 23, 1972. A contest now commonly referred to as the Immaculate Reception game. In those days the Steelers were merely wannabes. They hadn’t done anything. No Super Bowl victories. No championships. Nothing. On the other hand, the Raiders were the toast of the league and perennial contenders.

That game had evolved to a desperate focal point. It was a defensive battle all the way and the score was 7-6 Raiders with 22 seconds left in the 4th quarter. QB Terry Bradshaw was doggedly pursued on the play and finally got off a pass meant for Frenchy Fuqua, who was met simultaneously as the ball arrived, by Raiders safety Jack Tatum. It seemed that the ball had ricocheted off of one of their helmets because it looked like it had been shot out of a cannon. The ball was falling to the ground when out of the blue RB Franco Harris appears and snatches the ball off the turf—before it hits the turf—or so legend says. None of us who saw the game could say for sure what really happened because there were just as many fans who thought it didn’t touch the ground as those who thought it did.

The point is, moments like these can propel a team beyond their own visions of grandeur, just as much as they can break your heart.

One legacy is as likely as another. Since then the Steelers’ story is well-known and leaves decades of success in its wake.

However, for those who are participating in these contests, their lives are intrinsically altered in ways that can only be understood by actually being a participant in these events.

I don’t know about exorcising demons from games that are decades past but, it appears the Chiefs’ young and emergent group of pigskin pugilists are learning the lessons of open-ended possibilities. It’s that biochemical process that players experience when they cross the bridge from, “I think I can do it,” to, “I actually did that.”

Every game in the NFL is meaningful. Some are more meaningful than others. This game could, over time and depending on the way the Chiefs continue to play, turn out to be a hallmark game. Not just for this season but for seasons to come. No matter what the Chiefs do with the rest of this season, this game will be remembered as one of the most dramatic in Kansas City sports history.

It can also be said that this was the greatest comeback in any Chiefs game. Ever.

If the Chiefs gain the confidence and moxy that a hard-fought victory like this can provide then Chiefs fans everywhere may have just witnessed the organization turning a corner and coming of age. More importantly, the team may have solidified themselves as a force to be reckoned with and will now be a very difficult out—for whomever they face.

Mitch Holthus said this week of Jamaal Charles, “39 touches in this game, the guy’s a warrior. And if this season turns into something, Jamaal Charles ignited it.”

The 91-yard TD run by Charles was a shock-and-awe moment. As a fan, I‘ve been on the other side of the field to witness a number of those shock-and-awe moments  when another team’s star made the Chiefs look hapless and helpless.

However, this run—and this victory—might just be a crowning moment.

Following the game you could hear the “evolved” language. In the sports world, there is a lexicon of losers and a vocabulary of victors.

Were these just excited utterances of players long overdue? Maybe.

As he was running off the field, Stanford Routt could be heard yelling,


We ready now, we ready now — watch out.


There were primal screams in the locker room and Clark Hunt was there to shake every last man’s hand.

This game wasn’t just about one excellent and inspiring long TD run. It transcends that. So many players came through, it’s hard to single any one person out because this was ultimately a team victory.

Now, every player knows, that every other player on their team will never give up.

Now, every player knows, they can and will come back from any deficit—together.

Now, the trust between team members has skyrocketed.

Now, everyone knows they are playing on the same team with a superstar, an inspirational leader who has overcome an injury, that for others, has been career ending.

Yes, this game will always be remembered in Chiefs lore as a great comeback win. But, what happens next may change the meaning of this game—and the way this organization is globally perceived—by quantum degrees.


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Tags: KC Chiefs

  • Patrick Allen

    Terrific writeup Ladner.

    It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. 0-3 or not, the Saints aren’t an easy team to beat. We’ve see the Chiefs have the ability to go out there and lay and egg against any team so the quality of the victory against the Saints shouldn’t be downplayed in my opinion. That was still Drew Brees over there.

    I enjoy the look at the various turning points for a franchise. There was once a moment when the Cleveland Browns were the toast of the AFC North. Steelers vs. Browns was an annual event where I come from. If Art Modell hadn’t moved the Browns to Baltimore, you could argue that we would look upon that rivalry now as one of the greatest in sports. But after ten years of the Steelers stomping the Browns, folks hardly remember it now.

    I wonder if the blown call on MNF will represent a change in fortune for the Seahawks or Packers? Hard to imagine it spells the end for Green Bay since they still have AR. Still, interesting to think about.

    • ArrowFan

      I would argue that the turning point was last year against GB, if we had only made one of them dam field goals last year.

      • KCMikeG

        Amen to that! My son pointed out on the replay that Succop had hit the ball so low that it made it easy to block. I had to agree. Then we both sat there having our Christmas stained by a 2nd blocked FG and the same low trajectory with the same devastating effect knocking us out of the playoffs. Even after all the injuries and chaos. We are in a much better place know. I know that the blocking break downS were a part but both were kicked way too low. I wonder why no one ever explained what happened?

    • ladner morse

      Well if Green bay doesn’t make the playoffs this season — that could be big. You just never know what will break the hearts or spirit of a team.

      • KCMikeG

        Or cause them to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix ala the Chiefs. And as we have often seen it comes down to the one game to get into the playoffs.

  • Calchiefsfan

    I remember that Christmas day game well. It ripped the heart out of the Chiefs fans. Let’s hope this is the start of something good. We certainly needed something positive to get this season going.

    • KCMikeG

      Lots of lean and hopeless times from there on out. Unquestioned loyalty to survive that yet it keeps things in perspective and allows for the appreciation of what we are lucky enough to be experiencing which as Ladner suggested could very well be the coming together of the talented roster we have.

  • ArrowFan

    The game you refer to is before my time but the game I most remember was when Lowery killed our chances, idiot kickers.

    • ladner morse

      Idiots or icons.

      • KCMikeG

        Ugh – now that other kicker’s forbidden name is in my head!

  • chiefridgy

    Curse broken!
    GO CHIEFS!!!

  • KCMikeG

    Ladner – Thank you! YOU are the biggest reason I come to AA. Your optimistic while being still grounded in reality. Your words are inspirational and took me back to the beginning of my life as a Chief fan. I was 8 years and had just started playing 3rd grade YMCA flag football (had to wear the stupid Dolphins helmet/jersey). My dad wasn’t a NFL fan so I had no guidance there so it just so happened that the games broadcast in my area were the Chiefs so I got to watch them on TV. it was 1969 – Oh what a year to become a Chief fan! I was inspired beyond words. It was magical – 11-3. One of the greatest defenses ever and after Willie Lanier willed them through the best goal line stand in the Chief history vs. the Jets in round #1 – he was my hero – played MLB every day from then on. Knocking out the faiders to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. We were a big underdog yet they played together as a team, much like Sunday, the defense dominated the game to win Super Bowl IV running away 23-7. Sorry to ramble on but maybe this will help some to understand where I am coming from in my loyalty and defense of the Chiefs. Thank You again Ladner for the trip back to 1969.

    • ladner morse

      NO — thank you Michael! If that was rambling — and lord knows I’m a ramblin’ man — it was crazy good. Like you — I’m excited to be around for the Chiefs turning the tide and once again becoming — crazy good.

  • KCMikeG

    Here’s what ignited my love for the Chiefs and has gotten me through TWO decades of not even winning our division.
    The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs season resulted in a 11–3 record and a 23–7 victory in Super Bowl IV over the NFL’s heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings. The team beat their rivals, the Oakland Raiders in the final AFL Championship Game, claiming their third AFL Championship in franchise history. The Chiefs were coached by Hank Stram, led by quarterback Len Dawson and a powerful defense led by Bobby Bell, Willie “Contact” Lanier and Buck Buchanan. The Chiefs’ defense became the fourth defense in the history of pro football to lead its league in fewest rushing yards, fewest passing yards and fewest total yards.[1] The Chiefs were the second AFL team to win the Super Bowl and last AFL team to do so before the AFL-NFL Merger in thefollowing season.The season was marred not only by an injury to quarterback Len Dawson but also controversy surrounding Dawson and his purported involvement in asports gambling ring. Back-up quarterback Mike Livingston and the Chiefs’ stellar defense led the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl, this time, to win it all.
    Seven future Hall of Famers played for the Chiefs on the 1969 squad, including QB Len Dawson, LB’s Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, DT Buck Buchanan, CB Emmitt Thomas and K Jan Stenerud. Coach Hank Stram has also been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
    In 2006, the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs were ranked as the 18th greatest Super Bowl champions on the NFL Network’s documentary America’s Game: The Super Bowl Champions.[2]
    In 2007, ranked the 1969 Chiefs as the seventh-greatest defense in NFL history,[3] noting “Hank Stram’s ‘Triple Stack’ defense, which gave the linebackers lots of room to roam, was superb, holding five opponents to fewer than 10 points and giving up an average of less than two touchdowns a game…. Then they got serious. Against the [defending] Super Bowl champion Jets in the AFL divisional playoff game at Shea Stadium, the Chiefs held on for a 13-6 victory, thanks to a remarkable three-play goal line stand that stifled the Jets on the one. After losing twice to theRaiders during the regular season, the Chiefs allowed a single touchdown, in the first quarter, to win the AFL title over Oakland 17-7. The Chiefs defense then stifled the Vikings in the Super Bowl, allowing only two rushing first downs and picking off three passes in the fourth quarter to win 23-7. Total points against the Chiefs in the playoffs: 20.”
    I believe you are right Ladner. We are seeing the beginning of greatness returning to KC. There have been sparks before like the goal line stop vs the dolts, McClusters return TD, Cassel’s 4 TD comeback vs the Colts and his inspirational return to beat the Rams renewing our hope for the playoffs, DJ’s double pick game, Moeaki breaking Tony G’s rookie records, Jamaal Charles = Jim Brown, Houston and Hali combo coming together – I could go on and on (as many of you know) so I will say good night and enjoy the memory of the Chief’s Super Bowl Victory. Savor the moments now and look forward to being a part of something very special.

    • ladner morse

      Thank you Michael for that post — it captures the essence of what it means to be a Chiefs fan. Amazing really.