The General at Work in Super Bowl IV. (Photo Kansas City Star, 1970)
Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
“20 seconds…19…18…the game is going to be over. Mike Livingston doesn’t want to play anymore, neither do the Chiefs. They’ve had enough. They want the football. They’re going to blow the clock out. THAT’S IT! CHIEFS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL!”
As historic moments go, it was a spine-tingler. Bill Grigsby, a monument of professional broadcasting in Mid-America, had the honor of counting down the waning seconds of Kansas City’s only Super Bowl victory. And as the seconds ticked away, Chiefs fans in bars, homes, parties, and those lucky enough to be in Tulane Stadium that day unleashed their joy in a tsunami of celebration.
Reflecting back on 1969, it’s amazing how much the game has changed. The offensive line that opened the holes for Garret, Holmes, McVea, and Hayes, enabling that quartet to amass over 2,000 yards of rushing, was considered one of the biggest in professional football. Yet today, they would only be the size of an average linebacker. Our quarterback, at 6-1 and 180 lbs, was considered average in size. Today, a skinny runt like that would likely get the tar beat out of him. Witness the fate of Brodie Croyle.
But despite the vast differences in size and speed between then and now, one thing has never changed.
Moments before Grigsby began his victory chant, Len Dawson left the field to a standing ovation. For Chiefs fans, and especially the Chiefs family, it was a poignant moment. Dawson was more than The Quarterback. He was a man who in that year had survived devastating personal tragedies and a serious injury. In so doing, he had defined the personal qualities of courage and leadership. Really, his stats for that season weren’t all that spectacular. In fact, his quarterback rating for 1969 was only 69.9. His stand-in, Mike Livingston managed only a rating of 67.4. But in the end, as Dawson left the field that day, it was abundantly clear that championships are not won with statistics. They’re won with courage and leadership.
Leaders were abundant on that team. Along with Dawson were veterans like E. J. Holub, Willie Lanier, Johnny Robinson, Jerry Mays, and Bobby Bell. They wore a banner of pride and professionalism, and a complete commitment to winning. They demonstrated that commitment on and off the field. Nobody got into trouble in clubs and bars, or driving drunk, or getting involved in criminal activities because the risk of bringing shame to the team was too great. To quote Star Trek, for those Chiefs, “The good of the many outweighed the needs of the few…or the one.” They were the very definition of “Team.”
To look at the 2008 version of this team, with the shining exceptions of Tony Gonzalez and Brian Waters, it’s hard to find that kind of character. A team with leadership tends not to lose close games; they minimize mistakes; they protect leads. They don't give up.
Make no mistake; whoever Scott Pioli brings to this team will need to be the kind of guy who is willing to risk being that leader. What the Chiefs will need are people who never lose sight of the brass ring, and who are utterly unafraid of getting in the grill of teammates who may just be going through the motions. Men who are motivated by adversity; Players and coaches who have but one goal: Victory.
This year will mark the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl IV. Fans and players alike have suffered through years of mediocrity and sheer disaster, seasoned with all too few heart-breaking brushes with greatness. The fans that make up the allegorical Chief’s Nation have made it abundantly clear that they will no longer be satisfied with merely being competitive. It’s been four decades since the Chiefs stood in football’s ultimate winners circle. And that’s long enough. In this anniversary year, Chiefs fans now wait with guarded anticipation as the team embarks on a new path. Scott Pioli, the new General Manager, arrives in his office under the shadow of a grim mandate from the Chiefs Nation: Build Us a Winner.
For us fans, perhaps we can help to carry that message by embracing this anniversary. We should go to our closets and musty attics and break out those treasured t-shirts and hats, emblazoned with the triumphant cry “1970 World Champions.” I don’t know who has the master tapes from the LP “Hail to the Chiefs,” the recorded recounting of that championship year, but perhaps it’s time to re-release a CD, or even a DVD version, so we can relive the excitement of those games, and recall the shared personal qualities that made them champions.
And, most importantly, we must publicly embrace those aging warriors who expended their vitality and shed their blood on the battle-torn turf of those fields. Their battered bodies are now aging into their 60s and 70s and may not be with us much longer.
Perhaps by reliving the glory of the past, those championship qualities will rub off on the current team.
And maybe, just maybe we will hear once again the echo of Bill Grigsby’s triumphant cry:
“CHIEFS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL!!!”