JANUARY 1, 1967 - The Buffalo Bills could have been the first team to represent the AFL in the very first Super Bowl back in January 1967. They played the Kansas City Chiefs in their third straight AFL title game, but fell short this time, after winning the previous two over San Diego.
The Chiefs proved that they were the most talented team in the American Football League as they brought in the New Year with a overwhelming manifestation of both offense and defense to vanquish the Bills, 31-7, at War Memorial Stadium to win the AFL championship and advance to the Super Bowl.
The Bills, who were attempting to become only the second team in the history of pro football to win three straight league championships, were their own worst enemy and were the major contributor to this defeat by making way too many mistakes.
A record AFL championship crowd of 42,080 were on hand in hopes of seeing their team become the league's representative to the first Super Bowl game pitting the rival AFL and NFL champions. However, what they witnessed was a Kansas City team that was perhaps the most talented team since the league's inception.
The Chiefs confirmed it on this New Years Day, for they completely exploited a formidable adversary, used the Bills own ball-control strategy and explicitly earned the right to exemplify the AFL against NFL champion Green Bay in the Super Bowl which was to be played on January 15 in Los Angeles.
Len Dawson, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite almost being decapitated by a thunderous pass rush, was but one of the more discernible heroes in the last championship game to be played in Buffalo until the early ‘90s.
Running back Mike Garrett, whether he was rushing, catching passes or returning punts, gave the Bills exasperation. His style of play was similar to a future Bills Hall-of-Famer, Thurman Thomas. Also giving the Bills fits were receivers Otis Taylor, Chris Burford and Fred Arbanas as well as the Chiefs' defensive unit, led by Buck Buchanan, Jerry Mays, Johnny Robinson and Bobby Hunt.
Like the frustrating afternoon in Boston four weeks earlier, this one was filled with mistakes for the Buffalo squad. Even without their mistakes it's questionable whether the Bills could have been victorious.
On the opening kickoff, Dudley Meredith, a 293-pound reserve defensive tackle, found himself with the 14-ounce ball and couldn't hold it. The Chiefs took advantage and scored three plays later.
During a second-quarter drive, one Buffalo first down was nullified by a holding penalty against Billy Shaw. Another, in the third period, was called back because Paul Costa moved illegally at the line.
Tommy Janik, if he had sure hands, could havet had two interceptions, the first of which preceded a Dawson-to-Taylor touchdown pass. The second would have been a Buffalo score, had he held it.
These were plays which hurt the Bills, who never did get their offense into gear despite a 69-yard scoring pass play from Jack Kemp to Elbert Dubenion which tied the Chiefs, 7-7, in the opening minutes.
Kemp, hurried most of the day but not pressured as much as Dawson, hit on 12 of 27 passes for 253 yards. He had two intercepted, one of which might be considered the game's turning point. It came with the Chiefs leading 14-7, and the Bills on the Kansas City 11 with time running out in the first half. Robinson made a great play on Kemp's pass for Bobby Crocket, intercepting at the goal line and returning 72 yards to set up Mike Mercer's 32-yard field goal.
But then, the Chiefs were opportunistic all day. And when Dawson changed his passing style late in the third period, electing to go for quick sideline patterns, the Bills' strong suit - their pass rush - was ineffective and Kansas City controlled the ball.
Dawson found Burford on a streak for a 45-yard gain, Garrett plunged over four plays later and the Bills, unable to play catch-up under a 17-7 deficit, were down by 17 and hopelessly out of it.
The trouble, of course, began on the opening kickoff.
Actually, this was perhaps the biggest mistake the Chiefs made all afternoon as Fletcher Smith's kick went high and short, to Meredith on the 27. But Dudley's error was bigger, for he fumbled when hit and Jerrel Wilson recovered at the Bills 31.
The Chiefs, whom Stram said later used from 10 to 12 offensive formation variations, lined up with a "full house," or three running backs, behind Dawson.
On third down from the 29, Dawson went to the play action pass and found Arbanas in the end zone well behind Hagood Clarke. Mercer's kick made it 7-0 after only 1:43.
It was the first touchdown scored against the Bills in title-game play since Tobin rote threw 26 yards to Dave Kocourek with 3:11 gone in the 1964 San Diego-at-Buffalo contest.
The Bills came back five plays later to tie at 6:22. Kemp, against a KC blitz, fired to Dubenion, slanting in front of the falling Fred Williamson, at the 50 and the Bills' flanker out-legged Willie Mitchell down the left sideline to complete the 69-yard play. Booth Lusteg's conversion made it 7-7.
An illegal procedure penalty hurt the Chiefs on their next march, and the crowd took heart as the Bills' front seven began rushing Dawson fiercely.
Wilson's punt and Paul Guidry's clipping penalty put the Bills on their own two-yard line, but Kemp's swing pass to Bobby Burnett, who caught six tosses for 127 yards, gained 42 and took the Bills out of the hole.
They moved into Chief territory, only to have a holding penalty against Shaw kill the drive.
Garrett then took Paul Maguire's punt 42 yards to the Buffalo 28. The Chiefs were set back to the 45 for clipping, but scored anyway in six plays.
An 11-yard scramble by Dawson put the ball on the 34. He hit Arbanas for 15 after having been dropped by John Tracy for a 10-yard loss, then fired a strike to Taylor. The big flanker made a nice grab at the 10 and out-muscled Butch Byrd to go in for the score. Mercer's kick gave the Chiefs a 14-7 lead after 4:31 of the second period.
The Bills made a valiant attempt to get even before the half ended, using two time-outs and Kemp passes to Burnett for 18 and 33-yard gains. Then Robinson broke their back.
Darting from left to right, he picked off Kemp's bullet for Crockett, who had Mitchell beaten, and rambled 72 yards to the Buffalo 28 before Shaw hauled him down. Instead of being even, the Bills retired to the dressing room with a 17-7 deficit as Mercer drilled a 32-yard field goal at 14:57.
The third quarter was scoreless but not without significance. Kemp moved the Bills into Kansas City territory and passed to Glenn Bass for a first down at the 32, but Costa was detected for moving before the snap and the 13-yard gain was nullified.
Dawson decided to stop scrambling and went to quick pass plays, primarily to Burford and Taylor on the sidelines. They ate up yardage as well as the clock. When the Bills regained possession, after Mercer was short with a 49-yard field goal try, the period was almost over.
The Chiefs began getting in on Kemp, sacking him twice for losses, and took over again on their own 37. Dawson promptly took them 63 yards in seven plays, the big one being his 45-yard pass to Burford as he fooled Byrd by sending his veteran split end deep instead of to the sideline.
This put the ball on the four. Garrett hit to the two, then to the one, then to the one-foot line. The chunky 195-pound rookie hit the right side on fourth down, was met by Ron McDole but a good second effort put him in.
Now, with 8:44 left, Mercer's kick made it 24-7 and the Bills' hopes were dashed.
Kemp connected with Bass for 19 yards on first down, but he was knocked cold when tackled and fumbled. Hunt picked up the ball and ran to the Bills' 21. Three plays later, from the 18, Garrett started left and stopped. He looked right, saw Tracey sailing toward him and retreated to his right before finding all kinds of daylight dead ahead. The 1965 Heisman Trophy winner turned it on and raced in easily. Mercer's kick upped the count to 31-7.
Another Kansas City march, to the Buffalo 16, was checked when Harry Jacobs dropped Dawson for a 10-yard loss. The Bills had two minutes left and Emmitt Thomas' interception at the KC 16 even ruined these.
After the game, goal post seekers, with nothing to cheer about, went to work anyway. The police assigned to protect the goal posts offered them about as much opposition as the Bills did the Chiefs in the game.
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