The election of Johnny Robinson to the Pro Football Hall of Fame invites us to shed a new light on the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs.
In particular, that 1969 Kansas City defense.
When the great defenses in NFL history are debated, the 1969 Chiefs are rarely mentioned. There’s the Steel Curtain of Pittsburgh, the No Names of Miami, the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers. The Purple People Eaters of Minnesota in the 1960s get support, as do Chris’ Crew of Detroit in the 1950s and the 1963 Bears playing the George Allen scheme.
But it’s time we take a harder look at the 1969 Chiefs. The Steel Curtain did.
“That was the first great defense,” said Pittsburgh’s Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene. “We tried to emulate the Chiefs. We ran the KC Stack my first three years. Several other teams tried to run it as well. That was the defense we were playing (in the 1972 AFC title game, a 21-17 loss) when the Dolphins went undefeated. I was playing over the tackle instead of over the guard.
“Obviously, we didn’t play it as well as Kansas City did. We got better when we played the stunt 4-3.”
Those 1969 Chiefs were worth copying. With the election of Robinson, that defense now has six Hall of Famers – tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier and defensive backs Emmitt Thomas and Robinson.
The only other defense in history that produced six Hall of Famers was the Lombardi Packers of the 1960s. The Steel Curtain has four Hall of Famers, the Purple People Eaters, Chris’ Crew and 1985 Bears three apiece, the 1963 Bears, Ravens and Buccaneers two apiece and the No Names one.
And those six busts sporting the Arrowhead in Canton are there on merit.
The Chiefs are the only championship defense of the Super Bowl era to lead their league across the board in the four major statistical areas – run, pass, scoring and total defense. The Chiefs allowed averages of 77.9 yards rushing, 148 yards passing, 225.9 total yards and 12.6 points per game.
Counting the playoffs, Kansas City held 13 of its 17 opponents to one touchdown or fewer. In the post-season, the Chiefs traveled to New York in the AFC semifinals to play the defending AFL champion Jets and kept Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath out of the end zone in a 13-6 victory.
In the AFC title game, the Chiefs traveled to Oakland to play the Raiders and held the AFL’s highest-scoring team to a single touchdown in a 17-7 victory. Oakland had been averaging 26.9 points per game. The Raiders were even better at home, averaging 32 points per game. But not against the Chiefs, who went to Oakland twice in a span of three weeks and held the Raiders to 17 total points.
In the Super Bowl, the Chiefs were 12-point underdogs against the NFL’s highest-scoring team, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes averaged 27.1 points per game on the way to a 12-2 regular season. But the Chiefs made that offense disappear, holding an opponent to seven points or less for the third consecutive game in a 23-7 victory.
In addition to the six Hall of Famers, end Jerry Mays was selected to the all-time All-AFL team. Nine of the 11 defensive starters were invited to AFL All-Star games in the 1960s and eight of them were voted to Pro Bowls after the two leagues officially merged in 1970.
End Aaron Brown and safety Jim Kearney were the only two starters who did not play in either an AFL or NFL all-star game. But Brown collected three sacks of Daryle Lamonica in the 1969 AFL title game and Kearney returned an NFL record four interceptions for touchdowns in 1972. Needless to say, the 1969 Chiefs had 11 guys who could flat play the game on defense.
Kansas City intercepted 32 passes in 1969 on the way to 59 takeaways and also sacked 48 quarterbacks. Thomas had nine interceptions and Robinson eight. Thomas ranks 12th in NFL history with 58 career interceptions and Robinson 13th with 57.
The Chiefs did not allow a 100-yard rusher all season. They allowed only one 300-yard passer and three 100-yard receivers. Namath slapped 327 passing yards and three touchdowns on the Chiefs in a November game. In the rematch five weeks later in the AFL semis, the Namath managed to complete only 14 of 40 passes for 164 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Dickie Post led the AFL in rushing that season with 873 yards. But he managed a combined three rushing yards in his two games against the Chiefs. Lance Alworth led the AFL in receiving that season with 1,003 yards. But he managed only 137 of those yards in his two games against the Chiefs. KC had a nine-sack game against Buffalo and a nine-takeaway game against Houston. The Chiefs also forced five turnovers against the Chargers, Jets and Vikings and posted a six-sack game against the Bengals.
Kansas City held Hall of Famers Floyd Little to 63 yards rushing in one game and O.J. Simpson to 62 in another. Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese passed for only 192 yards in his one crack at the 1969 Chiefs, who picked off five passes in their two games against Namath.
The induction of Robinson in August will be a celebration of a great player – and the final celebration of a truly great defense.