There is an American Football League rule against using champagne in a locker room for the purpose of a) drinking, b) sloshing on people or c) posing for cameras with. The idea, of course, is to improve the tone of celebrations.
"We just don't think it looks very elegant to see a bunch of athletes pouring champagne," says AFL President Milt Woodard. So the Kansas City Chiefs carried half a dozen cases of special domestic mouthwash into their locker room last Sunday, popped the corks and stood around gargling joyously at each other—their right as the AFL's 1966 champions and the league's first representative in the Super Bowl game against the NFL.
"Gentlemen," said Middle Linebacker Sherrill Headrick, climbing atop a trunk and calling for attention, "I would like to announce that I am very, very happy at this moment." The announcement was almost lost among the exploding corks, the yelling, the wrestling and the other announcements that were being made simultaneously. It was entirely wasted on one thin, quiet, handsome fellow who was out of his uniform and into the shower before the Chiefs' owner, Lamar Hunt, could even struggle up the stairs into the locker room.
Lenny Dawson—known as Daddy Cool Breeze to the Chiefs—was knotting his tie and combing his hair while most of his teammates were still tearing the tape off their hands and ankles.
Although he had been subjected to a pass rush that had thrown him for 63 yards in losses, Dawson, the Kansas City quarterback, looked as if he had just come in from the golf course. That is the Dawson way. "Inside," says his coach, Hank Stram, "Lenny may be dying. Outside, you'd never guess it."
Last Sunday, in the Chiefs' 31-7 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on a thoroughly cold, wet, miserable day in Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium, Dawson was superb. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He ran five times for 28 yards. He faced up to a confusing blitz. He called more audibles than usual. It was such a big day that Dawson almost admitted it.
"This," he said, "is the second most thrilling day of my life." The second most thrilling? "Yeah," he said. "The first most thrilling is coming up on January 15."
Although they had just finished beating a very tough team, the Chiefs began at once to think about their next opponents—the Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay-Dallas game had not begun at the time the Chiefs got through with Buffalo, but the Packers were the team on the minds of the Kansas City players.
"Personally, I'd much rather play Green Bay than Dallas," said Jerry Mays, who has been All-AFL at both defensive end and tackle. "I'd be so high against Dallas [he was born there and went to college at SMU] that it might hurt me. But the reason I'd rather play Green Bay is that the Packers are established as the best in the NFL over a period of years. We want to play the best. If we had to play Dallas and we beat the Cowboys, people would say, 'Oh, well, the Cowboys were a fluke team, anyway.'
"This is not taking anything away from the Cowboys, but they have no more experience than we have. They started the same year we did. My opinion may be biased, prejudiced and naive, but I don't see how any team could have had a tougher defensive line than Buffalo. I don't think it's possible."
Dawson is inclined to agree. He played two years for Cleveland behind Milt Plum. Before that, he was a backup quarterback to Bobby Layne at Pittsburgh. "This club," said Dawson, "is better than either Cleveland or Pittsburgh when I was with them. As a quarterback, if you can throw the ball where you want to it doesn't make any difference what league you're in."
The Chiefs came into Buffalo as mild favorites. But the weather and the Buffalo defense had threatened to cancel Kansas City's offense—the highest-scoring offense in the league—and turn the game into one of defense and breaks. The field was frozen on the sides, despite a chemical treatment, and was muddy in the center. The temperature fell to the low 30s and a chill, nasty rain came down on the puddles of ice and slosh that glistened under the stadium lights.
As if believing in the importance of breaks, the Chiefs quickly made one for themselves. The opening kickoff was a sort of pop fly that Buffalo Tackle Dudley Meredith caught and fumbled at his own 31. After Jerrel Wilson recovered for Kansas City, the Chiefs shifted from an I formation into a full-house (or T formation) backfield and scored in three plays. Dawson threw a 29-yard pass to Tight End Fred Arbanas, who ran a deep flag pattern for the touchdown.
It took the Bills five minutes to tie the score. Quarterback Jack Kemp, who has been bothered by a sore arm, passed to wide receiver Elbert Dubenion, who outran Corner Back Willie Mitchell and Safety Bobby Hunt for the last 40 yards of a 69-yard play. Dubenion, who is called Golden Wheels, has a habit of stepping up and down curbs 200 times at a stretch whenever he thinks of it, a practice that has strengthened his legs after an operation last year. He appeared to be moving faster on that play than at any time since 1964, when he had an incredible average of 27 yards per catch.
Buffalo's mysterious place-kicker—Gerald or Gerard Lusteg, once known as Booth, alumnus of either Boston College or the University of Connecticut, depending on which strikes his fancy—kicked the extra point for the tie. At that stage it still seemed bound to be a close game that might be decided by the kickers, Lusteg or Mike Mercer of Kansas City.
The Bills are somewhat disenchanted with their man, who made only 19 of 38 field goals during the season. The Bills call him Brand X, and Buffalo Coach Joe Collier calls him Whatshis-name. But after Lusteg's extra point the Bills settled down to playing a vicious, blitzing defense that kept Dawson changing formations and checking off his plays at the line of scrimmage.
"I was amazed," Dawson said later. "I'd never known the Bills to blitz that much. I had to keep guessing with them and I called a lot more audibles than I would ordinarily."
Mike Garrett, the Kansas City rookie halfback who won the Heisman Trophy last year at USC, grabbed a Buffalo punt in heavy traffic early in the second quarter and his long return, set up the Chiefs at the Bills' 45. After a couple of scrambles and another pass to Arbanas (the Buffalo tackler gave him a separated shoulder and a seat on the bench), Dawson rolled to his right from the Buffalo 29. The blitz was on again. Middle Linebacker Harry Jacobs came up behind Dawson and hit him a shattering blow. At impact, Dawson threw to Flanker Otis Taylor, who used his 210 pounds to run over four Bills on his way into the end zone to put Kansas City in front 14-7.
Buffalo had two big chances before the half. One came on the next Kansas City series, when Corner Back Tom Janik almost intercepted a Dawson flat pass at the Chiefs' 21. It would have been a certain touchdown and might have changed the game. The Bills got the ball again with a minute left in the half and, using passes to rookie Halfback Bobby Burnett, moved to the Kansas City 10. With 49 seconds to play, rookie Bobby Crockett ran a quick post pattern and Kansas City Corner Back Willie Mitchell fell down. Crockett was open for the touchdown. But suddenly here came Kansas City's veteran free safety, Johnny Robinson.
"We had a blitz called," said Robinson. "My man was Jack Spikes [a Buffalo running back], but he stayed in to block. I looked to the strong side, and as I looked back to the weak side I saw Crockett. I went for the ball. I was very lucky."
Robinson intercepted at the goal line and ran 72 yards to the Buffalo 28. Mercer kicked a 32-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the half, and Kansas City had a 17-7 lead rather than a tie.
There was hardly a gesture at scoring in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter Dawson passed 45 yards to Chris Burford to put the Chiefs in business at the Buffalo four, and Garrett scored from about a foot out. Behind 24-7, Kemp threw for Glenn Bass, who was knocked cold by a helmet-smacking maneuver that Kansas City Corner Back Fred Williamson calls The Hammer. Bass fumbled. Three plays later Garrett started to the left on a sweep from the Buffalo 19, got trapped, stopped as if to pass, turned back to the right, circled deep to escape a tackle, wove through a forest of Buffalo tacklers and wound up in the end zone with his second touchdown. "When I saw the goal line finally, I said, 'That's mine,' " Garrett said later.
That run and the extra point ended the scoring. The Chiefs were the new champs. From the bleachers at Buffalo's inadequate stadium, snowballs, rocks and chunks of ice began to fly toward the field. The Chiefs were soundly pelted but they escaped and clattered into their locker room for a few gargles.
The Kansas City offense had added a different concept or two for the Bills. Stram believes in the play-action pass—a pass that starts by looking like a run—and in a "moving pocket" of pass protection as the quarterback slides down the line. Against the Bills, the Chiefs kept shifting from the I formation into several others.
"What we were doing was creating formations," said Stram. "They were in some odd spacings. So we would shift to reduce the time they had to read our offense. They read basic offenses so well we felt we needed to cause some indecision to them by shifting. On defense, we used a little different spacing and most of the time stayed in an undershifted 5-3. The 4-3 defense, the one we have used most often in the past, we used the least of all today."
When asked if the 10 to 12 formations Kansas City shifted into from the I had bothered the Bills, Buffalo Coach Joe Collier smiled faintly. "Those shifts didn't bother us. They've done all those things before except the full house," he said. "You don't win with formations. You win with studs."
In their own cramped quarters, amid the jostle of reporters, TV cameras and those dozens of intruders who always manage to squeeze into a locker room, the Chiefs kept busy with deserved self-congratulations. Stram said his team "reeks with character." He said the team effort was "supreme." He said Dawson's poise was "fabulous." "I am going to drop The Hammer on Green Bay," said Williamson.
The players' pay amounted to $694,000 from the gate and TV. The Chiefs took 51 shares of $5,308 each, and the Bills got 47½ shares of $3,800 each. The big payday comes Jan. 15, when the winners get $15,000 each, a fact that pro football players—though, certainly, they play for pride and the feeling of accomplishment—find impossible to overlook.
And there was one more guy around who was thinking about money. In the noise of the Kansas City locker room stood Milt Woodard, not one bit fooled by the Chiefs' mouthwash. Listerine corks do not ricochet off the ceiling, Lavoris does not foam, Micrin is not ingested by the gulp. "This," said Woodard, "will cost Kansas City a fine of $2,000." That's not even back pocket money for champions these days.
Cradling the football in the end zone, Flanker Otis Taylor scores on a 29-yard pass from Lenny Dawson to put Kansas City ahead of Buffalo for good. Taylor steamrolled one Bills defender, Butch Byrd, and then beat Tommy Janik (27) to the goal line in the second quarter.
Kansas City rookie Halfback Mike Garrett climaxes a relentless personal struggle with the Buffalo defensive line as he scores his first touchdown.