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Another KC Classic Played in Buffalo 57 Years Ago

Looking back at Chiefs history

Kansas City's 27-24 victory on the road in Buffalo brought to mind another important playoff game played there 57 Januarys earlier under similar circumstances.

But in 1966, the stakes were much higher than the most recent contest. The winner would be champions of the American Football League and meet the Green Bay Packers in what became the first Super Bowl.

Both Kansas City and Buffalo were among the best American Football League teams in the mid-1960s, and the Bills came into the 1966 championship game holding consecutive league titles.

Unlike today's Highmark Stadium, this game was played in Buffalo's ancient, old War Memorial Stadium, which was described by pro football historian Bert Gambini as "an oval-shaped concrete facility built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration," and one that had been fitted with "an atrocious-looking upper deck with a corrugated steel rain shelter, which kept out little rain," altogether, "an incongruous architectural marriage of rock and iron."

Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is pictured getting ready to throw a pass, Nov. 18, 1966. (AP Photo/William P. Straeter)

Indeed, fans had to look around a string of newly installed 100-foot steel columns that were anchored roughly 20 rows from the playing surface. Players had to walk down a flight of steel stairs when they exited the tiny locker room onto a narrow concourse, past concession stands, then down another flight of stairs through an area occupied by fans and finally onto the field. Chiefs wide receiver Chris Burford described War Memorial as "one of the most decrepit stadiums in the AFL."

The images of today's Chiefs' players making their way through a hail of snowballs brought to mind the hostility that Chiefs linebacker Smokey Stover remembered his wife faced as she was seated in old War Memorial and was "barely missed by a flying beer bottle."

War Memorial was subject to all the miserable winter weather western New York could offer as front-end loaders and dump trucks cleared the surface with calcium pellets and nitrogen compound to prevent the ground from freezing. Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson found the mud and cold that day as "two conditions I hate."

Still, the temperature hovered around 33 degrees at kickoff.

The Bills got behind immediately following a fumble on the kickoff, and the Chiefs quickly scored when Dawson hit Fred Arbanas for a 29-yard TD with only 1:43 gone in the game.

Buffalo's defense was the best in the league, and the Chiefs' league-leading running game finished the day well below its season average. The defensive line was Buffalo's strength, but the Chiefs, recalled Arbanas, had "usually pretty good days against their secondary."

Bills quarterback Jack Kemp tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter on a 69-yard pass to Elbert Dubenion, but Stover remembered that Chiefs' defensive coordinator Tom Catlin told his players before the game "to hold the Bills to two touchdowns and we would win. We held them to one."

Johnny Robinson's interception near the end of the first half stopped a scoring drive by Buffalo and set up a Mike Mercer field goal for Kansas City.

"Our defense completely dominated the second half," Stover said. "The battle was ferocious, for example, the hit Fred (The Hammer) Williamson put on Glenn Bass. You would have to see it on film to appreciate it."

Unlike the recent matchup between the Bills and Chiefs which went down to the wire, this game was pretty much over when Burford's 45-yard reception in the fourth quarter led to Mike Garrett's touchdown run.

The final score was Kansas City 31, Buffalo 7.

Buffalo's players have long contended that the Bills would have been a tougher opponent for Green Bay in what became the first Super Bowl.

But Smokey Stover would have none of that argument. "After years and counting," he replied, "the Kansas City Chiefs are still the 1966 AFL champions. Who was supposed to win doesn't count, the score does. When your team has a total of nine all-pro players (1966), five offensive and four defensive, you have a winning combination."