KANSAS CITY, Mo.--I'm old enough to have seen the tail end of the colorful American Football League on black and white television. I was a fan of the renegade spirit of the AFL (1960-69) more than today's corporate game.
A couple weekends ago I took a road trip to see the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the original AFL(All Fun League) teams. The Chiefs play in the new Arrowhead Stadium, built in 1972 and renovated earlier this year at a cost of $375 million. Arrowhead is the only NFL stadium to have a football shaped scoreboard. Its a more comfortable place to watch a football game than Richie Daley's renovated mistake by the lake.
I saw the Chiefs beat the Arizona (formerly Chicago) Cardinals and spent an enlightening Saturday afternoon touring Arrowhead's new Hall of Honor......
.......The hall was three years in the making and features more than 700 rare items.
Want to see how times have changed?
Check out left tackle Jim Tyrer's original bright red Dallas Texans wool sport coat. [The Chiefs were born as the Dallas Texans before moving to Kansas City in 1963.] All players wore the dress coats before the game. Can you imagine that today?
Players can't even agree on the same cans/headphones.
Tyrer's coat is near his Super Bowl IV championship ring, which is poignant. After suffering a series of business losses Tyrer killed his wife and himself in 1980 in Kansas City. The two-time All-American at Ohio State was only 41. This was before the "Post Concussion Syndrome" that is a hot topic in today's NFL. Tyrer played in 180 consecutive games for the Texans-Chiefs.
"The Chiefs and Texans were always known as a team that dressed before they went to games," curator-team historian Bob Moore said during my tour. "They always had (Texans) cuff links and tie bars. Then they moved to a snappier black blazer. For whatever reason, they also wore sideline woven sweaters (shown in kicker Jan Stenerud's number 3)"
"Those days are over," Moore said. "Those days ended when Hank (Stram, head coach) left in 1974."
Moore has been with the Chiefs for 25 years. He curated the hall where highlights include Hank Stram's mid-1960s Kodak movie projector (pre-video!), the final AFL championship trophy from 1967 and logo history from the franchise's wacky Texas birth.
I was struck by the overlooked contributions of Lloyd "The Judge" Wells, the first full-time African-American scout for a professional football team.
Wells combed historic black colleges in the south for talent. He helped deliver future hall of famers Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and all-star flanker Otis Taylor to the Chiefs.
Before the 1965 draft the NFL's Dallas Cowboys had Taylor, a graduate of Prairie View A&M, hidden in a Dallas hotel. Wells thought he had Taylor signed, sealed and delivered for the AFL Chiefs. But the Cowboys were closing in on a secret deal. Taylor's mother hipped Wells to where Taylor was hidden.
Wells--who was a sports photographer in Houston--posed as a reporter from Ebony magazine and slipped his phone number to Taylor. Around 3 a.m. Taylor climbed out a bathroom window and into a runaway Cadillac. Wells and Taylor then boarded a flight to Kansas City, and Taylor, with a new car in his posession, was drafted by the Chiefs in the fourth round.
That was AFL moxie.
"The Judge" (Courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
Part of the hall points out how the 1965 AFL All-Star Game was moved from New Orleans to Houston's Rice Stadium because of racial tensions. "People don't know about this," Moore said. "(Denver fullback) Cookie Gilchrist came out to get a cab in New Orleans. He was told to get a 'colored' cab. He goes, 'I don't care what color it is, just get me a cab.' People had guns. It was tough."
"Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports," [Triumph Books, $24.95] is David A.F. Sweet's fine new book on the AFL founder/Chiefs owner Hunt. Sweet implies that Kansas City was "beset with crime" when the Chiefs arrived from Dallas. He writes, "Guard Ed Budde was beaten in a 1964 bar fight and ended up with a metal plate in his skull. The next year, tight end Fred Arbanas was mugged and lost vision in an eye."
And they were white guys.
"I didn't have any problems moving to Kansas City," Lanier said this week in a conversation from his home in Richmond, Va. Lanier was the Chiefs star middle linebacker between 1967-77, the first African-American to excel at that position. "There were racial issues as far as housing, but that was no different than anywhere else in the United States in 1967. Those guys came in 1963.
"Bringing a sports team to a town where some gentlemen had higher incomes than the locals and then they go to the nightspots, whatever... That could happen anywhere in this country. But I didn't have issues from that side."
Dave Steidel's excellent "Remember the A.F.L." ranks the 1969 Chiefs (11-3) as the best A.F.L. team of all time. They were Super Bowl IV champions.
The bonus for Lanier was learning about Kansas City's role in breaking down barriers with baseball's Negro Leagues.
"Think about the educational system in the south," he continued. "The amount of literature in those schools related to black accomplishments was limited. Once I got to Kansas City it gave me an opportunity to know about the Negro Leagues and knowing about Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neil. I was not aware of that prior of going to Kansas City." Lanier, 65, still divides his time between Kansas City and Richmond. He's spent retirement in the investment business and has ownership interests in private equity businesses.
Lanier has season tickets to Chiefs games. His favorite post-game meal is at the legendary Gates Barbecue. "I have another property in south Kansas City and Gates has a place at 103rd and state line," he said. "My second home was in that part of town 30 years ago. I enjoy the history of Kansas City and Kansas City barbecue."
One of the wackiest sports videos I have seen is in the museum.
On Nov. 3, 1961 the Texans visited Boston University's Nickerson Field to play the Boston Patriots. Security was lame. At the end of the Friday night contest fans gathered around the perimeter of the end zone. The black and white footage shows that on the game's final play Texans quarterback Cotton Davidson threw a slant pass to Chris Burford. A fan wearing a raincoat ran darted on the field into the Patriot's defensive scheme and deflected the pass into the end zone.
The game was over. No penalty was called. The Texans lost 28-21 and missed the AFL playoffs.
This video does not appear on YouTube. Its worth the trip to Kansas City just to see this.
The Hall of Honor is defined by vision: Moore tracked down Hunt's six-page magna carta of the AFL which he wrote on American Airlines stationary on a propelller plane. "When he was flying back from Miami (in 1959) he wrote down his rules for the league," Moore said. "We took the two major pages and made annotations. For example, Hunt's idea was for teams to cut TV deals entirely on their own so they would all share the revenue. Later, the NFL adopted that."
Moore raced over to another case and said, "This is one of my favorite items. Its Chris Burford's check for a 1961 pre-season game. Look at the price."
Burford was paid $48.50 by the Dallas Texans Football Club.
Today's players need to see this, if only to see where they come from.