Lamar Hunt's efforts to acquire an expansion NFL franchise for his hometown of Dallas were rebuked by the league. However, his desire to secure a professional football franchise was further heightened after watching the historic 58 NFL Championship Game between Baltimore and the N.Y. Giants.
After another attempt at landing an NFL expansion franchise for Dallas was spurned, NFL officials suggested that Hunt contact the Wolfner family, owners of the Chicago Cardinals franchise. Violet Bidwell Wolfner, mother of current Cardinals owner William Bidwell, and her husband Walter eventually agreed to sell Hunt 20 percent of the Cardinals franchise. Hunt declined the opportunity. He then conceived the concept of forming a second league. "Why wouldn't a second league work?" Hunt recalled. "There was an American and National League in baseball, why not football?" Hunt contacted several other individuals who had expressed interest in the Cardinals franchise - Bud Adams (Houston), Bob Howsam (Denver), Max Winter and Bill Boyer (Minneapolis) - and gauged their interest in forming a second league. Adams quickly signed on and the young league, albeit still very much in its infancy stages, already had its first rivalry.
With four teams in the ranks including Hunt's Dallas franchise, he sought franchises in New York and Los Angeles. Before ownership in those cities was secured, Hunt sought the NFL's blessing for his endeavor, hoping that NFL Commissioner Bert Bell would oversee both leagues. "I told myself I didn't want to go into this if it meant some kind of battle," Hunt remembered. "Of course, this was one of the more naive thoughts in the history of pro sports." Although the NFL wanted no part of Hunt's new league, Hunt gave his blessing for Bell to mention it in the course of his testimony before a Congressional committee on July 28th. "At that point, no one had put up a penny and I had no commitments from New York or Los Angeles," Hunt continued. "But Bert Bell had announced it. We were in business."
Within weeks, Barron Hilton (Los Angeles) and Harry Wismer (New York) agreed to enter the six-team league. On August 14th, the first meeting of the new league was held in Chicago. Charter memberships were issued to six original cities - Dallas, New York, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. The league was officially christened the American Football League on August 22nd. Ralph Wilson (Buffalo) was extended the league's seventh franchise on October 28th and William Sullivan (Boston) became the league's eighth owner on November 22nd, the date of the inaugural AFL draft, which lasted 33 rounds. All eight original owners agreed to contribute $25,000 and to post a performance bond of $100,000. "Before there was a player, coach or general manager in the league, there was Lamar Hunt," said Sullivan. "Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL."
In November, the league nearly disbanded before it even played a single game. Winter announced that he was withdrawing from the league to accept an NFL franchise for Minneapolis. The NFL now envisioned an expansion franchise for Dallas, as well, but Hunt declined that offer. "It (the AFL) was so important to me," Hunt said. "I had a lot of money in it, a lot invested in it. Emotionally, I spent a lot of time, effort and energy on it. I felt an obligation. A guy like Billy Sullivan had everything he had in it. It wouldn't have been the right thing to do."
The AFL forged forward as former World War II hero and two-term South Dakota governor Joe Foss was named commissioner on November 30th. A second, 20-round AFL draft was held on December 2nd. Hunt pursued both legendary University of Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson and N.Y. Giants defensive assistant Tom Landry to lead his Texans franchise. Wilkinson opted to stay at Oklahoma, while Landry was destined to coach the NFL's franchise in Dallas. Hunt settled on a relatively unknown assistant coach from the University of Miami (Florida), Hank Stram. "One of the biggest reasons I hired Hank was that he really wanted the job," Hunt explained. "It turned out to be a very lucky selection on my part."
Hunt was elected President of the AFL on January 26th. Minneapolis officially withdrew from the AFL on January 27th. An ownership group from Dallas was awarded an expansion NFL franchise on January 28th to begin play that season in direct competition with the Texans. That same day, AFL owners approved the two-point conversion rule which was utilized for the AFL's 10-year existence, a rule that wouldn't resurface in the NFL for 34 more years. On January 30th, Oakland replaced Minneapolis as the eighth AFL outpost. In another ironic twist, the Chicago Cardinals franchise which Hunt had attempted to purchase a year earlier received permission from the NFL to transfer to St. Louis on March 13th. Perhaps the most important moment in the AFL's formative years came on June 9th when the league signed a five-year television contract with ABC that paid each club $112,000 during the '60 season.
The Texans set up offices in the Mercantile Securities Building, while Foss headquartered the AFL offices out of Dallas, as well. The Texans shared the Cotton Bowl for three seasons with the NFL's Cowboys. Reserved seats were $4, general admission $2 and high school students paid $.90 that initial season. Don Rossi served as the team's General Manager until November when he was succeeded by Jack Steadman. The Texans conducted their inaugural training camp at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, NM. The club embarked on a whirlwind preseason barnstorming tour that featured road games in Oakland, Tulsa, Boston, Abilene and Little Rock. An announced crowd of 51,000 at the Cotton Bowl witnessed a 24-3 victory vs. Houston (9/2) as the club concluded a perfect 6-0 preseason record.
The initial regular season victory in team history came by a 34-16 count at Oakland (9/16) thanks to 88 rushing yards, a TD and two FGs from FB Jack Spikes (TCU). In addition to Spikes, the Texans also had a strong home-state identity with QB Cotton Davidson (Baylor), LB Sherrill Headrick (TCU) and RB Abner Haynes (N. Texas State). Haynes led the league with 875 rushing yards and nine TDs, as well as combined net yards (2,100) and punt return average (15.4). Haynes' combined net yardage mark remained a franchise record until 2001. Thanks to Haynes, the Texans had a flashy, high-scoring club, which finished the year at 8-6 as three close losses kept the squad from challenging for the division title. The Texans averaged 24,500 for their home games, the highest average in the league.
Don Klosterman joined the franchise as Director of Player Personnel and a wealth of college talent was infused into the franchise's veins. The Texans and the NFL's Dallas Cowboys both drafted LB E. J. Holub (Texas Tech), described by many scouts as "the best football player in America." Holub decided to play for the Texans, joining three future Chiefs Hall of Famers - DT/DE Jerry Mays (SMU), TE Fred Arbanas (Michigan St.) and T Jim Tyrer (Ohio St.) - as part of the club's draft class. The club moved its training camp to Hunt's alma mater of SMU and started the regular season at 3-1 before hitting a six-game losing skid, the longest such streak of Stram's tenure with the franchise. One of those losses was a 28-21 decision in a Friday night contest at Boston (11/3) which featured a bizarre ending as a raincoat-clad fan knocked down a potential game-tying TD from Davidson to E Chris Burford on the game's final play. The team rebounded to claim wins in three of its final four contests to finish 6-8, marking the club's second straight finish behind the Chargers in the AFL West standings.
A pivotal moment in franchise history took place on July 2nd when Hank Stram signed free agent QB Len Dawson. Dawson entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick of Pittsburgh in '57, but was waived by Cleveland on June 12th. After spending five uneventful years in the NFL with the Steelers and Browns, Dawson received his final shot at pro football redemption from Stram. Convinced that Dawson was the man to lead the franchise on the field, the only trade personally orchestrated by Lamar Hunt in team history occurred after the season's first game when the Chiefs sent QB Cotton Davidson to Oakland in exchange for the Raiders first-round pick in '63. Dawson didn't disappoint in '62, throwing 29 TD passes to earn AFL Player of the Year honors.
Stram was named Coach of the Year and RB Curtis McClinton (Kansas) was named the '62 AFL Rookie of the Year. Haynes became the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher, concluding the season with 1,049 yards and an AFL-high 13 rushing TDs.
The Texans clinched their initial AFL Western Division Championship in November and finished with an 11-3 regular season record. Dallas won the '62 AFL Championship when K Tommy Brooker connected on a 25-yard field goal during the second overtime of the title game, giving the Texans a 20-17 victory at Houston (12/23). Spanning an elapsed time of 77:54, the game still stands as the second-longest contest in pro football history as the franchise claimed its first of three AFL titles.
Despite the Texans championship season in '62, the Dallas market simply could not sustain two professional football franchises. In early '63, Hunt had taken scouting trips to cities such as Atlanta and Miami. Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle learned of Hunt's interest in a new home for the Texans and extended an invitation for Hunt and Jack Steadman to move the franchise to Mid-America. After the duo visited Kansas City on an incognito basis, an ambitious campaign took shape to deliver on Bartle's guarantee to Hunt of tripling the season-ticket base the Texans had enjoyed in Dallas. Kansas City's mayor, nicknamed "Chief," also promised to add 3,000 permanent seats to Municipal Stadium, as well as 11,000 temporary bleacher seats. Along with Bartle, a number of other prominent Kansas Citians stepped forward to aid in the efforts, putting together more than 1,000 workers to sell season tickets. On May 22nd, Hunt announced he was moving the franchise to Kansas City. Hunt and Stram jested at one point about calling the relocated team the Kansas City Texans, but thanks to the insistence of Steadman and a "name-the-team" contest, the Chiefs were officially christened on May 26th, in part to honor the efforts of Bartle. During their inaugural season in Kansas City, the Chiefs charged $7 for box seats and $6 for reserved seats at Municipal Stadium.
Three highly-touted draft choices began their tenures with the club in '63. Hunt's trade of Davidson landed the number one overall selection in the AFL Draft which Kansas City used to select Hall of Fame DT Buck Buchanan (Grambling). Ironically, the Raiders would later draft Hall of Fame G Gene Upshaw in '67 for the express purpose of blocking Buchanan. The Chiefs tabbed G Ed Budde (Michigan St.) with their own number one selection, while stealing another future Hall of Fame inductee, LB Bobby Bell (Minnesota) in the seventh round. Buchanan, Budde and Bell all became starters on their way to a combined 526 games with the team. The first appearance of the Chiefs in Municipal Stadium attracted just 5,721 fans for a 17-13 preseason victory vs. Buffalo (8/9). Tragedy struck the club when rookie RB Stone Johnson (Grambling), who was a sprinter in the '60 Olympics in Rome, suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck in a preseason game vs. Oakland (8/30) in Wichita, KS. He died 10 days later on September 8th and his jersey number 33 was subsequently retired. Kansas City opened the regular season with a 59-7 victory at Denver (9/7), a contest that remains the highest-scoring effort in team history. On October 1st, the club moved into its new Swope Park practice facility located on East 63rd Street, where the team's headquarters remained until the opening of Arrowhead Stadium in '72. The Chiefs managed just one win and two ties in their next nine games before racking up three consecutive wins to close the year at 5-7-2.
On January 29th, the AFL and NBC signed a landmark five-year, $36-million television contract beginning with the '65 season. The Chiefs began the year with a 2-1 mark before dropping three consecutive games as several of the team's best players, including LB E. J. Holub, TE Fred Arbanas and S Johnny Robinson, missed numerous games with injuries. Arbanas missed the final two games of the year after undergoing surgery to his left eye, in which he suffered almost total loss of vision. RB Mack Lee Hill (Southern), who signed with the club as a rookie free agent and received a mere $300 signing bonus, muscled his way into the starting lineup and earned a spot in the AFL All-Star Game. The club rounded out the season with two consecutive wins to close the season at 7-7, finishing second in the AFL West behind San Diego (8-5-1). An average of just 18,126 fans attended each home game at Municipal Stadium, prompting discussion at the AFL owners' meeting about the Chiefs future in Kansas City.
The AFL and NFL had been openly competing for talent for years, but that bidding war for players heated up for the Chiefs in '65. Kansas City made RB Gale Sayers (Kansas) their first-round draft pick, but Sayers eventually signed with the Bears.
One of the more colorful tales in franchise lore transpired days before the '65 draft. The Cowboys had WR Otis Taylor (Prairie View A&M) sequestered at the Continental Hotel in Dallas. Chiefs scout Lloyd Wells, who was instrumental in the signing of many key players during the '60s, thought he had Taylor's services secured for the Chiefs when he learned of the Cowboys chicanery. After ascertaining the receiver's location from Taylor's mother, Wells posed as a reporter from Ebony magazine and slipped his phone number to Taylor unbeknownst to a Cowboys "bodyguard" watching Taylor's hotel door. At 3:00 a.m. one of the greatest "escapes" in franchise history was consummated as the receiver climbed out a bathroom window and into an awaiting Cadillac. Taylor and Wells boarded a flight for Kansas City later that morning and Taylor, with a shiny new vehicle in his possession, was subsequently drafted by the Chiefs in the fourth round, beginning an illustrious Kansas City career.
The club suffered a devastating blow when RB Mack Lee Hill suffered torn ligaments in his right knee in the next-to-last regular season game of the year at Buffalo (12/12). Following what was expected to be a routine surgery on December 14th at Menorah Hospital in Kansas City, Hill died from what was termed "a sudden and massive embolism." Hunt called Hill's death "the worst shock possible." Beginning the following year, the club annually bestowed the Mack Lee Hill Award on its top rookie or first-year performer in honor of this fallen young star. Just days after Hill's unexpected death, the mourning Chiefs defeated Denver (12/19) to finish the year with a 7-5-2 record.
The escalation in player salaries paid by the two leagues eventually led to a series of clandestine meetings between Hunt and Tex Schramm of the Cowboys that began in April at Love Field in Dallas. While merger groundwork was being laid, the Chiefs engaged in more subterfuge during the '66 draft. DE Aaron Brown (Minnesota) was highly coveted by many clubs, including the NFL's Steelers. The Steelers couldn't locate Brown on draft day since he was already aboard a flight with Hunt, who carried out the first mid-air signing in team history. Despite being drafted in the 20th round of the AFL Draft, the Chiefs signed Heisman Trophy RB Mike Garrett (USC) who earned AFL Rookie of the Year honors. Plans for the AFL-NFL merger were officially announced by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle on June 8th.
The Chiefs started the season at 3-0, including a 32-10 win at Oakland (9/18) in the first contest played at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A crowd of 43,885 attended the Chiefs home opener vs. defending AFL Champion Buffalo (10/2), the largest ever to witness a sports event in Kansas City at the time. The Chiefs dropped a 29-14 decision to the Bills, but after the contest, Stram and Buffalo head coach Joe Collier negotiated a trade in the middle of the field. Kansas City got K Mike Mercer for a fifth-round pick, solidifying one of the few weaknesses on the squad. Dawson led the league in passing, while Taylor became the first 1,000-yard receiver in franchise history, registering 1,297 yards. The Chiefs finished three games in front of Oakland to claim an AFL West title with an 11-2-1 record, setting the stage for the franchise's second trip to the AFL Championship Game.
Using a dazzling I-formation offense and a smothering defense, the Chiefs claimed a dominating 31-7 victory in the AFL title game at Buffalo (1/1) on the same day that future Chiefs star Derrick Thomas was born in Miami, Florida. That victory propelled Kansas City to the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, later renamed Super Bowl I. The term "Super Bowl" was coined by Hunt during a committee meeting, inspired by a "super ball" owned by his three children. Although not officially adopted until the third such AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the name Super Bowl was seized upon by the media and quickly became a part of the worldwide sports lexicon. At the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Chiefs met Vince Lombardi's powerful Green Bay Packers (1/15). The Chiefs played the Packers close for a half, trailing 14-10, but Green Bay took control in the final two quarters, winning the game by a score of 35-10.
The club's special teams got a boost with the addition of K Jan Stenerud (Montana St.), who originally enrolled in school on a skiing scholarship and KR Noland "Super Gnat" Smith (Tennessee St.). Interest in the team skyrocketed, forcing an increase in seating capacity at Municipal Stadium from 40,000 to 47,000. In June, Jackson County voters approved a $43 million bond issue for construction of a sports complex. The first contest between AFL and NFL teams in Kansas City resulted in a commanding 66-24 Chiefs victory vs. Chicago at Municipal Stadium (8/23). Injuries again hit the club hard during the regular season as the Chiefs clawed their way to a 9-5 record.
A debate raged in Kansas City whether the club's new stadium should be built downtown or at a "remote" location. A location in Eastern Jackson County was chosen as the site and groundbreaking ceremonies took place in July with plans calling for a unique "rolling roof" design. The '68 Chiefs boasted one of the finest defenses ever assembled by the club, allowing a franchise-low 170 points (12.1 ppg). The nucleus of the defensive unit was clearly in its prime, producing six AFL All-Stars, including all three of the squad's linebackers. Offensively, Dawson led the AFL in passing for the fourth time. The Chiefs began the season with a 7-1 record and rattled off five straight victories to close the regular season at 12-2, sharing the AFL West crown with the Raiders and setting up an AFL Western Division Playoff Game. Kansas City lost a 41-6 decision at Oakland (12/22) in the club's first postseason outing since Super Bowl I as the Raiders advanced to the AFL Championship Game against the N.Y. Jets.
The Chiefs continued the momentum they built during the '68 campaign by posting a perfect 6-0 record during preseason play. Kansas City began the regular season with four consecutive road games for the only time in team history. After a decisive 27-9 win at San Diego (9/14), the club posted a 31-0 shutout at Boston (9/21), but Dawson sustained a knee injury against the Patriots. The once-optimistic picture for the Chiefs went from bad to worse the following week when backup QB Jacky Lee went down with a broken ankle in a 24-19 loss at Cincinnati (9/28). That injury left the team's most crucial position in the hands of second-year QB Mike Livingston, who took just five snaps as a rookie in '68. However, Livingston engineered a five-game winning streak, while getting plenty of help from the club's defense. The team's home opener at Municipal Stadium was played in a daylong deluge referred to as a "frog-strangler" by Chiefs radio broadcaster Bill Grigsby. The Chiefs and Oilers combined for 14 fumbles in a 24-0 Kansas City victory (10/12). Dawson returned to the starting lineup in a 27-3 win vs. San Diego (11/9) and guided the club to three wins in the season's next four games. Broncos coach Lou Saban was infuriated following the Chiefs 31-17 win vs. Denver (11/27). Trailing 24-17 late in the game, Denver attempted an onside kick that was recovered by LB Bobby Bell, who promptly returned that kick for a 53-yard TD. Livingston started the following week vs. Buffalo (12/7) for an again-injured Dawson, who returned for the regular season finale at Oakland (12/13). A 10-6 loss vs. the Raiders gave the Chiefs an 11-3 record, good for second in the division behind Oakland (12-1-1). In an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at the N.Y. Jets (12/20), Kansas City rode its dominating defense which produced a crucial goal-line stand en route to a 13-6 win over the defending Super Bowl champions to set up a rematch with the Raiders in the final AFL Championship Game.