Chiefs-Raiders rivalry is relevant again
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Raider-hater parties are once again the rage in Kansas City.
The flames have been rekindled in a once-great rivalry. The Chiefs and Raiders are fun and relevant again, playing for first place just like they did so many times in their colorful past.
The resurgent Chiefs (5-2), who haven’t won a playoff game since 1994, are in Oakland on Sunday to take on the 4-4 Raiders.
KC is trying to hold onto first place in the AFC West and the Raiders want to snatch it away. Excitement is growing. Resentment is building, just as it did so many, many times in the 1960s and ’70s, seasons that shaped today’s National Football League.
So trim the gray out of Ben Davidson’s mustache. Tell Fred Biletnikoff to go deep. Snap the ball to Lenny the Cool and stay clear of Willie Lanier’s bone-crunching tackles.
To really get in the mood, set the high-def TV to black and white. That’s how the world still looked to many television viewers in 1968, when the Chiefs and Raiders were helping the NFL become the behemoth it is today.
“The Chiefs-Raiders rivalry was about as spirited as any in professional football in my time,” said Jim Lynch, a standout linebacker for Hank Stram’s great Kansas City teams, which played in the first Super Bowl and won the fourth meeting of AFL and NFL champions. “They didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. Now it looks like the Chiefs have something going again. This week will be fun.”
Lynch remembers his first exposure to the Raiders as a rookie in 1967.
“We were getting ready to play them in an exhibition game. All of a sudden, it wasn’t an exhibition game. It was deadly serious with all the veterans. I’m thinking, ‘What in the world is the deal with these Oakland Raiders? Are they going to come out wearing horns?’ I laughed. But nobody else was laughing.”
The rivalry weakened in recent years because, for the most part, so did the teams. First one side and then the other would go through periods of domination. But that was not the case in the ’60s and early ’70s, when two of the AFL’s, then AFC’s, most talented teams resided in Middle America and the California Bay Area.
“Every year to even think about a Super Bowl, you knew had to go through the Raiders or you had to go through the Kansas City Chiefs,” recalled former Raiders cornerback Willie Brown. “That’s how it was at that time. They’ve been struggling and so have we. We both have bounced back and now we have two good teams like we used to have back in the day.”
A man with a unique perspective is Tom Flores. He stood on the field as a coach and quarterback for the Raiders and as Len Dawson’s backup on the Chiefs’ Super Bowl champions of 1969.
“We (Oakland) weren’t very good until ’63 and then we beat them twice in ’63,” Flores recalled. “From then on, the Chiefs and Raiders, the Chiefs and Raiders. In the late ’60s, it was always Chiefs and Raiders, who was going to be the champion of the AFL West. We were the wild-card one year when I was with the Chiefs and who did we play for the championship game? We played (in Oakland). My old team. We went on to win the Super Bowl. Those rivalries are forever.”
Looking back, both the Chiefs and Raiders were more than just a collection of great players.
“Both owners and both coaches are in the Hall of Fame,” noted Lanier, who was enshrined in Canton himself in 1986. “And look how many players from those teams are in the Hall of Fame. That was another thing that helped fuel the rivalry.”
Those welcomed to the Hall of Fame from Oakland of that era include Brown and Biletnikoff, owner Al Davis, center Jim Otto, quarterback-kicker George Blanda, guard Gene Upshaw, tackle Art Shell, tight end Dave Casper, tackle Bob Brown and coach John Madden.
For the Chiefs, the lineup includes owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, Stram, Lanier, Dawson, linebacker Bobby Bell, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, place kicker Jan Stenerud and cornerback Emmitt Thomas.
“When you looked at the Raiders and Chiefs on the field in that era – that was an All-Star team right there,” said Flores.
The two organizations even became a bit obsessed with one another.
“The Raiders would draft with the Chiefs in mind and the Chiefs would draft with the Raiders in mind,” Lynch said. “We’d play them in an exhibition game. Then we’d play them twice in the regular season and then we’d play them in the playoffs. It was always a fist fight..”
The two organizations contrasted in many ways.
Hunt was reserved and soft-spoken and always looking out for his upstart league. Davis was roguish and willful, seemingly ready to cut any deal or any throat.
Stram had a strict rule against facial hair. On the road, his players dressed in blazers and slacks and walked into the stadium looking like members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The Raiders were hairy and rebellious and bragged about partying all night.
The signature play of the entire rivalry came in 1970 when the defending Super Bowl champ Chiefs faced a third down in a key game. Dawson, on a naked bootleg, picked up a first down before he stumbled and went to the ground.
Davidson, the Raiders’ standout defensive end, dived onto him with his helmet.
Was Davidson trying to hurt KC’s star QB?
“He wasn’t trying to help me,” Dawson said. “Their attitude was, if you’ve got a shot at the quarterback, take it.”
In a rage, Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor jumped on Davidson and a brawl ensued.
“A bunch of guys rushed off the sideline to get involved,” recalled Lanier. “The official called back the play, said the penalties were on both teams. We didn’t get another first down. So Blanda ends up kicking a long field goal and the game ended in a tie. And we lost the division that year by half a game.”
And to whom? To the Raiders.
“There were some crazy games that we had,” Flores said. “There were some great players. Otis Taylor should be in the Hall of Fame.”
Lanier’s most memorable moment came in Oakland when the Raiders tried a trick play on third-and-short. Instead of a running play, they threw long to Biletnikoff.
“I started running down the field looking for the arc of the ball,” Lanier said. “I had a rule that if you didn’t touch the ball, I wasn’t going to hit you. Fred was coming over from my right. I ran past him and saw him get his hand on the ball.
A moment later, Biletnikoff was on the ground, his face mask shattered, his nose broken.
“I apologized to Fred on the field and I apologized to him after the game,” Lanier said. “Most of the time, we would just run basic plays against each other and let your skill and your power make the yardage.”
One moment Dawson will never forget came not on the field but on their team bus.
The Chiefs had just beaten the Raiders in the AFL championship game in Oakland – after the Raiders had whipped the Chiefs twice during the 1969 regular season. The Raiders were so sure they would beat them again and head straight to New Orleans for the Super Bowl that they all brought their luggage to the stadium.
“They lost, so now they had to get their luggage and take it home,” Dawson said. “To do that, they had to go through the parking lot where our buses were. And we could see them.
“They didn’t stop to talk, I can assure you. It was a bitter rivalry, but that was sweet.”
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.