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Raiders vs Chiefs: A Rivalry of Greatness in a Decade of Change

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

The Raiders have had a long history of feuds with virtually every team in the NFL. In many ways, it is a part of what makes the franchise so unique. Some feuds have developed into rivalries which have lasted to this day. One of their most unique rivalries is with the Kansas City Chiefs. While the two teams have rarely been dominant at the same time, they still hate each other with a passion similar to when the rivalry was at it’s most intense in the late 1960’s. To perfectly understand the rivalry one must look back in time to the beginning of one of the NFL’s most unique rivalries. During the first decade of this rivalry, these teams would feature 14 Hall of Fame players, two Hall of Fame coaches and two Hall of Fame owners. It was during that time that both teams were building juggernauts which would one day become Super Bowl champions.

Humble Beginnings

After being rebuffed for an ownership opportunity in the NFL, Lamar Hunt decided to start his own professional football league. On a plane ride, he wrote out his plans for a league which would challenge the NFL and possibly one day join the older establishment. Hunt found other investors who were willing to become owners of the franchises occupying the new league and soon the AFL was born.

Hunt’s franchise, the Dallas Texans, was the AFL’s flagship organization. Hunt knew that he needed to find the right players and right coaches to compete in the new league and to be ready for the moment when they may be pitted against an NFL team. He hired Hank Stram to be the Texan’s first head coach, signed quarterback Cotton Davidson, running back Abner Haynes and Hall of Fame safety Johnny Robinson. Their offense was good that first year and their defense hit a hot streak at the end but inconsistency at the beginning of the year doomed them to a second place finish to the Los Angeles Chargers. They were even more inconsistent in 1961, suffering through a six game losing streak in the middle of the season and again placed second to the Chargers. The coaching was good but they lacked the players necessary to win that elusive championship.

Following the 1961 season, the Texans signed quarterback Len Dawson after he was cut by the Browns. With Dawson under center, the Texans finally won the AFL Championship. However, due to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys taking up valuable ticket revenue, Hunt knew that he would eventually have to move to maximize profits in a city unoccupied by another professional football team. The NFL was too powerful for him to take on his own and he couldn’t risk becoming bankrupt in fighting off the lowly Cowboys of the mighty NFL. He chose Kansas City, Missouri and renamed his team the Chiefs.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders were struggling to survive in the AFL. The lone bright spot in their first three years of existence was drafting Hall of Fame center Jim Otto. He would go on to anchor their offensive line through the 1974 season. The Raiders bottomed out in 1962 with a 1-13 record and nearly folded. The Buffalo Bills owner, Ralph Wilson, loaned Oakland $400,000 to stay afloat. Al Davis took over as their coach and general manager in 1963 and began building a contender. He signed players such as Cotton Davidson, Clem Daniels and Art Powell. The team improved to a 10-4 record in 1963 where they finished second behind the Chargers. The teams were quickly improving and the most heated years of the rivalry were right around the corner.

The War Years

This rivalry was defined by titanic hits on defense as much as it was for explosive offensive plays. The Chiefs drafted Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan out of Grambling State University in 1963. He would be a massive problem for the Raiders in the coming years. That same year, the Raiders signed outside linebacker Ben Davidson after he had been discarded by the NFL. He would go on to epitomize the Raiders defensive ethos of hitting late. Soon the Raiders would add Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown, Tom Keating and Dan Conners to their defense. The Chiefs would soon add a plethora of Hall of Famers to their defense such as linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell as well as cornerback Emmitt Thomas.

These two defenses would be built around Buchanan and Davidson, not just in talent but in attitude. While the Raiders thrived on intimidation, the Chiefs were more tactful in their approach. Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier became very comfortable working behind a physical and massive defensive line. Raiders employed intimidating tactics such as hitting the quarterback late, drawing a record number of penalties and using a man to man coverage which is not legal today.

The most pivotal years of the rivalry began in 1966. It was that year when the two teams would be first and second in their division with the Chiefs owning an 11-2-1 record compared to the Raiders 8-5-1 record. Al Davis had returned from his stint as AFL commissioner and was looking to dominate the NFL with his Raiders. He would remain as general manager and owner of the Raiders until his death in 2011. The first meeting between these teams in 1966 ended in a 32-10 Chiefs victory. The Raiders exacted revenge a few weeks later in Kansas City with a 34-13 drubbing. Though the division race was never really close, the fact that the Raiders were able to split the series was a major turning point in their rivalry. The Chiefs would go on to lose the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers.

The Raiders won the division handily in 1967 with a 13-1 record. The Chiefs were a distant second with a 9-5 record of their own but had added linebackers Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch in the offseason. Lanier would become the first African American middle linebacker in NFL history. The Chiefs played the Raiders close the first game, losing just 23-21, but were wiped out in the second game 44-22. The Raiders had added some critical pieces in that offseason with assistant coach John Madden, guard Gene Upshaw, quarterback/kicker George Blanda and quarterback Daryle Lamonica bringing their talents to the Raider Way. This sudden influx of talent drove the Raiders to the second Super Bowl where they would lose to the same Packers team which had defeated the Chiefs the year before. The Chiefs knew that they could not take the Raiders lightly any more.

The 1968 season was when the rivalry started to get more intense. The Chiefs had added future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Curley Culp, teaming him up with Buck Buchanan and making a devastating tandem within the trenches. The Raiders had added Hall of Fame left tackle Art Shell, teaming him up with fellow Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and Jim Otto. Both teams finished 12-2, splitting their first two games and met in a playoff to decide the division champion. The Chiefs beat the Raiders in Kansas City 24-10 in the first game and the Raiders beat the Chiefs in Oakland 38-21 in the second game. To further stoke the flames, the Raiders led the AFL in points scored while the Chiefs led the AFL in points against. The Western Playoff in Oakland was a very one sided affair, with the Raiders destroying the Chiefs 41-6 with five touchdown passes from Lamonica. While the Raiders would go on to lose to the Jets in the AFL Championship, the Chiefs seethed the offseason away, waiting for their moment when they could supplant the Raiders as division champions.

That moment would come in 1969. The Chiefs struggled that year with knee problems plaguing Len Dawson. However, they pushed forward and went 11-3. Two of those losses were to the Raiders. The first game against the Raiders was a close 27-24 loss. They hardly ran at all in the second game against the Raiders in a 10-6 defensive struggle. After dismantling the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, the Chiefs faced off against the Raiders in the last AFL Championship Game ever played. Before a raucous crowd of more than 54,000 in Oakland, the Chiefs got behind early when Oakland’s Charlie Smith ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. The rest of the game belonged to Kansas City as they slowly took back the lead with short touchdown runs by Wendell Haynes and Robert Holmes. Future Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud iced the game with a field goal, giving the Chiefs a 17-7 victory and the final AFL championship. The Chiefs would go on to win the Super Bowl over the Vikings and the Raiders were left to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts.

A New Chapter to a Unique Rivalry

The 1969 season was the last season where both teams were truly great at the same time. The following decade saw the slow demise of the Chiefs great roster while the Raiders went to the AFC Championship Game six times during the 1970’s. After so many heartbreaking losses to legendary teams in the AFC Championship Game, the Raiders finally broke through and beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl in 1976 with much of the same roster it used against the Chiefs of the late 1960’s. While these teams hated each other, they inspired greatness from each other and eventually each of them won the Super Bowl. Their rivalry today is a tribute to an era where each team was drenched in greatness and the only thing that stood in their way from a championship was each other.

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