Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the top movie of the day and the song from that picture topped the Billboard charts, Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. Richard Nixon was in his first term as President, still more than two years before the Watergate breakin and ensuing scandal, and the National Football League had not yet played a game billed as a Super Bowl before it kicked off.
It was January, 1970, only weeks after Lamar Hunt’s daughter had been playing with a toy called “Super Ball” that bounced into the room where her father and other league representatives were meeting in preparation for the fourth game between the American and National football leagues. The bouncing toy inspired one of the meeting participants to suggest that this game should be called the Super Bowl.
Not a bad idea.
The fourth game played between the two competing leagues, a matchup that pitted the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings against the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, was the first game to be billed as the Super Bowl. It was also the last game played played before the two leagues joined forces and established the National and American football conferences of the NFL. Three teams that had been NFL franchises, the Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, joined ten AFL teams to comprise the American Football Conference.
In a deal negotiated four years earlier, the two leagues had met in a game to conclude the 1966, 1967 and 1968 seasons, billed as the AFL/NFL Championship Game. The more established league, the NFL, had dominated the first two games between the leagues with the Green Bay Packers beating the Chiefs to complete the 1966 season, 35-10, and Vince Lombardi’s squad downing the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, the following year.
Two years before the NFL and AFL merged into their two conference format, the New York Jets earned the first win in the title game between the two leagues with an upset victory, most notably guaranteed by Joe Namath, 16-7 over the Baltimore Colts. The Jets were huge underdogs, by 17½ points, before winning the AFL their first “Super Bowl” victory. The following year, the NFL Super Bowl representative was again favored by double-digits, this time the Vikings gave 10 points against the Chiefs.
In other words, the AFL teams in the first four games between the two leagues were all double-digit underdogs, but like the Jets the year before, the Chiefs upset their NFL rival. Hunt’s team downed the favored Vikings, 23-7.
Kansas City has not been back to participate in a Super Bowl since … until now.
The Chiefs have had some great players and top coaches in the past 50 years, but their postseason record entering the 2019 campaign was akin to the record the Washington Generals are saddled with against the Harlem Globetrotters. Two weeks ago, when Kansas City opened their postseason with a home win over the Houston Texans, 51-31, it marked only their second ever playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium. By the time the Chiefs won the game and beat the spread against the Tennessee Titans last week, they had won twice as many postseason games at home this year against the spread as they had in all the seasons since the merger of 1970.
They opened the postseason outscored by their road opponents 24-0, and then blew past the Texans enroute to their 20 point win. Last week, in the AFC Championship Game, Andy Reid’s squad spotted the visiting Titans ten points before dominating the second half and earning this Super Bowl trip with a 35-24 victory.
Not since Dan Marino was lighting up scoreboards early in his career with the Miami Dolphins, have we witnessed a quarterback so adept at pulling his team from deficits to runaway wins. In Marino’s second season, 1984, he led the Dolphins to Super Bowl XIX and a date with the San Francisco 49ers.
That game turned out to be a disappointment for Marino and company as San Francisco dominated the action with the better defense and a team more experienced at winning in the postseason. Behind Joe Montana, the 49ers won their second Super Bowl, 38-16.
In something no one could have predicted, that proved to be the last time Marino guided his team to the Super Bowl. This year, the star quarterback is Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. Seemingly no lead is safe for an opponent of the Chiefs with Mahomes directing a Kansas City offense that generates scoring drives seemingly as often as a conveyor belt packages Twinkies.
It is unlikely that this will be Mahomes last trip to the game that determines who collects the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but it is worth noting that some other great quarterbacks were limited, like Marino, to a single Super Bowl trip. That includes Aaron Rodgers, who won with the Packers to complete the 2010 season in his only trip to the big game, and Ken Stabler, who led the Oakland Raiders to their first Super Bowl win in 1976.
Will the 49ers blunt Mahomes first trip like they did Marino’s 35 years ago?
Or will Mahomes end a 50 year Super Bowl drought for the Chiefs with the franchise that gave birth to the name of the game?