The Vikings will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their 1969 NFL championship squad on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. That team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans on Jan. 11, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in front of 80,562 fans.
That Chiefs team took down the Raiders in the AFL Championship Game and followed that up by beating the Vikings in the Super Bowl — a feat that no one predicted.
The fact is that the Vikings were 12-point favorites and everyone thought they would dominate the Chiefs.
But in my column following that difficult Super Bowl loss, Vikings head coach Bud Grant, who was 42 years old then, told me that when he was game-planning for the Chiefs he knew they were going to be a big challenge.
“In probing the films of three games, we couldn’t find a weakness in their defense,” Grant said. “They have big, strong linemen, outstanding linebackers and a great secondary.
“Most of the time you can find a defense where you can take advantage of some weaknesses. We didn’t find any in Kansas City’s.”
The Vikings were never able to get into the game; they trailed 16-0 before they scored their first touchdown, in the third quarter on a Dave Osborn 4-yard carry.
And while the stats seem to show an even game — the Chiefs finished with 273 total yards compared to the Vikings’ 239 — Grant pointed out something about the game that remains true to this day in the NFL: The team that has more turnovers usually loses.
The Vikings that day had two fumbles lost, one by quarterback Joe Kapp and one by wide receiver John Henderson, and they also had two interceptions thrown by Kapp and another by backup QB Gary Cuozzo.
“All year we won because we didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Grant said after the loss. “We beat the Rams [23-20 in the NFL divisional playoffs] and the Cleveland Browns [27-7 in the NFL Championship Game] without making any errors. We made as many against Kansas City as we’ve made all year.
“But don’t take anything away from the Chiefs. They are one great football team.”
Kapp saw redwoods
After the game I talked with Kapp, and he summed up the 23-7 loss this way:
“We just got beat. There wasn’t any doubt that the better team won. The Kansas City defense looked like a redwood forest. I can’t remember one individual playing better than any other. They all seemed to stand out.”
Kapp got rushed all day. He finished with 183 passing yards on 16 completions but also had those two interceptions.
He told me he had badly injured a shoulder during the game.
“I got hurt on a bootleg play,” Kapp said. “I didn’t know whether to move around end or go to the inside. I decide to go wide and they got me. It may have been a blitz, but all I know is I got hit hard.”
Yes, that Chiefs team was one of the best that money could buy. Owner Lamar Hunt spent more money than any club in the AFL or NFL. He outbid everybody for every star he wanted.
One of the great players for the Chiefs was Bobby Bell, a former Gophers star.
Bell told me after the game that “when we got the big early lead on the Vikings we forced them to get away from their game plan and put the ball in the air.”
“Nobody has run the ball on us all year and we didn’t expect the Vikings to either,” he said.
At the time, the fact that the Vikings had been made heavy favorites didn’t sit well with the former Gophers All-America pick.
“A lot of people said we didn’t belong in the Super Bowl,” Bell said. “But we beat Oakland and beat Minnesota. Now they can’t say we aren’t the best team in football.”
Stram was ready
In the victors’ locker room, Chiefs head coach Hank Stram told me that one of the toughest parts of preparing to face the Vikings was that Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson’s name had been mentioned in a gambling investigation. That set back preparations, and the Chiefs spent two hours the night before the Super Bowl reviewing Vikings game film.
“This wasn’t anything unusual,” Stram said. “We just wanted to make sure that we knew exactly what we were going to do. The problem Len had during the week when the rumors circulated about him being subpoenaed in regard to the Detroit gambling investigation had taken a day away from preparation.”
Grant never forgave Stram for wearing a microphone throughout the game. He was the first coach in NFL history to wear a microphone during the Super Bowl, and Grant felt Stram was very cocky during the broadcast.
Revenge came later
The Vikings got a small amount of revenge just nine months later, in September 1970, when they opened the season with the Chiefs at Metropolitan Stadium.
The home team dominated from the kickoff, winning 27-10 while rushing for 132 yards and two scores.
“This is a game of now,” Stram said of the loss. “On Jan. 11, 1970, we were the better team. Today we weren’t.
“On that day in the Super Bowl we earned the right to be the better team and be the champion. But that means that each game you must re-earn the name of champion. Today the Vikings did a great job of controlling the football. You can’t score without the ball. It was a game where the situations were reversed from the Super Bowl.”
Grant was less diplomatic about the victory.
“They’ve been shoving it down our throats for eight months,” he told me. “What can you say when you get beat? It’s sour grapes then.
“But today we proved that the defense of the 1960s can beat the offense of the 1970s. We proved that we can play with the best of teams — including the Super Bowl champions.”
The Vikings would go to three more Super Bowls under Grant — losing 24-7 to the Dolphins in 1974, 16-6 to the Steelers in 1975 and 32-14 to the Raiders in 1977.
The legacy of those Vikings teams has always been wrong. They’re often considered unlucky or poor performers in big games, but the fact remains that only three head coaches in football history have taken their team to more Super Bowls than Grant did with the Vikings.
Those clubs were a dynasty for a decade, and it started in 1969.