KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In terms of talent, the Kansas City Chiefs of the late 1960s and early 1970s can match up proudly with the glory era of just about any other franchise. Those Chiefs teams put nine members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including six defensive players, a quarterback, a kicker and the head coach.
That group was responsible for the Chiefs' only world championship, a win in Super Bowl IV over the Minnesota Vikings 50 years ago, as well as the franchise's only other title game appearance, a loss in Super Bowl I against the Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs will host both of those teams over the next two weeks, beginning in Week 8 on Sunday Night Football against the Packers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
For a franchise with a sad postseason record ever since, those Chiefs teams of a half-century ago have a lot to be proud of. But one question nags at members of those teams all these years later: With good coaching and so many talented players, why didn't those Chiefs win more championships?
"We've been wondering about that for 50 years," said former Chiefs cornerback Emmitt Thomas, one of those nine Hall of Famers. "We sit around as old men now and wonder about that."
The Chiefs might have won another Super Bowl two years after their first but for some bad luck. Their normally reliable kicker and eventual Hall of Famer, Jan Stenerud, missed three field goal attempts, including a 31-yarder late in the fourth quarter, in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. The Chiefs would go on to lose in double overtime in a game that still stands as the longest in NFL history.
The Chiefs got old quickly and wouldn't make the playoffs for another 15 years, long after coach Hank Stram and his Hall of Fame players were gone.
Those Chiefs also had the misfortune of playing in an era with some great teams, including the Oakland Raiders and the Joe Namath-led New York Jets in the AFL as well as the Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC.
That doesn't change the fact that compared to other teams with that many eventual Hall of Famers, the Chiefs didn't achieve a lot in terms of championships.
"People sometimes don't give us enough credit because we didn't have a successive history," said Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier. "We didn't have the two- or three-year run sitting right there. But in terms of performers on that team, especially defense, we could have played with anybody.
"John Madden asked me that one year at the Pro Bowl how come we didn't win more. One year during that stretch we had 11 guys in the Pro Bowl. That's a good number. That gives you an idea how other people viewed our talent. I didn't really have an answer for him. It just didn't come together except just that once."
As comparisons, the 1960s Packers had 11 eventual Hall of Famer players plus coach Vince Lombardi, but they won two Super Bowls plus three NFL championships before the institution of the Super Bowl.
The 1970s Steelers had nine eventual Hall of Famers but won four Super Bowls. The 1980 San Francisco 49ers had seven Hall of Famers to go with four Super Bowl championships. The 1990s Cowboys won three Super Bowls with six eventual Hall of Fame players.
"We were definitely in the top 5 for all-time teams," Thomas said. "The thing that hurt us a lot, I think, is that we didn't win enough championships with the talent we had. I take my hat off to the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami. There were three other formidable teams around the AFL or AFC that we had to go through. We were fortunate enough to go through twice and win one. If we had won another or made another [Super Bowl] appearance, I think we would get more credit for how good we were. But man-for-man, we were in the top 5."
The 1969 Chiefs qualified for the postseason as a second-place team in their division, but they became more of a force in time for the playoffs. They allowed 20 points in their three postseason games, including seven to the Vikings in the Super Bowl.
"The Chiefs were the best defensive team we played against, no question about it," said the Chargers' quarterback of that era, John Hadl. "The Steelers were good too, but the Chiefs were better. I'm surprised the Chiefs didn't win more championships with all the talent they had."
The Chiefs had two eventual Hall of Fame players on every level of their defense: linemen Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, linebackers Lanier and Bobby Bell and defensive backs Thomas and Johnny Robinson.
"So many things stand out about the players, the coaches and the fans too," said Namath, whose Jets lost to the Chiefs in the playoffs in 1969. "KC was always a great competitor with those teams and that crowd. The fans there were just terrific. All of those great players on defense. I was a big fan of [quarterback] Lenny Dawson's. [Wide receiver] Otis Taylor was remarkable. Freddie Arbanas early on was a heck of a tight end.
"If we had to lose to somebody, I'm glad it was them. All of us would have liked to have played better. As it turned out, we lost to the better team."
Were the Chiefs the best team Namath played against?
"It's hard to put a label on any team as 'the best,'" he said. "But they were great that year they won the Super Bowl, no doubt. They just didn't play like that all the time."
Stenerud was the first kicker to reach the Hall of Fame. He made all three of his field goal attempts in Super Bowl IV.
But his bad day against the Dolphins in the double-overtime playoff loss was costly, and it haunts him.
"I still blame myself totally for that loss because if I only kicked a 31-yard field goal with 30 seconds to go, we would have won," Stenerud said. "That bothers me a lot. It was about the same length of an extra point in today's game.
"The difference between success and failure was a few inches. I almost quit football after months of thinking about that. Hank was the one more than anyone else that convinced me to continue. I was able to bounce back personally and was in the league for 14 more years and had lot of good years, and I'm in the Hall of Fame. But I can't change the score of that one game."
The Chiefs have advanced as far as the AFC Championship Game only twice since then, the latest being last season, when they fell to the New England Patriots in overtime.
The franchise's best chances for more trips to the Super Bowl were with the teams that played around 50 years ago.
"We shouldn't have to apologize for a team that won a Super Bowl," Stenerud said. "I think that's kind of the wrong take on it. It's been 50 years for other coaches and players around here, and they couldn't do it, either. I don't see any reason to dwell on why we didn't win more instead of getting all the credit we deserve for the '69 season."