Five Ways Pro Football Was Different When The Chiefs Last Won the Super Bowl

William Pitts
Super Bowl IV - Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs
Super Bowl IV - Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs / Focus On Sport/Getty Images
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Super Bowl LIV on Sunday will mark the first time in 50 years -- 18,284 days, to be exact -- since the Kansas City Chiefs last participated in pro football's ultimate game. Their last appearance (and win) came in Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970. Since then, the league has undergone a drastic transformation, with new rules, new teams, and old teams popping up in new places.

1. The AFL-NFL Merger Hadn't Quite Happened Yet

The first four Super Bowls were a World Series-type clash between the champions of the National Football League and the American Football League, dueling for pro football supremacy. The Green Bay Packers had claimed the first two Super Bowls for the NFL, before the New York Jets famously backed up Joe Namath's "guarantee" and won Super Bowl III for the honor of the AFL.
Super Bowl IV was the final game before the AFL-NFL merger took effect the following season, and the Chiefs' 26-7 victory over the Vikings evened the "AFL-NFL Championship Game" era at two apiece.

2. The Leagues Had a Combined 26 Teams

The American Football League started out with eight teams in 1960, and while it came dangerously close to losing at least one in its early years, all eight soldiered on through the decade. The league eventually expanded with the Miami Dolphins in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.

By 1969, the NFL had reached 16 teams, adding a whopping four expansion teams (Cowboys, Vikings, Falcons, Saints) to counter the rise of the AFL. For the final three years of the pre-merger era, the league went to a bizarre four-division format with no geographical alignment whatsoever. All the divisions had in common were that their names started with the letter C (Capitol, Century, Coastal, Central). Think the NHL's old "divisions named after royalty" system. The Central featured the exact same structure as the modern-day NFC North, but the Coastal was the wildest of all, with Baltimore and Atlanta traveling cross-country to play Los Angeles and San Francisco.

3. 1,000 Rushing Yards Was An Achievement

These days, even as the run has less and less of a place in the modern NFL offense, if your team's starting running back has fewer than 1,000 rushing yards and he receives the vast majority of carries, that raises multiple red flags. Before 1978, when teams only played 14 games and rules were looser on what defensive players could do, pro running backs had more to contend with to reach the 1,000-yard mark. In 1969, only one back -- Chicago's Gale Sayers -- crossed the threshold. He just barely did it, amassing 1,032 yards. The AFL's leading rusher was the Chargers' Dickie Post, who reached 873 yards.

4. Goalposts Were On The End Zone

Watching early Super Bowl films, you might notice something peculiar about the goalposts. They were placed on the goal line, as opposed to the back of the end zone.

In 1933, the NFL placed its goalposts on the goal line, in an effort to make field goals easier and reduce tie games. As you might imagine, the posts interfered with play many times, as players ran into the support structure and errant passes could sometimes strike the crossbar. This famously happened on a critical play late in Super Bowl VII which helped secure the win for the Dolphins. The NFL relented just before the 1974 season, moving the posts to the back of the end zone.

5. At Least One News Outlet Questioned Pro Football's Future

In hindsight, this was a major swing and a miss, but 50 years ago, it probably made sense. Just as pro football had broken through to mainstream dominance, overtaking both its college counterpart and Major League Baseball as America's top sport, a U.S. News and World Report article questioned the growth potential of the soon-to-be-merged NFL.

"Some [owners] see pro football approaching its ceilings, both in attendance and in TV markets," U.S. News said. "In television, week-ends already are crowded with football—college games on Saturday, doubleheaders in each professional league on Sunday. Monday-night telecasts are coming. How many more can be added?"

Of course, today we know the answer. We now have pro football on Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night, and sometimes Saturday night. 19 of the 50 highest-rated telecasts of 2019 were NFL games. Apparently pro football found a way after all.

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