gift to Pro Football was priceless
My memories of Hank Stram are not necessarily pleasant ones.
I can still picture him on Monday Night Football back in 1974, walking the visitors sidelines of Mile High Stadium. I cant even remember why, but the Denver crowd was booing like Ashlee Simpson had just started singing.
And here was Stram, coach of the bully Kansas City Chiefs, trying to quiet the crowd by putting his hands in the air, game plan rolled up in one hand.
Yeah, like Hank Stram was going to silence the Broncos crowd. Thats like a liberal trying to silence Rush Limbaugh.
And that was one of the good days. Most Denver fans remember Kansas City beating the Broncos brains out in the early days of the AFL.
Stram, the architect of two Denver disasters a season for 15 years, died Monday at age 83 after battling diabetes for a while. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, about 15 years too late.
To a kid who knew more about the Broncos stats than his familys birthdays, Stram joined John Madden and Al Davis as charter members of the Axis of Evil.
To an adult who has followed professional football since those days as a kid, Stram is a pro football legend who deserves his due.
It was Strams Kansas City Chiefs who legitimized the AFL, at least in its skeptics eyes, when they beat Minnesota 23-7 in Super Bowl IV. Just three years earlier, Vince Lombardis Green Bay Packers used three second-half touchdowns to bury the Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl, then known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
Just one year before Kansas Citys win over Minnesota, the New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in one of the biggest upsets in sports history. The AFL had arrived, according to fans of the league.
Had Kansas City, which was a wild card team that year (Oakland won the Western Division in 1969, but lost to the Chiefs in the AFL championship game), not beaten the Vikings, the Jets win would have likely been viewed as a fluke by non-believers.
After Otis Taylors touchdown reception that sealed the win for the Chiefs, those skeptics could only shrug their shoulders and accept the merger, like it or not.
Few, except for Stram and the Chiefs, felt they had a chance against the Vikings. However, the Chiefs were the monsters of the AFL at the time with their huge offensive and defensive lines. They simply pushed and shoved the smaller Vikings all over the field.
They did it with the 65 toss power trap, the play that Mike Garrett ran in from the 5-yard line for the Chiefs first touchdown. Stram made the play famous by yelling Sixty-five toss power trap, it ought to bust wide open, boys, and when it worked he cheered, Sixty-five toss power trap, ha ha ha, yeah!
They did it with defensive linemen like Buck Buchanan, Jerry Mays, Curly Culp and Aaron Brown delivering a physical beating to Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp that, to Kapps credit, few quarterbacks then or today could take.
They did it with a moving pocket that was later used by many offenses in the 1970s. Quarterback Len Dawson was able to matriculate the ball down the field largely because of the moving pocket.
Stram also introduced fans to the sideline in Super Bowl IV when he agreed to be miked. He showed a sense of humor that may not have been known to fans of either league.
Did you see that pass? Stram asked to nobody in particular following a duck Kapp threw that quacked incomplete. And they call us the other league.
He built a team that could have won another Super Bowl following the 1971 season had kicker Jan Stenerud, who is also in the Hall of Fame, made another field goal in regulation against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins won the game after two overtimes and reached the Super Bowl, but lost to Dallas 24-3.
The next year, Miami went 17-0 and became world champs. The Chiefs never got another chance. Eventually, the Chiefs got old and Stram, who was loyal to his players to a fault, was fired following a 5-9 season in 1974.
Strams road to the Hall of Fame stalled in New Orleans, where he had three mediocre years trying to build a winner with a franchise that had never seen one at that time. He ended up living the rest of his life as an announcer who could predict plays just from what he saw in formations and coverages.
He was in a wheelchair when he accepted his induction into the Hall of Fame. He joined fellow Chiefs inductees Buchanan, linebacker Bobby Bell, quarterback Len Dawson, Stenerud and linebacker Willie Lanier.
Two years later, pro football mourns one of the all-time greats. Even a kid whose heart was broken by Stram several times can see that.