Situated among the top plays in Chiefs history as part of the Arrowhead Stadium Hall of Honor are three plays from the Chiefs AFC playoff game with the New York Jets at Shea Stadium.
Taken together and coming in the first round of the 1969 AFL playoffs leading to Super Bowl IV, they serve collectively as a seminal moment in franchise history.
The date was December 21, the time early in the fourth quarter with the score, 6-3, in favor of Kansas City, and the ball on the Chiefs one yard line. Jets quarterback Joe Namath had just led the defending Super Bowl champs there and had four cracks at a touchdown and what would have been a late lead.
As Willie Lanier, Kansas City’s future Hall of Fame player, recalled, it was a moment of “heads being bent, concessions being offered.” But for his part, he would have none of it. Teammate Emmitt Thomas remembered Lanier actually crying on the goal line. “He was hysterical,” Thomas said. “He said we had worked since July for this and we couldn’t throw it away in one series.”
The Jets broke the huddle, trotted to the line of scrimmage and above the din Lanier’s voice could be heard exhorting his teammates. “Dammit, they’re not going to score,” defensive end Jerry Mays said after the game, remembering Lanier’s yell. Buck Buchanan repeated Lanier’s words, then Bobby Bell, and down the line it went some in voice others with nods.
On first down, fullback Mat Snell ran right and was hit by Lanier before he got to the line of scrimmage. Bill Mathis went right on second down and got nowhere. Finally, on third down Joe Namath rolled out to the right but Bobby Bell refused to be fooled and stayed in coverage forcing the Jets QB closer and closer to the sideline and nowhere to run. On fourth down, the Jets had to settle for a field goal and eventually lost the game.
There would be other goal lines stands of course over the franchise’s 50-year history, but none bigger than this one and none made bigger by the larger than life players who played their parts to perfection.