Chiefs’ Super Bowl brings back memories of Len Dawson and their first triumph in 1970 | Opinion

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My feet were freezing. So were my hands. Dressed in my Sunday best, I actually thought I’d be shaking hands with the Chiefs players. But I didn’t want to leave and go home. I needed to hang tough and hope the arriving plane would soon bring the team to Liberty Memorial.

On a freezing day in January 1970, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees, my brother picked me up at school to drive us down to the memorial to greet the victorious Super Bowl champ Kansas City Chiefs. This came after a wonderful defeat of 23-7 over the favorite Minnesota Vikings. Getting out of school was something that never happened, so I was shocked when my mom said I could go the celebration. Both my folks believed that education was the only way to improve your life — something I still hold as true today.

Being 10 years old in fifth grade at Linden West Elementary, I thought I was actually going to meet the Chiefs players in person. In my mind, I’d be walking down a reception line like at a wedding and greeting each player — so far from the truth. I couldn’t begin to comprehend that thousands and thousands of Kansas Citizens would turn out as well to cheer our city’s first football championship.

We had no problem finding a place to park. When we arrived at Liberty Memorial, there were maybe 20 or 30 people standing around. Only a thick rope sectioned off the platform from where the fans stood. This seemed simple enough to me but it turned into a five-hour delay before any Chiefs players would take the stage. The team was delayed in returning because of bad weather. So, we waited and waited and I got colder and colder. Street shoes, nice slacks and only a jacket were not enough to help keep me warm.

Music was played to distract and cheer us up — Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel.” Mom suggested moving and dancing to the music to get our blood circulating. The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” and “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” belted out at those of us up at the front. It’s funny how you place songs to events in your life.

The crowd continued to surge and push us. I saw anti-war demonstration signs and wondered what that all meant. We could smell pot in the air, too — something I had only heard about on the news, but never smelled or seen someone use. Only two police officers were there in front of us between the chest-high rope and the stage. My mom yelled at one of them and told them to tell the crowd to stop pushing, worried that someone might get hurt or trampled. One of the policemen raised the rope over my head and had me stand by him. He told me if the crowd surged ahead to run to the stage where I’d be safe. It was a cool feeling standing next to such a tall officer. I felt safe.

After many hours of waiting, stomping our feet, singing and dancing, it was announced the Chiefs had landed at Kansas City International Airport and would soon be on their way to Liberty Memorial. I was elated.

Half an hour later the, big moment happened. The entire football team took the stage. All my football heroes were standing now right in front of me: Bobby Bell. Buck Buchanan. Jan Stenerud. Curley Culp. Ed Podolak. Jerry Mays. Mike Garrett. Otis Taylor. And of course Len Dawson. I was in awe — the only kid in my class to see the Chiefs! The only kid on my block too!

I have no pictures of that event, nothing but a mind full of wonderful memories. Giant men who played the game with dignity and respect. Many years later, I called a local news station where Dawson worked as a sports reporter. I left a message for him on the answering machine saying I’d like to get a football signed and mentioned being a little runt in ’70 at the Liberty Memorial celebration. He was happy to do it. We met up with him at the station, shook hands and I got an autographed football.

I love my Chiefs.

Rodger J. Bowman lives in Kansas City’s Northland and is a former middle school administrator and classroom instructor.

Coach Hank Stram rides on the shoulders of his players in celebration of their victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 4.
Coach Hank Stram rides on the shoulders of his players in celebration of their victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 4.