Before their game in Oakland last week the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders were tied for the lead in the Western Division. Whoever won would clinch the division title and advance to the playoffs. Whoever lost wouldn't even be sure of making the playoffs as the American Conference's best second-place team. Take it on faith; the procedure is so tortuous that the NFL was still "clarifying" it in the 12th week of the season. With so much at stake, Hank St ram took the Chiefs to the Coast three days early, hiding them out in Palo Alto far from their madding fans and inquisitive reporters. He also raised the fine for missing the 11 p.m. curfew from $250 to 52,500.
Strain's precautions were to no avail. The Raiders, a team that has come to be wedded to last-second miracles principally performed by their elderly deus ex machina, George Blanda, won without benefit of a little sleight of hand.
What the Raiders did this time was put the early-retiring Chiefs into a coma. Blanda helped put them to sleep with two field goals and two extra points, but found it unnecessary to appear in the closing seconds, wave his right foot or hand and produce a touchdown pass or field goal. In the closing seconds of this game the Raiders were ahead 20-6; when the game ended they were still ahead 20-6.
The day before, Blanda explained what the Raiders hoped to do to the Chiefs. "We'll take it to them," he predicted. "Straight-ahead blocking. Short passes. Patience. We'll take what they give us and not look for the bomb. It really isn't a complicated game. Forget all the formations and the terminology. What it comes down to is a series of individual matches, man on man. And when it comes to that, I think we're better."
Well, the Raiders were better and they won most of the head-to-head confrontations, but the game was a bit more sophisticated than that. When the clubs played in Kansas City on Nov. 1, a game that ended in a 17-17 tie on one of Blanda's feats of magic (a 48-yard field goal in the last three seconds), Lamonica established a pattern of play-calling that Strain must have taken into account in preparing the Chiefs for this contest.
In the earlier meeting, Lamonica threw 28 passes, 18 of them on second down. He sent his backs outside tackle 26 times, 15 times on first down. He called only 12 plays inside the Kansas City tackles, eight on first down. You couldn't ask for a clearer blueprint for a game plan. The Chiefs, alas, built a defense on it.
"Against the Kansas City defense, you're better off throwing on first down," Blanda said before the game. "They play a read-and-react defense, and if they know what you're going to do you're in bad trouble. You have to create doubt in their defense, and then you make them think longer, and while they're thinking you can do what you want to do. If you look at their movies and their personnel, you begin to think there's no way you can score on them. But you can. One way or another, you can."
Still, it wasn't only an out-of-pattern offense that won for the Raiders. Their defense all but shut off the Chiefs. Most of the time the Raiders played an odd line, a defense where one lineman is stationed nose to nose with the center. For the Raiders this lineman was Tom Keating, an All-Pro tackle who earned All-Pro all over again on this bright and nippy afternoon.
Jim Tyrer, a 6'6" 275-pound offensive tackle for the Chiefs, himself an All-Pro, talked about Keating earlier in the week. "He's a great defensive tackle," Tyrer said. "When they play him head-on the center, he occupies three players. The center knows he's there and both the offensive guards have to be aware of him, because he can go either way around the center and then they have to help." Keating usually played head-on with Jack Rudnay, the Chiefs' rookie center who handled him successfully back in November. Rudnay failed to repeat last Saturday.
This was a good, satisfying football game, not won by any prestidigitation or breaks. Mainly it was won the Blanda way—in the pit. "All the stuff about formations, rolling pockets and the rest of it is meaningless," Blanda said. "If you have the right people you can run from the short punt and win. We have the right people."