Kansas City Chiefs changed pro football in late 1960s
By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer
Editor's Note: As part of FOX Sports' series of Black History Month Stories, writer RJ Young is examining the players, teams and moments that changed college and professional football.
Fifty years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were the Blackest pro football team most white folks had ever seen.
For Black folks, that meant watching players they knew on TV and seeing them playing pro football the way we always knew they could play.
No question, the representation was important, but so was the success.
The 1969 Chiefs, an American Football League team with 13 players from historically Black colleges and universities on the roster, went 11-3 in the regular season and upset the Minnesota Vikings, 12-point favorites from the mighty NFL, in Super Bowl IV.
Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan (86) teamed with fellow defensive tackle Curley Culp to anchor a Chiefs defense that shut down Joe Kapp and the Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
And, yes, we’re going to say every one of those 13 players’ names:
They had Otis Taylor and Jim Kearney from Prairie View A&M, Caesar Belser from Arkansas Pine Bluff and Emmitt Thomas from Bishop College.
They had Morris Stroud from Clark Atlanta, Buck Buchanan and Goldie Sellers from Grambling State, and Gloster Richardson from Jackson State.
Last but not least, they had Willie Lanier from Morgan State, Frank Pitts and Robert Holmes from Southern University, and Jim Marsalis and Willie Mitchell from Tennessee State.
Ten years earlier, in 1959, you couldn’t fill out a 53-man roster with Black NFL players. There were just 50 across the league.
Over the next decade, as HBCU gridiron talent peaked and college football underwent its most dramatic period of integration at predominantly white institutions, teams in the NFL and the fledgling AFL started to embrace Black talent.
Coach Hank Stram (with trophy) and owner Lamar Hunt (left) built their 1969 roster with 13 players from HBCUs, including receiver Otis Taylor (second from left). Taylor was the favorite target for quarterback Len Dawson (right).
That change was long overdue, and it might have been even longer in the making if not for competition between the rival pro leagues.
The AFL’s debut in 1960 meant 10 new franchises in professional football and an influx of 350 available roster spots. That year, 57 Black players suited up for NFL teams, and 46 Black players joined the AFL.
From one season to the next, the number of Black athletes in pro football had more than doubled. Even more dramatic? The number of players from HBCUs nearly tripled, from 10 to 29.
The AFL was looking to take a bite out of the NFL’s hold on American football fans, and the upstart league used integration as a competitive advantage.
Maybe the AFL was more progressive; maybe the league just had common sense. Either way, when AFL teams actively recruited Black talent, NFL teams had to keep up, and pro football as a whole got better for it.
Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier helped lead the Chiefs to two of the first four Super Bowls.
No team in that era rode the winds of change better than the Kansas City Chiefs, who threw down a marker by selecting Buchanan, a dominant defensive tackle out of Grambling State, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1963 AFL Draft.
The following year, NFL franchises drafted 23 players from HBCUs.
The competition between the leagues didn’t end with dueling drafts, though. Signing those draftees was another task entirely, and the Chiefs found an edge for the AFL during their recruitment of Taylor, who would become an All-Pro wide receiver.
In November 1964, both the Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles picked Taylor in their respective drafts. To land Taylor and other HBCU prospects, Kansas City sought a go-between who knew the players and their college programs — someone who could earn their trust.
Enter Lloyd Wells.
Wells, a graduate of HBCU Texas Southern, was working as a sportswriter at the Houston Informer, the city’s Black weekly newspaper. He’d gotten to know Taylor and his family while covering the football program at nearby Prairie View A&M.
Lloyd Wells, pictured at lower left carrying Chiefs coach Hank Stram off the field with Otis Taylor (89), became the first full-time Black scout in AFL history. Taylor was the Chiefs' big-play threat, scoring 60 TDs in his career from 1965 to 1975.
The Chiefs saw the value Wells’ relationships could bring and hired him as a part-time scout.
After the ‘64 NFL Draft, the league invited Taylor to a party in Dallas for its newest selections. The gathering was a ploy to sign draftees before they could negotiate with AFL teams.
Wells knew this, so he tracked down the hotel where the NFL had stashed Taylor and Prairie View teammate Seth Cartwright.
Posing as a writer from Ebony magazine, Wells talked his way inside, found Taylor and Cartwright, and snuck them out of the hotel late at night. From there, they drove to an airport in Fort Worth and flew to Kansas City, where both players signed contracts.
The Vikings were favored by 12 points in Super Bowl IV, but the Chiefs helped the upstart AFL score its second consecutive upset of the NFL.
That’s how Wells went from part-time to full-time with the Chiefs and became the first full-time Black scout in AFL history. It’s also how Wells helped Kansas City build that era’s Blackest roster in pro football.
That’s the squad that spanked the Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.
That’s the squad with 13 Black players from HBCUs that brought together fathers and brothers and sons and cousins, from Grambling to Tennessee State to Southern.
That’s the squad that changed the game.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to The RJ Young Show on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.