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AFL versus NFL: the Super Bowls, part two

Posted by Jason Lisk on December 9, 2009

Earlier in the series, I looked at how much we should take from the four Super Bowls, by looking at historical championship games, and how much the game results deviated from the team regular season ratings. I didn't want to actually discuss the specifics of the game until I had gone in depth on the other evidence. Now, it's time to turn back to those four Super Bowls, and the teams involved. I'll tell you right now that you can find a lot of resources that go very in depth on each of these games and teams, moreso than I have the knowledge or time to do here. I have no personal knowledge of these games, have only seen the highlights, and am going strictly off what I see from reconstructing the play by plays using our Super Bowl play finder.

It does, however, give me an excuse to give a sneak peak at the ratings I have for the AFL and NFL teams of the 1960's. You may have noticed that we added the Simple Rating System ratings to the team pages and standings going back to 1960. My ratings are going to differ slightly from those you see on those pages. My rating tweaks the simple rating system, similar to what Chase is doing with the college rankings. The primary changes between my ratings and what you see on the team pages are:

1) My ratings have a soft cap at 24 points. Any margins beyond 24 points in a specific game are halved. So a 38 point victory would actually count as a 31 point spread in the ratings. This is to reduce the effect of single blowout games, while still rewarding teams that consistently win comfortably. A team with a 40 point win followed by a 10 point loss will have a lower rating than a team with two 15 point wins (assuming equal opponent strength).

2) My ratings exclude end of regular season games involving a team that has already clinched its division. It seems pretty clear to me that teams performed worse in the 1960's when they had nothing to play for. There was no seeding in the playoffs at that time, so once a team clinched a division title, the motivation was simply to be ready for the playoff game. Thus, many of the playoff teams have higher ratings in my system than they do considering all the results.

3) My ratings include the playoff games within the same league (but not the Super Bowl games). The SRS figures on the team pages are regular season only.

4) As a result of 2 and 3, above, my ratings also include a home field advantage adjustment for teams that played an uneven number of home or road games.

The ratings that I am providing today are not adjusted for league, meaning that it is simply a rating compared to average within the particular league that particular season. With all that in mind, let's get to the Super Bowls.

SUPER BOWL I, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers

It was only fitting that the first Super Bowl would feature a battle between a team forged largely before the AFL's emergence and who had been the face of the NFL for the decade, against a team built largely in competition with the NFL by the owner who spearheaded the new league.

The Green Bay Packers, particular on the offensive side of the ball, were largely built from the drafts of 1957 to 1959, right before the AFL came into existence. In this way, the Packers came of age at the right time and had an advantage over other NFL teams seeking to rebuild a few years later--a large core of football talent accumulated before the AFL siphoned players away. The offense for the 1966 Packers had many players who were there in 1961 and 1962. By 1966, though, the style had changed. Paul Hornung played his last game in 1966 before the Super Bowl. Jim Taylor was a shell of his former dominating self. Bart Starr and the receivers played a more prominent role by 1966. On defense, the Packers had the constant secondary that had been a part of their three prior championships, with Herb Adderley, Willie Wood and Bob Jeter.

On the other sideline, the Kansas City Chiefs had been underachievers for the previous three years. The franchise had consistently been one of the best AFL teams since the league began, but routinely fell just short and perpetually underperformed, compared to what you might expect based on just looking at point differentials. The franchise had won the AFL Championship as the Dallas Texans in 1962, but then endured three straight finishes behind the Chargers in the AFL West. It was a team loaded with talent that was highly drafted by NFL teams, and they finally put it together in 1966. I assessed that they were the team that got the most talent in the early part of the decade.

Thus, we had a clash of the old guard (the best team built before 1960) and the new (the best built after), with the difference being the Packers also had some good players added after 1960, and more experience as winners.

Interestingly, the two teams rate as equally dominant within their respective leagues in 1966. Both were the clearly best teams in their leagues. Green Bay has a rating of +12.6 and Kansas City has a rating of +12.4. Thus, we can say the difference between these two teams was the difference in the respective leagues on average. How big was the difference? We'll get there soon.

The play by play from Super Bowl I (minus punts, field goals and penalties)

As for the game itself, the thing that stands out to me is Bart Starr's ridiculous performance on third down. The eventual margin of 25 points was dictated by the differing fortunes on third down plays. This was actually a close game at halftime, with the Packers holding a 14-10 lead. Kansas City had 181 yards on 28 plays in the first half compared with Green Bay's 164 on 29 plays. The difference was a 3rd down stop where Kansas City came up two yards short and settled for a field goal, versus a third down conversion on 3rd and 7, one play before Green Bay's second touchdown.

Bart Starr was sacked on his first third down attempt on the first possession of the game. From that point until the Packers scored to make it 35-10 early in the fourth quarter, Starr was 5 for 6 passing on third down (all for first downs) and the Packers also converted 6 of 7 rushing third downs.

The game, though, turned decisively on two third down plays for the Chiefs to start the second half. Kansas City got the ball to start the second half and moved to midfield. On 3rd and 5, Len Dawson's pass was tipped and then intercepted by Willie Wood and returned to the Kansas City 5 yard line. Green Bay scored on the next play to take a 21-10 lead. On the next drive, Kansas City had a 3rd and 1 at midfield and were thrown for a loss, and by the time the Chiefs next got a first down on offense, the score was 28-10.

In my earlier post, I noted that the standard deviation for these types of games is about 20 points from the expected. If Kansas City was at least five points worse than Green Bay on average, the actual game result would be certainly within reason. Bart Starr certainly played a fantastic game. I doubt that the Packers were converting over 80% of their third downs in the regular season, so this was an exceptional game for the Packers. I don't think I'm being controversial to say that the 25 point spread was not indicative of the average difference between the two teams (and leagues).

SUPER BOWL II: Oakland Raiders vs. Green Bay Packers

This was a last hurrah for the Green Bay Packer dynasty. Jim Taylor was no longer there, but most of the starters from the previous year were back. The Packers caught some breaks along the way. Had the Saints not entered the league in 1967 and forced the switch to a four division format, the Packers in 1967 might have finished behind the Colts and Rams in the Western Division for the spot in the championship game. As it turned out though, the Packers wrapped up the Central Division title rather easily and coasted through two meaningless losses at the end of the season. The Rams and Colts, meanwhile, battled for a playoff spot, and the Colts missed the playoffs despite having no losses entering the final showdown against the Rams. Because playoff sites were rotated on a scheduled basis, rather than based on record, the Packers also got to host the warm weather Rams even though they had the inferior W-L record, and then got to host the NFL Championship game as well. I have the Packers rated as +11.3 in 1967, which is third in the NFL behind the Colts and Rams (but within a point of each).

On the other side, the Oakland Raiders turned in the most dominant season in AFL history, cruising to a 13-1 mark and destroying Houston in the AFL Championship. I have the Raiders as +15.9 in 1967. Whereas the previous AFL Champions had been mostly built through the drafting and signing of players, Oakland was a combination of cast-offs and trades from other teams, and drafting. The offensive line was young and built entirely through the draft, and featured two future Hall of Famers in Jim Otto and Gene Upshaw. The backfield and half the defensive starters had played for other teams before joining Oakland. Then there was Daryle Lamonica, who had waited for his turn behind Jack Kemp in Buffalo, and it finally came when he was traded to Oakland before the 1967 season. The Mad Bomber took the Raiders from a team that was improving and had challenged the Chiefs and Chargers in recent years, to a team that ran roughshod over the league.

Judging by the numbers (without any league adjustment), this should have been the closest matchup of the four Super Bowls. As it would turn out, three of the four most dominant teams of the decade (Green Bay in 1962 being the other) would collapse in the Super Bowl, with Oakland being the first.

The play by play from Super Bowl II

The game itself was far less competitive than the first Super Bowl, even though the final scoring margin was slightly lower. The main difference in the margin was that Starr and the Packers offense weren't so lethal on third down, and settled for four field goals after reaching scoring position. Whereas third down was the key to the first game, Super Bowl II was decided on first down.

The NFL had the reputation as the more run-oriented league, and Oakland had the Mad Bomber. However, the Raiders were extremely conservative on first down, and it cost them. Up until the point that the Raiders fell behind 23-7 midway through the third quarter, Oakland had called 11 running plays on first down, compared to only 2 passes. Those running plays gained only 29 yards (half of them coming on one run) and the result was that Lamonica was throwing in long yardage situations on third down. Daryle Lamonica had a horrible game, going 2 for 9 for 27 yards with a sack and an interception on third down. Both of those completions came after the outcome was decided in the fourth quarter. I can't help but think he wasn't helped any by the play calling on first down.

The Packers meanwhile, were more balanced on first down, with Starr throwing more often on first down early in the game. The key play was a 62 yard strike to Boyd Dowler on first down that made the score 13-0. All told, the Packers ran the ball 10 times and passed it 11 times up until the point they took the 23-7 lead.

SUPER BOWL III: New York Jets vs. Baltimore Colts

The Jets, like the Packers the year before, took advantage of some breaks in scheduling on their way to the Super Bowl. Kansas City and Oakland had to meet in a Western Division playoff game, while the Jets got a week off, and because of the rotation, would get to host the winner. The Jets took full advantage of it, beating the defending champion Oakland Raiders in a hard fought championship game.

If Kansas City was a team built in the early part of the decade, the Jets were the team of the middle of the decade in terms of talent from the draft. Joe Namath is the most well known, but players like George Sauer, Verlon Biggs, Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell were also added to a core of players from the early part of the decade. The Jets also had four starters who were originally drafted by the Baltimore Colts. The Jets finally broke through in 1968, winning their first Eastern Division title. After a 3-2 start, the Jets reeled off eight victories in nine games, with the only loss coming at Oakland. Five of those eight victories came by more than two touchdowns, so the Jets were definitely playing better ball than the overall numbers suggest by season’s end. I have the Jets with a rating of +7.2 in 1968, behind both Oakland and Kansas City that year overall.

The Baltimore Colts, meanwhile, had overcome the disappointment of being one game away from going through the regular season without a loss the previous year, and emerged as one of the most dominant teams in NFL regular season history. They did so largely without Johnny Unitas and behind a journeyman at quarterback in Earl Morrall. Unlike the Packers, the 1968 Colts were built largely from players who were contemporaries of the AFL stars. Sixteen of the starters for the Colts in 1968 entered professional football in the 1960's. Thus, it was the first showdown largely featuring teams built at the same time. I have the Colts at +17.7 points better than the NFL average. Even without any kind of league adjustment, the Colts were a heavy favorite of around 10.5 points entering the game.

The play by play from Super Bowl III

If you are going to win a game as an underdog, you need to catch some breaks and cash them in. You've got to take advantage of every opportunity, and have the favorite squander their chances. That's exactly what happened in Super Bowl III. The first half total yards shows that the Jets played the Colts evenly, gaining 179 yards on 36 plays compared to the Colts' 163 yards on 28 plays. The first scoring opportunity went to the Colts, who moved the ball to a first down at the Jets 19 on their opening drive. They gained no more yards, then missed the field goal. An eleven play drive ended with no points, and the underdogs had hope. After an exchange of punts, Sauer fumbled deep in Jets territory, and the Colts took over at the 12. Morrall threw an interception on third and four inside the ten yard line. Two trips inside the red zone, no points for the favorite.

Having survived those two chances, the Jets went on the attack. They put together a twelve play drive that started and ended with a heavy dose of Matt Snell, and saw Namath put together some passes in the midfield area. The Jets cashed in their red zone chance, 7-0.

The Colts then moved into Jets territory again before stalling. After an exchange of punts with the Jets, the Colts got the biggest play of the game, a fifty-eight yard run by Tom Matte that moved the ball to the New York 16. Two plays later though, Earl Morrall threw his second red zone interception of the half. The Jets were pinned deep after the interception, and had to punt. Baltimore got the ball back in Jets territory but with very little time left, and Morrall threw his third interception on the final play of the half. In the first half, the Colts had penetrated the New York 40 yard line on five of the six possessions, and the red zone three times, but scored no points. The Jets had survived the field position disadvantage and had only been inside the Baltimore 40 twice, but held a 7-0 lead.

Still, despite all the errors in the scoring zone, the Colts were very much alive, and were getting the ball to open the second half. Tom Matte fumbled on the first play of the half, though, and the Jets converted it into a field goal to extend the lead. The Jets stopped the Colts cold, and went on another drive ending in a field goal. Unitas came on to replace Morrall, but another three plays and a punt led to the drive of the game. The Jets sealed the victory on the next drive, when Namath hit Sauer on a 39 yard pass to the Baltimore 10 right before the end of the third quarter. The Jets couldn't quite punch it in, but a field goal was just as good there, as the lead went to 16-0. Baltimore had gained only 11 yards on 7 plays in the third.

The fourth quarter showed the ability of Unitas, even in a desperate losing cause, in running a hurry up attack. The Colts ran 29 plays in the fourth quarter, and this despite the Jets running clock by never throwing a pass in the fourth, and running thirteen straight times after they kicked the final field goal at the start of the quarter. It was too little, too late for the Colts. Unitas was intercepted to end the first drive of the fourth after Baltimore again got to the New York 25. The Colts went for it on 4th and 10 from their own 20 on the next possession, and converted, which ultimately led to the only touchdown. The Colts got the ball back again, within 9, and moved it again to the Jets' red zone, but turned it over on downs to effectively end the game. All told, the total yardage for the game was almost dead even (337 to 324 for the Jets) but the Colts squandered opportunity after opportunity, and the Jets jumped on Baltimore when they had the chance in the third quarter.

SUPER BOWL IV: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Minnesota Vikings

The Kansas City Chiefs were largely the same team on offense that had played in Super Bowl I, and were just a little older. On defense, though, they had key changes and had turned in the best defensive performance in AFL history in the regular season. In Super Bowl I, Starr had repeatedly torched the pass defense, and particularly the corners, on third down. Both cornerbacks were replaced by 1969, with Jim Kearney and future hall of famer Emmitt Thomas bolstering that position greatly. The linebacking corp had also been overhauled, with long time AFL stalwarts Sherrill Headrick and E.J. Holub (Holub had actually moved to Center by this time) replaced by young stars in Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch.

My rating has Kansas City as a +12.0 in 1969, which, despite gaining entry to the playoffs as the second place finisher, rates as the best score among AFL teams that year. You also have to consider that Len Dawson missed half of the regular season with injury. At first glance, it doesn't appear that it had much impact, as the Chiefs were +12.8 with a 7-2 record in games started by Dawson (including the playoffs) and +12.7 with a 6-1 record in games started by others. A closer look, though, shows a huge difference largely due to schedule. Dawson played all three games against Oakland, both games against the Jets and both games against the Chargers (the only other above average team in 1969). Considering home field advantage and opponent, I have the Chiefs as being over 9 points better when Dawson started, as a dominant +16.2 in the nine games with him at quarterback. Thus, we might consider that Kansas City was even better than the raw numbers showed when they took the field against Minnesota.

Minnesota was a true contemporary of the AFL. The Minnesota franchise had originally been a member of the AFL, and had even participated in the inaugural draft in late 1959. The NFL, though, lured the ownership group away by promising to make them a member of the NFL in 1961. Like Kansas City, Minnesota showed that you could build a good team to compete against existing NFL powers by drafting well and having a good organization in place. The team had already built a decent talent base early in the decade, and added to it with Alan Page and Ron Yary in the first round of the combined drafts of 1967 and 1968. The team had parted ways with Fran Tarkenton, who started for the expansion team as a 21 year old, and led them to early solid play. The more workmanlike (some might say less skilled) CFL veteran Joe Kapp was the quarterback by 1969. The team, though, was built around the defense, and the Purple People Eaters exploded on the league in 1969 after finishing ahead of the Packers for their first division title a year earlier. All they did in 1969 was turn in the most dominant regular season of the decade. I have Minnesota at +18.0 in 1969, ahead of both the 1968 Colts and the 1962 Packers.

As we saw, though, Kansas City wasn't far behind when Dawson was at quarterback. The 1969 Chiefs with Dawson rated just a few points behind the Vikings on a neutral field, before any adjustment between the two leagues. Though it may have been perceived as such by the point spread and betting public, this wasn't a David versus Goliath match. It was a heavy weight fight and easily the best matchup in terms of the combined dominance over their respective leagues by both teams.

The play by play from Super Bowl IV

Both teams had dominant defenses that made it very difficult for the respective offenses. It was the Chiefs' norseman, Jan Stenerud, that was the difference. On the opening drive, Minnesota moved the ball to the Kansas City 39. During this time period, this would ordinarily be on the outside of scoring position, and it was for Minnesota. They stalled and punted to Kansas City. The Chiefs matched the Vikings drive, and moved the ball to Minnesota territory, but the drive halted with fourth down at the Minnesota 41. Instead of punting, Hank Stram sent Stenerud on for a Super Bowl record 48 yard kick (remember, the goal posts were on the goal line at this time) and he nailed it. The teams had matched each other, but the Chiefs had a 3-0 lead.

Minnesota punted back to Kansas City, and again the Chiefs went on a solid drive that bogged down at the Minnesota 25. Stenerud again nailed the kick, 6-0. The teams then exchanged turnovers on the Minnesota end of the field, with the Vikings intercepting Dawson on a deep pass inside their own 10. They couldn’t move it and punted the ball back to Kansas City in good field position. One 19 yard run by WR Frank Pitts was the only positive for the Chiefs, but it was enough to move in range for Stenerud’s third field goal of the half. At this point in the game, neither team had dominated, and the offenses had been able to hit on a few plays before being shut down, but thanks to field position and Stenerud’s foot, the Chiefs held a 9-0 lead.

On the next kickoff, Minnesota fumbled inside the 20 and it was recovered by Kansas City. A key third down pass to Otis Taylor kept the possession alive, which set up another key third down play, the famous Hank Stram call of “65 toss power trap” touchdown run from the five yard line for Mike Garrett. One costly turnover, and the dominant Vikings were down 16-0 over halfway through the second quarter.

The Chiefs got the ball to start the second half, and moved the ball to midfield before a costly penalty set them back. The Vikings took the ball and went on their only sustained drive of the game, a 10 yard drive that covered 69 yards. With the score 16-7, the Vikings were back in the game. Kansas City, though, moved the ball to midfield. At that point, the Vikings hadn’t given up any big plays, the longest Chiefs gain being 20 yards. Dawson hit Otis Taylor along the sideline, and he broke a tackle and raced 46 yards for the decisive score right before the end of the third quarter.

Neither of these defenses were the kind you wanted to fall behind against, and for the rest of the game, the Chiefs harassed Kapp. The Vikings defense, for their part, did not allow much either after that. Kapp (and Gary Cuozzo) attempted 11 passes after that Taylor touchdown, and were sacked once, and threw three interceptions (two by Kapp). Whereas the previous Super Bowl upset had seen the Jets hold the Colts from points in the red zone, Minnesota simply couldn’t get there. They scored their touchdown on their only trip past the Kansas City 39. In a heavy weight fight, Stenerud gave the body blows early to gain the edge, and then the Chiefs were able to land the one big shot that put the game away.

For previous posts in the AFL versus NFL series, click here.