Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes, continues or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1969: Dawson to Pitts and Taylor; Lamonica Hurt
1969 AFL Championship Game: Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders
After upsetting the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs hit the road again for their third clash of the season with their AFL West rivals, the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders, under 33-year-old rookie head coach John Madden, won both games during the regular season, 27-24 in KC and 10-6 at home on the last weekend before the playoffs. That made Oakland's record against the Chiefs 6-1 in their last seven meetings.
It's hard to beat a good team twice in a season, much less three times. Yet the oddsma­kers favored the Raiders by four to five and a half points.
No Chief wanted to win more than Len Dawson. The most successful quarterback in AFL history had thrown five interceptions in the final week's loss to the Raiders, which sent the Chiefs on the road against the Jets and gave Oakland the title game at home.
Dawson suffered a knee injury in Game 3 of the season. Several orthopedists told him he needed surgery. But one orthopedist recommended another course of action.
"He said to not put any weight on it for two weeks and see if it's just a strain, which worked in my favor," Dawson recalled. "Remember, they didn't have MRIs back then."
He missed five games before returning to action.
Dawson recalled, "We had to go out there to play them for the right to go to Super Bowl IV. They were so confident that they were going to win that the players had their bags packed for New Orleans and had stored them at the stadium because they were going to go right to the airport."

Len Dawson calls signals. 26 is CB Nemiah Wilson.
Dawson-Pitts Big Gainer
The Raiders struck first. Late in the opening period, they moved from their 34 to the KC 27. QB Daryle Lamonica hit WR Warren Wells to the three. From there, RB Charlie Smith went over left tackle to make it 7-0 with 0:36 remaining in the quarter.
The Chiefs finally got moving late in the second quarter to tie the game, going 75y in six plays. The key play came at the two-minute mark on first down at the Oakland 43. "Given enough time to count the seagulls fluttering over the stadium," Dawson connected with WR Frank Pitts a step ahead of CB Nemiah Wilson to put the ball on the one. Wendell Hayes scored from there over right tackle with 1:50 left in the half to tie the game at seven.
Lamonica Hurts His Hand
With the score still deadlocked 7-7 early in the third quarter, Oakland DT Tom Keating recovered a Chiefs fumble at the KC 33. The turnover proved to be a turning point in the game but not in the way the Raiders expected.
After a first down incompletion, Lamonica tried another pass under heavy pressure. He threw incomplete to RB Larry Todd. But as he followed through, his hand hit DE Aaron Brown's helmet. Grimacing in pain, Darryle left the field. "I thought I'd broken it," he said afterward. "I jammed my thumb and the knuckles of my first two fingers. The hand swelled, and I couldn't close it all the way. I threw pretty good when I got back in there, but I banged it again after the first series. I didn't have the authority in my throwing that I would like to have. My grip was a problem, and I didn't have a hard follow-through."
Old Reliable backup George Blanda had to come in cold off the bench. The 42-year-old threw an incompletion, then missed a 40y field goal. He would later miss two more three-point tries. "All three center snaps were low," he said afterward. "That threw our timing off ... Just a hair, but it was enough."

Otis Taylor catches a pass over Nemiah Wilson.
Dawson-Taylor Big Gainer
On the next Oakland possession, Blanda threw an interception to CB Emmitt Thomas in the end zone when Wells fell down. Starting at the five, the Chiefs moved 95y in 10 plays to go ahead 14-7 with 3:43 left in the third quarter. There were two big plays on the drive. The first came on second down from the KC five when RB Robert Holmes was hit by LB Chip Oliver on the goal line but managed to push forward to the two to avoid a safety.
Dawson was understandably worried that the Chiefs' poor field position could cost them the game. "That was a defensive battle," Len recalled, "and if we don't get a first down and punt the ball away, that gives them great field position."
On the next play, Dawson dropped back into the end zone. "I was looking for Robert Holmes coming across the middle, but he got banged." Then he saw WR Otis Taylor at the right sideline. "I was rolling out of the pocket because I knew they'd be flying after me. I got outside, and I couldn't wait much longer, so I threw it, and it would have gone out of bounds if he didn't catch it." Taylor made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch just before stepping out of bounds at the 37.
"I was looking not just to get a few yards," said Dawson. "I was looking to get it all. It's a throw you work on all the time in practice and hope when you release the thing it's the good release and hope it's the right distance. There's a lot of hoping going on."
Tall and strong (6'3", 215lb), Taylor was one of the few receivers who could have made the catch. "I had to catch the ball as it came in–reaching out and one-handing it," he said. "I pulled it in and covered up. It was one of my better catches, especially considering the pressure of the situation and game."
The Chiefs continued the drive to the go-ahead touchdown, which came on Holmes's 5y run to make it 14-7 KC.
Lamonica returned for the next Oakland possession, but his index and middle fingers were so badly swollen he could barely grip the ball. Time and again the rest of the game, the Rai­ders had excellent scoring opportunities as the Chiefs tried to give the game away. But with a sore-handed man at the controls, the explosive Oakland offense could not add another point to their total.
Raiders Squander Opportunities
The fourth quarter began with the Raiders moving to the KC 39. But on third down, SS Jim Kearney intercepted Lamonica's pass.
Two plays later, a backfield mixup caused Dawson to drop the ball, and DT Carleton Oats pounced on it at the KC 24. On the first play, Lamonica threw down the middle into the hands of rookie CB Jim Marsalis at the 10, and he returned to the 33.
The Chiefs' generosity continued when Holmes fumbled on second down, and MLB Dan Conners recovered on the 31 with eight minutes left. That was plenty of time to tie the game, but on third-and-15, Lamonica's pass to Wells in the right corner "hung up like a lovesick badminton bird." Thomas picked it off on the 15 and returned all the way to the Oakland 18 before being tackled.
Taking no chances, the Chiefs ran the ball three times to set up Jan Stenerud's 22y field goal to make it 17-7 with 4:48 left.
That seemed to lock it up, but the Chiefs continued to be their own worst enemy. When they got the ball back, Garrett fumbled, and DT Ike Lassiter fell on the ball at the KC 13 at the two minute mark.
A quick touchdown and an onside kick? Raider fans recalled the 1968 "Heidi game" when Oakland scored two touchdowns in the last minutes to beat the Jets after NBC switched from the game to broadcast the movie Heidi.
But history did not repeat itself this time. Lamonica threw incomplete three times before being nailed for a 7y loss on fourth down.
The Chiefs ran three plays and punted, leaving the Raiders with time for just one futile play.
Post Game
"The turnovers were the difference," said a jubilant Hank Stram. "Our defense did a fan­tastic job for us, especially in pressure situations." Stram explained the four sacks. "Lamonica is a very deliberate thrower. He doesn't get the ball off quickly like a Namath. We felt we had to try to change his tempo by putting on the pressure."
Coach Madden wouldn't use Lamonica's injury as an alibi. "Of course it hurt us, but the last thing we'd do is make excuses. We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities that we got. We just didn't capitalize on our breaks."
Dawson recalled, "As we are going to our bus to catch a plane–go back to KC to get ready to go to New Orleans–here come the Raider players with suitcases in hand. They had to walk by us to get to their cars. And I'll never forget that. It was the most enjoyable thing that I can recall."
References:
Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!" The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History
, Jonathan Rand (2007)
The Little League That Could: A History of the American Football League
, Ken Rappoport (2010)
Cheating Is Encouraged: A Hard-Nosed History of the 1970s Raiders
, Mike Siani and Kristine Setting Clark (2015)