Can you imagine a young Roger Staubach in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform? It almost happened. In fact, “The Dodger” was actually drafted in the 16th round (122nd overall) by the Chiefs in the 1964 draft.
The American Football League (AFL) was founded in 1959 by Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams. Hunt became the owner of the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, while Adams was the owner of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Almost immediately, the new league began challenging the much more established NFL by drafting 75% of the NFL’s first-round draft choices in 1960. However, just because the recent college graduates were drafted by AFL teams, they were under no obligation to sign with them. In fact, most did not, and chose instead to sign with the NFL teams that also drafted them.
Of all original eight AFL teams, the Dallas Texans (soon to be the Kansas City Chiefs), seemed to be hit hardest by these rejections.
While still a midshipman at the Naval Academy, Staubach was visited by Chiefs owner, Lamar Hunt. Hunt tempted the newly-married quarterback with an offer of $500 per month while he was still at Annapolis along with an additional $10,000 when he joined the Navy. For a newlywed in 1964, that was quite a sum of money.
However, Staubach chose to go with the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys, no doubt reciting the security of playing in the more established league as his reasoning. Staubach went on to become the starter after his stint in the Navy. “The Dodger” won two Super Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sadly, the Chiefs would not draft another quarterback near Staubach’s caliber until over fifty years later when they drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round (10th overall) in 2017. Many older Chiefs fans refer to this half-century drought as the curse of Roger Staubach. This is not without merit.
In the time between their failed selection of Staubach in 1964 and the fortuitous pickup of Mahomes in 2017, the Chiefs have drafted 22 quarterbacks. Those ill-fated 22 combined for just 142 touchdown passes in a span of over 50 years. Staubach passed for over 153 touchdowns in his ten-year career in Dallas. Worse still, Mahomes is the first quarterback ever drafted by (and to play for) the Chiefs who has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions. Entering just his third season, No. 15 has already established himself as the second greatest quarterback the Chiefs have ever drafted.
Finally, the curse of Roger Staubach is broken.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, the lightning-quick University of Kansas running back nicknamed the “Kansas Comet” should have been a sure thing for the Chiefs, right? After all, he was homegrown hero. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, in 1965, Gale Sayers had other ideas.
The youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame elected to go with the “Monsters of the Midway,” instead. Drafted in the first round (4th overall), Sayers signed with the Chicago Bears who drafted Sayers in the first round (4th overall).
“I signed a four-year contract with the Bears for $25,000 a year,” Sayers explained years later. “I thought (Hunt) would give me something better. He offered $27,500.
“I thought, ‘New league, no, I can’t do that.’ You didn’t know it was going to be a good league, so I decided to go with the Bears.”
Sayers enjoyed a storied seven-year career with the Bears, cut short by injuries. The speedy halfback was voted the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1965 and is a four-time Pro Bowler. So revered is Sayers in the Windy City that his jersey number (40) was retired by the Bears in 1994.
Other NFL Hall of Famers that passed on the Chiefs include the Dallas Cowboys’ “Dandy Don” Meredith and “Mr. Cowboy,” Bob Lilly. However, the Chiefs are hardly the only AFL team to draft college football standouts that, instead, opted for the security of the NFL. Here are but a few noteworthy examples:
- Ernie Davis (Running Back/Washington Redskins | Drafted by the Buffalo Bills)
- Carl Eller (Defensive End/Minnesota Vikings | Drafted by the Buffalo Bills)
- Dick Butkus (Linebacker/Chicago Bears | Drafted by the Denver Broncos)
- Bob Hayes (Wide Receiver/Dallas Cowboys | Drafted by the Denver Broncos)
- Mike Ditka (Tight End/Chicago Bears | Drafted by the Houston Oilers)
- Fran Tarkenton (Quarterback/Minnesota Vikings | Drafted by the Boston Patriots)
- Mel Renfro (Safety/Dallas Cowboys |Drafted by the Oakland Raiders)
While many key players were lost to the NFL in the 1960s, The AFL humbled the oft-time arrogant and established NFL by nabbing a few top prospects themselves. “Broadway Joe” Namath bypassed the St. Louis Cardinals and chose the glitz and glamour of New York by signing with the Jets. Powerhouse running back, Abner Haynes, turned his back on the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1960 and signed with the Texans/Chiefs. That same year, Hayes was voted both the AFL’s first ever Player of the Year, as well as their first Rookie of the Year.
However, it was the competitiveness of the AFL teams in the first four Super Bowls that put the icing on the cake. Of these Super Bowls, the NFL won the first two with the Green Bay Packers. The Jets and the Chiefs nabbed the final two for the AFL. By this time, the NFL had long realized the value added by the upstart AFL. Agreed to and announced in 1966, the two leagues officially merged in 1970 to form the nucleus of today’s NFL.
The AFL/NFL rivalry and trade wars of the 1960s were a fascinating time in the American Professional Football saga. It is the decade that forged the NFL we now know and love. The five-part sports documentary miniseries, Full Color Football, does an outstanding job of chronicling the hypnotizing, hardscrabble, and often heartbreaking history of the AFL for those interested. (All five episodes are available on YouTube.)