Success of Stram, AFL Can Be Attributed to HBCU Football Standouts

By Tony McClean
Updated: July 6, 2005

“Let’s try to matriculate the ball down the field, boys!!”

Hank Stram on Super Bowl IV

American Football LegueHank Stram

Dontrelle Willis

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Any casual sports fan has either seen or heard the above words spoken by the late Kansas City Chief coach at one point or another. Stram, who passed away a few days ago, was one of the first head coaches miked for sound by Steve Sabol and the boys at NFL Films.

On that day in 1970, the Chiefs easily handled the Vikings 23-7 to give the American Football League its second straight Super Bowl victory. While the Jets’ upset of the Colts the previous year was looked upon as a huge upset, Stram’s Chiefs were clearly at better team than Minnesota on that day.

The success of that Chiefs’ squad laid in the foundation put together by Stram and longtime owner Lamar Hunt. The AFL was always looked put by the football establishment as the ugly step sister of the NFL. However in just a little time, the AFL was on a par and in many ways ahead of the older league.

Whether it was by necessity or design, the AFL was not afraid to seek the best football talent from historically black colleges at the time. While there were several HBCU players scattered among NFL rosters during the 60′s, there was always an underlying feeling that a quota system was in place.

Not so for the AFL, who opened their arms seeking such HBCU standouts like Oakland running back Clem Daniels (Prairie View), Cincinnati defensive back Ken Riley (Florida A&M), and Buffalo tight end Ernie Warlick (North Carolina Central).

The rise of the Chiefs, who also represented the AFL in Super Bowl I, can arguable to attributed to their success at drafting several HBCU players who excelled in college and on the professional ranks.

In 1963, Kansas City made Grambling defensive tackle Buck Buchanan the No. 1 pick overall in the AFL College draft that season. Six years later, they tabbed Tennessee State defensive back Jim Marsalis as their top pick (23rd overall).

Both were starters on the Chiefs’ Super Bowl title team along with several other HBCU standouts including wide receivers Otis Taylor (Prairie View) and Gloster Richardson (Jackson State), running back Noland Smith (Tennessee State) and linebacker Willie Lanier (Morgan State).

One other notable HBCU player drafted by Stram was a 6-foot-10 basketball player from Clark (Atlanta) University. Morris Stroud, who was picked in the third round by K.C. in the 1969 draft, was converted into a tight end by Stram after his days of playing hoops with the Panthers of the SIAC.

But the Chiefs weren’t alone in finding a wealth of talent on HBCU campuses. The New York Jets Super Bowl III squad also had its share of black college representatives along the way to their upset over the Baltimore Colts.

Defensive end Verlon Biggs (Jackson State) and running back Emerson Boozer (Maryland-Eastern Shore) were key reserves for Gang Green that season. Another HBCU standout on the Jets’ roster that year was the late Johnny Sample, who also played for Maryland Eastern Shore when the school was known as Maryland State.

Arguably, the most famous football player to ever play for Hawks also began his career in the AFL and would later make sports history. Oakland Raider Art Shell was an eight-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle and would later become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Shell also became the first African-American coach in the NFL’s modern era for Oakland in 1989.

Shell was just one of a handful of former AFL standouts that were also great players for black colleges. Among the best of the rest include Pro Football Hall of Famers Elvin Bethea (North Carolina A&T), Kenny Houston (Prairie View), Charlie Joiner (Grambling State), and Larry Little (Bethune-Cookman).