Chiefs flipped over Haynes' coin call

January 11, 1994|By Phil Jackman

Somewhere, across this favored land of ours, a smile had to play on the face of Abner Haynes the other day as representatives of the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers met to conduct a coin toss prior to overtime.

After all, what chance is there that Abner, Kansas City's finest in his day, could ever forget that fateful day in Houston against the two-time defending champion Oilers in the American Football League title game?

To recall Dec. 22, 1962, let's remember that the AFL had been in business for just three seasons and everyone professing loyalty to the NFL regarded the new kids on the block as impostors.

Haynes, for example, looked pretty much like a poor man's Lenny Moore when he came out of North Texas State as the "prize" catch of the Dallas Texans and their major domo, Hank Stram.

Not only were the locals slow to catch on that Stram was building a powerhouse for owner Lamar Hunt, people buying tickets were programmed to support the awful expansion team, the Dallas Cowboys, over in the Cotton Bowl.

Anybody who took the time to check out Haynes and the guys was impressed, and this turned out to be doubly so when the Cleveland Browns cut Len Dawson during training camp and Stram signed him within the hour. See, ol' Hank had coached Dawson at Purdue in the mid-'50s. And like a strategist from Louisville, John Unitas, Len hadn't had much chance in Pittsburgh.

The first couple of years of the AFL were carbon copies as Houston, George Blanda and a bevy of receivers beat the Chargers, first quartered in Los Angeles, then San Diego.

Meanwhile, Haynes was finishing up in college and there was no great call for his services because few (count 'em on the fingers of one hand) knew of him.

Abner got his share of scholarship offers, but they were to the historically black schools. He wanted to play at a higher level, chose North Texas, paid his first semester and strolled out to football practice as the team's first-ever black walk-on.

The situation was rectified and Haynes was on his way but in somewhat of a media vacuum. For years, that's where Stram did his best work on behalf of the Texans and K.C. Chiefs.

As a rookie, Haynes led in rushing -- not only the AFL, but any outfit referring to itself as a pro league. He might have been better catching the ball and running back punts, too. In 1961, with the team only at 6-8, Abner averaged 5.2 yards rushing.

The next year, 1962, the team's last year in Dallas, Haynes rushed for 1,049 yards, a rarity unless your name was Jim Brown in those days. The Texans went 11-3 and prepared to meet the Oilers two days before Christmas.

It was a weird game, Dallas looking unstoppable as it paraded out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Houston matched that, only the second overtime game ever (the first was in 1958, remember) was called and offensive captain Abner Haynes was being schooled on the sideline what to do if he got the choice.

Stram explained the three choices his man had if he won the toss. It was set in Haynes' mind that Dallas wanted the wind, a strong factor most of the day. Instead of saying we'll defend "that goal [the one with the wind at their backs]," Haynes said, "We'll kick to the clock."

"We'll kick" were the only operatives words here. Houston not only would receive, but gained the favoring winds, too.

The Oilers only had to move the ball a short way since George Blanda was their kicker and not too many, ever, have been as good in the clutch as this guy.

They couldn't, though, and, after the teams milled around for a while, Dallas took a punt (Haynes, of course) and went rumbling down the field to Houston's 19. Kicker Tommy Brooker took a detour over to where Haynes was coming off the field and whispered, "Don't worry, baby, it's all over."

The longest game (to that time) was decided on a 25-yard chip shot and maybe you would think "Haynes' Blunder" would be lost in the passage of time.

Not likely. The situation gets reviewed every time the Chiefs go overtime, like about 20 years ago when the Chiefs and Dolphins played six quarters, the real longest game ever this side of soccer.

Haynes continued to have good years, ending up with 4,630 yards rushing and 3,535 yards in receptions on 287 catches.

He averaged 11 touchdowns a year for six years and was as exciting as they come.

Despite his gaudy numbers, chances are most folks only will recall the botched coin toss. How ridiculous.

They call Fred Merkle "Bonehead" for a temporary lapse on the baseball field and he had a fine 16-season career with five trips to the World Series. It doesn't figure.

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