When the Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on September 7th and raise their fifth Super Bowl banner, it will be the third time that the teams have met in a season opener. The first was in 1977 and the second, 2008 in Kansas City.
Most Patriots’ fans remember what happened in Kansas City in 2008, but what about 40 years ago?
The 1977 Patriots
Head Coach: Chuck Fairbanks
Stadium: Schaefer Stadium
Starting Quarterback: Steve Grogan
The 1977 season was the seventh as the New England Patriots. From 1960-1971 they were known as the Boston Patriots. This was primarily in the AFL (American Football League). Coming off an 11-3 record and a second-place finish in the AFC East in 1976, the Patriots lost a 24-21 decision against the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional Round of the Patriots.
Entering the 1977 season, expectations were growing for the Patriots and third-year starter Steve Grogan. In the draft, the Patriots added wide receiver Stanley Morgan and cornerback Raymond Clayborn. Clayborn has recently been announced as the 2017 inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame. Morgan joined the Hall at Patriot Place in 2007, at the time owning a majority of the Patriots’ receiving records.
Patriots were one of the hottest up and coming teams in the NFL. Most pundits pegged the Patriots as the team poised to take the next step towards a Super Bowl.
1977 Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach: Tom Bettis, Paul Wiggin
Stadium: Arrowhead Stadium
Starting Quarterback: Mike Livingston
The 1976 season was the third consecutive season with a 5-9 record for the Chiefs. The second under head coach Paul Wiggin. It was also the first season as the starter for quarterback Mike Livingston, replacing Len Dawson.
Expectations weren’t as high for the Chiefs. Facing one of the toughest schedules in the league in 1977, the immediate future for the Chiefs was quite bleak. Despite a passing attack that ranked second in 1976, most expected this to be a bad team from the get go.
Coach Wiggin lasted seven games in 1977, going 1-6 before being replaced by Tom Bettis. Until 2008, 1977 was the worst season in Chiefs franchise history. Ironically, 2008 is the only other time the Patriots and Chiefs have met in the season opener.
1977 Season Opener: Chiefs at Patriots (9/18/1977)
Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro played host to the 1977 season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. Patriots’ starter Steve Grogan was coming off a 1,903 yard season with 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Mike Livingston threw for 2,682 yards for the Chiefs in 1976. He tossed 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The Chiefs jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Patriots, with rushing touchdowns from MacArthur Lane and Tony Reed. The second interception of Patriots’ quarterback Steve Grogan in the first quarter set up Layne’s touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 7-0 lead. Reed scored on the Chiefs next drive for the 14-0 advantage.
However, the two touchdown lead was short lived. Grogan and tight end Russ Francis got things going for the Patriots, connecting on two early throws to start the drive. On the Chiefs 34-yard line, a reverse to wide receiver Darryl Stingley, turned into a touchdown for the Patriots. Cutting the Chiefs lead in half to close out the first quarter.
After fumbling on the goal line, the Patriots’ halted the Chiefs ensuing drive with their second fumble recovery in as many drives. A Tim Fox forced fumble set the Patriots up in Chiefs’ territory. Then, Stingley struck again on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Grogan to tie the game heading into halftime.
Halftime. Patriots-14 Chiefs-14
With under two minutes remaining in the third quarter, running back Jess Phillips gave the Patriots the lead for good. Phillips 11-yard scamper to the endzone capped 21 unanswered points from the Patriots.
The Chiefs added a field goal from Jan Stenerud to cut the lead to four, with 10 minutes to go. A would be 43-yard touchdown run from Sam Cunningham was called back due to a false start on Francis.
With the lead still at four with under two minutes remaining, the Chiefs’ Wilbur Young knocked the ball out of the hands of Cunningham. The turnover set the Chiefs up in Patriots territory. However, they could not move the ball and the Patriots held on for a 21-17 victory.
The Patriots lost their next two games to the Jets and Browns before rattling off four wins in a row. They would have another four-game winning streak later in the season but fell short of the playoffs. The Baltimore Colts finished first in the AFC East with a 10-4 record. The Patriots, with hopes of a Super Bowl birth, finished the year at 9-5 and third in the AFC East.
The Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs went on to start the season 0-5. They were 1-6 when they fired Paul Wiggin in favor of Tom Bettis. They would pick up wins in Week 6 and Week 8 against the Chargers and Packers before dropping the final six games of the season. All but two of those losses came by double-digits. The Chiefs finished the season 2-12, their worst season until the 2008 Chiefs went 2-14.