The Redskins and Chiefs have met only eight times since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Their first encounter in 1971 pitted two hot teams with visions of making a deep playoff run.
At the time, Redskins mania had skyrocketed to new heights in the nation’s capital. Having missed the postseason for a quarter-century, the Redskins were 5-0 and atop the NFC East under new coach George Allen, with one shutout and one 27-point win. A hardened group of veterans known as the “Over The Hill Gang” was fueling the success.
On Oct. 24, 1971 at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, the Redskins seemed headed for six in a row. Two touchdown passes by quarterback Billy Kilmer to receiver Charley Taylor (a 4-yarder then a 36-yarder), a field goal and a stingy defense had the Redskins up, 17-6, at halftime.
But the second touchdown proved costly. In falling across the goal line with seconds left in the half, Taylor was tackled by cornerback Emmitt Thomas and suffered a fractured leg. Until then, the big, physical receiver had toyed with the Chiefs’ defense. His seven catches for 125 yards included a 49-yarder that set up Curt Knight’s 33-yard field goal.
Taylor’s loss marked the turning point in the game. The offense collapsed without one of its most dominant players, tallying 83 yards and three points in the second half. Kilmer, 5 of 21 in the half, was reduced to passing mostly to his running backs.
Meanwhile, Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson found gaps in the Redskins’ defense, one of the league’s best in the first five games under the direction of Allen, a masterful defensive tactician. Dawson’s key target was wide receiver Otis Taylor, who caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
In the third quarter, Dawson hit Taylor on a 25-yard pass to cap an 87-yard scoring drive and cut the lead to four. Knight’s field goal early in the final period made it 20-13. But the Chiefs, who gained 237 yards in the second half, kept rolling.
On an 82-yard drive that tied the game at 20, Kansas City converted a 3rd and 18 on Dawson’s pass to Taylor. The Hall of Fame quarterback then completed a 15-yard scoring pass to receiver Elmo Wright.
Kansas City crafted another long drive and took the lead with four minutes left. With cornerback Pat Fischer draped over him, Taylor made a remarkable one-handed grab in the end zone to give the Chiefs a 27-20 win.
Allen and his troops were despondent afterward, but the coach injected a bit of optimism.
“We have no excuses, no alibis,” he told reporters. “We’ll bounce back. Put that down and underline it.”
Taylor, for his part, was lost for the season.
“Charley Taylor is a great receiver,” Allen said of the eventual Hall of Famer. “It hurt us not to have Charley in there in the second half. But that’s part of the game.”
Despite the loss, some 10,000 maniacal fans braved the rain and fog to offer cheers and support upon the team’s return to Dulles Airport, another sign of the city’s emotional outpouring for its favorite sports franchise. Waves of cars lined the streets en route to the airport, where the crowd sang “Hail to the Redskins” and shouted “We’re still number one!”
“Normally as deserted as the cow pastures that adjoin it, this Sunday night in late October the road to Dulles was to be the scene of a traffic jam as long as 10 miles long,” Bill Gildea and Kenneth Turan wrote in their 1972 book “The Future is Now.”
The 5-1 Redskins still held first place in the NFC East. But losing Charley Taylor changed the trajectory of their season. Without their go-to receiver, they went 4-3-1 the rest of the way to finish 9-4-1, good enough for a wild card spot where they fell to the 49ers in the first round.
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com. Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages and follow him on Twitter.