"Smokey" Stover was state's super (bowl) man
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010
10/10/10 at 10:36 AM
Go to Jimmie Tramel's BlogOriginal Print Headline: Stover uses naysayers as catalyst
DUSON, La. - Stewart "Smokey" Stover is sort of a forgotten figure in Oklahoma sports lore.
Maybe the reason is because so many seasons have passed since Stover, 72, played for the Kansas City Chiefs in an epic little game called Super Bowl I.
Or maybe it's because of the out of sight, out of mind factor. Stover played college ball at Louisiana-Monroe. And, post-football, he put a geology degree to use and settled in south Louisiana instead of returning to the state where he was raised.
Regardless, Stover is someone whose niche in sports history should be remembered. Know anybody else who flirted with a pro football triple crown?
During an 11-month span in 1967, Stover played in an American Football League championship game, a Super Bowl and a Canadian Football League championship game (Grey Cup). His teams prevailed in two of the three, and he finished his career with two AFL title rings.
But never mind how Stover finished. A better story is how he started. He got his foot in pro football's door by executing a grand deception.
Stover said he was among 129 men who showed up at a tryout when the Dallas Texans launched an AFL franchise in 1960. He smartly moved from fullback (too much competition) to linebacker and was among 17 participants invited to training camp in Roswell, N.M.
"It was so damn hot out there," Stover said. "It was unreal. And when it got down to making the team, I was so skinny because they had run me to death."
Stover knew coaches would never keep a 188-pound linebacker, so he resorted to trickery.
Before a scheduled weigh-in, he took two 10-pound weights and wrapped one under each arm with Ace bandages. Then he put on an oversized T-shirt so coaches would be less likely to notice unusual lumps - and he tipped the scales at 208.
After the season, Stover confessed to the coach who supervised the weigh-in.
"And he started dying laughing because he and (head coach Hank) Stram had a knock-down, drag-out (argument) over me," Stover said. "Stram said 'the kid, he can't weigh 208. He's a bag of bones.' (And the assistant coach) said, 'hell, I weighed him. I know what he weighs.' But I think that was the turning point. I ended up being the starting linebacker."
Stover was one of two men from the 129-man tryout to land a roster spot. He hinted that he learned survival skills - or whatever-shenanigans-are-necessary skills - while attending a military high school in Claremore.
Claremore isn't the only Oklahoma town Stover called home. He was raised near Oilton and attended first through eighth grades in tiny Vidaway. His parents relocated to Seminole, and that's when he headed to military school. NFL data banks list Stover as a Seminole graduate, but that's as false as his weight in Roswell.
Stover embraced weight training after snookering coaches in Roswell. He said he weighed between 235-240 pounds for the rest of a seven-year career with the Texans and (same franchise, different city) Chiefs.
Because Stover's Chiefs won an AFL title on Jan. 1, 1967, they earned the right to face the NFL champ Green Bay Packers two weeks later in Super Bowl I.
"There was hype, but you can't even compare it to what there is today," he said. "It was pretty calm. I think we had 30,000 who attended or something like that. We've still got the first Super Bowl ticket, and it was $12.50."
Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, the older NFL was viewed as superior. Of course, the Chiefs wanted to prove they weren't second-class citizens.
Stover said he respected the Packers, but didn't like them. This is why: He said Packers coach Vince Lombardi called the AFL a Mickey Mouse league.
"Our trainers all wore Mickey Mouse hats when we were getting ready to go out on the field," Stover said.
Stover said he got plenty of action, playing on special teams and joining E.J. Holub, Sherrill Headrick and Bobby Bell as a fourth linebacker when Kansas City employed a 4-4 look.
The underdogs hung in for a half and trailed 14-10, but the Packers scored 21 unanswered points after halftime.
Two years later, when Joe Namath backed up a bold prediction that the AFL's Jets would whip the NFL's Colts, Stover lived vicariously through Broadway Joe.
"You don't know how tickled I was," Stover said.
"Some of my buddies were big NFL fans and I had one friend that played in the NFL, and he would get after me about the rinky-dink league and that kind of stuff. When Joe beat them and when Kansas City (won Super Bowl IV), I didn't miss any licks. I got after them."
Stover parted company with Kansas City before the Chiefs beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, but arrowhead-logo floormats in his pickup truck are evidence of once a Chief, always a Chief.
Stover said he attended training camp with the Chiefs after Super Bowl I, but Stram had a CFL coaching buddy who was in need of a linebacker. Stram released Stover and pointed him to Canada.
"I ended up going up there for a year, and I'll be damned if we didn't win the Grey Cup in December of '67," Stover said.
Stover went out on top and retired to a "real" job in Lafayette, La., where he has been ever since. At his home, he has a room stocked with sports memorabilia, including reminders that he was inducted into athletic halls of fame at Murray State (he was a two-way player when the Tishomingo junior college fielded a football program) and Louisiana-Monroe. He was in ULM's inaugural hall of fame class in 1978.
Two halls of fame, a Super Bowl trip, two AFL titles and a Grey Cup? That's a nice resume for someone who allegedly wasn't good enough.
After military school, Stover said he sought out then-University of Tulsa coach Bobby Dobbs to inquire about playing for the Golden Hurricane. Dobbs shot him down.
"He told me I would never make it as a big-time football player," Stover said. "It hacked me off."
Stover said he will never forget that moment as long as he lives. It motivated him to a career that shouldn't be forgotten.
Smokey Stover, who grew up in Oklahoma, played for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Memorabilia from his time with the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs line the walls of Smokey Stover's home outside Lafayette, La. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World