Three Fred Arbanas stories.
There was a dangerous railroad crossing on Old Lexington Road east of Buckner. The tracks run on a high berm, the road crossed at a sharp angle, and the sightlines were terrible.
A train had struck a vehicle – bad injuries to two people – and the suggestion came to just close the road at the crossing. Jackson County had to sign off on it. Staff put the materials together, and the case for closing was clear enough.
The site is fairly remote and can be hard to find. Still, Arbanas, head of the County Legislature’s Land Use Committee, took nothing for granted. As he does in all of these cases, usually zoning changes, he drove out and looked it over, immediately confirming what the paperwork described.
It’s not glamorous or high-profile work, but Len Dawson, who was Arbanas’s Chiefs teammate for a decade, says he never took a play off. Sometimes you catch the ball and score, and a lot of times you throw a block for others.
On Friday, they threw a party for Arbanas. Scores of people, including several former Chiefs – Jan Stenerud, Gary Spani, Deron Cherry, Bill Maas and others – gathered in front of the downtown Courthouse for Red Friday in advance of Monday night’s game against New England and to salute Arbanas, a Democrat from Lee’s Summit, who is retiring at the end of the year after 42 years on the Legislature.
It was loud, and there was a lot of red and gold. Dozens of people wore Chiefs jerseys with Arbanas’s old number, 84.
“This is a little embarrassing. I always thought I was a team guy,” Arbanas said.
Arbanas, 75, says he loves the work. But the football injuries and many surgeries since then – even one a couple of months ago – have slowed him to the point that he says it’s time to hang it up.
He said after he took office in 1973, he came to learn that people generally get into politics for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and want to make things better.
“Most of the people are darn good people,” he said.
County Executive Mike Sanders pointed out that Jackson County, which has added to and improved its parks over the decades, now has the third largest county parks system in the country.
“And that’s due in no small way to Fred’s leadership,” Sanders said.
The county has come a long way, Arbanas said, adding that he’s proud of two organizations – the Chiefs and the county.
“I am very proud of Jackson County,” he said. “ ... My heart will always be here.”
Story two is about teammates.
In 1964, Arbanas played his third season, which was his best, at least statistically. He caught 34 passes for 684 yards, and he scored eight touchdowns. It was the Chiefs second year in Kansas City. Arbanas, who grew up and Michigan and played at Michigan State, had moved here and loved it.
In December of that year, in Kansas City, he was mugged. He lost the use of his right eye.
That following spring Dawson and Arbanas would go over to the Chiefs training facility on 63rd Street in Swope Park. They would toss and catch and work on routes – the number and variety of which were now limited by Arbanas’s loss of an eye. When training camp came in July, Arbanas said, he was ready.
He caught 24 passes that year and scored four touchdowns, and he played five seasons – and in two Super Bowls – after that.
“Lenny’s the guy who really kept my career going,” Arbanas said Friday.
Then the quarterback teased his old teammate: “Are you going to take back what you used to call me – rag arm?”
Coming out of Michigan State, Arbanas was drafted higher by the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League than by the Dallas Texans of the brand-new American Football League, but he signed with Dallas, the team that came to Kansas City in 1963 and became the Chiefs. The AFL merged into the NFL after the 1969 season, the year the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
Arbanas played nine seasons. For the first eight, he played every game. His 198 pass receptions are second in Chiefs history, behind only Tony Gonzales. He scored 34 touchdowns.
He’s in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame named him to the first team of its all-time American Football League team.
Story three involves what is probably the single most famous play in Chiefs history. “Sixty-five toss power trap” rings warmly in the memory of longtime Chiefs fans. A diagram of the play is etched into the sidewalk on the north side of Arrowhead Stadium.
In Super Bowl IV, against in the Minnesota Vikings in January 1970, Chiefs Coach Hank Stram famously saw an opening in the Vikings defense and called the play.
Nothing works if players don’t block and tackle, and Dawson on Friday mentioned Arbanas’s crucial role. Sixty-five toss power trap worked because Arbanas moved sharply to his right and blocked the middle linebacker, freeing Mike Garrett to slide left and run a quick five yards and score. That touchdown put the Chiefs up 16-0 at the half, and they won 23-7.
Arbanas did his part, one reason Dawson called him “an outstanding player and a tough, tough individual.”