For the 1965 season, the Chiefs were caught in the middle of the AFL and NFL's bidding wars for college talent. Kansas City made running back Gale Sayers from the University of Kansas their first-round draft pick, but Sayers eventually signed with the Chicago Bears, who had also drafted him with their first pick in the NFL's draft. Sayers grew up in nearby Wichita, Kansas.
The club suffered a devastating blow late in the 1965 season when running back Mack Lee Hill suffered torn ligaments in his right knee in the next-to-last regular season game of the year at Buffalo on December 12. Following what was expected to be a routine surgery on December 14 at Menorah Hospital in Kansas City, Hill died from what was termed “a sudden and massive embolism.” Hunt called Hill’s death “the worst shock possible.” Beginning the following year, the club annually bestowed the Mack Lee Hill Award on its top rookie or first-year performer in honor of this fallen young star. Just days after Hill’s unexpected death, the mourning Chiefs defeated the Denver Broncos on December 19 to finish the year with a 7–5–2 record.