Football fans know that the reason we have a Super Bowl is because of the Kansas City Chiefs and their owner, Lamar Hunt. They’ve heard the story: The NFL looked down on those degenerates in the AFL. Those Chiefs and Raiders weren’t as tough as the Packers and Bears. Hunt negotiated an AFL-NFL championship game, and took the name from the “super ball” toy his kids played with. The Chiefs played the Packers tough for the first half of the first Super Bowl, and earned a little respect. (They’d earn the rest when they crushed the Bears the following regular season.)
Then, on January 11th 1970, the Chiefs beat Gary Sadlemyer’s Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The names became legendary: Hank Stram. Len Dawson. Buck Buchanan. So what happened to the Chiefs after that?
Pretty much everyone was back after that championship, and they got close: Their season ended when the Dolphins made a game-winning field goal on Christmas Day in double overtime. Coach Stram and his team never got over the loss: They missed the playoffs the next year. And the year after that. Stram got fired. Dawson and the other future hall-of-famers retired. The Chiefs continued to miss the playoffs.
The ‘70s became the ‘80s. Quarterbacks failed to produce hall of fame careers: Steve Fuller. Bill Kenny. Todd Blackledge. (Ugh, Todd Blackledge. The Chiefs could have drafted Dan Marino or Jim Kelly!!!) Steve DeBerg.
More years go by; the Chiefs miss the playoffs in each of them. Their running back, Joe Delaney, died. He drowned trying to save three kids in Louisiana, even through he knew he couldn’t swim. President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Citizen’s Medal.
Still, the pieces were coming together: Art Still. Nick Lowry. Bill Maas. Deron Cherry. In 1986, after 14 years, the Chiefs were back in the playoffs. They lost the Wild Card game to the Jets, but there was reason for optimism.
Then there was the strike season of ’87. Were the replacement players the same guys who used to play for the Chiefs? It was hard to tell. Optimism left.
But, in 1989, the Chiefs would make some moves that would set them up for decades to come: Marty Schottenheimer became head coach. Christian Okoye, “The Nigerian Nightmare,” lumbered into the backfield. Derrick Thomas was drafted. Former Huskers Neil Smith and Will Shields donned a slightly different hue of red. Tim Grunhard became an anchor. Joe Montana and Marcus Allen played out their illustrious careers there, and nearly got to the Super Bowl until the Bills decided they needed to get back there and lose another one.
Players and early playoff losses would come and go. Steve Bono becomes Elvis Grbac who becomes Trent Green (or was it Rich Gannon?). Schottenheimer becomes Gunther Cunningham who becomes Dick Vermeil. Priest Holmes. Dante Hall, “The X Factor.” Larry Johnson looked unstoppable until contract disputes and injuries stopped him.
Tony Gonzales came alive, but Derrick Thomas died in a car accident on a snowy day in February when he was heading to the airport trying to get to the Super Bowl. Like DT, the Chiefs could never get there.
We’re into the late ‘90s/2000s now, and it’s more of the same.Close to the playoffs, but just miss. Into the playoffs, but one and done. Then it got ugly. Four wins. 2 wins. Jamaal Charles. Eric Berry. 2010s. Another 2 win season. Justin Houston showed promise; Tamarick Vanover stole a car. Matt Cassel and Alex Smith were each going to be “the guy,” having success with other teams. Nope. The Chiefs general manager, Carl Peterson, cusses out a just-drafted offensive lineman who is a devout Mormon, and he and his agent leave his office.
Let’s try another coach! Andy Reid is brought in, but only if he has final say in all football matters so he doesn’t have another problem like that Peterson problem. Kansas City agreed. They immediately loved their new walrus. They beat his Eagles in week three, and they dumped Gatorade on him. Under the mustache, he allegedly looked happy.
That was in 2013.Things were looking up, so – according to Chiefs lore – it was time for another tragedy.
The following season, team leader Eric Berry learned he had Hodkin’s lymphoma. Everyone thought he was done with football, or worse. But cancer would quickly learn it had messed with the wrong guy. Not only did he come back the following season, but he made the Pro Bowl and was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. More than that, he was an even more effective team leader; someone the Chiefs could rally around. This time, tragedy succumbed to triumph.
Tyreek Hill arrived. Travis Kelce. Patrick Mahomes. But then Kareem Hunt threatened to ruin everything with his ugly problems.And there were issues with Tyreek, too.
But what was different this time? Mahomes. His infectiously relentless positivity. His will to win is as amazing as his no-look sidearm passes. When the AFC Championship game went to overtime last year, and the Patriots won the coin toss, all Mahomes could do was watch and get determined that – next year – it wasn’t going to go to overtime.
Even when the Chiefs went down to the Texans in these playoffs this year by 24 to nothing in no time, Mahomes was not giving up. He knows you don’t have many chances at a Lombardi Trophy. He knows this team is special. He knows his coach wants to win, but I don’t know if anyone wants to win more than Patrick Mahomes … except maybe those die-hard Chiefs fans.
They’ve been through a lot in 50 years. Maybe they’re due.