September 20, 2002
Defending Kansas City's Chiefly Honor
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
The big theme in Kansas City this week focuses on the past, not the present.
Who can blame them? They are a thrown helmet away from 0-2. They made Mark Brunnell look like it was 1996 all over again. They made Kelly Holcomb look like Otto Graham. And worse, they made their fans wish it were 1969 all over again.
Here in Foxborough, mention the Chiefs and you perhaps get a big dose of "Who cares about them?" Not that this means disrespect for the team and its great tradition, but more like there is very little rivalry and history between these two clubs other than that the home team wins most all the time in the series. The Patriots have never won in Arrowhead Stadium, and the Chiefs were bullied around in their last two visits to Foxborough Stadium.
You see the Chiefs on NFL Films a lot more often than you see the Patriots. A few nights back, a satellite NFL channel ran a feature on the Chiefs of the 1960s, tied in with a theme of football players that come in odd shapes and sizes. From tiny Noland Smith to mammoth Morris Stroud, the Chiefs hired the very big and the very small.
And especially on defense, the very good and the very talented.
That is why Chief fans are disgusted with their team these days. They believe that a "tradition" has been broken. Gone is the "traditional" Chief defense, great offensive stoppers that had their roots in Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan, and bloodlined their way to Chester McGlockton and the late Derrick Thomas.
Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star wrote a nice piece on Friday about the lament of the Kansas City fans over the demise of the Chief defense. Despite having a man like Greg Robinson in charge of the defense, he of the great Bronco defenses of the 1990s, the Chiefs are at or near the bottom of the NFL in team defensive categories right now. In this piece, he complains about the strong emphasis on drafting for offense by the Chiefs over the last few years, jettisoning of key defensive players in the last few years, and even pining for the days of former coach Gunther Cunningham.
Defensive heritage? Really? Let's explore a bit.
The 1969 Super Bowl champs put the clamps on a great Minnesota Vikings team in Super Bowl IV. Granted, it was the only title this team would win, but it made a celebrity out of Hank Stram and gave recognition to a bunch of guys who were among the finest in the league in their day, and in some cases, some of the finest to ever play the game.
The 23-7 win over Minnesota was a domination job. The Chiefs forced five Viking turnovers, and held the running backs (Bill Brown, Dave Osborn) to only 67 yards rushing. Unlike Super Bowl XXXVI, this wasn't about the coaches. This was about a great gang of awfully good defenders.
This was back in a time when the best rivalry in football was the Chiefs and the Raiders. Diminished over time, this rivalry from between about 1967 to 1974 was unquestionably the best rivalry in the NFL (though folks in Dallas and Washington might not agree). Talk about two teams that hated each other. These games weren't contests. They were wars, plain and simple.
Down low for the Chiefs on defense were Jerry Mays, Curley Culp, Aaron Brown and Buchanan. All except Mays became big names in the NFL. Culp and Buchanan formed perhaps the best tackle tandem in the NFL in those days. Brown was a very tall end with a great deal of quickness.
But these guys, in a way similar to the current Pittsburgh Steelers, were made a lot better thanks to maybe the best linebacker trio in the league in the 1960s and 1970s. Bell, Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch enjoyed many great years together, stuffing many a ground game along the way. Buchanan, Bell and Lanier are all enshrined in Canton.
None of the Chiefs secondary that played in Super Bowl IV made it to the Hall. But the quartet of Jim Marsalis, Emmitt Thomas, Jim Kearney and Johnny Robinson were a steady group that also stayed together for a while. Similar to the Patriots in the lack of legendary material (though Lawyer Milloy and maybe Ty Law might possibly be headed on a collision course towards the ultimate football destiny), this group was known more for being good as a group rather than four individual superstars.
It is this group of eleven distinguished gentlemen that make Chief fans lonely for great Chief defensive teams, as well as any "traditions" they may believe in. But whereas this Chief team ranks among the finest one-season teams ever, they started a tradition that really did not see its way down to the present.
Teicher mentions some of the great Chief defenders of the 1990s, listing James Hasty, Dale Carter and Leslie O'Neal along with McGlockton and Thomas. But what Teicher fails to mention is anyone from the late 1970s or the entire 1980s. That is why cries of a "great tradition" that is the Chief defense really rings hollow.
And there is a reason why Teicher fails to do this. From 1974 to 1986, the Chiefs had only one winning season, that being 1981. The Chiefs were a wildcard team in 1986, but their 35-15 playoff loss to the Jets was their first playoff experience since their epic Christmas Day double-OT loss to Miami in 1971. The Chiefs then went three seasons of no playoffs before embarking on their run of seven playoff seasons in eight years.
Now we're into the Derrick Thomas era, but the bloodlines that trace their way back to Lanier and Bell really don't exist. To make matters worse, Kansas City's playoff record in this stretch is 2-7. Whatever greatness existed in their defense was negated by a coach with a lousy playoff record (Marty Schottenheimer) and an offense that gagged worse than the 1978 Red Sox. Included in this run were two 13-3 teams who suffered embarrassing and deflating home playoff losses (losing 10-7 Indianapolis in 1995, losing 14-10 to Denver in 1997).
All in all, this current Chief team really has nothing to do with the great Super Bowl team. Neither did the Derrick Thomas Chiefs, either.
They are a team that was stripped of its great players thanks to certain personnel decisions made over the last few years, and its current members are having a lousy time learning Robinson's system. Their 40-39 win at Cleveland and 23-16 loss to Jacksonville were games that exposed their defense as porous, sloppy, and easy to score on.
Poor Tom Brady and company.
Naturally, Bill Belichick and everyone connected with the Patriots will take the high road. Nobody on the Patriots has paid the Chiefs any ill will nor have they bragged about how they will dismantle the Chiefs on Sunday. It was the Chiefs who knocked the Patriots out of the unbeaten ranks in 1999, even though that game was at Arrowhead and Adam Vinatieri had not yet achieved the rarefied status he enjoys now.
Chief fans need to hope for a win, not a return to tradition. The 1969 Chiefs were a great team, but not a tradition. If anything, the Chiefs of the 1990s were more of a tradition, but a tradition that will be known more for unfulfilled promises than awesome defenses.
And Patriot Nation hopes than an even better tradition is building in Foxborough.
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