KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ah, yes, in the 1990s, Raiders Week used to be special.
Billboards all around town used to stir up the rivalry. Raider-Hater parties were nightly occurrences.
And at Arrowhead, Chiefs players started getting amped up first thing Monday morning. Marty Schottenheimer made sure of it.
As former Chiefs center Tim Grunhard once told me, “It was crazy. We’d walk into the stadium Monday morning and already Marty had put up signs everywhere. There were signs in the lobby, signs in the locker room, there were signs above the urinals — Raiders Week, Raiders Week, Raiders Week.
“It was always the two most significant weeks of the season.”
Marty’s hatred of the Raiders actually started when he was coaching the Browns. He’d sit in on league meetings and he became disgusted at how Raiders owner Al Davis used to vote “no” — out of arrogance and conceit, Marty believed — on every league issue.
Marty also detested how the Raiders thumbed their noses at the rule book during games, constantly hitting players late or out of bounds — often getting away with it.
Almost instantly after becoming the Chiefs’ head coach in 1989, Marty got his players to buy into that hatred as well, and the heated Raiders-Chiefs rivalry from the 1960s, which had become dormant for two decades, was awoken.
With a vengeance.
Marty got what he coveted — complete dominance of the Raiders. During his time here, as every Chiefs fan remembers, Marty went 18-3 against Davis and the Raiders.
But slowly, and perhaps inevitably, the passion for the rivalry has faded, coinciding with each team’s decline on the field. The Chiefs have only made the playoffs three times in the last 15 years, and the Raiders haven’t even made the playoffs in 11 years.
And the old bad blood in the rivalry has been replaced, at least from the Chiefs’ point of view, by simply a bad taste — the Raiders have come to own the series, winning five of the last six overall. The Raiders also have won six straight at Arrowhead.
No question, today’s Chiefs players simply want to flip that streak.
“It’s not good no matter who has won that many in a row over us,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson, one of just a handful of Chiefs who were here for the last Chiefs’ victory over Oakland at Arrowhead in 2006.
“We definitely need to change that. We need to play better.”
Mostly, Chiefs players now are looking beyond the rivalry, and just hoping to get to 6-0.
“We don’t want to dwell on the past because there aren’t a whole lot of positives there,” linebacker Tamba Hali said of the Raiders’ recent dominance. “But it’s just about getting a win right now. We need to get another win, and we need to beat a divisional opponent.”
Nose tackle Dontari Poe echoed those sentiments.
“It’s a division opponent and so that’s extra incentive,” Poe said. “We need to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith spent part of the week simply getting educated that there once was a fierce Chiefs-Raiders rivalry.
“It’s new, new territory for me, not too familiar,” Smith said. “…I found out this morning that (the Chiefs) haven’t won a home game against Oakland since 2006 I think, so I’d like to get that changed. And I’m still finding out more and more about what this (rivalry) is about.”
It’s also new territory for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who at least is trying to keep appearances of a rivalry.
“It is Raider week,” Reid said. “I’m all about rivalries, I get it. It’s exciting. I know our fans are going to be crazy, I know that. Our players are going to be fired up for it. These are special in the National Football League.”
Yet the mood around the Chiefs’ practice facility this week seems pretty much business as usual. You won’t see any “Raider Week” signs, which Reid deems as somewhat unnecessary.
“The players know,” Reid said, “They’re aware of it. They understand that. I’m not into all that kind of stuff (signs). But you know when you’re playing a rival, and you know it’s an AFC West team so that’s very important, too.”
And that seems to be the theme this week — beat the Raiders, not out of hatred but out of necessity. It is, after all, the first AFC West opponent of the season and the Chiefs, who are tied with the Broncos atop the West, need to be thinking potential tie-breakers, not rivalries.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
“Every game is important,” Johnson said. “We need to focus on playing well and getting a win no matter who we’re playing.
“This is a big division game for us and a chance for us to get to 6-0.” You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org