ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — ‘Twas the night before training camp, and a lifetime Kansas City Chiefs enthusiast — are there any other kind? — texted me this:
“Playoffs or 10 wins. Must show Haley was the problem.”
For better or worse, kids, there’s your bar.
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If the 2012 Royals were “Our Time,” the slogan for the 2012 Chiefs is “About Time.” With the All-Star party in the rear-view mirror and the Local 9 having hit an iceberg, the natives are as desperate as they are restless and itchy. They’re looking for a bandwagon on which to hitch their hearts, a respite — anything that’ll get their minds off of baseball and swamp butt and the August that showed up three weeks too early.
Enter the Chieftains. In the case of Thursday afternoon, literally. A staggered march to the dorms; suitcase in one hand, fresh linens in the other.
“I like the chemistry on this team, you know?” defensive back Travis Daniels offered as players reported to preseason training camp at muggy Missouri Western State. “From all the defensive backs to the wide receivers, running backs — everybody’s more family-oriented. As opposed to you just being in the NFL, after everybody’s day of work, going home.
“Like a lot of guys, we stick together. We watch film together outside of meeting time. We go out to eat. We know each other’s kids’ names, wives, girlfriends, things like that. So just that whole camaraderie is a big difference on this team, as opposed to (others).”
Daniels credits the bonding vibe to new coach Romeo Crennel, and his relaxed, congenial ying to predecessor Todd Haley’s caffeinated, micromanaging yang. After three straight autumns of bad cop routines, the act starts to grate.
“How your leader is,” Daniels said, “that’s how everybody else is going to follow.”
So: Will they be following that to the postseason? Or off a giant cliff?
In late July, the windshields may be foggy, but the slate is clean. And yet the Chiefs’ fall forecasts have been kind of all over the place lately. There’s no disputing that general manager Scott Pioli shopped wisely to shore up depth at positions where stars are coming off knee injuries — namely, running back and tight end — and nothing is guaranteed. The offensive line, on paper, figures to be a beast. First-round draft pick Dontari Poe was signed on Thursday to what’s believed to be a four-year deal in the $11-million range, so all the rookies should be present and accounted for.
And then there’s the half-empty crowd, both at home and abroad. The folks who aren’t necessarily convinced that Haley was the underlying problem here. The ones who point to Matt Cassel and insist that the Chiefs are putting all their chips on the worst quarterback in the division, a man who, in theory, has all the tools at his disposal and no more room for excuses.
OK, except for one: The club’s top receiver, Dwayne Bowe, is projected as a no-show for the team’s first workout Friday and isn’t expected in St. Joe anytime soon. Bowe was slapped with the franchise tag in March; conversations about a long-term contract ended up going nowhere. The 6-foot-2 wideout will be offered a 1-year tender at a reported $9.5 million once he shows up. If he shows up.
“Whether you’re 14 years (in the league) or 12 years,” receiver Terrance Copper said, “you don’t want to miss a day of training camp, regardless.”
The natives want everybody’s oar in the water, rowing the same direction. They want to see how well the reconstructed knees of Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry hold up under duress.
They want to see if the post-Madden-Curse Peyton Hillis anything like the pre-Madden-Curse version. They want to see Eric Winston and Branden Albert plow the open road.
They want to see Peyton Manning twisted into a pretzel. They want evidence that the 7-9 of 2011 was the fluke, not the 10-6 of 2010.
“We have our own expectations, you know what I’m saying?” Chiefs wideout Steve Breaston recently told FOX Sports.com. “That’s cool and all, but you’ve got to go out there and do it.
“We feel like we’ve got a good group of guys here. You’ve got guys that we brought in this year. You’ve got guys back like Eric Berry. You’ve got Jamaal (Charles) back, and those types of guys. So our expectations are high for (this fall). And whose wouldn’t be?”
They want to see the 2012 Chiefs borrow a page from the 2011 49ers. They want to see them shock the world. Although 10 wins would probably suffice.