By the time their plane got airborne, all partying had ceased for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The relief that came from beating Washington 14-6 on Sunday was still there. It lingered like a welcome guest all through the flight home and was still being felt when the players reported for meetings and film work Monday morning.
Each player seemed to have a little more bounce in his step. But all the celebrating of the Chiefs‘ third win in 31 games was over. Judging from the mood in the locker room, the players were already getting ready for Sunday’s home game against San Diego.
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“It’s a big weight off your shoulders,” said defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. “You don’t want to be one of those teams without a win. We want to build on it and, hopefully, we can come out next week and get another one.”
Until Tamba Hali tackled Todd Collins for a safety in the final minute and secured the win, the Chiefs (1-5) had not won so much as a preseason game in almost a year – since last Nov. 30. Counting an 0-4 exhibition season, the new management team of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley was 0-9.
“It’s real nice to know that we’re heading in the right direction and all the work that we’re doing is paying off,” said Dorsey. “It’s nice to know the things we’re doing, the practices, the meetings, are paying off.”
Haley, a snarling tough-guy rookie head coach when he is displeased – which is not rare – ran what the players believe might have been the most demanding training camp in the NFL. Having all that hard work finally be rewarded elevated everyone’s mood.
“Coach Haley gave us permission to enjoy it, which was nice,” safety Jon McGraw said with a smile. “So we did. Now we’re excited about building on it.”
Haley said he did not fully appreciate the drought-breaking win until he got on the team bus to head to the airport.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel like we were 0-5,” he said. “We weren’t acting like an 0-5 team, although that’s what our record was. I would have surely expected to have had a couple of wins out of the way before yesterday. So until I got on the bus and turned my phone on and saw probably as many messages as when I got the job, did it hit me.
“First of all, a lot more people than I thought cared about me, or were pretending to. And it hit me a little. But right after the game, in the locker room, it just felt like what we should have been doing anyway.”
But Haley was also aware that players as starved for victory as the Chiefs might not know how to handle themselves when they finally get that breakthrough win.
How they deal with their unaccustomed happiness will be interesting to watch as Pioli and Haley strive to make the entire organization reflect the three characteristics they hope will one day chracterize their team: tough, smart and disciplined.
“I think it’s a big test for us,” Haley said. “It’s the next step in the development of this team. It’s a problem for some teams and not for others. I just think it’s very important that we understand the task at hand and having another very good week of practice and building on this performance.”
He declined to predict how his team would react.
“I don’t know. This is my first time to get to see them respond to a victory, as you all have pointed out over the last 10 weeks,” he told reporters.
“As a coach you love to win because then you can really coach hard. And guys are a little less senstive to the videotape. When there are things that you can correct, it’s a little easier for them to stomach and swallow it. So we pushed them pretty hard in the meeting rooms going over the tape to try to get better.”