Chiefs on the bye, then and now
The Kansas City Chiefs have earned a first round bye and a home game in the playoffs. While this sounds like great news, there are Chiefs fans who are nervous.
How can any fan be nervous about getting a bye and a home playoff game you ask? History. The Chiefs are 2-4 in playoff games played inside Arrowhead Stadium and 0-3 when they are off the bye. Those three losses are especially painful memories for Chiefs fans.
In 1995, the Chiefs had the best record in the AFC. The offense was led by quarterback Steve Bono, leading receiver Kimble Anders and leading rusher Marcus Allen. The defense was in its prime as one of the best defenses of the 90s. Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dan Saleaumua and Dale Carter all made the Pro Bowl. This was a Marty Schottenheimer-type team from top to bottom; ball-control offense and dominate on defense.
They met up with the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Jim Harbaugh in the playoffs that year. As many at the time predicted, it was a defensive battle. The game went just as Marty would have written it up. The offense controlled the clock and the defense was dominating. What he hadn’t planned on was Bono throwing three interceptions and Lake Dawson dropping a perfect pass in the end zone with 42 seconds left. Most people forget that play thanks to the next play, a 43-yard field goal that went wide left. That kicker, who I will not name, missed two other kicks in the game of fewer than 40 yards and got cut from the team the next day.
Fast forward to 1997. The Chiefs faced the hated Denver Broncos. That team was much better on offense than the ‘95 team thanks to some added weapons. Kansas City had better options at receiver with Andre Rison and at tight end with Tony Gonzalez. The defense was as dominant as ever ranking first in the league only allowing 14.5 points per game. That year they again had the best record in football and home field advantage.
This game will forever be remembered by what happened before the game. The Chiefs named Elvis Grbac the starter instead of Rich Gannon. Grbac went down with a broken collarbone during Week 9 and Gannon had led the team to five straight wins. When Grbac returned in Week 17 fans were split on who should start the rest of the way. Marty went with the old adage of not losing your spot due to injury and handed the job back to Grbac.
This proved to be a mistake as the team averaging 27 points per game under Gannon managed only 10 points under Grbac. The game ended on a disaster series that makes Andy Reid’s clock management appear Hall of Fame worthy. They ran three short pass plays in bounds with under two minutes to go. On fourth down from the Broncos 28-yard line, Grbac looked confused and panicked as he lobbed a horrible pass into double coverage that never stood a chance. Marty lost to Elway in the playoffs again, and Gannon would go on to lead the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl just five years later.
This brings us to 2003 and the Year of Offense in Kansas City. Trent Green threw for over 4,000 yards. Priest Holmes set the NFL single-season touchdown record with 27. Tony Gonazlez was in his prime catching 10 touchdowns. The offensive line of Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Casey Wiegmann, Brian Waters, and John Tait was one of the best in history. And Dante “The Human Joystick” Hall burst onto the scene returning four kicks for touchdowns.
The defense, however, well it was bad. The team started the season 9-0 thanks to a dominating offense and a lucky defense that got handed bad quarterbacks and turnovers as easy as Green handed the ball to Priest. Despite a 5-3 finish to the season the Chiefs still once again secured home-field advantage in the Divisional round.
Even the most diehard Chiefs fan had to admit feeling uneasy when they saw Peyton Manning coming to town. This game was billed as an offensive shootout and it lived up to the hype. The Chiefs lost to the Colts that day 38-31. There was not one single punt in the entire game for the first time in NFL playoff history.
So it went for us Chiefs fans. We had the most dominant defense of the 90s, but could never have the offense to match. The closest we came was in 1993 when the Chiefs had Joe Montana at quarterback. We made it to the AFC Championship game that year but lost to the Buffalo Bills after Montana went down with a concussion in the third quarter.
The rest of the decade the Chiefs could never find the offense to keep up with the defense. Then in 2000s the reverse happened. Under head coach Dick Vermeil the offense became the best in the league. They broke records and put up 30 and 40-point games at ease. But during that time the defense was garbage, culminating in the no punt game. They made for great regular season teams, but the playoffs are a different animal. It takes a whole team to win in the playoffs.
This is why Chiefs fans should calm their nerves. Those memories are painful, I should know because I was at each one of those games. But this team is different. This team has a defense just as dominating as the 90s Chiefs. They don’t get fluky turnovers like in ‘03, they force turnovers the way they did in the 90s. On offense they have maybe the greatest cast of weapons the Chiefs have ever had.
The Chiefs have never had a receiver as explosive as Tyreek Hill has been. Travis Kelce is dominating defenses to remind us of a young Gonzalez. Jeremy Maclin may be the best pure receiver in Chiefs history since Otis Taylor and he is the third option. This offense can put 30 on anyone.
The 2016 Chiefs have proved they aren’t the same old Chiefs. Like the Royals did in ’14, throw those painful memories in the trash. Get on the coaster and strap yourself in tight because we are about to go on the ride of our lives.