The Hinges of Fate: Pivotal Moments in Chiefs History, Part 3

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A 3 Part Series Fanpost by StJoeChief

A Fanpost by stjoechief

Each of us has moments in our lives that were pivot points, where things could have gone in many different directions.  Sometimes those moments are positive and sometimes they are negative, but they have a disproportionate impact on who we are. Organizations are the same.  They can roll along for years on essentially the same track, and then something happens that affects their direction for years to come. This is an attempt to catalog those moments for the Kansas City Chiefs.  Because this is the dregs of the offseason and I’ve re-watched the video of all 50 of Patrick Mahomes’ touchdowns last year so many times I can’t stand it.

In the first two posts I covered the pivotal moments in the early, highly successful history of the Chiefs and the turning points that sent them spiraling into NFL oblivion for fifteen years.  While there are multiple twists and turns to come, this is where the team finally starts making some good decisions that have put us where we are today. This post is shorter because most fans remember a lot of these events and y’all don’t need another 1,000 words about how great Patrick Mahomes is.

The Carl and Marty Show

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Entering the 1988-89 offseason the Kansas City Chiefs were a joke.  They had one playoff appearance in 17 years and only four winning seasons in that span.  Arrowhead was more empty than full on game days and there was more fan interest in the Kansas City Comets, an indoor soccer team, than the Chiefs.  The glory days of the sixties were long gone. And finally Lamar Hunt did something about it.

Jack Steadman, the only executive other than Lamar Hunt in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, was named Chairman of the Board and resigned as President.  In his place Hunt hired former Philadelphia Eagles and USFL executive Carl Peterson. Peterson lived long enough to see himself become the villain (to paraphrase Harvey Dent) but he started out as a hero.  One of his first moves was to hire Marty Schottenheimer, who had just been forced to resign from the Cleveland Browns, as Head Coach. I remember being shocked at the news, thinking, “What? The Chiefs actually hired a real Head Coach?  WTF?” Schottenheimer had taken the Browns to the playoffs for the previous four years and was victimized twice by John Elway’s Broncos, once with The Drive and once with The Fumble. Now he would face the Donkeys twice a year.

Peterson created the Arrowhead experience we know today, pushing hard for season ticket sales and opening the parking lots early to encourage tailgating.  He turned over the roster rapidly with 57 personnel moves in his first offseason, including signing 17 of the new Plan B free agents (Plan B was the very limited version of free agency instituted in 1989; free agency as we know it didn’t go into effect until 1992.)  Peterson had a coaching background and often sat in on coaching meetings to get a feel for what coaches were seeing from players. And he started his tenure as Chiefs GM by drafting a linebacker from Alabama named Derrick Thomas.

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Marty Schottenheimer was hands down the best Head Coach the Chiefs had had since Hank Stram.  In his first season with the team the Chiefs went 8-7-1 with his combination of smash mouth offense and attacking defense.  Christian Okoye went from 105 carries in 1988 to 370 carries and 1,488 yards in 1989. The following year the Chiefs started a run of six consecutive playoff seasons.  His teams twice had the best regular season record in football at 13-3.

The combination of Peterson and Schottenheimer made the Chiefs a perennial contender and turned Kansas City back into a football town.  They never made it to the Super Bowl, but they breathed new life into a dying franchise. Relatively few of today’s fans saw Len Dawson or Bobby Bell play.  But the greats of those nineties teams still loom large in living memory, with DT58 at the forefront.

Andy Reid and the Advent of Patrick Mahomes

Marty Schottenheimer was quoted as saying that the shelf life of an NFL Head Coach is 10 years.  He proved to be right, at least as far as his career in Kansas City was concerned. After a 7-9 season in 1998, which included the infamous Monday Night meltdown game in which the defense committed five personal fouls in a single fourth quarter drive against the Broncos, three of them by Derrick Thomas.  Schottenheimer was perceived to have lost control of the team and was fired at the end of the year. The team had a resurgence when Carl Peterson coaxed longtime friend Dick Vermeil out of retirement to take over as Head Coach in 2001. From 2003-2005 the offense, headlined by Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez, and Priest Holmes put the Chiefs back in contention.  The once fearsome defense had evaporated, though, and when the offense started showing signs of age the wheels fell off again. By 2008 planes were flying over Arrowhead with banners calling for Peterson’s head.

After an abysmal 2-14 season Clark Hunt, who had taken over ownership after Lamar’s death in 2006, fired Peterson and hired the most sought after NFL executive on earth, Scott Pioli.  That didn’t work out so well, so in 2013 Hunt restructured the organizational chart, making both the GM and the Head Coach directly reportable to him. He then hired Andy Reid within days of his firing by the Philadelphia Eagles.  In an epically cold move, Hunt made the still-employed Pioli sit outside the room while he negotiated with Andy. The deal got done and Pioli received his pink slip soon after, slinking off to Atlanta to help deconstruct the Falcons.

We’re all familiar with Big Red’s success (and failures) in Kansas City.  He took a 2-14 team and promptly went 11-5. The Chiefs have been to the playoffs in five of the last six years but still haven’t made it to the big dance.  It felt like Andy Reid was Marty 2.0. And then…

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For the first time since the Todd Blackledge fiasco and for only the third time ever, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted a quarterback in the first round.  This time they got it right.

One year starting, one MVP award, one trip to the AFC Championship Game.  God, how long until training camp?

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KCH1EFSFAN

The Pioli years were the roughest. I remember sitting in my late wife’s hospital room while she was beginning her journey from this life and Belcher news comes on TV. My late wife turns to me and says, look at the bright side your life can only get better. I miss that woman. Even in her darkest hour she still had that incredible wit.

Beachbeard
Beachbeard

Those wonderful ’90s teams when i was fortunate enough to work at Arrowhead for 4 seasons

tsv0728
tsv0728

What did you do at Arrowhead?

Beachbeard
Beachbeard

I worked in the parking lot. Didn’t have to pay for parking and we were paid with entry to the stadium. ’95-’98

tsv0728
tsv0728

Nice. That’s a good gig for a Chiefs fan.

Tyrone
Tyrone

Loved it

CHIEFSandSABRES

Great series. I’m just back to commenting more now, but I enjoyed reading these the past couple days! Good job and keep them coming.

sydenham
sydenham

Those Pioli years: full of hope but no glory. Being a homer meant being an apologist for mostly second rate players in a dysfunctional system. Tyson Jackson, Glen Dorsey, they never gave us the D we were hoping for. DJ was great, of course. The sad Belcher events put a real damper on things. Crennel, Weiss and Haley filled time between Vermeil and Reid. Thanks for the article SJC.

Chief-Blinders-On

That’s what I was thinking reading it.

About those days. How much time we spent discussing natural positions for BA. The defense for keeping Cassel and Bowe. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. The first year of Eric Berry. The last year having Romeo Crennel.

And how it was all part of the overall Chiefs story. Excellent stuff!

stjoechief
stjoechief

Yeah, I glossed over the Pioli era because it was a mirage. We all thought it was going to be great but it turned into more of the same.

BleedingRedAndGold

Great series, StJoe, really solid stuff.

tsv0728
tsv0728

It’s a good story, full of highs and lows, Heros and Villians. At the end of the beginning of this epic story, we get our Pat. I think that means we are going to infinity, and beyond.