Bitter end shouldn't define Carl Peterson's legacy in Kansas City
An era ended in Kansas City this week. You may or may not have heard about it -- nationally, the news seemed buried under the Boston Celtics, baseball free agent talk and the Pro Bowl -- but it was huge in the Heartland.
Peterson began as general manager of Kansas City back in December 1988, which, you will note, was before the FIRST
There were so few people in the stands in those days that NFL Films cameramen were given the order to shoot low, even on the those long spiral passes*, so not to show the empty upper deck. The Chiefs won the last home game before Peterson was hired, 38-34 against the New York Jets, scoring the last touchdown two seconds before the end of the game. There were 30,059 people in the stadium at the start of the game. There were approximately nine people when it ended.
There's one good thing about taking over a fiasco -- you can't spiral any further down. Peterson hired
And ... he created a phenomenon. Over the next nine years, the Chiefs would make the playoffs seven times. They would finish with the best record in football twice. They would reach the AFC Championship Game with
Peterson did not always come across well. He could seem humorless at times, and bullying at others. He would feud with the local media over petty things. And his teams were never quite good enough to get to the Super Bowl, which grew more irritating as the years went along. All in all, though, people appreciated what he had done. He gave Kansas City a football team, just as the baseball team was going into the tank.
After nine years of almost, the Chiefs went for broke in 1998 and brought in a collection of disagreeable characters in an effort to finally break through, "The Longest Yard" style. As you might expect, the plan didn't work. The team melted down, they had the first losing record since Peterson arrived, and Schottenheimer resigned at the end of the season. That ended the happy portion of the Carl Peterson Era.
The last 11 years of Peterson have been ... I guess you could describe them as the late
The Chiefs under
Peterson then traded for New York Jets coach
But by then, Peterson had been the Chiefs GM for 18 years, and he had not gotten the job done, and starting over did not sound too appetizing. The Chiefs went 4-12 last year as they tried to hang on to a few old players and some false hope. Then, before this year, they did blow up things. They got rid of most of the veterans and went with a young team. And now they are 2-12 and Peterson has resigned.
One of the great things about sports in America is that every town has its own culture, its own heroes and goats, its own sports kings. For a time in the late 1970s, Cleveland sports revolved around a guy named
I was at a basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., a few years ago when someone in a T-shirt and jeans suddenly and without introduction walked out to center court and raised his arms. The place went absolutely crazy. "
Who is that?" I asked the person next to me, who looked at me as if I must have come from some faraway planet, which, of course, I had.
Yes, it's a beautiful thing how every sports town has its own rhythm, and for 20 years or so that Kansas City rhythm was Carl Peterson. People outside Kansas City may have known his name, may have seen him interviewed here or there. But in Kansas City, he really was Mr. Potter, the biggest man in town. People argued about him and complained about him and grudgingly appreciated him. They booed him and called talk shows to demand his firing and maybe on occasion would raise a glass to him for making the Chiefs matter again.
It all ended quietly though, on a Monday afternoon, at a press gathering that Carl himself did not attend. By the time it ended, Peterson had few fans left, few people who remembered or cared about how it began, few who wanted to give him credit for anything. The feeling was celebration in Kansas City, which is a shame. There were a lot of good memories in those 20 years. That's how it goes, though. People sometimes forget good memories. People always remember the end.