It's hard to believe, but the Kansas City Chiefs' first game of the 2020 season is now less than a week away.
On this week's It's Always Sunny in Chiefs Kingdom, Taylor and I cleaned out the listener mailbag just in time for the season-preview show, coming Wednesday, September 9 — Opening Night Eve.
This year's opener might be the most anticipated in Chiefs' history, for a number of reasons. First, it will be the first NFL game played in the post-COVID-19 era, our very first opportunity to see how professional football will look, sound, and feel in the midst of a global pandemic. Second, for the first time since September 20, 1970, the Chiefs will open the season as the reigning champions. While the Chiefs have already hoisted their banner and collected rings, this game broadcast will doubtless be peppered with callbacks to Super Bowl LIV — especially since nearly every player taking the field Thursday night was also on the field in Miami.
It's going to be a fun night for Chiefs fans, win or lose, but with a win, Thursday night has a chance to become legendary in Chiefs' franchise lore. The Chiefs are 33-27 all-time in their season openers, but 0-1 when opening as defending champions — they lost to the Minnesota Vikings, the team they had just defeated in the Super Bowl, to open the 1970 season. The Chiefs are 6-1 in season openers under Andy Reid, including a current five-game win streak; the franchise record is seven straight, from 1990 to 1996.
To fully prepare for Thursday night's action, we're going to look at the greatest season-openers in Chiefs' history.
Chiefs 59, Broncos 7
The first-ever game played by the Kansas City Chiefs — who relocated to Missouri in 1963 after three years in Dallas as the Texans — still stands, 57 years later, as the biggest blowout win in franchise history. The Chiefs' 52-point margin of victory is the third-highest in a season opener in the history of the NFL, and 19th largest margin of victory in any game, regular or postseason, in any week, ever. Len Dawson posted the first perfect passer rating in the history of the AFL (and second in pro football history) with a 12-15, 278-yard, four-touchdown effort. The Chiefs took a 21-point lead in the second quarter and then piled on 31 unanswered points after halftime.
It may seem like a tall order for the 2020 Chiefs to replicate this historic blowout next Thursday, but remember — they actually went on a 41-0 run against this very same Houston Texans team in January.
Chiefs 27, Chargers 9
The Chiefs opened their first-ever championship season with a dominating win over the division rival San Diego Chargers. It seems hard to believe now, but San Diego was once regarded as a premier football franchise — the Chargers appeared in five of the first six AFL Championship games, although, in a portent of Chargers-dom to come, they won just once in five tries. The Chiefs came into this contest with an 8-9-1 record against the Chargers but evened the all-time series with a 22-point victory, which is still good for the ninth-highest margin of victory in a season opener for KC. The Chiefs rolled to a 9-1 start, despite an injury to Dawson, and finished 11-3 before winning Super Bowl IV.
Chiefs 40, Browns 39
In a microcosm of the season that would follow, with the Chiefs ranking first in the NFL in points scored and 28th in points allowed to finish 8-8, this Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns was an absolute rollercoaster. The Chiefs trailed 30-17 with 11:19 left in the fourth quarter, but Priest Holmes scored twice in the next three minutes to give KC a 31-30 lead. The Browns answered with a TD, but missed an extra point, to go up 36-31; Holmes scored again to make it 37-36. Cleveland's kicker, Phil Dawson, hit a 41-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 39-37 lead. Kansas City answered with a four-play, 72-yard drive to set Morten Andersen up for a game-winning 30-yard field goal as the clock hit 0:00.
Chiefs 28, Jaguars 2
The first game of the Andy Reid era in Kansas City was a memorable one. Coming off a 2-14 season the year before, the Chiefs ' first drive ended with a blocked punt recovered by Jacksonville for a safety. But the Jags would not score again, and KC rolled to a 26-point win, the second-largest in franchise history for a Week 1 game. The Chiefs rolled to a 9-0 start behind Reid, quarterback Alex Smith, and star running back Jamaal Charles, and Big Red let the football world know he had plenty left in the tank. KC would not play in Jacksonville again until Week 1, 2019, beginning their run to Super Bowl LIV with a 40-26 victory.
Chiefs 33, Chargers 27 (OT)
The Chiefs have played 60 Week 1 games in their history. This was the only game to reach overtime. KC trailed 24-3 with 6:02 left in the third quarter — a seemingly insurmountable deficit, considering that the largest comeback in franchise history, prior to that point, had been an 18-point comeback against the New Orleans Saints in 2012. But Smith hit running back Spencer Ware for a 45-yard gain on the first play after kickoff and led KC to a quick touchdown to Tyreek Hill (his first NFL score). Smith found Ware for 101 receiving yards in the second half, and the Chiefs forced overtime, won the coin toss, and marched 70 yards for the game-winning touchdown, a keeper by Smith.
Chiefs 42, Patriots 27
Arguably the signature victory of the Alex Smith era in Kansas City came on another Thursday Night Football, season-opening ring night in 2017. The Chiefs traveled to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Chiefs had just drafted Patrick Mahomes the previous April following a divisional round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was holding a clipboard on the sidelines as the Chiefs trailed 17-14 at halftime and 27-21 entering the fourth quarter.
The Patriots had won 81 straight home games entering the fourth quarter with a lead. The Chiefs were losing the turnover battle 1-0 after rookie running back Kareem Hunt fumbled the first play of the game (and his NFL career). A New England victory was inevitable.
Until it wasn't. The Chiefs became the first team in 82 tries to beat the Patriots at home while trailing in the final quarter. They became the first team to score 42 points on a Bill Belichick Patriots squad ever. The defense, led by Eric Berry, held the Patriots scoreless in the final frame. Hunt, after losing the ball early, piled up a record 246 yards from scrimmage in his NFL debut, including a 78-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that had defensive coordinators around the league scrambling for weeks.
This victory was historic, and it felt historic. It seemed like the Chiefs, after years of goodness, were ready to reach greatness. It felt like maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs would be hoisting a banner of their own in a year's time.
It was not to be. But this game was historic. September 7, 2017 marked the first time Patrick Mahomes dressed for a regular-season NFL game.
Now, three years after Mahomes spent the first game of his NFL career watching from the sidelines as another team celebrated a championship, he'll get to celebrate his own.