The Chiefs would like you to know that the weather in Kansas
City last Jan. 14 was unseasonably nice: temperatures in the
high 60's, blue skies, light breeze. Inspired weather for
January; weather that seemed less a product of fronts and
pressure systems than of destiny. "Just beautiful," says
defensive tackle Joe Phillips. "It would have been a perfect day
to play an AFC Championship Game."
There was one that day. In Pittsburgh.
When the regular season ended, the Chiefs, with their
league-best record of 13-3, seemed destined to host the
conference final. Hadn't fate been body-painting itself red all
season long? K.C. had gone 8-0 in Arrowhead Stadium, winning
four games in the last 15 seconds of play. Was fate not hinting
that the Chiefs would return for a postseason gig at Sun Devil
Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XXX, where they had already won
in both the preseason and regular season?
The "Red Sea," the 79,000 fans who populate Arrowhead on
Sundays, was eagerly anticipating the city's first AFC title
tilt. All that stood between this team and the championship game
was a divisional-playoff showdown with the Indianapolis Colts, a
9-7 wild-card squad missing both its top rusher and its
July 31, 1996
Fate is fickle. The Chiefs, who led the NFL in rushing, were
outrushed 147 yards to 129. The Chiefs, who sported a
league-best plus-12 turnover margin, turned the ball over four
times to the Colts' one. The Chiefs, who were undefeated at
home, lost 10-7. On a seasonably frigid 11 degree day, Kansas
City was unseasonably awful. No wonder Phillips was invited to
appear on Sally Jessy Raphael two months later for an episode
entitled "Unexpected Victims."
"I was invited to discuss the assault in San Diego," corrects
the 6'5", 310-pound former Charger, who was jumped by three men
outside a bar in 1990 and nearly beaten to death. "But I was
prepared to field questions about the Colts loss."
The good news for Kansas City fans is that coach Marty
Schottenheimer and general manager Carl Peterson understand
that, like the atmospheric conditions last January, the playoff
loss was an anomaly. Of the 22 players who started that game, 21
return to the lineup this fall. To keep the team together, seven
veterans restructured their contracts so that up-and-coming
players such as fullback Kimble Anders, cornerback Dale Carter
and guard Will Shields would not land elsewhere as free agents.
Only wideout Willie Davis, who led the club in yards receiving
for the third straight year, has departed. Tamarick Vanover, the
wing-footed rookie who tied for the team lead in touchdowns last
season, will ably replace Davis, who signed with the Oilers.
Defensively, the only new wrinkles appear around the eyes. End
Neil Smith and outside linebacker Derrick Thomas (page 184), a
dozen Pro Bowls between them, anchor a unit (average age: 29
1/2) that returns intact. Safety Mark Collins, last seen banging
his head against an equipment-room door moments after the
playoff loss, announced his retirement in January. Three months
later he unretired.
Like Collins, 36-year-old tailback Marcus Allen pondered
retirement but will return. And why not? Led by Shields, tackle
John Alt and center Tim Grunhard, Kansas City's offensive line
is the AFC's best, at least until the Jaguars' front five reach
puberty. Anders, whose 122 receptions over the last two seasons
is tops among all NFL running backs, relieves the pressure on
Allen, who, though a lock for the Hall of Fame, is still a
decade removed from his last 1,000-yard rushing season.
Is Steve Bono, 34, the quarterback who led the Chiefs to a 10-1
start? Or is he the quarterback who threw three interceptions
in the second half of the Colts game? It doesn't much matter.
His backups, Rich Gannon and Steve Matthews, are not Super
Bowl-caliber signal-callers. For this reason Kansas City hinges
its championship hopes on its defense, which allowed a
league-low 15.1 points per game last year.
Phillips, who penned a book about the '95 season entitled Chiefs
Injustice, notes that fate can also be cruel. "We really thought
that the next game we'd be playing after the AFC championship
was Dallas in the Super Bowl in the desert," he says. The
nine-year veteran then points to the Chiefs' exhibition
schedule. Is it merely coincidence that on Aug. 5 Kansas City
meets the Cowboys in the American Bowl in Monterrey, Mexico?
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in percentage)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 138.9 (1) 188.8 (25) 327.6 (14)
DEFENSE 82.9 (3) 201.4 (5) 284.3 (2)
In It, But Not to Win It
Kansas City is the only NFL team to have made the playoffs in
every season in the '90s, and the Chiefs are three years away
from tying Dallas's record string of nine consecutive postseason
appearances (1975-83). But Kansas City, which has not reached
the Super Bowl since January 1970, is even closer to matching a
more dubious mark.
Most Consecutive Years in the Playoffs Without Reaching a Super
Oilers 1987-93 7
Chiefs 1990-95 6
Rams 1973-78 6
Browns 1985-89 5
Cowboys 1979-83 5
Rams 1983-86 4
Chargers 1979-82 4
Raiders 1972-75 4
Cowboys 1966-69 4
PLAYER TO WATCH
Defensive end Vaughn Booker has served two-year tours of duty
with the U.S. Army, the CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the
Chiefs. Line coach Carl Hairston is pleased that the 28-year-old
has re-upped for a third season in Kansas City. "Vaughn's
probably the most athletic 290-pound guy I've seen," says
Hairston. When right end Darren Mickell separated his left
shoulder six games into the '95 season, Booker moved into the
starting lineup. Now the former E-4 specialist finds himself a
fixture on a line that sent two players, Dan Saleaumua and Neil
Smith, to the Pro Bowl last year. "I'm just thrilled to be
here," says Booker. "There was a time when I never thought I'd
play in the NFL."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Marty Schottenheimer
QB Steve Bono 520 att. 293 comp. 56.3% 3,121 yds. 21 TDs
10 int. 79.5 rtg.
RB Marcus Allen 207 att. 890 yds. 5 TDs
FB Kimble Anders 58 att. 398 yds. 2 TDs
TE Keith Cash 42 rec. 419 yds. 1 TD
WR Tamarick Vanover 11 rec. 231 yds. 2 TDs
WR Lake Dawson 40 rec. 513 yds. 5 TDs
WR Victor Bailey* 20 rec. 311 yds. 1 TD
LT John Alt 6'8" 307 lbs.
LG Dave Szott 6'4" 290 lbs.
C Tim Grunhard 6'2" 299 lbs.
RG Will Shields 6'3" 300 lbs.
RT Ricky Siglar 6'7" 307 lbs.
PK Bjorn Nittmo[**][***]¬†43/43 XPs 46/53 FGs
LE Neil Smith 12 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT Joe Phillips 4 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RT Dan Saleaumua 7 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RE Vaughn Booker 1 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Derrick Thomas 8 sacks 0 int.
MLB Tracy Simien 1 sack 0 int.
OLB Anthony Davis 2 sacks 1 int.
CB Dale Carter 4 int. 0 sacks
SS Brian Washington 3 int. 0 sacks
FS Mark Collins 1 int. 0 sacks
CB James Hasty 3 int. 0 sacks
P Louie Aguiar 91 punts 43.8 avg.
PR Tamarick Vanover 51 ret. 10.6 avg.
KR Tamarick Vanover 43 ret. 25.5 avg.
* 1994 statistics ¬†[**] CFL statistics
[***] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)