As coach Marty Schottenheimer began to speak, one sound
resonated through the Kansas City Chiefs' locker room on a
bitter-cold Sunday evening last January in Arrowhead Stadium. It
was a loud wail, not unlike the kind you hear from the widow at
a young man's funeral. "We had our opportunities, men, and we
just didn't take advantage of them," Schottenheimer said, louder
than he wanted, trying to be heard over the plaintive cries.
"The score is what it is. Nothing we can do now. The worst
emotion is self-pity."
Now he had to stop, because the noise was so intrusive. About
then, running back Marcus Allen walked out of the room and into
the shower, so Schottenheimer could finish. Allen, known for his
never-let-'em-see-you-sweat image, pushed away those trying to
console him. The Chiefs had just suffered a stunning 10-7
playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and Allen could not
handle it. Neither could cornerback Mark Collins. Tears staining
his cheeks, he walked to the equipment room and smashed his
forehead into the door. Once, twice, at least 10 times. "This
can't happen!" he screamed again and again. Defensive end Neil
Smith threw his helmet against a wall, and it split in two.
Seven months later, as he sits in a room at the Chiefs' training
camp in River Falls, Wis., Allen is his old self. His polo shirt
and pressed shorts and spotless deck shoes perfectly complement
his cool look. You are sure when it comes time to discuss his
emotional locker room display, he will try to laugh it off.
Instead he fixes you with a serious stare.
"I cried for me, I cried for the team," Allen says. "It is a
time I will never forget. To have the Super Bowl snatched away
like that was devastating. Driving home that night, the city was
so still. You could hear a pin drop, like Kansas City was
mourning the death of a president."
September 1, 1996
And now? "Failure is not an option," he says. "We must get to
the Super Bowl."
In 30 years so much has changed, and so much hasn't. Kansas City
met the Green Bay Packers in the first AFL-NFL Championship
Game, in January 1967, just as the two teams will meet again in
Super Bowl XXXI in January 1997.
Failure is not an option. Nor was it for Vince Lombardi's
Packers. They faced so much pressure from the established and
holier-than-thou NFL leading up to that first title game that
the granite coach suffered from insomnia. The '96 Packers will
face similar pressure in New Orleans because the NFC has won the
last 12 Super Bowls.
Lombardi's presence can still be felt in Green Bay. Packers
quarterback Brett Favre recently moved to a neighborhood west of
town, and his drive home takes him west on Lombardi Avenue,
north on Packerland Drive and then west on a road that runs past
the Lombardi Middle School.
The Chiefs carried the banner for the underdog AFL 30 years ago,
just as they will carry the baggage for the underachieving AFC
next Jan. 26. Three decades ago Kansas City had a shy and
conservative millionaire owner, Lamar Hunt; a coach, Hank Stram,
who loved to be miked; and a ferocious defense. Today they have
the same shy and conservative millionaire owner, a coach who
loves to be miked and a ferocious defense.
Packers-Chiefs. It just feels right.
"Oh, that'd be too much," says Chuck Giordana, research
specialist for the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, as he takes a
visitor through the Hall one August day. "People would go wild.
What a story! Kansas City's chance for revenge."
Giordana points to the gold bowl presented to the Pack after its
35-10 win in Super Bowl I. THE WORLD'S PRO FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS,
the engraving reads. "Guys got $15,000 to win that game," he
says. "Losers got $7,500. That's an NFL fine these days. But it
seemed like those guys--[Ray] Nitschke, [Forrest] Gregg, [Bart]
Starr, [Jerry] Kramer--didn't care about the money. Seemed like
those guys played tougher, too. One time Nitschke broke his hand
and came to the sideline saying, 'Coach, I broke my hand.' And
Coach Lombardi said, 'Get back out there! The other team doesn't
know it's broken!'"
Kind of like Green Bay defensive end Reggie White playing with a
torn hamstring last season. White and Allen would trade anything
to play in Super Bowl XXXI; just look in their eyes if you doubt
it. Favre, the rehabbed Packers quarterback, and Schottenheimer,
the tortured Chiefs coach, are similarly driven, but for
different reasons. It is the will of these four men that will
lead to an anniversary game between Green Bay and Kansas City
five months hence.
I don't want to be football's Ernie Banks.
As he trained during the off-season, White would visualize
success. He could see himself sacking quarterbacks and winning
games and hugging teammates. But he could not picture what he
wants most deeply. "I've never been able to see me and my
teammates running out of the tunnel on Super Bowl Sunday," he
says. "That bothers me."
Many things in this game have come easily to the NFL's alltime
sack leader. But White turns 35 in December, and his clock is
ticking. The hamstring twinges strike more regularly now, and he
faces the prospect of retiring without a championship. He is a
religious man, so the lack of a title wouldn't ruin him.
Nevertheless, there would always be a scar. He has tried to tell
his younger teammates how fleeting an NFL career can be, how few
chances a player has to reach the Super Bowl.
"You see this with so many guys early in their careers," White
says. "Guys get overwhelmed by the good life. They can't realize
what I realize now: When you're on a good team right out of
college, you might think you've got your whole career to get to
the Super Bowl. But I'm proof that no matter how much money you
make and how many awards you win, there's a professional
emptiness when you don't win the ultimate game."
He knows all about Banks, the Hall of Fame shortstop who played
19 years for the Chicago Cubs without making it to the World
Series. "We both accomplished quite a lot," White says. "The
difference is, I've still got a chance to win my title."
I have one thing to say to all the people expecting me to fail:
Go ahead, bet against me.
He is fiercely competitive, but he can also play the class
clown. Take a recent appointment with a rehab counselor who has
worked to help him overcome his addiction to painkillers. Favre
emptied a beer can into a sink and refilled it with water. When
the doctor walked in and saw Favre chugging from the beer can,
he turned pale. "Sorry, Doc," Favre said. "Tough day at
practice." Then he drained the can into the sink, revealing its
contents, and began howling.
Favre was all business, however, when he called Green Bay
general manager Ron Wolf in early July after a 45-day stay in a
rehab facility for his addiction. He told Wolf not to worry. And
then he said, "We're going to the Super Bowl, Ron."
"I believe it too," Favre says. "We're a better team. And I've
got so much driving me. Number one, I won the MVP award last
year, and that thrill lasted about a week and a half. We lost to
the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, and it was like the
MVP didn't matter. Two, the game's in New Orleans, right near my
home [in Diamondhead, Miss.]. Three, I want to prove everyone
wrong who thinks I'm some drug addict. Four, I want to do it for
Reggie. I tell every guy every day: We're only playing for one
West of Green Bay, past the Lombardi Middle School, the person
who best knows Favre is moving into her new castle. In May,
Deanna Tynes, then Favre's girlfriend, had tearfully revealed
the darkest secrets of his addiction to the painkiller Vicodin.
Now, in late July, Deanna Favre, a newlywed of two weeks, is
standing in her bright kitchen and beaming. "I'm sure he'll make
it," she says of her husband's recovery. "Brett doesn't want
What does he want? "One thing," he says. "The Super Bowl."
The record is disappointing. But it's real.
The cliche is there for all to whisper: Can't win the big one.
Remarkably Schottenheimer has coached his teams (the Cleveland
Browns and the Chiefs) to the playoffs in 10 of his 11 NFL
seasons. But the man who has the most regular-season wins over
the past decade (112) is only 5-10 in the postseason. The loss
to Indianapolis in January was a typical heartbreaker. The
Chiefs, who had the fewest turnovers in the AFC in '95, turned
the ball over four times against the Colts. Lin Elliott missed
field goals of 35, 39 and 42 yards.
"As you know," Schottenheimer says, recalling the emotional
aftermath, "I've had a few too many of those locker room scenes
in my life."
There were those two AFC Championship Games: the one in
Cleveland in January 1987, after John Elway drove the Denver
Broncos 98 yards to tie the game with 39 seconds left in
regulation--a series forever known as the Drive--then took them
down the field again in overtime to keep Schottenheimer's Browns
out of the Super Bowl; and the one in Denver a year later, after
Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbled with 1:12 left while going in
for what would have been the tying touchdown--a play forever
known as the Fumble. There was Cleveland's one-point loss to
Houston in December '88 and Kansas City's one-point loss to
Miami two seasons later. "The only game that's ever stuck with
me is the one with the Drive," says Schottenheimer. "It was so
uncharacteristic for us to have allowed that, and it's something
I still feel a little bit. But the rest? That's football."
The shame of it all is that Schottenheimer has always been a
terrific teacher. He developed Byner in Cleveland. Two former
CFL stars, defensive end Vaughn Booker and wideout-returner
Tamarick Vanover, have grown into important players on this
team. The Chiefs have tapped the waiver wire and the World
League for talent and have no high-profile free agents except
"I don't know if Marty is obsessed with winning a Super Bowl,
but he should be," says Byner, who remains close to his former
coach. "The Super Bowl has to be in his destiny. Marty has never
told me about how much he wants to win a Super Bowl, but he
doesn't have to. It's just like the Fumble. I didn't have to
tell him how much I hurt. He knew. Well, Marty doesn't have to
tell me how much he hurts from not winning a championship. I
That day in Tampa, I thought I'd be in several Super Bowls. But
now, it's like I can't get back.
Super Bowl XVIII was so many Roman numerals ago. Allen didn't
just play in that game, back in January 1984, he owned it, with
191 yards rushing, a 9.6-yard average and the MVP trophy.
Allen's Los Angeles Raiders flattened the Washington Redskins
38-9. Allen was 23.
"I just remember being in a zone," Allen says. "I was amazed how
easy things went. On my long [74-yard] touchdown run, I remember
thinking how no one would ever catch me and getting to the end
zone and seeing the Redskins' cheerleaders crying. On the
sidelines [Raider linebacker] Matt Millen tapped me on the
shoulder and pointed to the scoreboard. It said, MARCUS ALLEN,
SUPER BOWL XVIII MVP."
Allen, who as a Raider played on the last AFC team to win a
Super Bowl, flashes ahead to last season's abrupt end. "The
memories are enough to make me want so badly to go back," he
says. "If this team doesn't have insomnia over what happened
last year, something isn't right."
For the most part, both teams are intact from a year ago. Kansas
City re-signed 47 of 53 players, and the two key starters it
lost--defensive end Darren Mickell and wideout Willie
Davis--have been replaced by Booker and Vanover, who are at
least their equals. The Chiefs addressed their kicking needs by
acquiring Pete Stoyanovich from the Miami Dolphins. Every
significant offensive starter returns to Green Bay but left
tackle Ken Ruettgers, who will miss at least the first six weeks
of the season with a knee injury. And the Pack has shored up its
secondary with one of the game's most underrated safeties,
former Seattle Seahawk Eugene Robinson.
Those expected to challenge Green Bay are--for the moment, at
least--looking shaky. "We have the thinnest team in pro
football," Dallas coach Barry Switzer says. The San Francisco
49ers are forever shuffling their offensive line and are weak at
running back. The Pittsburgh Steelers? With the departure of
quarterback Neil O'Donnell to the New York Jets, they might
finally feel the pinch of losing a key free agent.
So get ready for the Nostalgia Bowl. Here's how it will go:
Favre staggers the Chiefs with two first-half touchdown passes,
one to tight end Keith Jackson, the other to wideout Robert
Brooks. But he's getting hit too much. Defensive end Neil Smith
puts his stamp on the best pass-rushing season in the NFL,
getting his 18th and 19th sacks of the year in the third quarter
and forcing a fumble on the latter. Booker recovers, and Allen
follows with his second TD run of the day. Early in the fourth
quarter Vanover breaks six tackles on a 68-yard punt return for
a touchdown. The Packers are up 24-21 now, but with two minutes
left Kansas City faces a third-and-three at the Green Bay eight.
Under a heavy rush, quarterback Steve Bono flutters a pass to
Allen in the right flat. "I felt like a New York cabbie on
Broadway at five in the afternoon," Allen, the MVP again, will
say later. He weaves through a sea of green jerseys and lunges
across the goal line. Chiefs 28, Packers 24.
Allen trots to the sideline, ball in hand. The clock ticks down.
It's a final. Allen hands the ball to Schottenheimer, and the
two embrace. "You deserve this," Allen says to a teary-eyed
"You deserve it more," Schottenheimer replies, handing the ball
They all deserve it.