In the heat of battle, amid a scene on the verge of turning
ugly, Derrick Thomas grabbed a microphone and tried to ease the
tension. It was last Friday night in Kansas City, in a seedy bar
on the West Side, and Thomas, the Chiefs' jocular linebacker and
sack specialist, was playing guest deejay while a jam-packed
dance floor reverberated to the sounds of Nas's If I Ruled the
World. Suddenly a pair of patrons began exchanging harsh words
and shoves. The houselights went on, the music stopped and
people scattered. "Come on," Thomas cackled into the microphone
in his best Rodney King voice. "Can't we all just get along?"
The levity continued hours later at a dance club across the
street from Arrowhead Stadium. Thomas and one of his buddies,
former Denver Broncos running back Melvin Bratton, amused
onlookers as they playfully cut a swath across the dance floor.
The following night, Thomas hosted a house party at which
another of his friends, rapper-actor Kid (from Kid 'n Play),
delivered lively commentary while watching the Mike Tyson-Bruce
Seldon heavyweight title fight.
With a body that requires only token stretches of sleep and a
network of friends that covers every NFL city, Thomas is the
league's consummate social butterfly. He also stings like a bee,
as the Oakland Raiders were reminded on Sunday. Thomas's
crunching blow to the back of Raiders quarterback Billy Joe
Hobert midway through the third quarter turned a close game at
Arrowhead into a Chiefs victory in this increasingly one-sided
rivalry. (Kansas City has won seven in a row and 13 of the last
14 against Oakland.) The Chiefs' 19-3 win was accompanied by the
usual bad blood between these AFC West foes traveling in
Thanks to Thomas and his equally relentless defensive mates, the
Chiefs (2-0) seem intent on matching or improving upon their
1995 regular season, during which they put together a
league-best 13-3 record. The K.C. defense may not be scoring
many points with its demanding defensive coordinator, Gunther
Cunningham, but it did put nine of them on the scoreboard on
Sunday, all because Thomas could not be blocked. Twice he sacked
Hobert and knocked the ball loose, leading to cornerback James
Hasty's 80-yard touchdown return in the third quarter and a
safety with 3:12 remaining.
September 15, 1996
By then the Raiders were well on the way to their eighth
consecutive loss over two seasons, a free fall that threatens to
send second-year coach Mike White to the unemployment line.
Oakland was 8-2 last season before slipping into a pattern of
futility that repeated itself Sunday: crucial penalties and
turnovers combined with an inability to make game-turning plays.
As has become their custom, the Raiders were at their
self-destructive best against Kansas City. Oakland is in such a
slump that White began his postgame press conference by saying,
"Interestingly enough we made some progress today as a football
team." When a 16-point defeat marred by two turnovers, two
botched field goals and a pass-interference penalty that sets up
the game's first touchdown is progress, it's a good indication
that the team's avowed "Commitment to Excellence" has taken a
The latest whipping the Chiefs administered to the Raiders was
firm and methodical, but don't think this was just another game
for Kansas City. The Chiefs' locker room houses more
Raiders-haters per capita than any other stretch of acreage on
earth. Coach Marty Schottenheimer is at the top of the list,
though two members of his staff, Cunningham and former Raiders
coach and player Art Shell, are right up there. So is former
Raiders running back Marcus Allen.
Even those Chiefs without obvious grudges are caught up in what
may rank as the NFL's nastiest ongoing feud. "They always talk
about Commitment to Excellence, the best record in professional
sports since the '60s and all that," 11-year veteran defensive
back Mark Collins said last Friday. "The last time I checked,
they'd won one Super Bowl in the last 15 years. If I had that
record, I wouldn't be bragging about it."
Thomas, a Raiders fan growing up, developed animosity for
Raiders owner Al Davis after the Chiefs' 13-3 victory at
Arrowhead two years ago. Recalls Thomas, "Before the game, he
said what he always used to say to me, 'Derrick, you know you
want to be a Raider,' and we laughed. Then after the game, I was
standing in the tunnel and Al came by, so I called out to him.
He just gave me this look, and I thought, Al, I don't need to
speak to your ass. We haven't spoken since."
Can't we all just get along?
Forget it. The days leading up to the game featured the filing
of a protest to the league office by Oakland over the timing of
its allotted practice session at Arrowhead last Saturday and an
unofficial NFL record for swearing during a team meeting. The
latter occurred during the K.C. defense's prepractice session on
Wednesday morning. Cunningham, a Raiders assistant from 1991 to
'94, used the f word 116 times over a 40-minute span, according
to defensive tackle Joe Phillips. As the meeting adjourned,
Phillips revealed the count to Cunningham, who growled, "F---
you, you m-----------." Phillips's retort? "That's 118, Coach."
Schottenheimer has never revealed the origin of his anti-Raiders
passion, but anyone around him could sense it last week. During
his media luncheon on the Tuesday before the game,
Schottenheimer was digging into a burrito when his plastic fork
snapped. Then the coach snapped, saying, "Can't we get a decent
fork around here? Aren't we supposed to be a first-class
organization?" During Thursday's practice, Cunningham was about
to admonish the defense during a nine-on-seven drill when
Schottenheimer beat him to the punch. "He went nuts," Cunningham
said, "and from then on, that drill was a bloodbath." Said
fullback Kimble Anders, "I've never heard so much cussing as I
did from Marty this week."
It was obvious that harsh words would lead to down-and-dirty
deeds, if only because the Chiefs' physical defensive front
would be up against Oakland guard Steve Wisniewski. One of the
league's best offensive linemen, Wisniewski may also be one of
the least popular among defenders because of his relentless
style. In the third quarter Wisniewski slammed Kansas City
nosetackle Dan Saleaumua to the turf after the whistle. No
penalty was called, but Saleaumua injured his right shoulder and
was sidelined for several plays. Two days before the game, as he
was munching on some chicken fingers, Thomas had said of
Wisniewski: "I think he's a hell of a football player, one of
the best linemen in the league--until he starts all of that
bull. Two years ago in L.A., [Chiefs defensive end] Neil Smith
hit Wisniewski so hard that the impact knocked his helmet to the
side, and he curled up like a baby. That was like redemption for
the entire NFL."
Informed of Thomas's comments on the day before the game,
Wisniewski said, "I think Derrick's one of the best pass rushers
in the league, until he starts hitting my quarterback."
On Sunday, Thomas's target was Hobert, who was filling in for
Jeff Hostetler, the Raiders' No. 1 quarterback. Hostetler missed
his second game with a strained knee ligament but is expected to
make his '96 debut in Oakland's home opener this Sunday against
the Jacksonville Jaguars. His shaky health has been a factor
throughout the skid, but the Raiders can't blame this defeat on
Hostetler's absence. Though Hobert's stats (19 of 40, 181 yards)
weren't stellar, he hung in tough against Kansas City's pass
rush. His only interception was a catchable ball that bounced
off the hands of wideout James Jett and into the arms of
linebacker Tracy Simien, who made a nice grab. Hobert's fumbles
came after blindside hits by Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowl
player who has four sacks in his first two games.
Kansas City had taken a 7-0 lead 1:09 before halftime on
quarterback Steve Bono's one-yard touchdown pass to fullback
Tony Richardson. The score had been set up two plays earlier
when, on a second down from the Raiders' 24, former Chiefs
cornerback Albert Lewis interfered with wideout Lake Dawson in
the end zone. The Raiders took the second-half kickoff and drove
73 yards in 12 plays to the K.C. three. On first down Chiefs
safety William White nailed halfback Napoleon Kaufman for a
two-yard loss, and on the next play Hobert ran a play-action
fake to running back Harvey Williams and dropped back to pass.
Thomas had seen a similar play while studying film, and he made
an executive decision to ignore the fake. Tight end Andrew
Glover had gone in motion and was supposed to pick up Thomas,
but Thomas blew past him and hit Hobert high. Hasty picked up
the ball and was gone, evoking images of his 64-yard
interception return into the same end zone that gave Kansas City
a 23-17 overtime victory over the Raiders last September.
Schottenheimer had rewarded Hasty with kisses on that occasion,
but there would be no encore. "I went down to the end zone,"
Schottenheimer said after Sunday's runback, "but he sort of
looked at me and said, 'Uh-uh.'"
The Raiders could have kissed their chances goodbye at that
point because they have handled adversity with all the composure
of Bob Knight. Even before Hasty's touchdown, one Kansas City
defender said that he had heard Raiders wideout Tim Brown tell
his teammates, "If we can't beat 'em, we might as well try to
beat 'em up."
If the Raiders keep getting beat, there's little question that
Mike White will be the fall guy. Defensive coordinator John Fox
quit last month, fed up with Davis's meddling and antagonistic
behavior, and last week several Bay Area newspaper columnists
speculated that White may be headed for the fate suffered in '89
by Mike Shanahan, who was fired after a 1-3 start to his second
season. Either special teams coach Rusty Tillman or assistant
head coach-offense Joe Bugel would be White's likely successor.
"There isn't a whole lot more, other than donning a uniform,
that Mike White could have done for us so far," Wisniewski says.
"But I guess the captain is gonna take the fall when the ship is
Meanwhile, Kansas City keeps cruising along like a Waverunner,
though some choppiness lies ahead. There is still resentment in
the locker room over Bono's decision to spend much of his
off-season in the Bay Area, rather than participate in all the
team's voluntary workouts. At one point last spring, Thomas and
Bono engaged in a heated argument at the team's indoor practice
facility. Performances like Sunday's can do wonders for locker
room harmony, though Cunningham will remain the ultimate killjoy.
As he peeled the tape from his sweaty hands, Thomas was already
bracing himself for the next day's defensive meeting. "We gave
up that field goal toward the end--and 296 yards," he said.
"Gunther's gonna go ballistic. He's gonna m----------- us all
Can't we all just get along?