The dim-witted defender sailed into the defenseless kicker.
Yellow flags fluttered to earth. "Bad penalty," scolded Marty
Schottenheimer, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. "That's
roughing the kicker."
It was, but Schottenheimer didn't have to worry about it. He was
snug in his Arrowhead Stadium office late on Sunday afternoon,
noshing on grapes and Gouda and watching a telecast of the
Denver Broncos-Chicago Bears game. Surrounded though he was by
plush furniture, the chief Chief sat on the floor as he watched
the tube. Earlier that afternoon, during their 27-20 upset of
the Green Bay Packers, Schottenheimer's players had often left
the Packers in a similar position: on their butts.
The victory, over a team widely believed to be the class of the
NFL, reestablished the Chiefs as a force to be reckoned with.
Two weeks had passed since John Elway and the Broncos had
horsewhipped Kansas City. After that loss, the Chiefs' third in
four games, Schottenheimer decreed--by the power vested in him
by Schottenheimer--that Kansas City's record was not 5-3 but
0-0. The Chiefs, he declared, were about to embark on an
eight-game season. They opened it on Nov. 3 by flattening the
Minnesota Vikings 21-6.
Win No. 2 of season No. 2 seemed all but assured early in the
third quarter on Sunday when running back Greg Hill capped a
career day by motoring through a Humvee-wide hole to a 24-yard
touchdown. The TD, Hill's third of the afternoon, gave K.C. a
27-6 lead. Victory seemed less certain when with 1:02 left Green
Bay rookie wideout Derrick Mayes made a one-handed snag of a
six-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to pull the Pack within
seven. But Green Bay's subsequent onside kick bounced off the
hands of Kansas City's Todd McNair and was recovered by his
teammate Kimble Anders. The Chiefs ran out the clock.
November 18, 1996
"Look!" said Schottenheimer, poring over a stat sheet as he sat
on the floor. "They gave McNair a fumble on that play. He never
had possession. It was a muff, maybe, but no fumble." He circled
the error with a red felt-tip pen. The mistake would be
rectified--Schottenheimer would see to it. When a reporter
needled him for micromanaging, Schottenheimer didn't smile. "We
take a lot of pride in not fumbling or throwing interceptions,"
Indeed, the Packers committed two turnovers, the Chiefs none.
Hill's final score was set up by Kansas City's partners in
phone-company flackery and quarterback harassment, defensive end
Neil Smith and outside linebacker Derrick Thomas. On the first
play of the second half, Smith stripped Favre of the ball.
Thomas recovered it. Hill scored on the next play.
In the previous four games Smith and Thomas, a pair of perennial
Pro Bowl players, had been able to muster but a single sack
apiece. To neutralize them, teams had been sending out five
receivers on passing downs and getting rid of the ball,
according to Schottenheimer, "in 2.4, 2.5 seconds."
"But we've made an adjustment," Chiefs linebacker coach John
Bunting had said two days before the game against Green Bay.
"You're going to see a lot of Derrick Thomas on Sunday." Kansas
City unleashed a fresh batch of blitzes, which succeeded in
sowing confusion among the Packers' linemen. In addition to
forcing one fumble and recovering another, Thomas sacked Favre
In their locker room following the win, the Chiefs knelt in
prayer, after which Thomas shook hands with offensive
coordinator Paul Hackett and told him, "Hell of a job." The
significance of this moment? Following Kansas City's 17-7 loss
to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 7, Thomas had stunned his
teammates and coaches by ripping into the offense for its
inability to make big plays or score touchdowns. His philippic
became the talk of the town. Even though he apologized to his
fellow Chiefs the next day, Thomas succeeded in whipping up
public sentiment against Hackett and quarterback Steve Bono,
with whom K.C. fans have been dissatisfied since the Chiefs'
dismal offensive showing in a 10-7 playoff loss to the
Indianapolis Colts last January.
Hackett, who called a clever game on Sunday, is a Bill Walsh
acolyte, a specialist in the West Coast offense. Alas, his
players are ill-suited to the attack. Bono, who completed nine
of 22 passes and threw for one touchdown on Sunday, is a
caretaker whose primary job is to not get his team beat.
Hackett's best tight end, Keith Cash, and best wideout, Lake
Dawson, are injured. Hackett didn't need Thomas to tell him that
his offense had problems.
The Chiefs' strength on offense is their ground game: Hill and
Marcus (Methuselah) Allen running behind a corps of superb,
ornery linemen. Kansas City is 2-0 in its second season because
the offense has played to its strength. In the win over
Minnesota, the Chiefs rushed for 202 yards; on Sunday they ran
for 182 more. "We lost a few games and were looking for an
identity," said center Tim Grunhard. "Two weeks ago we decided,
Hey, we're going to move the ball on the ground. That's going to
be our identity."
Hill, who has languished in Allen's shadow since being drafted
out of Texas A&M in the first round in 1994, had been eager for
a chance to establish his own identity. "I have been
frustrated," Hill said on Sunday. "But my situation is unique.
I'm behind a guy who is going directly to the Hall of Fame when
he's finished playing. Marcus will not pass go. He will not
On Sunday, however, against the NFL's top-ranked defense, it was
Hill, not Allen, who had a monopoly on gaudy statistics. He
rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries, ran for two scores and caught
a 34-yard pass for another. After the game a reporter mentioned
that Hill is 5'9". Huffed Hill, "I'm five-11." That's a reach.
But while Hill's height remains in doubt, his moxie does not.
Earlier this season he held his own in a fight with tree-sized
tackle Trezelle Jenkins. Greg wasn't the instigator, according
to his mother, Debborah. "He was walking away, but Trezelle kept
pushing him," she says. "He told me, 'Mom, I didn't start it.'"
Debborah flew up from Dallas for last week's game. It was her
first trip to Arrowhead this season. She caused a slight
commotion as she watched her son perform, but she was only
adhering to her custom. When Greg carried the ball in youth
league, his mother ran along the sideline. When he played for
Carter High in Dallas, she carried on the tradition. "She'd run
along in the stands," recalls Greg. "She'd tell everybody,
'Excuse me, excuse me.'"
On Sunday she couldn't stay in her seat. "Everybody cleared a
path," says Debborah.
Everywhere you looked on Sunday, someone was clearing a path for