The date was January 23rd, 1994 as the Kansas City Chiefs played the Buffalo Bills in old Rich Stadium in the AFC Championship for the right to go to Super Bowl XXVIII to take on the Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs dropped two touchdown passes, one by Tim Barnett and one by Kimble Anders, before Joe Montana was concussed and taken out of the game after hitting his head against the concrete astro turf. This would be the Chiefs last appearance in the AFC Championship game to date. Who would have thought that a 38 year old Joe Montana would be the last this franchise saw of true greatness at that position for another 23 years and counting?
Painful Quarterback History
Since the Joe Montana days, we have hitched our wagons to career backups and journeymen without even the slightest hint of trying to find that next great franchise quarterback. Must we go through the inauspicious list of Bono, Grbac, Green, Thigpen, Huard, Cassel, and yes, even Smith? One shot at a 1st round quarterback in Todd Blackledge in 1983 then seemingly never again. One shot at a 2nd round quarterback in Matt Blundin in 1992 then never again. The Chiefs have drafted quarterbacks since 1983, but none higher than the 3rd round and none have found any success whatsoever. Brodie Croyle was made of glass. Ricky Stanzi looked like he had never played football before. Aaron Murray is a perfect example of a great college quarterback who was in over his head in the NFL. Tyler Bray is still in the league, but after that Broncos game this season where he fumbled an exchange with fullback Anthony Sherman he may struggle to collect another paycheck with the NFL shield on it. Kevin Hogan is also still in the league with the Browns and has shown he can throw a touchdown in a real live NFL regular season game. However, Hogan also throws a lot of interceptions so we’ll see how many years he can kick around the league as a backup.
Steve Bono threw for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns while leading 3 4th quarter comebacks in 1995. However, his no show in the biggest game of the season will forever stick with the Chiefs and their fans who still have PTSD about that opportunity lost. Do you recall that Bono had to be replaced by Rich Gannon just for a chance at that late last second field goal try? Yes, the kicker who shall not be named missed 3 field goals in the 8th coldest game in NFL history on a rock hard playing surface, but there was no reason for that game, against that team, to come down to the foot of a kicker.
Then came the sexiest athlete alive in Elvis Grbac, oh wait, that was supposed to be Rich Gannon in that magazine article, oops! Now, Elvis wasn’t all bad for another 49er retread. He did have a 4,169 yard 28 touchdown season in 2000 which prompted the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to let Trent Dilfer walk and sign this bozo, something we assume they still regret. We all know the story of the 1997 season where Elvis got hurt and Rich Gannon came in to carry this team on his back. Nobody can forget the Pete Stoyanovich 54 yard field goal to send Neil Smith and John Elway out of Arrowhead with a nasty taste in their mouths. Rich rolled out to his right and found Andre Rison to set up that 54 yard attempt and at least gave them a prayer at beating their nemesis, which they did. But then in something out of the Twilight Zone the decision was made, from what we have heard a heavy-handed decision from General Manager Carl Peterson “King Carl,” to play the man with the big contract and ignore the backup who had led the Chiefs to that point, the rest is history. The Chiefs offense floundered all game long against the Broncos and Elvis looked rusty and then just lost at the end of the game when the sideline to helmet communication went out.
Trent Green came into Kansas City in 2001 along with Head Coach Dick Vermeil and a new era of football was born. This fanbase was used to a dominating defense where the fans and team could capitalize on what was and is the loudest outdoor stadium in the world, better known as the “Sea of Red.” This brand of football was built on the foundation of a physical run team and on the backs of such players as: Priest Holmes, Tony Richardson, Jason Dunn, Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Casey Weigmann, Will Shields, and John Tait. Not to mention, one of if not the greatest tight ends to ever play the game in Tony Gonzalez which made teams have to respect the passing game; those two things combined created nightmares for opposing defenses. However, the defense was one of the worst defenses ever witnessed by human eyes and as historically good as the offense was it couldn’t outdo its own historically bad defense. Peyton Manning and that Colts offense wasn’t too much for the Chiefs offense to overcome in that 2003 playoff showdown in Arrowhead, but Eric Hicks, Eric Warfield, and William Bartee were absolutely just too much for the Chiefs offense to overcome on that day! And let’s not waste our time on Damon Huard (although they should inscribe his tombstone with the words started 4-3 in 2007) nor the “wonder how he was ever a starting quarterback,” Tyler “1-10” Thigpen.
Matt Cassel never started a game in college at USC and somehow became Tom Brady’s backup in New England. And in one fateful play, Bernard Pollard stole 4 years of Chiefs’ fans lives by injuring Tom Brady for the season. Next thing you know, Matt Cassel is going 11-5 and in Kansas City as the new starting quarterback under the Pioli regime and the term “Patriots West” was coined. Patriots East stands for winning, professionalism, and check your ego at the door while Patriots West stood for turmoil, losing, and egomaniacal maniacs running a franchise into the ground until the wheels fell off at 2-14. In 2010, Matt Cassel had his best season with 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions, however, that was behind the #1 rushing attack in football and Dwayne Bowe having the season of his life under the tutelage of Todd Haley. Todd had placed Dwayne Bowe and Derrick Johnson with the 2nd team when he got here as they weren’t performing up to their immense talent, but quickly got the message to them and both became better players for it. Todd was ultimately fired in a power struggle with General Manager Scott Pioli who wouldn’t listen to Todd’s numerous requests to make a change at quarterback. Romeo Crennel ended up being the replacement and when that finally ended in a dumpster fire 2-14 season along with a personal player tragedy, the slate was wiped clean and the rebuild began.
Moving on from Alex Smith
Alex Smith has had a better 5 years in Kansas City than anyone would have imagined. Coming into Kansas City after the trade from San Francisco Alex’s numbers were extremely similar to Matt Cassel’s even though Alex was the #1 overall pick and Matt Cassel was a 7th round pick who barely saw the field at USC. Coming into the 2013 season Matt Cassel had played in 78 games with 82 touchdowns and 57 interceptions as opposed to Alex’s 80 games with 81 touchdowns and 63 interceptions. But after tutelage from Jim Harbaugh and with Andy Reid at the helm Alex hovered around average with an above average performance from time to time. This year he’s coming off his best season by far with over 4,000 yards threw the air with 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions not to mention he’s the league leader in passer rating at 104.7. However, his risk averse self came out again in the playoffs as he’d duck his head too early in a clean pocket and take off or check it down for a loss. He struggles in his pocket presence and keeping his eyes downfield which would allow him to make a throw this team desperately needed as identified in these two tweets from NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger:
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 8, 2018
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 8, 2018
When your team needs a throw in the NFL playoffs you have to be ready, willing and able to stand tall in the pocket, keep your eyes downfield and fire it into a tight window as confidently as you did in the 1st quarter. The Chiefs need the 17 million dollars in cap relief and the draft capital they will receive back in a trade. They need to move on from the failure of thinking they can win with career backups from other teams or journeymen bouncing around the league looking for a place to land that has the structure around them to succeed to a certain point. It’s time for the Chiefs to get with the program that more way more often than not you must have your own franchise quarterback that you have developed to win the ultimate prize, the Lombardi trophy. A trophy they have not won since 1970 or 48 years ago before many of us fans were even born!