Are the 2-0 Chiefs on their way to NFL turnaround-team status?
Kansas City has just 10 wins from 2007-09; hasn't won a playoff game since '93
After their 2010 draft and 2-0 start, Chiefs seem to be turning things around
Though optimistic, the team acknowledges the rebuilding process isn't finished
Year in and year out, is there any story in the NFL we tend to love and embrace more than that of the turnaround team? We find the journey from worst-to-first an irresistible narrative to either root for or follow, and every offseason much energy is spent by fans and NFL pundits alike trying to identify which team or teams will make the happy trek from pathetic to the playoffs.
I'm not offering a prediction here about who will be this year's version of Cinderella, per se. But as usual, there are a handful of candidates who have quickly identified themselves in the opening weeks of the regular season. I spent some time on the phone Thursday with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, because of all the surprising 2-0 starts -- and I would number Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Miami among that group -- none intrigue me like the undefeated Chiefs when it comes to their potential to rise from the depths and give us another turnaround team to toast and remember.
It's the snapshot of what it's really like in those early, giddy stages of starting to win again after years of losing that I went looking for in my conversation with Hunt, the son of Chiefs founder and longtime owner, Lamar Hunt. This is, after all, a once-proud franchise that has endured the following:
Just 10 wins over the past three seasons, with last year's 4-12, last-place finish in the AFC West marking the first season of the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley front office-coaching regime.
No playoff trips since 2006. No division title since 2003, and most startling, only four winning seasons in the past 12 years in Kansas City. The Chiefs are working on their fourth head coach since the Marty Schottenheimer era ended after the 1998 season.
The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since a transplant named Joe Montana led them to the AFC title game in 1993, and they own a grand total of three postseason victories since Hank Stram and Co. upset the Vikings to win Super Bowl IV in January 1970, more than 40 years ago. Their current playoff losing streak stands at six.
Clearly they're ready for the times to get better in Kansas City. And with the Chiefs sitting alone atop their division after two weeks, this is as good as things have gotten in quite a while.
"There's palpable excitement about this team here in Kansas City, because we haven't been 2-0 in a long time,'' Hunt said, without mentioning that Kansas City's last such start came in 2005. "The 2-0 start has put a bounce in every Chiefs fan's step, if you will. No matter where I go, people are excited about the team. They're positive again.''
No one in Kansas City should be clearing weekend schedules in January just yet, and Hunt, Haley and Pioli are all quick to put the brakes on any playoff talk and remind anyone who will listen that the Chiefs are still in the middle, not the end, of their rebuilding process.
It's all very true. Kansas City is still a painfully young team that's in the formative stages of finding its identity and becoming a winner. But that's the funny and often miraculous thing about turnaround teams in the NFL. A little early success can sometimes breed the confidence and momentum that winds up taking a team much further than it ever had the right or expectation to go. So you ride 2-0 and see where it takes you. If you win again, you do the same thing next week at 3-0. You keep getting greedy like that, wanting more and more, and pretty soon, you might just be the 2007 Packers, or 2008 Falcons, or 2009 Bengals. It happens to some lucky (and prepared) team most every year.
Hunt went to a Kansas City civic group's breakfast Thursday morning and started feeling that contagious hope, that sky's-the-limit vibe that attaches itself to a longtime loser turned nouveau winner. The Chiefs host the 0-2 San Francisco 49ers in newly renovated Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, and a 3-0 record heading into Week 4's bye is starting to look pretty tantalizing to the Kansas City faithful.
"It was the first time in public in a one-on-one situation since us going 2-0, and everyone in the room at some point came over to congratulate me,'' Hunt said. "It made me realize, first of all, how huge the win on Monday night [against San Diego in Week 1] was for the organization. Not only in the community, but on a national basis. It's amazing how many people either watched or know what happened on Monday Night Football. Our fans were very big that night, and the stadium reminded me of Arrowhead back in the '90s, when it was a very tough place to play for opposing quarterbacks.
"I understood the Week 1 enthusiasm, but then, to win last week at Cleveland, it gave everyone reason to believe what happened in the opener wasn't a fluke. It's human nature to want more, but I always understand how difficult it is to win a game in the NFL. It's a rollercoaster experience. But momentum is probably as important in football more than any other sport. You get in a positive streak, and you can accomplish much more than might have been imagined.''