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 onesided 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 opposite directions.
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.
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 beating.
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."