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 on-side 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.
"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," he said.
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 twice.
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.