On Sunday at Ericsson Stadium the Chiefs not only hushed the raucous Carolina crowd with an amazingly easy 35-14 win, but Kansas City (3-1) may have also silenced critics of their off-season overhaul. The game marked only the second time since the start of the '96 season that the Panthers (2-2) had been beaten at home, and the 21-point margin tied their worst defeat ever at Ericsson. In 1996 Carolina gave up only 13 second-half points at home. With a lineup that includes 11 new starters, the Chiefs scored 21 against the Panthers after halftime.
"We made a strong statement today," said cornerback Mark McMillian, a Saints castoff whose 62-yard interception return for a touchdown made it 35-7 with 13:42 to play. "To beat a team that was an inch from the Super Bowl as soundly as we did today probably has a lot of people scratching their heads. We've got a lot of new guys, and the more we mesh, the better we get. That's got to be a scary thought for a lot of teams."
A big part of that scare will come from the Chiefs' swarming defense. Despite playing without Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas for the second week in a row, the Chiefs forced Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins into five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble).
In March the Chiefs signed Thomas to a seven-year, $27.5 million contract and restructured their defense to give him the freedom to line up wherever he found a mismatch. The position is called the Falcon, and Thomas set his sights on Mark Gastineau's NFL single-season sack record of 22. "Falcon gonna fly," Thomas could be heard hollering as the season approached. Then he tore his left triceps during a preseason scrimmage; the injury hasn't healed, and the Falcon has been grounded. Thomas, who flinched at the slightest pressure to his left arm while working out last Friday, has four tackles and no sacks. Of having to watch from the sidelines until his wing heals, he said, "This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
With Thomas out, other linebackers in the 3-4 scheme have picked up the slack. The best of the bunch may be Donnie Edwards, a second-year middle linebacker out of UCLA who helped limit Carolina's leading receiver, tight end Wesley Walls, to one catch. Edwards's third-quarter interception led to a Marcus Allen touchdown that put K.C. up 21-7.
"When you're young and nobody knows you, nothing motivates you more than wanting to establish yourself in this league," Edwards said afterward. "Now we have a bunch of guys on both sides of the ball who are like that. But I think the league is going to get to know us all pretty soon."
So Long, Three Rivers?
The Steelers' Dan Rooney is as pragmatic an owner as you'll find in sports, and that's why he can cut ties with 27-year-old Three Rivers Stadium. None of the multipurpose stadiums built in the 1970s has had more history made in it than Three Rivers, but last Friday, when Rooney announced plans for a new $185 million riverfront home, he said financial factors left him no option. The Steelers make $5,000 per year on each of the 105 luxury boxes at Three Rivers; they would make about $75,000 on each of the 125 boxes in the new place, which Rooney hopes to name after his dad, Steelers founder Art Rooney. With the Pirates planning to build their own facility, Three Rivers would be razed.
"I've had a couple of people say to me, 'How can you bear to have Three Rivers come down?' " Rooney says. "It's a good question. I'm tremendously nostalgic about the place. Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit came here. So did the most famous play in football history, the Immaculate Reception. We've won four Super Bowls since we started playing here. The Pirates have won two World Series. It's had a lot of magic. But if we renovate, it'll cost $120 million, and the architects say in 10 years we'll need more renovations or a new stadium."
Rooney's plan is contingent on approval of a half-percent sales-tax increase, and the Steelers will face huge opposition when the measure is put before the voters in November. Hours after the proposal was floated, it was denounced at a rally across the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh. "I won't tolerate the rape of taxpayers' wallets," state representative David Levdansky said. That cry has been heard in a lot of NFL cities. The league, however, is on a seven-referendum winning streak, with San Francisco and Seattle being the latest franchises to win votes to build stadiums.