Not only has Rison provided K.C. with its most potent receiving threat since—who, Otis Taylor?—he has also shed his image as a malcontent and become a locker room leader. When Rison met with Chiefs president Carl Peterson to sign his contract, he told his new boss, "I don't want to be Bad Moon anymore; I want to be Spiderman, a positive character." Replied Peterson, "You can be anything you want."
Rison won over teammates with a fierce work ethic and reckless optimism. "Everyone was talking down about this team, and he came in preaching Super Bowl," says McMillian, who scored the Chiefs' final touchdown against the Niners on a 12-yard interception return. In response to Rison's Spiderman nickname, the 5'7" McMillian anointed himself Mighty Mouse and poses as the cartoon hero after big plays. "It's been so conservative here in the past, but now guys are posing and having fun," seventh-year fullback Kimble Anders says. "Andre brought an attitude that wasn't there before, the type of attitude I've seen on teams that win championships. It's like when Deion Sanders went to the 49ers in '94—all of a sudden he had Jerry Rice out there dancing."
It was Rison who gave the Chiefs their first reason to strut in '97. After opening with a loss in Denver, Kansas City headed to Oakland to play the Raiders in a Monday-nighter. The Chiefs were underdogs, naturally, and trailed 27-21 in the final seconds, but they had the ball on the Oakland 32. Rison ran a bench-takeoff route, luring cornerback Terry McDaniel outside with a four-step break to the left sideline and then cutting back inside before free safety Eric Turner could close on him. Grbac threw a perfect pass that Rison caught in the back of the end zone. "That play was a testament to Andre's precision," Chiefs receivers coach Al Saunders says. "In the past he probably would have improvised and just beaten the corner with a stutter step. But if he had done that, the safety wouldn't have waited."
Rison, with 65 catches for 947 yards and seven touchdowns, appears headed for his fifth Pro Bowl. "He's like an artist," Saunders says. "You have to let his creativity flourish. But then you have to rein him in like a racehorse."
As for the man cracking the whip, Schottenheimer remains an intriguing paradox—a slave driver who is also one of football's most notorious locker room weepers. He has mellowed slightly this year, allowing the Chiefs to lift weights on their own time on the Mondays following victories and on occasion reducing workouts in pads to half a practice per week. In training camp he startled his players when, while reflecting on '96 (only his second nonplayoff campaign in 12 full seasons as an NFL coach), he began sobbing. But that emotional scene was mild compared with what took place following K.C.'s win in Seattle after tackle Jeff Criswell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct while quarterback Rich Gannon was kneeling to kill the clock.
In the locker room Schottenheimer expressed extreme displeasure with Criswell's loss of composure, blaming himself for not better preparing the Chiefs for the situation. Then the coach began bawling, telling his players, "I failed you." Recalls wideout Lake Dawson, "It was like a child crying, not being able to stop." Schottenheimer carried on for 10 minutes. When he finally stopped sobbing, there was silence—for about five seconds. Then Thomas stood up and said, "O.K., now remember, we've got turkeys to give out in the hood on Monday."
Thomas's timing was bizarre—"I had a tear in my eye, and it dried up immediately," says defensive end Vaughn Booker—but he's the one Chief who could have gotten away with it. He had a rough off-season in which he ripped the front office for not making a more sincere effort to re-sign his good friend, free-agent defensive end Neil Smith, who ended up in Denver. The linebacker's anger has since vanished. After missing four games with a torn triceps, Thomas is fortifying a defense that in its last eight games has allowed no touchdowns (and only eight field goals) after halftime. He has adjusted to defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's new "Pirate" scheme, in which he lines up in several locations, and to the presence of Rison, whom he affectionately addresses as Fool.
"We ride each other hard, but it's so great having him here," said Thomas—an eight-time Pro Bowl player who signed a seven-year, $27 million extension in March—before joining Rison and Schottenheimer at the Arrowhead Club. "He was very supportive when I was injured, and we're both trying to get to the Super Bowl. I just have a feeling we're going to get it this year."
A minute later Spiderman's arms were draped around the shoulders of Thomas's mother, Edith Morgan, and this much was obvious: If the Chiefs don't make it to the Super Bowl, it won't be for lack of heart.