Three weeks before the 1996 NFL draft Reggie Tongue sat in a Corvallis, Ore., restaurant staring at a tantalizing plate of chicken. The bird had been grilled, but that was nothing compared to what Tongue, an Oregon State senior, was about to get from the seven Kansas City Chiefs coaches and talent evaluators who were at the table. "They asked me every possible question: What kind of people did I hang out with? What was my childhood like?" Tongue says. "I didn't even get to take a bite."
K.C. defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who had been wowed by Tongue's workout earlier that day, says it was Tongue's assured demeanor during that dinner that won him over. The Chiefs wound up choosing Memphis safety Jerome Woods (left) in the first round and Tongue, who in college had split time between safety and cornerback, in the second, and just like that Kansas City had solidified the middle of its secondary for years to come.
By the start of the 1997 season Woods, at free safety, and Tongue, on the strong side, had moved into the starting lineup. Each has played with so much determination and intelligence that some Chiefs coaches and staff members get them mixed up. It's as if they're a composite: Jereggie Woodtongue, hard-hitting young play-maker. "Someone yells, 'Romey,' I turn around," Tongue says.
This season Woods and Tongue have been the steadiest players on a stumbling 5-8 team. In a 34-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 29, Tongue had nine tackles and a sack. Woods had 15 tackles in a 40-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Oct. 11. In the fourth quarter of that game, Woods broke his right hand but came back. Later in the week, when Cunningham asked if he'd be ready for the next game, Woods slammed his helmet across the cast. "Any doubt in your mind now?" he asked.
"They're not even close to fulfilling their potential," Cunningham says of the pair. "They can end up being household names."
Perhaps they'll even be correctly identified in their own locker room.