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The Secondary Is Primary In K.C.
Paul Zimmerman
September 09, 1987
Constituting a whole greater than the sum of its parts, Kansas City's defensive backfield may be the best ever
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September 09, 1987

The Secondary Is Primary In K.c.

Constituting a whole greater than the sum of its parts, Kansas City's defensive backfield may be the best ever

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It's a dream that won't die. "All four of us in the Pro Bowl, the entire secondary," says Kansas City strong safety Lloyd Burruss. "Man, that would be sweet."

"I've prayed about it a lot," says Albert Lewis, the left cornerback. "It's getting closer and closer. But you need the publicity, the ink."

"You need the Super Bowl," adds Burruss.

Only twice in 37 years have all four members of a team's defensive backfield made the Pro Bowl off the same season. After its second Super Bowl victory, in 1985, San Francisco sent Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson and Dwight Hicks, with Hicks the only starter. In 1978 the Pittsburgh secondary of Mel Blount, Mike Wagner, J.T. Thomas and Glen Edwards all made the Pro Bowl, and Blount and Edwards started. Three players from the same team have been picked from time to time, and in 1968 three Packers—Herb Adderley, Bobby Jeter and Willie Wood—all started. But these are rare plums, dream material. So the Chiefs dream.

"After our second year together, in 1985, we knew we had something special," says free safety Deron Cherry. "We knew we could be a great unit. It's an unspoken kind of thing, but we feel we could be as good as anyone who's ever played the game."

They have gradually improved in the three seasons they've been together, but last year, when the Chiefs made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, they rose up with a frenzy. Kansas City dropped two games in October, when Burruss was out with a pulled hamstring. The Chiefs celebrated his return by beating San Diego 42-41. The Chargers ran 95 plays to the Chiefs' 52 and outgained Kansas City 512 yards to 222, but the Chiefs defensive backs scored three touchdowns. Burruss returned two of his three long interceptions for scores, and right cornerback Kevin Ross added another on a fumble return. Lewis blocked a punt for good measure.

On Dec. 7 the Chiefs' record was 7-6, and they had to win their last three games—against Denver at home and the Raiders and Steelers on the road—to make the playoffs. They crushed the Broncos 37-10 on the strength of five interceptions, one of which Burruss ran back 72 yards for a touchdown. In the Raider game, L.A. had six possessions in the second half. Four ended in turnovers, and Ross saved a three-point victory with an interception. Then—and be aware, the K.C. offense had the worst yardage output in the NFL over the three-game stretch—the Chiefs beat Pittsburgh by five points. Lewis blocked a punt, which Cherry recovered for a touchdown, and Lewis iced the game with an interception. Earlier, Burruss had returned a blocked field goal 76 yards for a score. No one had done that to the Steelers since 1953.

"Are you noticing," says Chiefs coach Frank Gansz, who handled the special teams last year, "that all four men in the secondary play on special teams? And they all scored special-teams touchdowns for me last year. When's the last time that happened? Lewis blocked four punts during the regular season, and that's a record. Then he blocked one at the end of the playoff against the Jets, in a game that was out of reach, when some people would be thinking, Forget it, save your body, save your career."

The players have nicknamed Gansz "Crash," a tribute to the years he spent as an Air Force jet pilot and to the colorful way he expresses himself. "You look at films of those guys going in to block a punt," says Crash, "and it's like a train wreck. Here's Burruss going over the top; there's Lewis down below. If one of them doesn't get it, the other will. And when they're on defense, when they're really clicking, well, they have the potential to be the best not only now but ever. Not just great players, but great men, warriors. They bring tears to my eyes when I start talking about them."

In the three years they have been together, no other team has come up with more interceptions, but that's only part of the story. There have been secondaries with great players, but somehow things didn't seem to click. There have been outstanding defensive backfields without individual stars, but the mesh was right. The Chiefs unit has both.

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