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Linebacker Ken McAlister of the Chiefs has a split personality. One side impelled him to skip college football, even though he'd been an All-America tight end and linebacker at Oakland ( Calif.) High. "When I heard that Frank Kush hit a player," McAlister says, "I thought, 'I'm not going to subject myself to such lunacy.' "
That side of McAlister steered him toward basketball at the University of San Francisco, where he played point guard and captained the Dons in his senior year (1981-82). San Francisco was ranked in the Top 20 each season McAlister played there.
"I've always had the mindset for basketball—loose, not so serious every single game, kind of mellow," says the 6'5", 220-pound McAlister. "Basketball players aren't consumed. They leave practice and don't have to study films. They can better put their sport in perspective."
Then there's the side of McAlister that couldn't shut out football, the side that tells him four years of college basketball was merely his way of preserving his body for an NFL career.
That McAlister signed as a free agent safety/kick returner with the Seattle Seahawks in 1982. He was picked up on waivers by the 49ers early in the '83 season and played in four games for San Francisco, but was waived before the playoffs. McAlister signed with Kansas City last January, studied the Chiefs' play-book intensely, pumped iron, put on 25 pounds and in the third game of the season was made a starter at outside linebacker. He responded by making seven tackles, three sacks and one interception as the Chiefs defeated Cleveland 10-6. That's the side of himself McAlister likes best.
"There's no freedom of expression in sports like a tackle, just letting yourself go, exploding," McAlister says. "And there's nothing like being a kick returner, catching the ball, seeing all those bodies coming down on you and suddenly, magically, a hole opening up. And you burst through. Not even scoring the winning basket on a slam dunk to win the game feels as good.
"I'm a natural football player. I always have been. I knew that the whole time I was in college. I'm glad I finally found myself with the Chiefs."