Dexter McCluster doesn’t remember much about the moment he turned Arrowhead Stadium so loud it reached the threshold of pain for most human beings.
There is still no telling just where this Chiefs season is headed. They beat the Giants 31-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, still undefeated after four games. That hasn’t happened in a decade. It’s also true that two of the teams the Chiefs have beaten are still winless, and the other two might not be any good, either.
All of that will sort itself out, of course. For now, the Chiefs are exciting again. They are promising again. They are worthy of a large and dedicated fan base again, and through four games, it’s largely because of moments like McCluster’s — a blurry 15 seconds of catching a punt, making seven guys miss, and dancing in the end zone — that turned Arrowhead back into the loudest stadium in the NFL.
“I don’t even remember spinning, honestly,” he says. “I just remember catching the ball, then making a couple guys miss, then seeing the end zone. I’ve been told it was pretty sweet.”
You have to be of a certain age to remember when the Chiefs used to win games like this all the time. They would batter the opposing quarterback, beat him into the ground, and put the people at Arrowhead into such a frenzy the players on the field couldn’t hear a shout from two feet away.
Fans here have always screamed the loudest for dominating defenses like the Chiefs have this year, or moments on special teams like McCluster’s.
He caught it at the 11, and stepped back to the 10. The Giants’ Damontre Moore could’ve prevented Arrowhead from turning into a rock concert right there. This should’ve been the first sign that something big was happening: Moore, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, was guided out of the play by Chad Hall, 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds.
The next man with a chance was the long snapper, Zak DeOssie, but McCluster set him into Cyrus Gray’s block and spun on his left shoulder into an opening. After that, the Giants’ Michael Cox had an angle but, again, McCluster faked him into a block — this one by Husain Abdullah.
That’s when McCluster turned up field and essentially made the Giants’ Justin Trattou and Mathias Kiwanuka into henchmen from an old episode of Batman —McCluster zooms through their tackles, kerpow!
From there, it wasn’t fair. He planted his left foot in the grass, charging right, and the Giants’ Keith Rivers fell down like he was running on ice. Then McCluster planted his right foot, surging left, and the Giants’ Allen Bradford hit the deck like he got shot with a stun gun.
That’s when Arrowhead went all Arrowhead.
“The place erupted,” says Frank Zombo, one of McCluster’s blockers.
“You couldn’t even have a conversation on the sideline,” says Dezman Moses, who celebrated with McCluster.
“My ears are still ringing,” says Sean McGrath, who was on the sideline.
“It’s deflating,” says Giants star Victor Cruz, whose salsa dance McCluster mocked in the end zone.
For the Chiefs, it’s also essential. In 15 seconds, McCluster changed the mood of everyone watching this game. Inside Arrowhead, the noise figured at least 110 decibels, comparable to an air horn at three feet, loud enough that many people start to feel pain.
When it happens like this at Arrowhead, it usually means the Chiefs are in for a special season.
There is no way to know this for certain, of course, but this might’ve been Arrowhead’s loudest moment in three years — going back to the season-opening, Monday night win over the Chargers.
You probably remember that game. The debut of the “new” Arrowhead, Philip Rivers overwhelmed in a sea of noise, the Chiefs surviving one final drive by the Chargers to start what would turn into a surprise division championship season.
It is not a total coincidence that the Chiefs’ (and McCluster’s)last punt return for a touchdown
also came on that night.
These are the plays that have always turned Arrowhead into something more than a stadium. Sacks, interceptions, big plays on special teams. Even in the early 2000s, when Priest Holmes was running for eight yards on every play and Tony Gonzalez was always open over the middle, you never heard Arrowhead louder thanwhen Dante Hall scored on a return
This is important, too, becausewhen the Chiefs are good it’s usually because they’re great at Arrowhead
. In their three playoff seasons since the turn of the century, they’ve been 21-3 (.875) at home and 11-13 (.458) on the road. To give you an idea, last year’s playoff teams went 76-19-1 (.800) at home and 58-38 (.604) on the road.
This team, then, is a perfect fit. The defense has now forced 12 turnovers, made 18 sacks, scored two touchdowns and allowed just three. On Sunday, the stadium got so loud on the Giants’ first possession that nobody on the field could hear the officials’ blowing their whistles for a delay of game.
McCluster wore a red long-sleeved shirt and an enormous smile when the cameras surrounded his locker. He thought back to that return three years ago. That was his first NFL game. The Chiefs won the division, and everything seemed possible. Then they fired a head coach in two consecutive seasons, and a local news station caught a fan telling McCluster to “work harder”while he was delivering Thanksgiving dinner
But McCluster is resilient. He’s needed to be, as the smallest man on the field during most games. He tells reporters that returning punts requires courage to take a hit, trust that your teammates will keep you safe, and instincts to make tacklers miss.
It is a symphony when it works the right way, the coach calling the right scheme, blockers winning their individual battles, the returner making it all come together. These are the moments that turn Arrowhead into a magic show, and have often turned the Chiefs into a playoff team.
When McCluster made it through the blur of that return, he wanted to debut a touchdown dance he’s been practicing but the truth is he was just too tired. He didn’t have the energy. So instead, he swayed his hips a bit, making fun of the Cruz’s trademark salsa dance. Maybe next time he’ll do his own dance.
“It’s the Florida Juke,” he says, smiling. “Coming soon. Hopefully, real soon.”