Part of being a sports fan in Kansas City is that you eventually come to expect a monster around every corner. The No Punt Game. The North End Zone. David Glass, particularly the early years. Sirr Parker. Free throws against Syracuse. We can go on, of course.
But as many times as not, it seems, the kicker is what hurts the most.
The Chiefs returning to the playoffs against the Colts is just an unnecessary reminder of a larger, infuriating, defeating trend that can’t be ignored after Ryan Succop missed what would’ve been the game-winning field goal at the end of regulation Sunday in San Diego.
“That was an important kick,” Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said Wednesday. “He knows he needs to get everybody’s confidence back. He needs to make a bunch of kicks in a row now. And these ones coming up in the playoffs are critical.”
Succop, who has been with the Chiefs longer than all but nine of his teammates, becomes one of the franchise’s most important players based on circumstance, position, and trend.
This trend was set way back in 1971, when Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud missed three of four field goals in a double-overtime Christmas Day playoff loss to the Dolphins that still stands as the longest game in NFL history. At the time, the Chiefs were just two years removed from their Super Bowl championship but in retrospect, it sure set a distinct trend that is older than Oklahoma Joe’s ribs, Garozzo’s spiedini, and even Arrowhead Stadium:
The Chiefs will break your heart in the playoffs, usually with the kickers missing.
Part of this, of course, is that kickers make easy targets in football. But a lot of it is that Chiefs kickers, in particularly, have made themselves easy targets in Kansas City.
Since the Super Bowl win after the 1969 season, the Chiefs are 3-12 in the playoffs with their kickers making just 12 of 25 field-goal tries.
In the years since last winning a playoff game after the 1993 season — the 20-year anniversary is Jan. 16, if you want to plan a party — the Chiefs are 0-6 in the playoffs with their kickers making just three of nine attempts.
Included, of course, is The Lin Elliott Game, which infuriated Derrick Thomas so much he vowed to “kick his (rear)” on a radio show. Thomas’ threat was much more sympathetic than what Elliott heard from a lot of Chiefs fans.
Elliott’s misses — they came on a night the wind chill dipped to 15 degrees below zero — overshadowed the fact that the Chiefs turned it over four times. The game still boils blood around Kansas City, even as it’s old enough that then-Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh quarterbacked two more franchises and is now on his fifth different coaching job.
The only way to wash away those raw emotions is by winning a playoff game, but, well, Elvis Grbac and Peyton Manning and Greg Robinson and Scott Pioli have only made the feelings intensify.
What’s more frustrating, these are good kickers missing these kicks. Stenerud is the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame. The others all made between 78 and 83 percent of their regular-season kicks with the Chiefs (yes, even Elliott) but as a group they are below 50 percent since the Super Bowl win.
It’s enough to make someonebelieve in curses
Succop’s miss in San Diego didn’t impact the Chiefs’ playoff seeding or opponent, of course. It mattered much more for the Chargers (who are in), the Steelers (who are out) and NFL (whose officials missed an illegal formation by the Chargers on the play) but none of that is an excuse for a kicker on a $14 million contract missing a 41-yard kick with a game on the line.
None of that can sit well with a fan base that’s grown to expect team and especially kicker to let them down in the playoffs.
“We have confidence in him,” Toub said. “We’ve seen it in practice. He was thinking of the other kicks he had missed (this season) If you go back and look at the ones he’s missed, he was right, left, right he needs to focus on this kick. Those other kicks are gone.”
Three years ago against Baltimore, Succop didn’t attempt a field goal. In what figures to be a close game, that will almost certainly change Saturday in Indianapolis.
And when it does, you’ll have to pardon Chiefs fans for expecting the worst.