The laughs come naturally for Dontari Poe as he stands between friends Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey for a photoshoot after a recent practice. It is a striking departure from the norm for Poe, the Chiefs’ quiet nose tackle who usually does not betray much emotion.
Yet, there’s something about Bailey and Howard — the rest of the Chiefs’ starting defensive line — that puts Poe at ease.
The players dubbed themselves the “3 Amigos” a month ago. They’re wearing T-shirts with their nickname and likenesses on the front, and as they ham it up for the camera, Bailey is trying to convince them to smile.
“We’re not gonna smile for this, bro?” he asks.
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“Nah man,” Howard says. “We bossin’ up on this one.”
The three of them pose with tough-guy frowns as the camera snaps, but it doesn’t take long before they’re laughing again.
On the field, they’re all business. Duty calls, and all that. But off the field, you can often find the 3 Amigos joking about some random thing, either in the locker room — their stalls are next to each other — or while eating with the rest of the D-linemen.
The group gets along so well that they regularly try to spread their good cheer to other position groups. Every Friday, the defensive line pays for a team-wide feast in the locker room.
“These are my boys,” Howard said after a recent practice, looking over at his buddies’ lockers. “They’re like my brothers.”
Appropriately enough, the 3 Amigos concept took flight during one of their off-the-field food excursions in August. They’d joked about the concept for a while, but they never fully went full throttle until the three — along with a few others — ventured to a Mexican restaurant during training camp in St. Joseph.
Somehow, the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics came up — led by the “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — and given the way Poe, Bailey and Howard performed during training camp, they felt comfortable giving themselves a similar title.
“So we just ran with it, and the little slogan ‘eat greedy,’ because that’s all we talk about,” said Howard, who explained the slogan is why he mimics eating out of a bowl after sacks. “People thought I was eating soup, but I’m eating greedy man, trying to make a play.”
Bailey and Poe don’t celebrate the same way — “That’s his thing,” Poe said with a laugh — but they all thought “eat greedy” would look neat on the back of a T-shirt. So Howard dialed up Waldo T-Shirts, got help for a design and ordered 400 for men and women — a trial run as the trio split up the costs — complete with a picture of the three on the front and their motto on the back.
“Eating greedy? Can’t go wrong with that,” Poe said. “The 3 Amigos, man? That’s just what we are.”
The proceeds from the shirts, all three said, will benefit football camps they plan to continue hosting in or near their respective hometowns. Howard held his in April in Orlando, Fla., Poe held his in June in Memphis, Tenn., and Bailey held his in July in Darien, Ga. All three attended each other’s camps, of course.
“I was just down for the cause,” Bailey said of his decision to go in with Howard and Poe on the T-shirts. “I’m not hard to convince. Easy money for the camps, bro.”
If all goes well, Howard said they hope to make hoodies and skull caps once winter beckons. The shirts can be found on 3amigoskc.com, and Howard is hopeful they will take off.
“We’re teasing Poe like, (heck), as long as we’ve got Poe on there, we’re good,” Howard said, referring to his friend’s status as one of the NFL’s best nose tackles.
But while Poe might have the most gravitas of the group — two Pro Bowl nods by the age of 26 — Howard brings athleticism, enthusiasm and ambitiousness — the T-shirt idea is his, remember — and Bailey is the elder statesman.
“I’m the oldest in the room in terms of NFL years,” he said after a recent practice, turning to Howard with a grin.
Bailey is also a few months older than Howard, 27, and a year older than Poe, 26, who both entered the league a year after him. Yet Poe is the group’s conscience, a quiet leader who has roundly earned his teammates’ respect with his diligent preparation and team-first attitude.
“It starts with Poe and they all feel it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They all take a lot of pride in their job.”
It was that pride that allowed Poe, who had back surgery in July 2015, to will himself back in time for the season opener last year. It was that pride that spurred him to keep playing, even as it took him a few months to round back into form.
“From a young age, I’ve seen people do good and bad, and I’ve seen the difference in their lives,” Poe said. “It’s a job, and you’ve got to look at it that way. You get in the habit of doing bad stuff, you won’t be here for long.”
That’s why the three of them were intent on bouncing back against the Houston Texans on Sunday. The previous week, the San Diego Chargers gouged the Chiefs on the ground for an average of 4.8 yards per carry on 32 attempts.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton challenged his line to rise to do better against the run-heavy Texans, and the trio rose to the occasion, helping the Chiefs hold Houston to an average of 2.9 yards on 34 carries.
“They’re the first line of defense in the running game,” said Sutton, who relies on his defensive linemen to stuff the run so he doesn’t have to overload the box and potentially weaken the pass defense. “You’ve got to play in there and do a good job to make this whole thing work.”
Few Chiefs played better on Sunday that Poe, who recorded five tackles and two quarterback hits in a timely throwback performance — he missed the Pro Bowl last season for the first time since his rookie year of 2012.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while,” Poe said, referring to his back. “But at the same time, I know what I’m trying to do personally, and I know where this team is trying to get. So in order for that to happen, I gotta keep that going. It can’t be one game — it’s got to be a consistent thing.”
While Poe is set to become a free agent in March, Howard signed a two-year, $12 million contract a few months ago. Both players have the Pro Bowl in their sights — as does Bailey, who is in the second year of a four-year, $25 million extension.
But more importantly, reaching the Super Bowl is the No. 1 goal for all three. The NFL is a business, and they know there’s a chance they might not be together next year. So this year is about having fun, winning games and making memories.
“You don’t get too many opportunities in this league, so you’ve got to seize them when you can,” Howard said. “Every time we step on that field, we’re trying to make plays.”
And if they can sell a few shirts and raise money for their offseason camps while doing it? Well, that’s good too.
“When we’re done playing football,” Howard said, “we’re still going to have a friendship.”