The saddest locker room in the NFL is blank stares. Heads shaking. Some guys check the damage on their cell phones, text messages and Twitter confirming a brutal reality. Some guys offer hugs. Others sit alone, and stare.
They walked in here with a strut, with dreams. They walk out of here with rejection, with heartbreak, with the awful distinction of a historic choke job that instantly becomes one of the very worst playoff defeats in a franchise that's become known for them.
The Chiefs have the Christmas Day Loss. The Lin Elliott Game. The No Punt Game. Now, they have the forever mark of giving away a 28-point lead in the second half.
The Chiefs lost 45-44 to the Colts here on Saturday, somehow, a team that prides itself on vicious defense and no mistakes going soft and blooper-reel with the season and a lifetime of regrets on the line.
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"This one hurts," linebacker Derrick Johnson says.
"Sometimes the game speaks for itself," Chiefs coach Andy Reid says. "You don't have to say much."
"Wow," defensive back Dunta Robinson says. "That's all I can say."
The Chiefs In The Playoffs is once again a cruel way to begin a joke around Kansas City. Nationally, they are again the NFL's version of henchmen, anonymous extras in someone else's highlight. They've now suffered excruciating playoff losses to three generations of Colts quarterbacks.
A younger generation of Chiefs fans who can't remember The No Punt Game and only heard about Lin Elliott now have a gut-punch of their very own. A franchise playoff history that reads like a torture device is now updated for the Millennials. They can call their grandfathers and argue over whether the Colts scoring on a fumble off a lineman's helmet is worse than Jan Stenrud missing three field goals against the Dolphins on Christmas.
In Kansas City, they bond over sports heartache because there is no better choice. Chiefs fans are a loud and proud and long beat-up bunch. They deserve better.
After the shock and numbness and even the outrage settle into the familiar callous required to invest emotionally into this franchise, the components of a brutal loss will be looked at with more clarity.
Jamaal Charles - as important to the Chiefs as any non-quarterback is to any team in the NFL - headlined an outrageously long list of injured stars, the kind that could easily turn the tears of a one-point loss into preparation for another playoff game.
Alex Smith lost a fumble and missed a wide open pass that he'll spend the entire offseason cursing, but otherwise turned in the kind of virtuoso playoff performance this franchise has almost always lacked.
The Chiefs had first-and-goal from inside the 5 and came away with just a field goal, and then forced a fumble by Colts running back Donald Brown near the other goal line - only to watch the ball bounce off an offensive lineman's helmet and into the hands of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who ran it in for a touchdown. The Magic Fumble.
This is supposed to be a team built on great defense, with players who were supposed to be healthy, finally, but instead they gave up more than 500 yards of offense and watched T.Y. Hilton turn into Jerry Rice - 13 catches, 224 yards and two touchdowns - much of it after Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers suffered a concussion.
All of that, and the Chiefs still could've won.
All of that, and the Chiefs still should've won.
Only one team has gagged a bigger lead in the playoffs, which in the cruelest twist of all is the only way an otherwise inspired season could be tainted. The only way to overshadow one of the great one-year turnarounds in league history is to drool away one of the biggest leads in NFL playoff history.
A shame, too, because an entire offseason and training camp and regular season showed so much to be proud of.
These Chiefs went from a 2-14 civic embarrassment to the playoffs. From Romeo Crennel not having a clue to Andy Reid having all the answers.
They went from seeing angry banners flown over their home games to (temporarily, at least) the Guinness World Record for crowd noise. Fans who wore paper bags over their heads last year invested their time and their hearts into something much more fulfilling this year. Finally, the Chiefs were a good way to start a conversation around town again.
This group wanted so badly to be remembered for something better. They embraced Reid's confidence and took his words to heart when he told them to show their personalities. They were a talented group bonded by disaster and tragedy last year, united in a common goal. Men who've been in the NFL for years swore they never saw a team come together like this one.
They did so much this year. Charles had one of the great seasons for a running back in NFL history. Justin Houston and Dontari Poe emerged as stars. Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry and Tamba Hali solidified themselves as the same.
They were the talk of the league for the first two months, Dwayne Bowe having the perfect response to some calling them the worst 9-0 team in the league.
"I didn't hear that," he said. "I heard we were the only 9-0 team in the league."
They wanted this so badly. They liked being overlooked, and loved the opportunity to show their peers they were better than last year's garbage.
Then, a team that prides itself on defense gives up 35 points in the second half and 443 yards passing. A team that above all else attacked the quarterback was healthy again, finally, with two of the game's best pass rushers and came up absolutely empty when it mattered most.
A team built on defense basically served as stand-ins for Luck's first great moment.
This should've been the Chiefs' moment. They fought through 16 games and all the problems and doubt that come along the way. They played on the road, against a division champion that blew them out just two weeks before, and ran up a four-touchdown lead. In almost any reality, this should've been their moment.
This should've been their way to erase a generation of franchise failure.
Instead, they only reinforced it.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.