Hours before kickoff Sunday, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Justin Houston departed the visitors’ locker room inside Arrowhead Stadium and walked onto the field.
He slowly paced from one goal line to the other, once and then twice, reliving some of the best moments of his career over a 400-yard trek. His eight-year Chiefs tenure is a thing of the past now, an offseason release prompting his eventual move to the Colts.
But for half an hour or so, he engulfed himself in the memories. The wins. The 78 1/2 sacks. That 22-sack season.
“It was funny how as I was walking, different plays would pop into my head when I got in a certain position of the field,” he said.
He has a couple of prominent new ones now.
In his return to Arrowhead, Houston wreaked havoc on his former team, initially with an early sack and then with the key fourth-down stop to cement the Colts’ 19-13 victory.
His teammates gushed over his leadership. “He brings energy every week,” safety Khari Willis said.
But they felt something extra this week. Houston broke down plays in the film room, familiarity with the Chiefs’ offense serving to his benefit. He provided daily speeches on the practice field. He gave the pregame motivational talk minutes before Sunday’s game.
“I’d be lying to say there wasn’t (extra motivation),” Houston said. “That’s just like your old girlfriend. (When) you get a new girlfriend, you wanna show off.”
Houston engaged in conversations with several Chiefs players after the game. He swapped jerseys with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Earlier this week, he texted Mahomes, “Lemme get that jersey.” Mahomes wrote a personal message and signed the back of it.
Houston’s family sat in the stands behind the Colts’ bench. His 7-year-old son, Justin Jr., still has friends here. Most are Chiefs fans.
“I know he felt some type of way when the Chiefs released me,” Houston said of his son. “He was in his feelings. For us to come here and beat them, I know it means a lot to him. I’m happy I can put a smile on his face.”
To play such a pivotal role Sunday? That was extra special.
Houston and several of his Colts teammates on the defensive line resided in the Chiefs’ backfield, culminating in his second-quarter sack. As his name sounded over the speakers, fans responded with mild boos.
But he wasn’t done.
With just more than five minutes remaining, trailing by six, the Chiefs felt pressed to go for a fourth-down attempt on their own half of the field. Houston slid off the far edge — unblocked — and tackled running back Damien Williams in the backfield for a 1-yard loss.
With a demonstrative celebration, Houston yelled and pointed toward the Chiefs bench.
“I said some of everything,” Houston said. “I don’t know what I said. I was mic’d up, so you gotta check the mic on that one. But I said some of everything.”
He hasn’t forgotten his departure from Kansas City, even if he said the pregame stroll took care of the memories. The Chiefs, rather unsurprisingly, cut Houston in March, a move that saved them $14 million in cap space.
He saw it coming. Understood it, even. So he insisted that Sunday wasn’t about proving anyone wrong.
“I know who I am, and I know what I’m about,” Houston said. “It wasn’t a question to show them what I can do — they know what I can do. They saw it. It’s not like I had a bad season last year. It’s a choice they made. They wanted to go somewhere different, so that ball was in their court.”