Governor’s Cup has added meaning in the regular season between Chiefs and Rams

Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil and a few of his players posed with the 2003 Governor’s trophy after a preseason game against the Rams in St. Louis.
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil and a few of his players posed with the 2003 Governor’s trophy after a preseason game against the Rams in St. Louis.

The collection of hardware is displayed proudly in a glass case in the lobby of the St. Louis Rams headquarters.

It includes the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy … the George Halas NFC Championship trophy … Marshall Faulk’s MVP award … and The Governor’s Cup.

Which trophy is Rams coach Jeff Fisher most proud of? The answer might surprise you.

“I’m more fond of the Governor’s Cup than I am of the Super Bowl trophy,” Fisher said with a laugh.

Fisher, as the Tennessee Titans coach, was on the losing end of St. Louis’ 23-16 win in Super Bowl XXXIV, but after taking over as the Rams coach two years ago, his team claimed the most-recent battle for the Governor’s Cup, a 31-17 preseason win over the Chiefs in 2012 in St. Louis.

The 45th re-enactment of the Governor’s Cup takes place at noon Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, and this time the game carries extra meaning. Unlike its origin in 1968 as an annual preseason game between the Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals, this is a regular-season game.

“We definitely want to keep that thing now,” Rams veteran linebacker James Laurinaitis said of the Governor’s Cup. “That’s something I had no idea about it until I got drafted. I’m not sure a lot of the guys are aware of it. Anytime you have a trophy on the line, you want to keep it.”

The Chiefs are 5-0 in the regular season since the Rams moved to St. Louis Rams. They were 3-1-1 in regular-season games against the St. Louis Cardinals, and including preseason games against both teams, Kansas City leads the Governor’s Cup series 26-16-2.

“It’s a cool in-state rivalry we get to do with St. Louis,” said Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, in his 10th season and the club’s longest-tenured player on the active roster. “I know it was big-time back in the day. I’m glad it’s back.

“It’s mentioned in the locker room during the week. It’s a special game because we share the same state … it’s important to our owner and their owner, but really, it’s about winning a football game. Governor’s Cup or not, it’s one more football game we need to win.”

The Governor’s Cup has been played in five stadiums — Busch Stadium and the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Municipal and Arrowhead Stadiums in Kansas City, and oddly enough, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1987, the year before the Cardinals relocated to Arizona.

The Chiefs won the game in Memphis 13-10 in overtime, and the Governor’s Cup was shelved and forgotten at Arrowhead for nine years before it was dusted off when the series resumed in 1996 after the Rams relocated from Los Angeles to St. Louis.

Whether it’s the Rams or Cardinals, the rivalry feels the same to Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.

“We’ve played the Rams now for enough years where it doesn’t really matter that it started with the Cardinals,” said Hunt. “What it signifies is who’s the champion of Missouri. That’s something we always want to be.’’

The Chiefs won the inaugural Governor’s Cup Game 13-10 on Aug. 17, 1968 in front of 47,462, the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event at Municipal Stadium, which was expanded by a few thousand seats in the offseason.

The preseason game was played just two years after the merger between the haughty National Football League and the upstart American Football League founded by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, and unlike exhibition games today, the Chiefs played this one to win.

“Every time we had a chance to play the NFL, it was important to Hank Stram,” Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson said of the Chiefs’ colorful head coach. “If Henry was going to be serious about it, we were going to be serious about it as well.

“It didn’t count in the standings, but it was big. It was important for us to show we were at the same level.”

Immediately after Gov. Warren Hearnes awarded the Governor’s Cup to Stram, it was announced the Cardinals had issued a challenge for a return game in St. Louis in 1969. The Chiefs won the rematch 31-21 with the clinching touchdown set up off a fake field goal when Dawson, who was the holder, threw a 13-yard short pass to outside blocker Jerrel Wilson for the score.

The Chiefs would go on to win Super Bowl IV that season.

“These were among the first preseason games after the AFL-NFL merger,” Hunt said, “and I’m sure my father took great pride in being able to play the game in the first place, but especially winning the first two games in the series.

“Players had chips on their shoulders, because there still a lot of talk about the AFL being inferior, and it wouldn’t be until later until after the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III and the Chiefs’ victory in Super Bowl IV, when it finally went away.”

The Governor’s Cup game christened Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 12, 1972, when 78,190 fans watched the Chiefs beat the Cardinals 24-14 on a stifling 91-degree evening.

“I remember coming around the corner on our buses,” recalled former Cardinals Hall of Fame offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf, “and there were two new stadiums standing side-by-side, and I thought it was the damndest thing I’d ever seen.

“I thought my eyes were lying to me, that there was a separate baseball stadium and a different football stadium, and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not in New York, or Chicago or Los Angeles. This is Kansas City … this is on the other side of the state where I live. How could this be?’ You talk about a complex ahead of its time …”

In those years, teams played six preseason games, so having the Governor’s Cup provided an incentive during the drudgery of a long training camp.

“The players were always looking for anything that would distract them, and any break from the monotony of two-a-days and training camp was always welcome,” Dierdorf said. “The Governor’s Cup was against a team we saw every year, and we could generate some artificial enthusiasm.”

Because most of the meetings were exhibitions, the games provided some levity for the players.

“We always thought it was a joke,” said Conrad Dobler, the Cardinals’ often irreverent guard who now lives in the Kansas City area. “I remember Jim Bakken, our kicker, made a Governor’s Cup out of Dixie Cups and said, ‘This is what we’re playing for.’

“I don’t think that many people on either team cared whether the Governor’s Cup resided in St. Louis or Kansas City. We found it somewhat comical. It wasn’t going to change any of our lives, and it wasn’t going to increase the esteem of your team if you brought the Governor’s Cup home.”

Dick Vermeil coached on both sides of the Governor’s Cup rivalry. He was 2-1 as head coach of the St. Louis Rams against Kansas City, including a 1997 regular-season loss; and he was 4-2 as coach of the Chiefs, including a regular-season win in 2002.

“It mattered in Kansas City,” Vermeil said of winning the exhibition games as well as the regular-season games, “because it mattered to Lamar Hunt. Whatever mattered to him mattered to everyone else. Because of the admiration and respect for him, we made sure we showed the same enthusiasm that he did.

“In St. Louis, I don’t remember much in regard to it. To me, it was a bigger deal in Kansas City. I can remember when you won the cup and were lifting it up, it was more fun than when you lost it.”

The Missouri governor usually presents the cup during an on-field celebration after preseason games, much like a college bowl game. But the gravity of regular-season games calls for a more subdued presentation.

The Chiefs won the teams’ last regular-season game in 2010, when quarterback Matt Cassel, a week removed from an appendectomy, sparked a 27-13 victory in St. Louis.

“In 2010, there was a discussion of how it will be traded out after the game,” said Rams CEO Kevin Demoff. “Neither of the coaches was interested in (a ceremony). So it was passed in the hallway between chief executives on the way out.

“We spent some time during the week talking about it … (Chiefs president) Mark Donovan and I agreed we would just exchange it … if we have to give it back. I hope we won’t.”

The Chiefs and Rams didn’t meet in the preseason last year because of stadium availability issues, nor this year because teams don’t like to face each other in preseason in the same year they are scheduled in the regular season. Both Demoff and Hunt pledged to continue the rivalry in the preseason, assuming the Rams, who have stadium issues and could get out of their lease as soon as 2015, remain in St. Louis.

Laurinaitis, who has started 86 consecutive games for the Rams since he was the club’s second-round pick in 2009, hopes to play for the Governor’s Cup for many years.

“We could play in the parking lot somewhere in Columbia, and we’d be pumped up for the game because two Missouri teams are getting after it,” Laurinaitis said. “Arrowhead is one of the best, if not the best, stadium to play in. I know how loud and wild it is in the preseason, and I’m excited to experience it in a regular-season game.

“It’s one of my favorite places to pull up to on the bus because everyone is out there tailgating. It’s football done the right way.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @randycovitz.

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