Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Chiefs’ playoffs drought, ref-blaming, handshakes and a monkey

Joe Montana was the quarterback the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game.
Joe Montana was the quarterback the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game. The Kansas City Star

You don’t need me to tell you this, but Thursday will mark exactly 21 years since the Chiefs last won a playoff game. Twenty. One. Years.

I made this obvious joke on twitter the other day, but the Chiefs’ streak of ineptitude — there have been 225 playoff games since then, and seven losses by the Chiefs — is now old enough to legally drink away its sadness.

There was a chance that last weekend’s games would leave the Chiefs with the longest such streak in the NFL — a league built, it should be noted, largely on parity — but, alas, the Bengals and Lions both lost.

Even so, some depressing facts:

Since the Chiefs last won a playoff game, four franchises have been created, four have moved, and all have won playoff games.

The last team the Chiefs beat in the playoffs, the Houston Oilers, is no longer a thing except in the throwback market.

Willie Davis was a young man and the leading receiver in the Chiefs’ last playoff game. He’s now 47 years old.

Joe Montana was the quarterback for that team. Approximately 11 percent of Americans realize Montana played for the Chiefs.

Since the Chiefs’ last playoff win, they’re on their sixth head coach and 107th quarterback. Wait. Sorry. It only feels like the 107th. It is actually just 18.

Since the Chiefs’ last playoff win, they’ve had four different seasons of four or fewer losses, and four playoff games at home. I’m not sure which is worse.

They no longer have the Royals’ cover for local postseason futility.

I was going through some of this stuff on twitter last night, and, well, here is my favorite tweet of 2015:

Let’s get on with it. This week’s reading recommendation is Kevin Clark on Aaron Rodgers’ weird jokes, and the eating recommendation is the chicken pho at Vietnam Cafe.

This week’s hero is a group effort — and the person who wrote in wanted it clear it was a group effort — that built the St. Michael’s Veterans Center, which now provides 58 previously homeless military veterans not just their own place to live, but counseling, friendships, and a new start. If you have five minutes, and want to be moved, that video will do the trick.

Thank you all very much for the suggestions for the weekly hero, and please keep them coming. It’s turning into my favorite part of my work week.

On with the Twitter Tuesday:

This is in reference to the apparently crazy Jim Mora, who blew off Bill Snyder for a handshake after the Alamo Bowl … then found him again to (presumably) explain why he was angry … then tweeted that he would always protect the safety of his players … then used a postgame press conference to say how much he enjoyed playing against K-State because the Wildcats play the right way … then went ahead and just deleted his Twitter account, which is an increasingly valuable recruiting tool in a world that depends on recruiting … and then apparently opened a new account that he made private.

Whew.

That’s a lot of drama for winning a second-tier bowl game.

K-State fans won’t like this, but I understand why Mora was upset. The Bruins had the game won, in victory formation, and there are Wildcats diving over the line of scrimmage and/or trying to knock the snap loose before it gets to the quarterback.

I don’t know if I’d call it a dirty play, necessarily, but it is a bit cheap and entirely unnecessary. There’s a reason you don’t see teams do that and, when they do, they are justifiably criticized. K-State shouldn’t have been doing it, and if the uniforms were reversed, every K-State fan would agree.

Now, all that being said, Mora acted like a child. You’re never going to win in the court of public opinion by verbally accosting a 75-year-old man with universal respect. And you certainly look overly sensitive by deleting your twitter account and starting a new, private one.

But, jeez, that was a lot of energy and outrage for a handshake, wasn’t it?

So, if the Mora-Snyder handshake was the biggest local drama of the last few days then the penalty-then-not-a-penalty circus in the Cowboys-Lions game was the biggest national drama. I’ve written this here before, but I’ve always been very much of the mind that ref-blaming is lazy, overly done, simple-minded, and misguided. We went over this when a lot of Chiefs fans (and players) found it easier to blame the refs in Arizona than the team’s own failings.

I call it The Ballad Of The Loser, so after that play I got a few tweets along these lines, wondering if I still feel that way, so please allow me to answer thusly:

YES.

YES.

Also: YES!!!

I actually love this example, because it is damn near perfect for the point. It was a big call, no question, both because the flag was picked up after the announcement and because they turned a good call into a bad one.

But people acting like the refs completely jobbed the Lions are out of their freaking minds. And I realize I may have just said that you, dear reader, are out of your freaking mind but just stay with me here.

If we can all agree it was a blown call, the Lions still needed some yards for a field goal attempt and 35 or so for a touchdown. Here, it’s worth noting that after their first two possessions the Lions went punt, punt, field goal, interception, field goal, punt, fumble, fumble in possessions that did not include highly controversial and picked-up penalty flags.

So, you know, assuming the Lions were on their way to points here is quite the assumption.

Also, after the call that wasn’t, the Lions still had a 67.4 percent chance of winning. The bad call knocked the probability down 10 points, which is significant, but while we’re on the subject we should acknowledge that the same calculations say that Sam Martin’s 10-yard shanked punt knocked the Lions 11.6 points.

Also-also, you have 4th and 1 on the opponents’ side of the field. Go for it.

Also-also-also, if the NFL had it in for the Lions and was desperate for the Cowboys to win — as if the NFL needs a particular team to have good TV ratings or make money — then the refs should probably be punished for wiping out a DeMarco Murray touchdown on a penalty.

The Lions had a lot of chances to win the game, enough that they are weak-minded, delusional, and possibly allergic to personal responsibility if they blame one call on their bigger choke job.

Even after the call, the Lions still had the lead, the ball, the field position, and the game on their racket, as the saying goes. They made the wrong decision to punt, then their punter picked the wrong time to turn into a high school kid, and then their defense couldn’t get a stop — including a 4th and 6 and two third downs — and then their offense couldn’t get points.

But, it’s much easier to ignore all of that and ref-blame, and make jokes about Dean Blandino and party buses.

The refs shouldn’t be let off the hook, and neither should the NFL for their policy of putting together so-called, ahem, “All-Star” crews for the playoffs instead of crews that work together throughout the year. There is plenty of justified criticism being thrown their way.

But, like with most of these situations, the fact that no one call wins or loses a game, or that the Lions did more to lose that game than one official’s decision ever could is being ignored. Easier to blame the ref than yourself.

Ballad of the loser, I’m telling you.

Well, first, anyone whose death inspires Barack Obama and Michael Jordan to issue statements has lived a hell of a life.

I loved Scott when he was new. A thousand people have said this a thousand different ways, but he was so fresh, an original, and brought a lot of joy to SportsCenter — and I think that’s why people watch SportsCenter, right? For joy? He was funny, and different, and completely comfortable with himself. It’s hard not to like someone like that.

I have to admit that over the last decade, my sports news and highlight consumption has steadily tilted much more toward the internet than television. SportsCenter was appointment viewing for me in high school and college. I know I’m not the only one who would sometimes watch the same damn SportsCenter two or three times in a row.

That hasn’t been me for a while now, so take what I’m about to say however you like, but I have to admit that in more recent years I found Scott’s style to be a bit stale. I don’t know if that’s more on me or him. Probably me.

It is hard to be a true original, whether in sports broadcasting or anything else. Scott had the guts and the conviction to not change who he was based on his new context, and I think for that he should always be admired.

Like everyone else, I also respected how he fought cancer. He’s not the first to take the attitude that dying doesn’t mean you’ve “lost” your battle with cancer, but I don’t know anyone who’s expressed it so eloquently or on such a big platform. In sports, probably more than any other corner of the world, we mutilate the meaning of the word “hero.”^

^ That’s part of why I want to keep the weekly local hero thing going on this blog. Please keep the suggestions coming, email to smellinger@kcstar.com.

But Scott inspired a lot of people with the way he faced cancer. He’s certainly not the only person to face a deadly disease with courage and strength, but he did reach more people than most.

For that, he died a hero. I’m not sure there is a higher compliment.

They are up against the cap, something like $400,000 in cap space at the moment, but like with all things salary cap, that’s a bit misleading. The Chiefs can free up a fortune, and will, and this is something I think I’ll get into with the column this week.

But, to answer your question, there’s a lot of cap space involved with a quarterback’s long-term extension, with a soon-to-be-shredded contract to Dwayne Bowe, to Eric Berry (whose rookie deal came before the new CBA’s diminished draft pick salaries), to Tamba Hali, and, well, you get the point.

The good news — for the Chiefs, anyway — is that the NFL is set up to benefit teams in this situation. Guys can be cut, or money can be moved around, or contracts can be restructured.

It’s relevant here to mention that the new CBA requires a certain level of spending, so it’s in the teams’ best interests to be both close to the cap and retain enough flexibility to make other moves if possible. That’s what the Chiefs are doing.

If taken as a representation of what a team is capable of doing, the salary cap number has never been more misleading. That’s true league-wide, not just in Kansas City.

Oh, man. I don’t want to look at the TV rating. I’m assuming it was something like a 94.7.

The thing is, of course the NFL is going to expand the playoffs, and that’s exactly the problem. They’re going to expand the playoffs because everyone with influence benefits from expanding the playoffs. The league gets more money. Players get more money, because as the pie increases they get paid more, and this comes with the added bonus of minimal additional exposure to injury. Coaches and executives like it, because more playoff spots means more playoff coaches and executives, which means fewer fired coaches and executives. And TV likes it, because more playoff spots means more captive audiences to run more and more of those increasingly obnoxious Rob Lowe commercials^.

^ Here’s an unpaid advertisement: I have DirecTV. It blows.

But, I’m telling you, it’s going to make the playoffs less interesting. Peter King has been the most prominent writer pointing this out, at least from what I can tell, but an expanded playoff field this year would’ve included Case Keenum and the fighting Texans getting blow’d out in Denver, and Philly going to Green Bay, where they lost by 33 in October.

As it is, we already get a team or two that doesn’t belong. The playoffs are supposed to be about the teams that rise above the parity and prove themselves worthy. Adding two more teams will mean two mediocre teams that don’t belong, that haven’t earned their way.

Here’s another way of putting it: if your team is the No. 7 seed, this is a good thing. For the rest of us, it’s diluting a beautiful product.

I don’t know. I wish I had something besides, “bowl games are much more random than we’d like to believe” that I felt convicted about.

Sometimes, you just get a bad matchup. UCLA had a ton of speed, for instance. Oregon was just better than K-State two years ago.

The thing that makes the most sense to me, besides randomness, is that part of Bill Snyder’s genius is in his ridiculous organization skills, and ability to break down an opponent and prepare in the confines of football’s weekly routine. When there’s a month or so between the regular season and a bowl game, it waters down that advantage and brings other coaches closer to his level.

But, I don’t know. Seems like there are holes in that theory, as well. It’s a bizarre phenomenon.

Well, yeah. That’s not fair, or the way it should be, but I do think that’s how these things work. The stat about Snyder winning 11 games each of the last five times he had a returning quarterback is an oversimplification, of course. It’s not all on the quarterback. But you asked how he’ll be remembered, not how he should be remembered.

He was a nice quarterback. Had some moments. Could’ve been helped in the Auburn game if Tyler Lockett caught that pass, and could’ve been helped in the UCLA game if he had better protection.

But, yeah. The standard had been set.

This is a real problem. I like Weber, and the fit at K-State. I think he’s an underrated coach, and that his time at Illinois isn’t close to the disaster a lot of people seem to think — John Groce, a fine coach, isn’t exactly distinguishing himself — and that Weber would benefit from a place that appreciated X’s and O’s, and would allow him to recruit a certain kind and level of player.

But this is turning into a problem. On the positive, Weber coached up his first team into a share of the school’s first conference title. That was only two years ago, and K-State made the NCAA Tournament again last season.

But the negative is piling up, and fast. They’ve lost three in a row, including home games to Texas Southern and Georgia. Their best player is shooting 42.6 percent. At the moment, it’s hard to find more than a couple games the rest of the season where they will play as the favorite.

It’s worse, too, because with the way Weber coaches and the way things are set up for him there, you just can’t waste a year with a player of Marcus Foster’s talent. Thomas Gipson is a productive senior, Justin Edwards has a lot of talent, and the Wildcats have enough other pieces that they should be a borderline top 25 team. At the moment, K-State is a colossal disappointment.

I don’t know what will happen at the end of the year, of course. If Foster leaves and K-State finishes last in the league, like you’re saying, well, coaches have been fired for less than that.

I don’t know if John Currie would go there. This is only Weber’s third season, and the first two were successful.^ That’d be a quick hook, and something that I wonder might affect how the next coach would look at the program.

^ Yes, I watched that LaSalle game.

I’ve always been higher on Weber than most. At the moment, it appears I am on the wrong side. But I want to see how this plays out.

No offense to Matt Besler^ or, um, Matt Besler^^ but I’d want a monkey named after me. Monkeys have way more fun than any animal at the zoo, particularly octopi.

^ The awesome soccer player.

^^ The (awesome?) octopus.

I can’t speak for Ken, of course, but I’d imagine it’s a little of both. KU is a flawed team, particularly in their inability to both score and defend at the rim. UNLV had like five Vine-worthy highlights against KU, all at the rim, none with any respect for what KU’s post players could do.

In the AP poll, KU is 12th and Iowa State 17th. If their uniforms were reversed, I’d imagine the rankings would be, too. Texas has a lot of talent, West Virginia has only one loss, Baylor’s there, Oklahoma State, well, Blair covered all of this the other day.

I’d be surprised if KU went just 10-8 in the league, entirely unsurprised if their streak of (at least a share of) league championships ended at a ridiculous ten, but completely unconvinced that will happen until I see it.

Well, as you know, I take my meals seriously. Especially my next one.

The answer is Iowa State.

He’s never said it, but I believe Bill Self likes beating Scott Drew more than any other coach in the league. I also think Iowa State is better than Baylor, and that Ames is a tougher place to play than Waco.

Oh, man. I have a lot. In no particular order: eat better, continue to improve my work-life balance, hang out with friends more often, use all my vacation days, be better at my job, continue to appreciate how lucky I am professionally and personally, see the Black Keys at least once, pay off my car, run a half-marathon in the spring and do a triathlon in the fall, use my phone as a phone more and computer less, and generally be the best husband and father I’m capable of being.

Seems ambitious.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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