The man who serves as the Chiefs’ official historian answered the phone. His job, at least implicitly, is to promote the franchise, so the question he’s asked probably isn’t his favorite. But, he’s a sport, so he’ll try to answer it anyway.
What’s the worst playoff loss in franchise history?
“Well, there’s two of them,” Bob Moore began.
As an institution, the Chiefs like to think of and promote themselves as an irreplaceable part of NFL history, one of the leaders in the league and universally respected. There is some technical truth to that, particularly with founder Lamar Hunt.
But it’s also true that no club in the league (and perhaps no franchise in major North American sports) exists with a wider gap between how it views itself and how it has performed in the playoffs. The Hunts like to think of the family business like the Pittsburgh Steelers, but their playoff record is much closer to that of the Browns.
The Lions, Jets and, yes, Browns are the only clubs to go longer without playing in a Super Bowl. Those three are known nationally as losers in a way the Chiefs have somehow avoided.
The Chiefs have won just one playoff game in 24 years, and that was against Brian Hoyer. They have won two playoff games in 46 years at Arrowhead Stadium, the same number as the Colts.
The Chiefs were the winningest team of the 1990s, and only made it as far as the AFC Championship Game once. Since 1990, no team has lost more playoff games while winning fewer.
So, yes, when Moore was asked this question — worst playoff loss in franchise history? — the pause is about his brain processing all the possible answers.
“The one in ’95 or the one in ’97,” he said. “Because you had homefield advantage the whole way.”
That’s true ...
“Probably ’95,” he said. “Because the kicker missed field goals he should’ve made.”
Can confirm ...
“Although, the one down in Miami (in 1990), when Dave Szott was called for offsides and Nick Lowery missed a makable field goal, was tough, too,” he said.
“And the other one would be the one up in Buffalo (the 1993 AFC Championship), when Joe (Montana) got the concussion,” he said.
Well, sure. There was that ...
“But I’m not going to call the one against Indianapolis (after the 2003 season), because that was a back-and-forth game, and you’re playing a Hall of Fame quarterback who went on to win the Super Bowl,” he said.
OK, guess that’s fair ...
“And I wouldn’t qualify the one in Indianapolis (after the 2013 season),” he said.
Sure, I mean, at some point there are so many possibilities you lose track and, wait, speaking of losing track, this is six heartbreakers in and we still haven’t talked about Christmas Day in 1971, when the team Lamar Hunt said was the greatest in franchise history lost the longest game in NFL history — 27-24 in double overtime to the Dolphins.
“Well, yeah,” Moore said. “You’re right. Tell you the truth, I was just thinking about the games in my time here.”
Through it all, the Chiefs are usually among the NFL’s leaders in both attendance and local TV ratings, which is a pretty good case that no fanbase in the league has been more underserved.
Perhaps that’s starting to show in some real ways.
Through midweek, more than twice as many tickets remained available on the secondary market than any other of the other three playoff games this weekend, and at prices that were below what fans would pay to see a Chiefs game during the regular season.
This is what frustration looks like. This is what it looks like when another playoff appearance isn’t enough. AFC West championship T-shirts used to be a big deal. Now, fans have enough of those.
At some point, you’re no longer impressed when your puppy does its business outside.
“As fans, we’re desperate for wins, right?” said Keith Cash. “So I think there’s some desperation on our part. (The players) have to feel it, too.”
You almost certainly recognize Cash’s name. He played for the Chiefs from 1992-96, a career best remembered for the touchdown he scored in a playoff win at Houston in January 1994. Cash fired the ball off a fabric poster of Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan that was hung behind the end zone.
That was 24 years ago.
And that moment, from an AFC divisional game against a team that no longer exists, is still the team’s greatest postseason memory since a Super Bowl win in 1969.
In the decades since Cash’s celebration, the Chiefs have played in just five division-round games, all losses, most of which can be described around town with shorthand — the kicker who shall not be named, the Elvis Grbac game, and the no-punt game.
The Chiefs’ particular brand of disappointment is different than most, then. The Lions, Browns, and Jets have plainly stunk for most of their existence. The Chiefs have had some terrible teams, and miserable years, but since 1990 only the Packers, Steelers, Colts, Eagles, and Patriots have made it to more postseasons.
We tend to focus on quarterbacks. That’s true everywhere, but particularly here in Kansas City. Nine of the Chiefs’ 13 playoff losses since 1990 have come against quarterbacks already or likely to be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
They’ve had their chances, though. One loss came when the kicker missed three times. Another on a fluky fumble. Another in a game that included a rash of concussions, and an opponent’s touchdown on a fumble off a helmet. Last year, they lost after what would’ve been the tying two-point conversion was wiped away on a questionable holding call.
Since the NFL playoffs expanded to the current format, teams with a first-round bye have won 74 percent of the division games. The Chiefs are 0-5 in that spot. Twice they’ve had homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and bupkis.
When asked, Moore said he believes the Chiefs should’ve made three more Super Bowls by now, and could’ve made as many as five more without any major surprises.
If they’d made three, only the Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Bills and Giants would have more since 1990. If they’d made five, that list would shrink to just the Patriots.
Instead, this franchise has let its fans down in the playoffs so often it’s hard to keep track, and you end up comparing a blown 28-point lead to a loss without punting or without giving up a touchdown.
The men on this team can start to change that this weekend, to begin the process of closing the gap between what the organization thinks of itself and what it’s accomplished in the postseason.