You know this Chiefs team for preposterous comebacks and predatory turnover-creation that leads the NFL, and you know it for mesmerizing rookie Tyreek Hill and the explosiveness of tight end Travis Kelce.
You know it for the fearsome Justin Houston (when he can play) and the uncanny knack of safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters to make game-saving plays — and the riveting prospects that Peters will punt a ball into the stands or Kelce will toss a towel at a referee or 350-pound Dontari Poe will rumble for, catch or fling another touchdown.
But those are mere outcomes, not explanations, of what made the Chiefs (12-4) champions of the AFC West with a bye this weekend before opening the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 15.
In what appears to be as promising a postseason opportunity as the Chiefs have had in decades, they may or may not emerge as the best team in the NFL.
But it’s sure hard to find one more intriguing.
That’s evident not just from their spellbinding — if at times exasperating — play, but from the DNA that makes up their mojo.
As quarterback Alex Smith pondered where they are, he reckoned it begins with the “glue” in the locker room. Which, he added, starts with this:
“The makeup of every single individual guy.”
The stuff that makes up the living, breathing organism of this locker room is unique and far-flung.
How it’s all been molded and melded is a credit to general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid that we’ll get back to later.
But safe to say it might be otherwise.
“When you all get that much time together, everybody starts rubbing off on each other,” said punter Dustin Colquitt, who in his 12th season with the Chiefs has seen a few less successful manifestations of this. “So you hope that the difference spectrums come together, and you kind of meet in the middle.”
Even recognizing that there remain untold stories in the room, this particular spectrum is fascinating.
And how the group has coalesced says something about where this team has gone so far … and where it might land.
The Chiefs are made of a Canadian medical student and soon-to-be-doctor (offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif), a Liberian Civil War refugee and man of wisdom (linebacker Tamba Hali), a Belizean immigrant who was unaccustomed to water and electricity (defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches) and the Brazilian son of a stunt pilot (kicker Cairo Santos).
They are made up of a reality TV show star (Kelce), a music producer (Hali), a movie-maker (receiver Chris Conley) and guys known to freestyle poetry (Berry).
They could form a band right now with, for starters, a drummer-vocalist (Hali), pianist-vocalist (linebacker Dee Ford), guitarist (Conley) and tuba player (Poe).
They are diverse products of adversity, adopted by other families when their own couldn’t provide for them (receivers Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson and perhaps others in scenarios that evoke “The Blind Side”) or raised by single mothers (Poe and left tackle Eric Fisher and offensive lineman Jah Reid, and surely others).
They have prevailed through desperate times: Berry is a cancer survivor; Houston pulled two of his brothers out of a fire when he was in ninth grade; running back Charcandrick West as a high school freshman was told he’d never play football again after weeks of being mostly unable to move his limbs and being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
And among them they have learned to turn the meanness in the world into something meaningful:
*Santos feels closer than ever to his father a few years after he died in a stunt crash.
*Long-snapper James Winchester has expressed gratitude for overwhelming support in the wake of the murder of his father in November.
*Linebacker Terrance Smith wears No. 48 in tribute to his father who was shot to death by police as he attacked Smith’s mother, who forgave him because she didn’t want the children to think he was a monster.
*Center Mitch Morse is “always part of the solution,” his father, Kevin, once told me, because of the empathy he learned from his little brother suffering a traumatic brain injury.
Their substance is as much about seven first-round draft picks as it is about the 26 players acquired through trades, free agency or waivers — perhaps best encompassed in the form of defensive back Ron Parker, who was released eight times by three teams before finding a home here in 2013.
For that matter, their composition is as much about having two overall No. 1 picks, Smith and Fisher, as it is about second-chances afforded to budding stars Peters, who was dismissed from the team at Washington after repeated clashes with coaches, and Hill, the first-year receiver who is serving three years’ probation after pleaded guilty last year to domestic battery.
It is also about a certain Yin and Yang, a place where seemingly opposite or contrary forces are complementary:
You’d see that in West urging Kelce to “be smart” about expressing his frustration before speaking with the media.
And in the occasionally volatile Peters’ deference to Berry’s practically mystical status with teammates.
Or in rookie defensive lineman Chris Jones tending to stay in Poe’s “hip pocket,” as Reid put it, and in the way Hill speaks of Maclin as his mentor and how Maclin so obviously embraces that.
A couple weeks ago, Maclin looked around and considered the journeys around him, all the different places and upbringings and backgrounds that funneled into this moment in time.
Then he used the word “joy” about the united passion they share.
Though he made a point this week that he’d be lying if he said it was “flawless” in there, he added that true brothers are able to “hug it out right afterwards” when they do fight.
This is where Dorsey and Reid’s impact is as significant as anything they’ve done since taking over an organization mired in dysfunction in 2013.
While you can win with a rotten locker room and lose with great ones, a spirit of appreciation and harmony and playing for each other can only be good intangibles.
And it took some doing to make it so.
With season-ending injuries to star running back Jamaal Charles and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, only five players they inherited (Berry, Colquitt, Hali, Houston and Poe) will be on the roster that they’ve “re-sculpted,” as Colquitt put it.
With their approach, the buy-in “trickles down” through “the whole building,” Smith said.
The active ingredient in this bubbling chemistry is trust, something fostered daily by Reid and his staff.
That includes allowing them to make their own plans to get away last week with no apparent parameters, the continuation of a notion that seems to have served him well considering he’s 19-2 after byes — including 3-0 in the playoffs.
Despite the way Reid publicly holds back his own considerable personality, his urging of players to let theirs show is part of his success: Reid is 10th in NFL history with 184 regular-season victories, and his next playoff win will tie him for eighth with 12.
“You get to be who you really are. You don’t have to be a system type of guy: You can just be yourself and play within the schemes of the system,” said Jones, the rookie defensive lineman who has excelled this season as his dynamic way has stayed intact on and off the field. “If you love pumping it up, if you love juicing it up, hey, whatever gets you into your game, he lets you do it.”
Not that Reid lets his players run roughshod.
It’s just that he treats them like adults, giving them what he calls “a map” to what he wants and still stressing detail without micro-managing.
Such trust, Maclin said, is “everything” and “what this game is built on.”
“Everybody in this league is talented, everybody in this league has guys who can run, guys who can catch, throw, tackle, whatever,” Maclin said. “But I think the trust between coaches and players, players and players, even management and players, I think that’s kind of where the league separates itself.
“And you may be able to get through it for a while kind of hiding that kind of stuff, but eventually it comes out and bites you.”
Instead, what you have here and now is a compelling team made up of captivating and disparate parts — which could make it a team to remember for all that and more.