Since 1971, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future have hovered and haunted Chiefs fans all at once. The crushing 27-24 loss to Miami on that Dec. 25 in the so-called longest game in NFL history (82:40 of game clock but a fairly ordinary overall time of 3 hours 21 minutes by today’s standards) has lingered virtually ever since – this time of year and beyond.
“A moment of horror” for Chiefs fans, the legendary John Facenda called it in the NFL Films summary of that Chiefs’ season, “A Year To Remember.” The program was intended to glamorize the campaign, with Facenda declaring that the loss could not “tarnish the glory of a season of triumph.”
Alas, it lurks as an almost tangible line between the early franchise glory -- three AFL titles and the Super Bowl IV victory -- and the postseason wasteland in its wake: Since putting together three playoff victories on the way to winning it all, the Chiefs are 4-16 when it comes to the games that counted most and have come within a win of the Super Bowl only once since the fateful 1971 game.
Those nearly two generations of futility have spawned a certain dread in fans, and no one can convince you otherwise until someone actually shows you it can be another way.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
But in the wake of the Chiefs’ 38-31 loss to Seattle on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, we recite all this not to accentuate the cringe-worthy point but as a contrary public-service reminder this Christmas-time.
No matter how easy it is to cling to the tortured history, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. In fact, there is absolutely zero direct connection. For your own sakes, please try to remember that when you can’t forget this game Monday and Tuesday.
Not that the Chiefs are helping any. Instead, they’re actively conjuring the gloom and doom mindset after losing a second straight game in unsettling fashion. They continue to sabotage themselves by leading the NFL in penalties (eight for 76 yards on Sunday) and still are, uh, challenged to stop the run (Seattle amassed 210 yards on the ground, which helps explain how it had the ball for more than 35 minutes).
And the offense that seemed unstoppable suddenly seems solvable, and those are all valid concerns that may well prove to add up to the early demise of this team.
But the objective, detached big picture reality is this: The Chiefs (11-4) remain on the cusp of securing a No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, needing only a win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium against the Raiders (3-11 entering their game Monday against Denver).
And no matter how tempting it is to lapse into woe-is-we and to feel the weight of history, the presence of the transformative Patrick Mahomes still changes the postseason equation entirely.
If you’re a Chiefs fan, you’ve reserved -- even earned -- the right to a willing suspension of belief. It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you, after all, and so some might figure even his arrival is just a setup for yet a bigger, lousier letdown.
It’s up to Mahomes and Chiefs to prove otherwise, of course. But the fact remains that anything is possible with Mahomes, who on Sunday threw three touchdown passes to give him 48 for the season.
That ties him with Dan Marino for the fourth-most in a single season in NFL history. The three ahead are Peyton Manning with 55, Tom Brady with 50 and Manning again with 49. With 4,816 yards, next week he figures to become just the sixth man in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
Considering the innovative, revolutionary way he’s doing, this is the stuff of a game-changer, and it almost was again on Sunday. If the Chiefs had recovered an onside kick with just over a minute left, anyone watching would have expected this to go to overtime.
He’s hardly a finished product, of course, and it’s easy to wonder if he might be over-amped early in a playoff game. It certainly seems to have become a tendency in the most meaningful games for him to be off-kilter in the early going.
He did it again at the get-go Sunday, starting one for seven for 7 yards and way overthrowing Travis Kelce on what would have been a long touchdown pass that might have changed the trajectory and complexion of the game. (For the record, Mahomes said afterward that he didn’t think he was over-excited and said part of the problem on the Kelce misfire was that he had started to throw to Tyreek Hill only for him to be bumped off his route at the last second).
He recovered, of course, hitting 11 of his next 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, including yet another in his logic- and gravity-defying arsenal when he threw back against his momentum to hit Charcandrick West for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
The window on his later TD pass to Demarcus Robinson was almost impossibly tight, and those are the sorts of exhilarating things that he does so routinely as to be an X-factor that the Chiefs never have had before and that makes anything yet possible.
This doesn’t mean there was nothing worrisome to see here on Sunday, and no one knows how the playoffs are going to go. Heck, no reason not to go ahead and marinate in the doomsday scenarios if it helps you cope.
But that doesn’t change that the Chiefs are likely to be the top seed, with a quarterback who is the talk of the NFL and stretches the dimensions of the game to his own will.
And that’s something to look forward to no matter how disconcerting this looked Sunday … and no matter how heavy the past has been.