Vahe Gregorian

Even as Chiefs’ Maytag Repairman, punter Dustin Colquitt is integral to franchise

If the Chiefs beat Baltimore on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, coach Andy Reid will move past former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll into sixth place on the career NFL wins list (210).

Win or lose, figure on quarterback Patrick Mahomes extending his weekly streak of stupefying deeds and record-wrecking feats.

More subtly, punter Dustin Colquitt will play in his 225th game as a Chief to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer Will Shields as the man to appear in more games than anyone in franchise history.

Cue the obligatory jokes about Colquitt being the Chiefs’ version of the Maytag Repairman, who became a cultural icon for the ad portraying him as seldom being needed.

A year ago, in Mahomes’ first full season as a starter, Colquitt punted 20 times fewer (45) than he ever had before and has been called on in that role just 56 times in Mahomes’ 19 career regular-season starts.

Put another way: Since Mahomes started his first game in the 2017 regular-season finale at Denver, Colquitt has been on the field in his capacity as a holder for field goals and extra points 113 times — more than twice as many times as he’s punted.

“It sort of taints that (record) thing if you don’t ever get to kick,” Shields said, laughing, by telephone on Wednesday.

He jests because he loves, more seriously saying that the record is “awesome” and an important “next mile-marker” that will be hard to match.

And we tease because we love him, too.

Because the Chiefs’ 37-year-old elder statesman isn’t just a heck of a punter who owns the team record for punts landed inside the 20-yard line (442).

He’s an infinite gift to the team, fans, broader community and media — so much so that my colleague Sam Mellinger likes to joke that Colquitt has earned some double bylines.

It’s testimony to Colquitt’s grace and selflessness that when he was asked about the record Wednesday, his first burst of words was about Shields, his teammate for two seasons and whose signed jersey adorns Colquitt’s basement.

The guard “was an every-down-except-a-fourth-down-guy; I’m a fourth-down guy,” Colquitt said.

(As such, in contrast to Shield’s pre-game preparations to unleash a storm, Colquitt mellows out to Jimmy Buffet. He’s particularly partial to “Son of a Son of a Sailor” in tribute to the family history of punters, including his grandfather, father and brother Britton of the Minnesota Vikings.)

His wit, wisdom and eloquence, the nurturing and charitable nature that have made him a two-time Chiefs Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee who says his Christian faith guides him “to love and serve,” make him one of the most respected men in the locker room.

“A great mentor,” said Mahomes, saying Colquitt embodies doing things the right way and “has a tip for everything.”

Coming from a guy Shields calls “the last man standing” from a turbulent era, his presence includes meaningful perspective on where the Chiefs are now as a perennial playoff team and legitimate Super Bowl contender in their seventh season under Reid.

Colquitt remembers speaking with his father, Craig, the former NFL punter, when it became apparent amid the 2-14 season in 2012 that the Chiefs were about to make another coaching change and bring in the fifth head coach he’d known since joining the team in 2005.

He fretted about the possibility he’d have to leave so much that made him feel at home here: the people, the organization, the Hunt family, the city where his five children were born.

When it appeared Reid might be the Chiefs’ next coach, though, Colquitt said his mind was blown by the heartening possibility. The reality was even better.

When Reid arrived, Colquitt was working out for the Pro Bowl in the Chiefs’ indoor facility when he was told Reid wanted to see him. But only after he finished his workout, which in hindsight he found telling about Reid: Work was the priority.

When they met in Reid’s office, Colquitt recently recalled for Sam’s column about how Reid changed the culture here, Reid asked him, “Are you done with this city? Or are you just done with what’s transpired over the last four years?”

When Colquitt told Reid he didn’t want to start over elsewhere, Reid said, “You don’t have to. We want you here.”

A few weeks later, Colquitt was signed to a five-year, $18.75 million contract and was re-upped with a three-year, $7.5 million deal in 2018. He’s excited to keep playing for Reid as long as he can.

“There was no more hidden agenda, no, like, ‘Let’s make the players guess about stuff,’” Colquitt said. “He’s going to tell you exactly how it is and what he expects. And we’re going to work together for that common goal. And win.”

Which, of course, is what it’s all about, even as his punting reps have dwindled with Mahomes as the pivot point of what Colquitt calls Reid’s mind “coming alive” on the field.

That doesn’t mean his importance has diminished.

Especially considering that even with all the apparent offensive givens and constants, the Chiefs’ greatest X-factor toward a Super Bowl run would seem to be the ability of a defense that was porous last season to come through when it didn’t a year ago.

So he can’t let himself be distracted by Mahomes, since “you don’t know when he’s going to strike” and he might find himself suddenly having to run 90 yards to hold for an extra point.

And because sometimes even Mahomes won’t strike, Colquitt must continue to do the vital work he does best: pin opponents deep.

“I want to be the defensive coordinator’s best friend,” he said, alluding to Steve Spagnuolo and adding, “I want him to be, like, ‘I love the punter.’ I want him to say that a lot.”

Just like the rest of us already do.

Even if the Mahomes era has made Colquitt’s role one for punchlines, Shields’ says it all in his admiration of him for many things — including his ability to deliver “week-in and week-out” at the highest level.

“I’m very proud to say he was a teammate,” Shields said.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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