Vahe Gregorian

Chiefs hope Andy Reid’s third season ends decades of playoff futility

Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon was sacked by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas for a seven-yard loss in the fourth quarter of an AFC playoff game Jan. 16, 1994, at the Astrodome in Houston. It was the Chiefs’ last playoff win.
Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon was sacked by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas for a seven-yard loss in the fourth quarter of an AFC playoff game Jan. 16, 1994, at the Astrodome in Houston. It was the Chiefs’ last playoff win. AP

When the Dallas Texans morphed into the Chiefs in 1963, they arrived in Kansas City basking in the 1962 American Football League championship.

Three seasons later, they’d become a pillar of history — or trivia, anyway — when they won another AFL title and played Green Bay in what would later become known as the first Super Bowl.

Three seasons after that, they beat Minnesota 23-7 in Super Bowl IV, emerging not just as a local treasure but as a national presence.

All of which suggested a certain baseline for the franchise and signaled a prosperous future.

Little of which, alas, has proven true.

Somehow, after winning the three postseason games it took to claim the Super Bowl championship after the 1969 season, the Chiefs have mustered a total of three playoff wins since.

The last of those ancient achievements was Jan. 16, 1994.

Only the Cincinnati Bengals (Jan. 6, 1991) and the Detroit Lions (Jan. 5, 1992) currently have gone longer without a playoff win in the NFL.

The 28-20 victory was against a Houston Oilers team that has long since moved to Tennessee and was played in a stadium, the Astrodome, that no longer is viable.

From then to now, the Chiefs have lost their last eight playoff games in largely excruciating style — most recently and emphatically by bungling a 28-point second-half lead in a 45-44 defeat at Indianapolis two seasons ago.

For a time, this void maybe was just a footnote: At least they were getting to the playoffs some, unlike the Royals.

But it’s glaring as the Chiefs prepare to open the season Sunday against the Houston Texans in NRG Stadium.

With the Royals purging their 28-year playoff drought last season and on trajectory for more this season, and with Sporting KC having taken the 2013 MLS Cup, the Chiefs are lugging the most futile trend among the most high-profile professional sports teams in Kansas City.

Even if little of this has been of their doing, none of it is lost on contemporary Chiefs.

It’s “in the back of your head,” tight end Travis Kelce said, “and you want to change it.”

Punter Dustin Colquitt added: “The facts are the facts.”

It’s “kind of disappointing,” linebacker Derrick Johnson noted.

But even with that lingering matter underscoring how they enter the season, the point really is immaterial to them, too.

It’s not as if the albatross of the recent past will somehow psychologically hamper them or, alternatively, make them play harder than they would.

This is about “what do you have here, now,” Johnson said, and newcomer receiver Jeremy Maclin maybe put it best.

“I’ve heard about it, just like I’ve heard about the stat of no wide-receiver touchdowns (last season) and all this other stuff,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m big on the present and the future.

“So I try not to harp too much on the past. Those are things we can’t control; those are things that have already happened. All we can do is control what goes on going forward.”

Maclin is the embodiment of that notion in more ways than one.

When the Chiefs acquired him in free-agency from Philadelphia in the offseason, they addressed their most obvious need as they enter Year Three of the Andy Reid-John Dorsey regime.

The time frame might seem like just another year in the process, but it’s one that signals an entirely new dimension in continuity and in contouring the roster to their priorities and schemes.

And maybe in urgency.

“If you just study the longevity of the coaches,” Reid said during training camp in St. Joseph, “if it’s not rolling (after three years), they don’t quite make through the four- or five-year contract.”

Whatever the reasons, the third season has loomed large in the organization's history.

That 1962 AFL championship was delivered in coach Hank Stram's third season. Marty Schottenheimer guided the franchise to its first playoff win since Super Bowl IV in his third season, and Dick Vermeil's third team went 13-3 — only to lose to the Colts 38-31 in the playoffs.

On the flip side, Herm Edwards was fired after his third season, and Todd Haley didn't make it through his third.

Meanwhile, year three was a pivot point for Reid in Philadelphia.

A year after guiding the Eagles back to the playoffs and winning a wild-card game, just their third playoff win since reaching the 1981 Super Bowl, he whisked the Eagles to two playoff wins before they fell to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

“The third year, it fits. You’ve kind of established what you are, what direction you’re going … ” Reid said during training camp. “By your third year you have change-over. Look at the guys who are here now: We’ve changed over a big portion of the team.”

Beyond that, Reid touted the benefits of having those who’ve been part of this from the start — like quarterback Alex Smith, who never before has played for the same offensive coordinator three straight seasons.

More broadly, by now there is a certain meshing of “learning the systems, the structure … each other’s personalities and how we play on the field,” Kelce said.

The sum of all this is why Chiefs players keep referring to a vibe about the special season ahead — a vibe that, of course, likely is felt by most players on most NFL teams before every season starts.

“I feel something special here; I can honestly say that,” Maclin said.

Asked to elaborate, he smiled and said, “It’s a feeling, man, it’s a feeling.”

That doesn’t make it unjustified any more than it makes it a certainty, but first things first:

You can’t win a playoff game without getting to the playoffs, which in itself would provide a likely Kansas City first: having the Royals and Chiefs in the playoffs in the same season.

There is much to be learned about those prospects even in the opener, particularly since the Chiefs’ unproven offensive line — their biggest question mark — will be up against the nasty defensive front led by menacing J.J. Watt.

Whatever happens may offer some clarity on what’s ahead.

But it won’t define the season.

Winning a playoff game, or not, will be the signature.

“I’ll tell you this,” Maclin said. “If we want to achieve what we have our mind(s) set on, we’ve got to win some playoff games.”

To end a dry spell that is more conspicuous than ever.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com.

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