I've been an AP reading for over a year now and I've seen a pattern emerge in some of the reporting and fanposts and comments that I wanted to address. I see a lot of articles and fanposts and comments here in which people are scheming ways for the Chiefs to get back into the playoffs in 2010 and those schemes are often based around scheduling or injuries. "We could make the playoffs this year because we play the NFC West this year" is a common theme, or something like it. Last year during the season I saw a lot of "We could win this game because such and such players are out for the other team. We might be catching them on a down week."
The thing that really prompted me to write this post was Joel's comment today the it was "terrible news for the Chiefs" that the Raiders might be benching JaMarcus the Hut. I don't understand how this is "terrible news" at all If the Chiefs are going to be a Superbowl winning team (and that is the avowed goal of the owner, GM and head coach of the franchise), it won't be because they got an easier schedule or got lucky as teams lost players due to injury. It's a simple idea: if you want to be the best team in the NFL, you're going to have to be better than the other 31 teams. That means you will have to beat these teams regardless of injury report or where the game is being played or the weather conditions or anything. Ric Flair said it best: "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." And that all comes down to competition. On any given game day you are going to have to line up against their 53 players and beat them. Period. There are no frills or gimmicks. It's a simple matter of competition.
If the Chiefs are going to rise to the top of the NFL, they are going to have to compete for it. The first half schedule the Chiefs had in '09 was a blessing. If you want to be an elite team, competing against other elite teams pushes you to be better. If you want to be the best team you are going to have to compete for it.
I had the opportunity to attend a coaching clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado a few years ago and saw something really cool while touring the facility. In the swimming area they have a harness that pulls you through the water at world record speed. So as you swim, you can feel how much faster world record speed feels--you feel how much faster you have to be in order to be the best in the world. If you want to win an Olympic gold medal, you can't just hope the other best guys are hurt or that the brackets work out in your advantage. You have to be the best in the world and you do that by competing every day.
Haley has talked a lot about creating competition and he's right about that. The Chiefs brought in a lot of veteran players as free agents last year, most of them Zack Thomas types that were well pas their primes. People scoffed at that because they didn't understand why it was being done. Pioli didn't think Thomas could still produce at All Pro levels, but having him in camp created competition for the other players (and maybe some of these guys might still have a little something in the basement). I would submit that a personality trait we want in the "right 53" are guys who will compete on every play. And in the meeting rooms. And in the weight room. And in their personal choices. These are the guys who exceed what people think they can do.
I knew a lot of other coaches that scheduled weak teams for competition. These coaches wanted to pad their seasons with a lot of easy wins. And they won a lot of easy games, no question about it. But when the state playoffs came around, those coaches' teams were usually one and done because they hadn't played against any real competition all year. The first time they had to compete against good teams they were no match. As Chiefs fans we should want the hard schedule-- it toughens up our team! We should want the AFC West to be what it was in the 90s-- the toughest division in football. Hell, we should want the Raiders to be a good team again. The Chiefs/Raiders rivalry only matters when it's relevant, when both teams are good and playing for some real stakes. Wouldn't that be awesome? To go into the Black Hole and beat the Raiders for the AFC Championship, keeping the Lamar Hunt Trophy out of their evil clutches?
Look, I get it. I understand it. The Chiefs haven't won a playoff gave since the 90s. I understand that fans just want to see them in the postseason again. But Chiefs Nation, don't fear the good teams! Don't wish for us to meet them when they are banged up and not 100%. We want to be able to beat them at their best and not give their fanbase excuses for why they lost. The road to the Superbowl isn't through Carl Petersonville where you hope you can sneak into the playoffs if 3 teams lose home games on the last day of the season. The road to being the best is a road that goes through tough terrain as you force yourself to grow as an opponent. It's a road that forces you to compete. And in sports, competition is an inherent good.