Watching the Kansas City Chiefs' 2010 NFL pre-season unfold, I find my body parts arguing with one another. My eyes and heart say that this 2010 Chiefs' squad is a good one, more cohesive and much improved over the one that took the field last September, a contender even. My head, though, retorts that there is no way so much progress could be made with what seems to be so few additional pieces. My gut screams, "Believe!" My brain says, "IMPOSSIBLE!" What to do? How do I resolve the conflict raging in my being? I have little to fall back upon save my own meager experience with the game. I beg the reader's indulgence. I know it was only the prep game but, football is football and thinking back, there are striking similarities in my own experience to what is presently occurring in KC. Take it for what it is worth, an event a time long ago and on a different level. Something that is perhaps worth considering, or maybe, completely irrelevant. If you have a little time and are interested, read on and decide for yourself.
My freshman year of high school, I had the misfortune to play for a high school football program at its absolute zenith. Ours is a wrestling town with national win records and multiple state titles. Football has been a sport spurned over the years by many of the better athletes in an effort to concentrate on wrestling or basketball or even cross-country. But, for about a decade, our school was a perennial contender. Our varsity head coach at the time knew how to get the most from his teams and he built winners. But, as I already inferred, my freshman year was miserable. The program had grown through years of winning and enough of us played to field a varsity, junior varsity, sophomore and freshmen teams. Three teams went undefeated and the varsity the won only state title the school's history. The freshmen team, however, failed to win a single game. Worse still were some of the scores of our games: 54-6, 45-13, and in the final game, 63-0. As terrible as it felt to lose so badly, what we endured from the entire school was far worse. The taunting was almost unbearable with the even the teachers joining in. Our peers' lack of confidence in our football abilities was so complete that the varsity coach got a huge laugh at the assembly called to celebrate the best varsity football season in the school's entire history. After congratulating all the other undefeated teams on their fine years, he turned his comments to the freshman squad.
He simply and earnestly said, "This bunch of freshmen we have, their record doesn't show it, but there is a lot of talent there." He brought the house down.
After the laughter died down, he said, "I'm serious, I expect great things from that class."
On the last day of school that year, Coach called in every kid intending to play football the next year. He had us elect captains and talked about what he expected us to do over the summer. Then, he turned everyone but my class loose until fall football practice. When he had us alone, he told us that if we did not want to go through another season like the one we had suffered through as freshmen, we needed to show up for two a day practices in shape and ready to go. Anyone not willing to get ready to practice in the fall during the summer might as well not show up.
Most of us were ready when practice started the next fall. As teenager boys are wont to do, many of us developed physically that summer. But, when practice started many of us also found ourselves playing different positions. Our sophomore coach was different from our freshman coach and put us not at positions we wanted to play, but where he thought we should play. No horse-play was tolerated. He changed our offensive scheme. Some complained and were immediately invited off the field. A few of those did not come back. Our practices were fierce, fast paced and we ran until more than a few of us lost our lunches. Again, some complained and were asked to leave. By our first game, our sophomore team was half the number of our freshmen team. The players remaining were physically and mentally ready to play the game, but emotionally, not one of us was confident we could win ball games.
As luck would have it, our first game that year was against the team that gave us the worst beating the year before. It was a home game for us, but still, we looked across the field at the same faces that had humiliated us the year before. They were smiling and confident. We won the toss but our first offensive possession was a three and out. Then, we got a break. Their returner muffed the punt and we recovered inside their fifteen yard line. We did not move the ball a foot, but our kicker made the field goal. We had the lead for the first time in our high school careers.
After we kicked off, their offense moved the ball fairly easily for a few plays. Then, someone stepped up in the defensive huddle and took charge. He simply asked the rest of us if we wanted to give up that three point lead, the first one we had ever enjoyed. We dug in and held them out of scoring range. Then it happened. At reunions even decades later, some one will still reminisce about "the block".
He was not very big and not the fastest guy on the team, but he played with intensity and heart. Even during our freshman season, I can never recall seeing him give up. He loved to play and he hated to lose. He was fearless when it came to contact and our sophomore coach recognized the possibilities he provided for blocking in the kicking game. That very first punt, in our first game of the season, proved him right. It was a good kick for high school, nice and high but not very long. Our return man caught it about the fifteen yard line with the opposing teams starting middle linebacker closing in on him. That's when our little guy came blasting in. He was giving up six inches and thirty-five pounds, but he was screaming like a banshee and coming so hard the gunner actually slowed and turned to avoid the contact. The block was incredible. It started ten yards into the field of play and ended on the ground in the middle of our bench. First a drive block followed by a pancake. Our team erupted not only because of the ferocity of the David on Goliath block but also because it opened a huge seam up the sideline for an eighty-five yard touchdown return. Suddenly, everything was easier. Our defense held a bit more quickly and our offense scored its first touchdown. The tide had turned.
We lost only one game that sophomore year. The next we were a part of a varsity team that was undefeated and league champs. Our senior season was once again an undefeated league championship year. While we lost in the first round of the playoffs, it was by one point to the eventual champions who won their next two games by a combined margin of fifty-two points. Many would say that the real state championship game played that season was the game we played in. Our team went from laughingstock to contender in one season.
"So," you say, "what does that have to do with the Kansas City Chiefs?" Well, once again, football is football. Let's look at some specifics. We changed coaches (Haley). The new one was a no-nonsense guy who expected us to have a good attitude no matter what we were asked to do, and those that didn't, didn't stay ("the right 53"). We were expected to accept responsibility for our selves and report in the fall in shape and ready to practice and we did (Buy in to the program, sound familiar?). Our players developed not only physically, but also by switching our positions and improving our techniques (Studebaker, Belcher, et al). We found a few leaders (Vrable, Jones). Finally, we had a moment when we came to believe we could win in spite of any obvious differences in size and talent (we bought into what the coaches had taught us and already said about us).
Maybe it is just the wandering mind of a man reaching his later years, but most of that sounds a good deal like what has happened with this year's Chiefs. They just need a break or two and their "block". My heart hopes it comes next Monday night against the Chargers. If it does, the taunts we have endured as Chiefs' fans these past few years may soon be at an end.
This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.