We know the Chiefs haven't had a lead in regulation in their first 7 games. The media tells us this is the first time this has happened in a period spanning from 1940 to 2012. The reason why they didn't go back farther is that the play-by-play analysis (or even scoring summaries) of games held before 1940 is not exactly on Pro-Football Reference.
But in the pre-overtime NFL, the rules for finding a team which has matched or topped this mark is not exactly long.
Rule 1: Look for the teams with 7 or more non-wins in a season.
Rule 2: Look at their results.
Rule 2 narrows the field of Rule 1 pretty considerably.
In the period preceding 1940, there were some pretty bad teams. Amongst these teams were..
The 1939 Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams finished 1-9-1. The Pirates started 0-9-1. The Eagles started 0-7-1. The Eagles beat the Pirates on Franksgiving Day November 23rd. The Pirates beat the Eagles on Sunday November 26th. The Pirates had a lead in their first game (vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers) before losing 12-7 to Brooklyn, 10-0 to the Chicago Cardinals and 32-0 to the Bears. The Eagles had a lead in their 2nd game v. the Giants.
The 1934 Cincinnati Reds were a team of destiny. They finished their 1934 season 0-8, before the NFL kicked the Reds out for a failure to pay league dues. The Reds were outscored 254-10 in 8 games. But the first time they scored in the 1934 season, they took the lead. Then the Bears beat the Reds 21-3.
The NFL before 1933 was a bit less organized. There were no divisions, and no standard scheduling scheme. But in the annals of the NFL, there was a team which started their season with seven games and zero leads.
That team was the 1929 Buffalo Bisons.
The 1929 Bisons were not the worst team in the 1929 NFL. The Minneapolis Red Jackets went 1-9, winning their 3rd game. The Dayton Triangles went 0-6 and may have had 6 games with no leads. The Triangles were a traveling team which was outscored 136-7. They scored a touchdown in game 2 v. Frankford. In fact, in 1928 and 1929, Dayton only scored 16 points, all against Frankford. The Triangles were purchased and moved to Brooklyn in 1930.
The Bisons didn't even play in 1928. They were revived and unleashed on the NFL for the 1929 season, presumably with hope and optimism of recapturing magic in a city which had multiple pro football teams since 1915.
The Bisons head coach was Al Jolley of Onaga, Kansas, whose last NFL experience was with the 1923 Oorang Indians. The Indians had went 1-10, losing their first 10 games.
Buffalo started their 1929 season on September 30th at their home stadium, Bison Stadium v. the Chicago Cardinals. The Cardinals, a professional team since 1899, only played 6 games in 1928 and revamped their team in the offseason.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, they went down 3-0 in the first quarter. Tying the game in the 3rd Quarter with a field goal. But the Cardinals scored the winning touchdown in the 3rd quarter on a 65 yard run by Mickey McDonald.
The Bisons followed that up by playing the Frankford Yellow Jackets on Saturday October 5th at Frankford Stadium in Northeast Philadelphia. The Yellow Jackets won the 1926 NFL title. But in 1927, their coach took a leave of absence to umpire the World Series, and the team President installed his son in the Head Coach position for a time in 1927. The Yellow Jackets moved to a player-coach in 1928, finishing 11-3-2.
The Bisons lost 19-0 to Frankford on that Saturday in their 2nd game. Then on Sunday October 6th, a day later, the Bisons played their 3rd game against the Yellow Jackets in Buffalo, defeating them again 13-0. The State of Pennsylvania didn't allow for professional teams to play on Sundays until 1933. The Yellow Jackets went on to experience ups and downs, before folding in 1931 during the Depression. Their failure opened Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Eagles, which were formed in 1933.
Buffalo hosted the Chicago Bears on October 13th for their 4th game. Back in 1921, the Buffalo All-Americans started 9-0-2. They decided, for some reason, to schedule two exhibitions on back to back days. The second game was against the 2nd place APFA team the Chicago Staleys, a team Buffalo defeated earlier in that season. The All-Americans won their first game and then lost to the Staleys in Chicago. The League decided that despite the game being an exhibition, that the Staleys second win meant that they were the 1921 APFA champions instead of Buffalo.
As for the game, the Bisons lost 16-0 in a game where Chicago saw two touchdowns by Bill Senn and long rushes by Red Grange.
The Bisons traveled to Providence on October 20th for their 5th game. They were playing the defending NFL champion Providence Steam Roller at the Cycledrome. The game was one of the more competitive of the year for Buffalo. The Steam Roller got on the board in the 2nd Quarter on a 1 yard rushing touchdown by Jack Cronin. Then Buffalo scored their first touchdown of the year in the 3rd Quarter when Swede Hagberg caught a pass and ran 45 yards for the touchdown. The game ended in a draw as the Steam Roller was stopped on the 5 yard line after a 25 yard run on the final play.
The Bisons gave up 62 points in a row from the Cardinals game to the Steam Roller game. They were not shut out again for the rest of 1929, obviously due to the firm game plan of Al Jolley.
Buffalo's 6th game was on October 27th vs. the Boston Bulldogs, and it was held in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The Bulldogs had been the Pottsville Maroons until the 1929 season and the Bulldogs chose to play a home game at their former home site. The Bulldogs scored first v. Buffalo and converted the extra point on a pass (which i'd imagine is a reflection of the reality of trying to kick a football in 1929). The Bison scored next but failed to cross the goal line on their conversion. The Bulldogs scored to seal the game at 14-6.
Two days after this game, the Stock Market crashed, which led to the Great Depression.
The Bison went home to play their 7th game and final home game of 1929 on Tuesday November 5th, 1929 against the New York Giants. The Giants went up 14-0 in the first and lead 39-6 at halftime. The New York Times story of the game featured a great definition of 1920s professional football:
The game was featured by long runs and a thrilling punting duel between Hagberg of the Bisons and Wilson of the Giants
The Giants won 45-6. No word on how thrilling the punting duel was.
Game 8 on November 17th was a rematch with the Boston Bulldogs held at Braves Field in Boston. The Bulldogs got on the board first in the 2nd quarter with a touchdown and a failed conversion. They scored another touchdown with a failed conversion later in the quarter. Buffalo halfback Swede Hagberg (described as a "giant halfback" by the papers and he was 6'4") scored the Buffalo touchdown. But Buffalo was held scoreless and the Bulldogs won 12-7.
Game 9 was on November 24th vs. the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field. The field was described as "frozen" which inspired both teams to attempt passing in lieu of running. This was referred to by the Chicago Tribune as "basketball-style". The Bears went up 7-0 in the 2nd on a Red Grange touchdown.
Buffalo tied the game on an 85 yard kickoff return by Cassy Ryan. Ryan fumbled the ball upon catching it, recovering it and running for the score. Chicago fumbled on the Buffalo 13 in the 3rd, and fumbled on the Buffalo 2 in the 4th. The Bisons exploited the turnovers and they took their first lead of the year on a 38 yard field goal by Chuck Weimar. The Bisons expanded their lead to 13-7 on a 40 yard field goal. Then Buffalo sealed the game on a Swede Hagberg interception to the Chicago 2, followed by a Bob Mahan touchdown to move the score to 19-7 (as Buffalo missed the extra point).
The Bisons season was over. The Bears would give up 40 points to Ernie Nevers on November 28th, 1929.
After the 1929 season, the Bisons folded and Buffalo was largely deprived of professional football until 1960 (aside from an All-American Football Conference team).
Swede Hagberg would go on to be a first-team NFL lineman in 1930 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He is not to be confused with 1940s Navy football coach Swede Hagberg. Hagberg died in 1960 at 53. Chuck Weimer went on to play for the 1930 Brooklyn Dodgers and 1931 Cleveland Indians. Cassy Ryan never played in the professional ranks after 1929. Bisons coach Al Jolley went to Brooklyn and Cleveland like Weimar. Jolley coached 3 games for the 1933 Cincinnati Reds and died in 1948.
So failing to lead in regulation play for the first 7 games is pretty difficult. So difficult that it hasn't happened in 83 years.
But that was the brief story of the last team that started so badly that they didn't have a lead until their 9th and final game.