While reading MNchiefsfan's very funny article Dear Case on Friday, it occurred to me that Gary Kubiak's decision to give Case Keenum his first NFL start against the league's most feared passing defense in Arrowhead Stadium - which seems to have struck nearly every Chiefs fan as something that would emotionally scar the young quarterback for his entire career - was much like a situation depicted in the Kevin Costner film For Love Of The Game.
In the film, Costner plays fictional 40 year old Detroit Tigers pitching star Billy Chapel, who finds himself throwing a perfect game against the Yankees in the final game of the season - which, during the course of the film, Chapel has decided will be the last game of his career. With two out in the ninth inning, the Yankees pinch hit a young player named Ken Strout, who is making his first major league at bat.
As Strout comes on deck, Steve Lyons and Vin Scully (portraying themselves as the announcers calling the game) praise this move by the Yankees manager, saying that Strout is "just young enough" and "just cocky enough" not to realize the momentous situation into which he has been placed.
As Strout turns to head for the plate, the grizzled Yankees manager says simply, "Wreck it." Strout grins - as only a cocky kid can - and promptly belts Chapel's first pitch into the right field seats. But it it falls just foul. And Chapel - who, in this film, talks to himself more than a bum in New York's Central Park - mutters, "I don't scare you at all, do I, kid?"
In the comment thread of MNchiefsfan's article, I joked about the similarity of Keenum's upcoming debut to the film's scenario, saying that Kubiak's decision scared me a little… but just a little. Of course the Chiefs wouldn't have much film on Keenum, and little time to prepare for the guy. But we were talking about the Chiefs defense. And Arrowhead Stadium. You know... 137.5 dB.
Besides… it's just a movie. Move along, folks. Nothing to worry about here.
But as it turned out, this particular piece of art actually imitated life pretty damned well.
As I left the stadium on Sunday evening, I found myself offering my hand to everybody I saw wearing a Texans jersey. "You guys played us tough," I said over and over. "That kid stood tall in the worst possible situation. You guys have got yourself quite a young quarterback there."
Keenum completed 15 of 25 for 271 yards and a TD (with no interceptions by the hungry Kansas City secondary) which was good enough for a passer rating of 110.6 in his NFL debut. Pretty much single-handedly, Keenum turned the 2-4 Texans into the Chiefs biggest challenge of the season.
Young Case wasn't scared at all.
With the Chiefs leading by only a single point at 5:57 remaining in the game, Alex Smith's pass to Dexter McCluster was intercepted by the Texans Shiloh Keo at Houston's 18 yard line. The man sitting next to me in section 302 hung his head and said, "We've had it now."
And honestly, I thought the same thing. Too much had gone wrong. Jamaal Charles had fumbled in the third quarter. The Chiefs were now minus two in turnovers, and as fans of a team that was 2-14 only last season, we know exactly what this means.
As we have seen so many times in recent years, we had been picked apart by a backup quarterback - a third stringer, no less - in our own house. The Chiefs had done nothing to help their struggling offense. There had been no special teams touchdowns. No pick sixes, or even an interception. Not a single sack in the entire first half.
For the third consecutive week, Alex Smith had turned in a statistically mediocre performance, completing 23 of 34 for 240 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Smith's passer rating of 75.6 on the day wasn't going to impress anybody.
The offense hadn't even come up with an ugly scoring drive to create or open a lead in the second half. The Chiefs had tried, but it had fizzled. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Anthony Fasano's tough catch and run for an apparent touchdown had gone unrecognized by the officials, and there wasn't enough evidence on the tape to overturn the call on the field.
"Well," I thought, "It's been a great ride."
As Chiefs fans, we know what should have happened next. Fans should have started streaming for the exits, because it was obvious that Case Keenum was going to drive the Texans far enough down the field to put a field goal on the board and drop the Chiefs to 6-1.
And then a funny thing happened. Hardly anybody left. A man half a dozen rows down from me stood, turned toward us and started yelling. And even though I've left Arrowhead hoarse dozens of times, I've never done what I did next. I stood, turned, raised my arms and shouted, "Come on! They need us one more time!"
And the two of us weren't alone.
As Billy Chapel ascends the mound in the sixth inning, he notices that the scoreboard shows no runs or hits for the Yankees, and no errors by the Tigers. His catcher and close friend Gus Sinski (played brilliantly by underrated character actor John C. Reilly) notices Chapel's gaze and runs to the mound. Chapel asks Sinski if anyone has been on base. Sinski says no. As Chapel suddenly realizes that he is two thirds of the way through a perfect game, he confesses to Sinski that he has very little left.
"Billy," says Sinski, "the boys are all here for you. We'll back you up. We'll be there, cause, Billy, we don't stink right now. We're the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You're the reason. We're not gonna screw that up, we're gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw."
It's a movie. You know what's going to happen next.
Before the game is over, Tigers centerfielder Mickey Hart - who has been a longtime laughingstock on defense - will steal a home run from the Yankees with a brilliant over the wall catch. Sinski - who has been riding the bench because of his poor hitting - will drive in a run with a double.
And when the cocky kid pinch hitting in the ninth inning turns Chapel's 0-2 pitch into a high bouncer that goes over Chapel's head and off his glove, the Tigers shortstop makes an All Star stop over second base, throwing Strout out at first and uncorking the champagne for Chapel's perfect game.
Houston's subsequent three and out, followed by Tamba Hali's brilliant sack and strip of Case Keenum - and Derrick Johnson's otherworldly recovery of the fumble from underneath a falling Texan - were the plays that sealed Sunday's win. But this game wasn't just the product of opportune plays. This Chiefs team simply doesn't quit. These men - players and coaches alike - are there for each other in every play of every game. They know that's what's it going to take to to return this 2-14 team to the glory all of us so desperately want.
Even more than last week's victory over the Raiders, this was a win shared by every man on the Chiefs 53 man roster and 70,000 screaming fans, all of whom were there for each other when it mattered most - a fact underlined by Andy Reid's award of the game ball to equipment manager Allen Wright, who has been carrying Gatorade and peeling double sided tape from shoulder pads during the tenures of at least seven different Chiefs head coaches.
Even greater challenges remain. I'm not going to make any predictions, because this 7-0 season shows that my crystal ball - like just about everybody else's - needs to be returned for store credit. But the Broncos don't scare me any more. Last night, the Indianapolis Colts proved that by playing tough man-to-man pass defense and putting unrelenting pressure on Peyton Manning - which we know our Kansas City Chiefs are perfectly capable of doing at home or on the road - a team of mere mortals can, in fact, defeat them. It's no longer speculation. It's a fact. The Broncos may have Peyton Manning, but if you'll excuse the expression, they're a one trick pony. With Manning neutralized, they played like the Raiders; last night's game turned on no less than three stupid and entirely unnecessary personal fouls.
The magic is there. The men in the Chiefs locker room believe it. We believe it. And starting today - whether they like it or not - everybody else has no choice but to believe it. We're alone at the top of the AFC West and the entire NFL.
It's time for them to be scared of us.