Harry Truman was a reader. Despite his lack of a college education, few Presidents knew as much world history as he did. He loved to say that those who fail to learn from history were condemned to repeat it.
But that only counts if history has taught you the right lesson - that is, if you understand what really happened.
Yesterday I watched ESPN's 30 For 30 episode about the 1983 NFL draft - the one where three Hall Of Fame quarterbacks entered the league from the first round - and the Chiefs picked Todd Blackledge. I spent much of yesterday involved in discussions with other AP readers about what the 1983 draft really meant. In those discussions - and others - I have seen a lot of fans say that for the Chiefs, the 1983 draft was a benchwater low moment from which the team never recovered.
So as we go into the NFL Draft tonight clutching our golden ticket, let's be sure we Chiefs fans have learned the right lesson from this part of our history:
Failing to pick Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft was not the reason the Chiefs haven't won a championship since Super Bowl IV - and is not the reason the Chiefs have not drafted a quarterback in the first round since then.
We can all agree that the Chiefs blew that one. It's easy to see that Dan Marino would have been a better choice than Todd Blackledge. But Dan Marino went to the Dolphins - a team that finished 7-2 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, and was coached by the legendary Don Shula - while Blackledge went to a team that had finished 3-6 and had just been taken over by first-time NFL coach John Mackovic. While the quarterback may be the position that can have the greatest impact on a team's fortunes, he simply can't do it all by himself. To reach his potential, he must have blocking, receivers, an adequate running game and defense - and perhaps most importantly - good coaching. Marino would have had none of those things in Kansas City.
But even if you believe that Marino could have made a significant difference in the fortunes of the franchise, and then had been the guy under center for Marty Shottenheimer's teams in the 90s (who wouldn't have loved that!) you should be reminded of a point that SlipperyPete made yesterday: if the Chiefs had improved significantly with Marino in the 1980s, we might never have had the opportunity to draft Neil Smith or Derrick Thomas, Marty Shottenheimer probably wouldn't have been hired, and Jack Steadman might well have remained in charge well into the 1990s.
No... the Chiefs failed in the 1980s not because they picked wrong with Blackledge, but because Blackledge was a symptom of a larger problem: they picked wrong way too much! Not just in the draft, but in the coaching suite, too.
As for the Chiefs never again picking a quarterback in the first round, you can blame the Blackledge disaster only until Carl Peterson arrived. After that, it's pretty much squarely on his shoulders - especially with Marty Shottenheimer and Dick Vermeil as head coaches.
I knew all of these men during the years they were with the Chiefs, and trust me when I tell you that their actions weren't because they didn't appreciate the importance of a quarterback. It was precisely because they understood the quarterback's importance that they insisted on experienced veterans for the position. When Peterson hired Herm Edwards in the final years of his tenure as GM - when he was no longer seen as the franchise's savior - almost the first words out of Edwards' mouth on his arrival in Kansas City were that "young guys are gonna play." It was just Edwards' bad luck that third rounder Brodie Croyle wasn't the guy.
It's not that the Chiefs didn't draft some quarterbacks during Peterson's era. They did - on two occasions as early as the second round. You can't be blamed for forgetting this, because Mike Elkins, Matt Blundin, Steve Mathews, Steve Stenstrom and Pat Barnes never saw the light of day. Only Blundin ever played in a Chiefs uniform, and then only in two games. He never started once.
We'll never know of any of these guys could have been the answer for the Chiefs at quarterback, because the Chiefs never bothered to find out - and after these guys had done nothing but wear a ball cap and hold a clipboard for the Chiefs for a season or two, most other teams didn't want to find out, either. After leaving the Chiefs, only Stenstrom and Mathews ever started a game for another team.
So while I understand why people feel that expending two draft picks on Alex Smith is a waste, compare that to spending five draft picks on quarterbacks who combine for two games and zero starts for your team. That, my friends, is a real waste of draft picks!
As for Scott Pioli... it's definitely not that he was unwilling to draft (or play) a quarterback he had drafted. It's just that he thought he had already drafted the right guy in New England. This misjudgement is probably the main reason that he now spends his days as a commentator instead of a GM.
Look... I understand. Drafting a left tackle with the #1 pick isn't sexy or fun. When the Chiefs finally win a Super Bowl, nobody is going to say, "It's all because we drafted Luke Joeckel/Eric Fisher/Lane Johnson." Everybody - including me - would love to have a homegrown QB star lead us to the promised land.
If you want, you can argue that this is a cultural thing - that the Chiefs will never expend a high draft pick on a quarterback. But Lamar Hunt, Jack Steadman and Carl Peterson are all long gone. Clark Hunt is showing real signs that he is going to be his own man, and run the franchise his own way. History also suggests that neither John Dorsey or Andy Reid is afraid of pulling the first round QB trigger on someone they consider to be the right guy. If it doesn't happen tonight, it's just because Dorseid just don't see that guy this year.
As fans, we can't ignore the historical tendencies of the franchise, but football executives like Dorsey and Reid have no choice but to ignore those tendencies. If they consider anything beyond their own evaluation of an individual player's ability and the positional needs of their team, they are being nothing short of derelict in their duties.
So if the Chiefs don't draft a QB at #1 tonight... fear not, Chiefs fans.
Our day is coming.