September 20, 1987.
On that day - the second Sunday of the NFL season - the Chiefs lost to the Seahawks 44-13, dropping them to 1-1 on the young season. It's doubtful anyone watching the game recognized how significant that day would be in Chiefs history. Even now, I'd bet you're wondering about its significance.
But on that day, Todd Blackledge started his last game as a Kansas City Chief, thereby making this long-forgotten contest the last time the Chiefs started a quarterback they had drafted in the first round.
In the three decades since that day - both inside and outside of what we now call Chiefs Kingdom - this has arguably become the most recognized aspect of the franchise: its inability to draft a quarterback in the first round. A quick Google search reveals these quotes:
"We're here to talk about the utter ineptitude of the Chiefs organization over the course of history when it comes to drafting and developing a quarterback"
"About half the time, a quarterback is the first overall selection of the NFL Draft. Historically, they've been prioritized by every team on draft day. Except for the Kansas City Chiefs, who do not give a shit."
"The sooner owner Clark Hunt hires a young coach, finds a number one or two or three draft pick quarterback and starts to build something, the longer it will be before the Chiefs matter. Right now they just don’t matter. They’re cannon fodder for other NFL teams."
So on September 20, 1987, a quarterback controversy began for the Kansas City Chiefs - one that has lasted for 30 years.
My father started his career as a prosecuting attorney, and eventually become an appellate court judge. So I grew up in a house where dinner table conversations often revolved around legal and political issues. When Dad was a prosecutor - back around the time the Chiefs last won a Super Bowl - I remember a conversation about whether he was going to have to take action against a local social club that was running a lottery, which was then illegal under Missouri law. Over the roast beef, Dad explained that under the law, three elements had to be present for a game to be a lottery: prize (you could win something in the game) consideration (it cost you something to play the game) and chance (whether you won something was random chance).
So as my father's son, I examine a quarterback controversy in the same way. A quarterback controversy requires three elements: an entrenched starting QB, a backup QB perceived as a better player, and a lack of success on the field. Only rarely in the last 30 years have the Chiefs met all the conditions necessary for a quarterback controversy. (See: Gannon vs. Grbac, 1997)
Yet during all of those years, a quarterback controversy was bubbling just under the surface - if not right out in the open. Even a dozen years ago - when Trent Green played at a level unseen since the Chiefs had Len Dawson under center - fans were grumbling about "retread QBs," saying that until the Chiefs drafted a first round QB, they would be doomed to fail.
Then, of course, something amazing happened: in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs made a deal to move up and draft Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech. Given that the Chiefs quarterback was Alex Smith - labeled as a weak-armed game manager (if not an outright bust) in San Francisco - it was only a matter of time before a traditional quarterback controversy erupted in Kansas City. I can actually sum up what has happened in 2017 with three of my own tweets - one before the season started, one in early October, and one in early December:
#Chiefs QB controversy officially begins at 1st 3 & out in NE. Will be premature. Mahomes is special. Let's allow him to be extra special.— John Dixon (@RDOGuy) September 1, 2017
As if there isn't *already* enough going on to wonder whether we've traveled en masse to some topsy-turvy alternate universe, we're now at the point where if the #Chiefs played in the Super Bowl, their fans would root for them to lose, ensuring Mahomes will start in 2018.— John Dixon (@RDOGuy) December 4, 2017
I'm not going to suggest that during the last three decades, it wasn't OK for Chiefs fans to be obsessed with drafting a highly-touted quarterback. I'm not going to say that we shouldn't be eager to see our shiny new first round gunslinger on the field. I'm OK with all of that.
But it's reasonable to ask if we have we become so obsessed with this long-festering quarterback situation that we have lost our sense of proportion. There will be always be differences of opinion about what the Chiefs should (or shouldn't) do, but aren't we all in agreement that winning a Super Bowl is the most important thing? As long as there is a chance for that to happen, doesn't that take precedence over everything else?
I understand the argument: the odds that the Chiefs can win the Super Bowl are long, so why not look to the future, instead of focusing on an impossible dream? But is it really that impossible? It's true that seven of the last eight teams to make the Super Bowl were #1 seeds in their conferences. But I remind you that three of the last seven to win the Super Bowl were not #1 seeds. They entered the playoffs at 10-6 or 9-7.
Besides ... you can easily argue that this Chiefs team is the most balanced to enter the playoffs since... well... you know... then. This Chiefs team isn't an offensive powerhouse lacking an effective defense. Nor does it feature a monstrous defense and an anemic offense. It isn't a middling team with a questionable quarterback that "backed in" to the playoffs. Those are all reasonable descriptions of every Chiefs playoff team since they played their home games at Municipal Stadium - and none of them apply to the team that will begin the playoffs at Arrowhead in January.
Wouldn't it be something if after all those seasons of bitter disappointment - when we entered the playoffs in the catbird seat and went one and out - we win another championship? When nobody - and I mean nobody - expects it? When after five long years of arguments whose basic premise is that Alex Smith cannot win a championship, he does win a championship? It's true that if such a thing were to happen, some of the offseason decisions the Chiefs will make will be more difficult, but so what? What's the real downside in having to choose between a quarterback who just won a Super Bowl, and another one with the potential to win more? In what world is this anything less than the best possible outcome?
Speaking for myself, I'm rooting for the best possible outcome. Clark Hunt deserves it. Andy Reid deserves it. Alex Smith deserves it. And above all... we deserve it.