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Ranking the Chiefs: Jan Stenerud turned placekickers into weapons

On Saturdays through May, Arrowhead Pride contributors weigh in on the five best Chiefs of all time. After a break for NFL Draft Weekend, John Dixon takes a turn.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Minnesota Vikings

On Saturdays through May, Arrowhead Pride contributors list (and explain) their top five Kansas City Chiefs of all time.

  1. Edge rusher Derrick Thomas
  2. Tight end Tony Gonzalez
  3. Quarterback Len Dawson
  4. Linebacker Willie Lanier
  5. Placekicker Jan Stenerud

I think that any list of a team’s five greatest all-time players should make no attempt to predict the future. That’s why Patrick Mahomes isn’t on this one. Make no mistake: there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Mahomes will someday be on it, but after only two (albeit spectacular) seasons, I simply can’t put him on a list of all-time greats.

I also think that an all-time list should include those who made lasting impacts on the game itself. On that basis, I believe Derrick Thomas has to be listed first. Many of my fellow contributors who have included him chose to call him an edge rusher — a term that didn’t exist when he played. That tells you all you need to know about his impact. The man dominated opposing linemen using skills no one had ever seen before.

Likewise, Tony Gonzalez must be included. You can argue that Travis Kelce is a more productive tight end — but without Gonzalez, Kelce doesn’t exist. Gonzalez revolutionized the way tight ends play the game. I understand why some Chiefs fans took offense with statements he made later — I’m a fan, too — but it was never realistic to expect him to join the Atlanta Falcons and tell the local media, “I’m just here hoping to collect a Super Bowl ring. My heart will always be in Kansas City.” Perhaps we should give the man a break. In any case, none of that changes the contributions he made to the Chiefs — and the NFL.

In an AFL dominated by gunslinging quarterbacks, Dawson led his team to three championships (and two Super Bowls) over ten seasons. His success wasn’t because of his athleticism, but rather his toughness, intelligence and calm leadership; they didn’t call him “Lenny the Cool” for nothing. In many ways, he was the prototype for most of the quarterbacks we now consider among the greatest of all time.

It’s hard to choose among the players who made up what is universally regarded as one of the best defenses in professional football history. Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, and Johnny Robinson all deserve consideration. During his career, Willie Lanier was often overshadowed by the great Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears, but I’d take Lanier any day. Like Dawson, Lanier was the kind of linebacker who would be prized today: tough and strong enough to stop running backs in their tracks, but also athletic enough to be effective in coverage. He was always one of the smartest players on the field — and always knew exactly when his teammates needed leadership.

Jan Stenerud wasn’t the first “soccer-style” kicker in professional football, but he was the one who first mastered it — and permanently made it the only way to put three points on the board. Before Stenerud, placekicking was an afterthought. He not only turned it into a science, but demonstrated placekickers needed to be considered as offensive weapons who could win games; playing on Chiefs teams with smothering defenses, Stenerud often outscored the other team all by himself.

We’ve only been considering Chiefs players in these lists, but I feel we need to mention two other great Chiefs who never set foot on the field.

Today, it’s easy for younger fans to see head coach Hank Stram almost as a comic book character; that’s the message given by repeated showings of Stram on the sidelines of Super Bowl IV. To be sure, he was a showman — even a peacock. But he was also a true out-of-the-box innovator who left a big imprint on the modern game.

And you cannot speak of players like Bell, Buchanan and Lanier without acknowledging they owed their careers to Chiefs scout Lloyd Wells, who tirelessly combed the historically black colleges of America to find them — and dozens of other great players. The Chiefs weren’t the first professional football team to put black players on the field, but Stram and Wells were among those who finally normalized them. Forever afterward, black players weren’t just tolerated, but embraced. Pro football — and America — would never be the same.


How perfect is this list?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Strongly perfect
    (140 votes)
  • 53%
    Somewhat perfect
    (264 votes)
  • 12%
    Somewhat imperfect
    (61 votes)
  • 5%
    Strongly imperfect
    (26 votes)
491 votes total Vote Now

Cumulative ranking

  • Patrick Mahomes (19 points)
  • Derrick Thomas (16)
  • Len Dawson (13)
  • Jamaal Charles (6)
  • Will Shields (4)
  • Tony Gonzalez (4)
  • Derrick Johnson (3)
  • Eric Berry (3)
  • Travis Kelce (2)
  • Willie Lanier (2)
  • Bobby Bell (1)
  • Alex Smith (1)
  • Jan Stenerud (1)

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