After their 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship, the Chiefs cemented their spot in Super Bowl LV — the franchise’s second consecutive appearance in the title game. After 50 seasons of falling short of the goal, this version of the Chiefs has turned an unthinkable goal into an expected reality.
The triumph of last year’s team is hard to top, because there’s nothing like the first time. For Chiefs’ owner Clark Hunt, the celebration following the 2020 AFC Championship can’t be beat.
“Well, this year is definitely different than last year,” Hunt told reporters in his post-game press conference. “In a lot of ways, last year was the finish line for a quest that we’d been on for literally 50 years, and that first time that you achieve what you set out to achieve will always be that special.
“But what I remember about last year was getting to lift that trophy in front of our great fans at Arrowhead Stadium, with my mom on stage. That setting I’ll never forget. That moment will be one of the most special in my entire life.
“So, so glad to get to do it again. I thought a lot about my dad tonight. I thought about my family and how excited my father would’ve been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead. That’s what he would’ve liked best about it.”
While the team’s owner admits last year’s feelings can’t be replicated, the players and coaches can’t let that be the case. Any letdown of emotion or energy could be the reason the Chiefs don’t “run it back.”
There’s also the obvious difference from last year: the coronavirus pandemic. In his post-game presser, general manager Brett Veach said he believes the on-field talent proved themselves last season — but by battling the global pandemic all year, he believes the entire organization proved themselves.
“Last year we certainly had the opportunity to show what type of talent we have on the field, and I think this year we got to show them what type of talent we have in the organization to get through this season with all the adversity,” he said. “Our trainers are phenomenal, our training staff, the facilities people, the ground crew. It’s been challenging, but we’re certainly blessed to have the talent we have top down — so thanks to all those guys for their support throughout the season.”
For the players, it’d be easy to say that this year is different just because of the season’s abnormalities. However, tight end Travis Kelce feels a change in anticipation for the big game.
“I think it’s different in a way of... I can’t really put my finger on it,” Kelce began. “It’s almost like it’s a little bit more exciting. Last year, it was question of whether or not we belong, and this year, it was about proving we are who we are.”
They have one more game to solidify their reputation as the uncontested, unquestionable champion of the league. After they did it last year, the team was able to celebrate with a parade — but shortly after, COVID-19 shut down the country and many chances to further celebrate the championship.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill believes that is fueling some Chiefs players. In a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Wednesday, he talked about the team’s hunger for a second championship.
“Last year was kind of like a blessing in disguise for this team. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy it, so everybody’s still hungry for another Super Bowl, and everyone still wants to enjoy the full experience of having a Super Bowl. Guys in the locker room are just hungry. During the Buffalo Bills game, guys were in the locker room focused. Usually, I walk by guys and we’ll laugh, play, and talk — but the Bills’ game, I feel like guys took it personally, being downplayed, underestimated going into the Bills’ game. Guys were just focused, tunnel-visioned.”
More excited. More focused. If Kelce and Hill’s words are any indication, Chiefs players may be even more locked in to their goal than they were a year ago.
They’ll need to be, because the main difference this year is in the opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Playing in his 10th Super Bowl, he’s as accustomed to the moment as they come — the complete opposite of facing a young, unproven signal-caller like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
A year ago, the Chiefs achieved a big goal: proving they could win a Super Bowl. Now they face an even bigger challenge: proving that they can keep winning them.