With Sunday afternoon’s overwhelming, fear-inducing 36-10 thrashing of a longtime nemesis — the Pittsburgh Steelers — the Kansas City Chiefs have now collected their sixth consecutive AFC West title.
Even through the team’s previous periods of success, no Chiefs team ever approached this level of sustained accomplishment. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 — under current head coach Andy Reid — that the team had even won back-to-back division championships.
But it’s not just the first time the Chiefs have ever done it. It’s the first time any team has dominated this division for so long.
In the late 1960s through the late 1970s — mostly under head coach John Madden — the then-Oakland Raiders won it four consecutive times, finished second in one season and then ran off a string of five straight AFC West titles.
With Peyton Manning under center in the first half of the last decade, the Denver Broncos reeled off five straight. But even when John Elway was their quarterback from 1983 through 1998, the Broncos never managed more than two in a row.
With head coach Sid Gillman and quarterback John Hadl during the AFL’s early years, the then-San Diego Chargers once won three straight. Almost 20 years later, with Don Coryell and Dan Fouts, they did it again. Two decades after that — during Philip Rivers’ first seasons with the team — the Chargers managed four straight.
The Seattle Seahawks once won four straight with Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck — but that was after the team had moved to the NFC West. From its founding in 1977 until it moved to the senior conference in 2002, the franchise never even put together a string of two division championships.
So within the division it has proudly occupied for almost 62 seasons, Kansas City has now done something no other team has ever been able to do — and in the modern era, few teams have done in any other division.
The Steelers (1974-1979) and Minnesota Vikings (1973-1978) each had strings of six consecutive division titles. (Like Madden’s Raiders, Bud Grant’s Vikings had a group of four immediately before that). From 1973 through 1979, the Los Angeles Rams had seven consecutive division titles.
Still... the Chiefs have now entered a realm in which very few NFL teams have ever found themselves. But there are a couple of things that make this streak stand apart.
One is the nature of this season. Seven games in, the Chiefs had been given up for dead. Few thought the team had a chance at a Wild Card berth — much less a chance to clinch the division with two games remaining and also be in play for the AFC’s postseason bye.
The other is the nature of the streak itself. Most of the ones described here have depended on a top coach and quarterback — but the Chiefs won the first two titles of this run with Alex Smith under center. In those seasons, it was the Kansas City defense that kept the team in contention — not the offense.
And that brings us to the main point of this exercise: recognizing that it all begins with Reid. Like the great Don Shula — who won 328 games over 33 seasons in the NFL, AFL and the modern NFL simply by finding ways to make the players available to him successful — over his long career, Reid has shown that he can do the same thing: win games using the talent on his roster.
In Kansas City, Reid has also shown the ability to build a successful team culture — one that allows his squads to weather adversity like no others. Now twice during his nine-year stint with the Chiefs, his teams have put aside horrible starts to make the playoffs.
There are some who will make a compelling argument that until Reid appears in another Super Bowl or wins another championship, he will remain in the shadow of the great Hank Stram, who guided the team during the first quarter of its existence. And that’s fair. But it can now be argued that Reid’s record — which comes during a time of league parity unlike any in which The Mentor competed — has already exceeded that of the team’s original Hall of Fame coach.
Either way, we’re watching the Chiefs play during an unprecedented era of achievement. And there are few signs it will end any time soon.