It’s an age-old cliche to use previous disappointments as fuel to succeed in the future.
Nearly every sports club in the world would come out publicly in the offseason and say that last year wasn’t good enough and that their goal is to get better. Using failure as motivation for success isn’t something new. What separates the good from the great is the ability to fulfill these promises.
When a team falls short, they instantly look back at what made the difference between success and failure. What are the small things that they could have changed? What play could have been different? Which personal decision wasn’t quite right? The ability to self-evaluate is what really matters when a team attempts to re-tool and try again.
Thankfully, the Chiefs have all of the above in abundance.
The Chiefs have found themselves in this position before. After losing the 2018-19 AFC championship game, the laser-focused 2019-20 Chiefs team then regrouped, shuffled the deck, and then went on to right the wrongs of the previous season, winning Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20.
After suffering a humbling loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55, the Chiefs are in that position once again.
As Travis Kelce described on Tuesday, losing in a Super Bowl is all the motivation he needs:
“I think right now everybody is more motivated now than we were before we won a Super Bowl,” said Kelce. “I think everybody has still got a bad taste in our mouth on how we finished the season last year, and it’s just, that’s fueling the fire. We’ve got a lot of guys flying around right now, excited to come to practice, excited to go to work and excited to try and get this thing rolling in the right direction early and keep it in that direction.”
Keeping a team in the right direction is not an easy task. Year after year, we see so-called challengers fall away. These teams have the best intentions of staying at the top, but for whatever reason, they can’t. The turnover of teams amongst the league’s elite is something the NFL is now famous for.
The Chiefs have moved onto 2021
Part of keeping a team at the top is realizing weaknesses and addressing them accordingly. After an embarrassing showing from the team in Super Bowl LV, the responsibility of reequipping the Chiefs roster fell firmly on Chiefs general manager Brett Veach’s shoulders. It was Veach’s offseason work that received the Travis Kelce stamp of approval.
“I think Brett Veach and the coaches and the front office did a great job of bringing in guys that are ready to work,” explained Kelce. “They brought in championship-level guys, guys that have been in the playoffs, guys that have been in Super Bowls, guys that are just pros. And that’s the biggest thing — is to be able to have a culture — coach Reid has laid the foundation here, and the leaders in this building have laid the foundation. It makes it easy for guys that are professionals that actually want to go to work and want to win, and it means something to them to come in and find that culture and appreciate it and add to it.”
While talent can get you so far, the Chiefs identify culture fit as just an important attribute. Despite personal problems with Andy Reid, former Chiefs running back Le’veon Bell did point out that the Chiefs’ locker room was the closest NFL locker room he has been a part of.
In Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s opinion, maintaining a winning culture starts with one man.
“That’s something that I always loved about coach Reid,” noted Kelce. “Being here nine years now, you see a lot of guys come and go, a lot of guys that you wish we could have never let go and that’s the business of the NFL. So you just got to be able to, every single year, kind of re-boot that entire chemistry, the entire team. Every year’s a new year. No matter who’s in the building, no matter who you got. You got to be able to create that new team with the guys that are in the building.”
Individual goals as a means to team goals
While team expectations and the ability to meet them is ultimately how we will judge the Chiefs’ 2021 season, each player and position group will have their own goals. For Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark, this starts with taking the defense to a whole new level — and a key will be making sure they enjoy themselves.
“Man, I feel like we’re going to have a lot of fun out there,” said Clark. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are willing to step up. Some guys you don’t even need to name, you’ve got Khalen Saunders, and it’s a lot of young talent. I feel like over the first few years we had, we were new, we didn’t really know each other. It was one of those types of things where we were playing, but I feel like at this point going into Year 3, basically with our foundation kind of being set now with us knowing the layout of our defense, knowing where each person is going to be, knowing how each person plays, I feel like that all plays into our favor, honestly.”
Part of winning football games is having fun. As a whole, the sporting community tends to forget that we are watching grown men and women play children’s games for a living. So when a player comes out and mentions the word “fun” as part of their aspirations for the season, we shouldn’t take that as a form of unprofessionalism. Winning is fun — supporting a team that wins is fun. The aim of any team should be to have as much fun as possible.
There can be little doubt that the Chiefs will be having fun, but behind the smiles and the celebrations, there will be a group of players and coaches who are still thinking about the pain of Super Bowl LV. A game that was the polar opposite of fun.
To get back to where they want to be, the Chiefs will need to dig deep, tapping back into the character they showed in 2019.
As Kelce so famously put once, “That’s how you handle adversity; you smack it right in the mouth.”