In just a couple of weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs begin their 2022 training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. For the first time, newly-signed veterans (and a fresh crop of exciting rookies) will put on their pads, beginning their quest to win over fans’ hearts. Veterans will remember the hill they must walk to practice, while the rookies begin their careers under head coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs’ legacy is something that has not always been discussed, because its success has come only in pockets. In the four years just before the NFL-AFL merger, the Chiefs were a standout team that represented the AFL in the first Super Bowl before winning Super Bowl IV. After that, there was a whole lot of nothing. In the 20 years between the 1969 Super Bowl win and the 1990 season, Kansas City made only two playoff appearances — and won the division just once.
But right now, we are truly in a golden era of Chiefs football.
This got me thinking about the best, most iconic Chiefs figures of all time. While everyone has their own list, I wanted to put mine in my own franchise Mt. Rushmore.
But before we dive into these titans of the Chiefs’ history, here are my honorable mentions.
- Mitch Holthus: He is the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs. I don’t remember a time without him screaming, “Touchdown KAN-SAS CITY” and leading the hype parade from the beginning of training camp through the end of the season. I truly believe that no one bleeds red and gold more than Holthus does.
- Travis Kelce: The tight end is in the conversation as one of the best tight ends of the game. Watching Kelce have fun on the football field — and his engagement with fans — has brought many people closer to the game. He’s one of my absolute favorites. I hate that I couldn’t squeeze him onto the list.
- Will Shields: The Hall of Fame right guard was honored with 12 straight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections and the NFL’s 2003 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He was extremely professional and durable, missing only a single game during his 14-year career.
- Hank Stram, Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid: Each of these head coaches has many reasons to be on this list; I would listen to an argument for any one of them. Both on and off the field, these men all made their mark on the Arrowhead experience — and what it means to be a Chiefs fan.
My Chiefs Mt. Rushmore
I’m sorry, but you can’t start any list of Kansas City greats without first including the man who was the visionary behind it all. Hunt’s resilience after being turned down for an NFL expansion team — and the purchase of the Chicago Cardinals — back in 1959 led to his formation of the rival American Football League in 1960. After moving his Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963, Hunt led the Chiefs and AFL towards a merger with the NFL, eventually coining the term “Super Bowl” for the championship game between the two leagues.
He wasn’t just a visionary for football. Hunt is also a member of the Soccer Hall of Fame for his contributions to start the MLS — and owning two of the original 10 teams: the Kansas City Wiz and the Columbus Crew. Hunt is also in the Tennis Hall of Fame for his contributions to World Championship Tennis, for which he recruited some of the best amateur players in the world and made changes to how the sport is played today — including colored clothing and a tie-breaker system.
For me, one of the most-cherished facts about Hunt is that he never wanted to be called the owner of the Chiefs. Instead, he wanted to be known as the team’s founder.
The Ohio-born quarterback remains Kansas City’s all-time leading passer, totaling 28,507 yards during his 14 seasons in Dallas and Kansas City and holding every franchise passing record — that is, until you-know-who came along. Selected to seven Pro Bowls, Dawson took the Chiefs to two Super Bowl appearances. He led the team to victory Super Bowl IV and was also named the game’s MVP. In the twilight of his career, Dawson won the league’s 1973 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. In 1987, he was inducted into to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Plus... we will always have this photo.
This is Chiefs QB and HOFer Len Dawson smoking a cigarette and drinking a Fresca at halftime of SB I. You’re welcome pic.twitter.com/16CF3pP9Wo— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 16, 2020
Dawson made obvious impacts on the field, but his off-the-field impacts may actually have been greater. When the franchise moved to Kansas City, a new fanbase had to be built. Dawson would finish football practice at 5 p.m. and then rush downtown to appear on a 6 p.m. newscast — because he believed that if the team was ever going to sell any tickets, the community needed to know what the Chiefs were doing. For 10 years during his NFL career, Dawson had a radio show four times a day, five days a week. Each show was only around two minutes long, but the show had a huge impact. His collaboration with the Red Coaters to enhance the Chiefs’ pre-game pageantry is part of what makes Arrowhead so special today.
Thomas was the guy who once again made it cool to be a Chiefs fan. The Miami-born linebacker from the University of Alabama brought a transformative culture to Kansas City with Marty Schottenheimer. Thomas is still regarded as one of the greatest pass rushers of all time.
In his 11-year career, Thomas collected many awards for his contributions on the field, winning Rookie of the Year after collecting 10 sacks — and then following that with a 20-sack campaign that earned him second place in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He earned nine straight Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro selections, won the 1993 Walter Payton Man of the Year award and a spot in the 1990s All-Decade team.
He remains the Chiefs’ all-time leader in sacks, safeties, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns.
He created moments inside Arrowhead that we still feel 30 years later. Fans make noise and disturb the quarterback because we feel that we made the difference in that split-second that helped No. 58 get the sack. His historic game against the Seattle Seahawks — in which he sacked quarterback Dave Kreig seven times — still stands as a record today. You may have forgotten that he nearly did it again in 1998, when he had a six-sack game against the division rival Oakland Raiders and quarterback Jeff George.
In 2009, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Later that same year, the Chiefs retired the number 58 in his honor. The Chiefs also have named their Player of the Year award — which Thomas won twice — in his honor.
Some might say it's too early in his career for the team’s current quarterback to be placed on this mountain, but I would ask this question: What are you waiting for? What is it that you haven’t yet seen that would keep him off this list?
In his first season as a starter, he won the NFL’s MVP award — something no other Chiefs player has ever done. He’s taken the team to four straight AFC Championship games — winning two of them. He led the Chiefs on a miracle Super Bowl LIV run that ended with him as the Super Bowl MVP. In each of his four starting seasons, he’s been named to the Pro Bowl and has been a first-team All-Pro selection. And he’s shattered every single-season passing record in franchise history.
In his short four-year career, Mahomes now has eight playoff victories as a starter. All other Chiefs quarterbacks combined have only nine. He already has more playoff wins than Dan Marino and Eli Manning — and with another deep playoff run in 2022, could pass Kurt Warner, Jim Kelly, Bart Starr and Drew Brees. This season, he will be looking to surpass passing records set by Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
And here’s the best part: he’s just getting started. At only 26 years of age, Mahomes has the drive to continue excelling, taking the franchise to heights unknown in Kansas City. He’s a celebrity in the same way that George Brett, Derrick Thomas and Bo Jackson were before him.
It’s safe to say that Mahomes’ legacy has already been established. But what happens from here?
We can hardly wait to find out.