The Wonder Years: The 1997 Chiefs Make History (Kind Of)

Russell FikeCorrespondent IMay 17, 2009

4 Oct 1998:  Outside lineback Derrick Thomas #58 of the Kansas City Chiefs sits on the field in the rain during a game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Seahawks 17-6.

It was the season of false hopes, and my devotion flourished despite crushing disappointment.  The Chiefs boasted one of the winningest records of any team in the '90s, but playoff success had not come. 

In 1997, the team battled to a 13-3 record and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  At first glance, this was the edge that had been missing from previous playoff appearances.   

Behold the power of the 12th man.  Fueled by a cornucopia of tailgate meats for which the city is notorious, the sea of red at Arrowhead stadium is recognized as one of the most disruptive forces to opponents in all of sports. 

Beware the attempt to audible or change the snap count, as fans are sure to disrupt your futile efforts. 

Confidence pulsed in the hearts of Chief fans as the red and gold rumbled to an undefeated home record leading up to the playoffs. 

However, with the Denver Broncos coming to play in the divisional round many actually considered the Chiefs underdogs.  The two teams split games that year each winning at home.  

While John Elway was already a dirty word around town, it was a two touchdown performance by Denver running back Terrell Davis that knocked the Chiefs from an optimistic pedestal. 

Despite the sour turn of events in the playoffs, the 1997 Kansas City Chiefs is a squad to admire as a fallen gladiator among the heap of too-oft forgotten non-champions.

It’s a pleasure to highlight the team time forgot, but I will always remember and drew me to the Chiefs forever.

While most remember the season as inciting a quarterback controversy between Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon, the success of the team was embodied in its voracious and wily defensive play.

Where the ’97 Chiefs defense seemed to be a crystal ball of the future was in the secondary. 

Current trends in the NFL show great emphasis on having at least one “shut-down” corner.  The catalyst and prime example of this trend was Denver trading premier running back Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins for Champ Bailey. 

Not only did both Chiefs starting corners, Dale Carter and James Hasty, make the Pro Bowl, but nickel back Mark McMillian, a testament to the underdog as the smallest player in the league (5’7” 148 pounds) had eight interceptions of his own, returning three for touchdowns. 

Carter was a model for athleticism and Hasty a crafty veteran who proved that great corners extend their careers by being students of the game. 

The defense was further bolstered by the presence of Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas, but there were unsung heroes in the trenches. 

Blue collar veteran journeyman Defensive Tackle Joe Phillips was the presence in the middle that embodied the “go-to-work” mentality of the defense and allowed Thomas and an “undersized” up and comer Donnie Edwards to make plays.

Tough and gritty are not often words associated with the primadonnas of the NFL, the wide receivers.  These egomaniacs are the focus of today’s passing game, but it wasn’t always so. 

Offensive linemen seldom get their due credit, but Chiefs fans witnessed weekly that the behemoths on the line fueled the offense.  The unit was highlighted by local heroes, guards Will Shields and Dave Szott, and center Tim Grunhard. 

At other positions, true Greg Hill was the starting running back, but fans were just waiting for future Hall-of-Famer Marcus Allen to take those goal-line carries and leap the pile for six.

Tony Gonzalez was still a backup, but the connection of Grbac (or Gannon) to Andre Rison was good for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.  Living up to the pressure for end zone celebration, Rison topped off every score by mimicking Spider-Man.

The year was more than simply successful in total wins, but the wins were earned in thrilling duels. 

A Pete Stoyanovich 50-yard field goal to beat the Broncos during the regular season was only outdone by a Monday night game with the Oakland Raiders. 

With no timeouts and 58 seconds to play Grbac took the team 80 yards completing a corner of the end zone pass to Rison for the win as time ran out.

I not only fell in love with the team, but the game.      

People like to win.  Witnessing one’s team win is the utopia of every fan.  However, in sport there must be a loser for every winner. 

By emotionally investing in this group of people who don’t even know me I submit to a rollercoaster of adrenaline, glee, and depression.  Remembering 1997, I know why I became the fan I am today.