KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sunday’s contest between the Chiefs and Oakland Raiders marks the 110th regular-season meeting, which holds a storied history for the two teams.
“It doesn’t take very long to kind of find out what this rivalry is all about and what this history is all about,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Yeah, it’s fun. It’s what football’s about, it’s what this sport is about – games like this, having history, having a rivalry – and this game is a great example of that.”
There are postseason implications to consider Sunday with the Chiefs (6-5) attempting to hold off the Raiders (5-6).
But given the lack of hype leading to the game, is Week 13’s matchup truly an illustration of an NFL rivalry game?
The only hints of a heated challenge between opponents once holding scorn for each other are arguably found on a team’s social media page, fan-related blogs or heard on sports talk radio.
The players, for the most part, take a different approach to Sunday’s game given the nature of the very league they play. And the preparation is far different from what they experienced in the weeks leading to rivalry games in college, which are rich in tradition.
“It’s a business, it’s more of a business,” defensive lineman Nick Williams said. “In college, you got to go to class, do all that other stuff. It fuels you more in college. In the NFL, it’s a business, it’s your job.”
Defensive lineman David King, who played at Oklahoma and is a veteran of the Red River Showdown, agreed.
“In college, if you lose to that team, you got 365 days to sit around and think about that, then they got bragging rights,” King said. “In the NFL, you play your division rival, you beat them one time, you can enjoy that win until you play them again in a few more weeks. It’s more short-lived in the NFL.”
Meanwhile, Williams’ response surrounding the business side of the NFL shouldn’t surprise.
And that area has arguably led to the demise of heated NFL rivalries since the collective bargaining agreement of 1993 opened the floodgates of free agency.
A majority of players in today’s NFL often change teams numerous times in a career, and starting and finishing a career is the exception, not a norm.
“In this league, there are all these transactions all the time, so you never know,” King said. “Me coming over from Seattle, I mean, I don’t really know much about the Kansas City-Oakland rivalry. I got one of my best friends in college, he plays for the Raiders.”
King, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers from the Seahawks in Week 11, raises an interesting point when it comes to connections.
A glance at the Raiders’ roster reflects three former Chiefs, specifically center Rodney Hudson, cornerback Neiko Thorpe and guard J’Marcus Webb, who spent training camp with the Chiefs in 2014.
For the Chiefs, safety Ron Parker played three games for the Raiders in 2011 and safety Tyvon Branch spent seven seasons (2008-14) in Oakland.
With so many moving parts among personnel on any given year, players are focused on keeping jobs more than holding an opponent in disdain. They are also aware they could be playing for the other team.
“That’s the business side of it,” Williams said. “Guys don’t really get into it unless you signed like a long-term deal where you’re here and around the fans. Free agency plays a big role in it.”
King adds job security is at the top of many players’ minds.
“You just got to go out there and perform because it’s a performance-based business and the one day you can’t do that, you’re out of a job,” King said. “You always want to prepare and play up to your highest level and treat it like another game. In my opinion, no game is bigger than the next because you still have to win. You can’t put all your emotions into winning one game.”
Wide receiver Jason Avant, a 10th-year pro out of Michigan, points to another area on why NFL rivalries are hard to maintain, using college football as an example to reinforce the need for continuity.
“You can rest assured most of the time in the four to five year period, the head coach, they’re still going to be there,” Avant said. “Three or four years, the same players are going to be there.
“The thing that makes rivalries different in the pros, a lot of times there are so much coaching changes and player changes that it’s kind of hard to get everybody to understand the magnitude of the rivalry. When you have consistent coaches, that’s what makes college rivalries a little bit different than pro rivalries.”
Avant believes rivalries can exist in the modern NFL, but much depends on the success level of the two teams.
“I think rivalries are not necessarily driven by the fans and media,” Avant said. “I think it’s always going to be driven by the competitiveness of the teams and how well the games are played.
“When you think of the rivalries over the last couple of years, you think of when San Francisco was good and Seattle was good. The players both teams had were good. I think that kind of drives the rivalry when you know the games are going to be competitive each time.”
A high level of competition and something to play for has been a problem with the Chiefs and Raiders in more than a decade.
While the Chiefs have enjoyed periods of success, the Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002, finishing at .500 just twice during that span.
But Sunday’s matchup could offer a hint of rivalry from years gone by.
The Chiefs currently hold the fifth playoff seed and sit in second place in the AFC West, while the Raiders are very much alive in the wildcard chase at a game behind the Chiefs and Houston Texans, who currently hold the sixth seed at 6-5.
A win on Sunday would offer the Chiefs a two-game lead over the Raiders and a tiebreaker, but a loss gives the tiebreaker to the Raiders.
Those scenarios signal plenty at stake and the competition should be fierce.
“It’s a must-win game, so everything is going to be brought out in this game from the standpoint of the rivalry and just the fact both teams need this win,” Raiders rookie linebacker Ben Heeney said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s going to be a great game.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
• The Chiefs rank sixth in rushing (124.3 yards per game) and 24th in passing (227 yards per game).
• The Raiders rank 23rd in rushing (96.1 yards per game) and eighth in passing (266.7 yards per game).
• The Chiefs rank ninth against the run (95.9 yards allowed per game) and 11th against the pass (239.5 yards allowed per game).
• The Raiders rank 18th against the run (108.3 yards allowed per game) and 29th against the pass (282.7 yards allowed per game).
THE LAST TIME
The Chiefs defeated the Raiders, 31-13, in Week 15 of the 2014 season to split the two-game series.
Sunday’s contest marks the 110th regular-season meeting between the Chiefs and Raiders, with the Chiefs leading the all-time series 56-51-2.
The Chiefs’ 58 combined regular and postseason victories against the Raiders are the club’s most versus a single opponent in team history.
Including the postseason, the Chiefs are 18-19-1 against the Raiders at O.co Coliseum, alternating wins and losses in the last six matchups.
• Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters grew up in Oakland.
• Chiefs DB Ron Parker appeared in three games with the Raiders in 2011.
• Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch entered the league in 2008 as a fourth-round pick of the Raiders and spent seven seasons in Oakland (2008-14).
• Raiders coach Jack Del Rio spent two seasons as a linebacker for the Chiefs (1987-88).
• Raiders running backs coach Bernie Parmalee served as the Chiefs tight end coach for three seasons (2010-12).
• Raiders center Rodney Hudson entered the league as a second-round pick of the Chiefs in 2011 and spent four season in Kansas City (2011-14).
• Raiders guard J’Marcus Webb spent training camp with the Chiefs in 2014.
• Raiders rookie linebacker Ben Heeney, a native of Hutchinson, Kan., and rookie cornerback Dexter McDonald, a native of Kansas City, played collegiately at Kansas.
Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, a native of Oakland, on playing in his hometown:
“Man, I’m hoping the town comes out.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on safety Eric Berry being nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award:
“Whether he gets the award or not, I think the Eric Berry story is a great story.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on center Rodney Hudson, who spent the first four years of his career with the Chiefs:
“He’s one of the best centers in this league, if not the best.”
Raiders rookie linebacker Ben Heeney on being in Oakland with former Kansas Jayhawks teammate, cornerback Dexter McDonald:
“I love Dex. I’m just happy we’re both here.”