KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The football clock has ticked off quite a few days, months and years since the last time the Chiefs won a game in the NFL playoffs.
When kickoff opens the Chiefs’ AFC wildcard game on Saturday against the Texans in Houston, it will have been 21 years, 11 months and 24 days since the Hunt Family franchise enjoyed postseason success.
That 28-20 victory over the Houston Oilers came in a very different time and place than this weekend’s trip to south Texas.
“Man, I didn’t know that,” said running back Charcandrick West, unaware of a winning drought already in its third decade.
Of course, he was not yet 3 years old when the Chiefs last won.
“We need to change that,” West said.
That generational gap can be found not only among fans, but especially in the locker room.
On Jan. 16, 1994, defensive back Steven Nelson wasn’t even two months old and cornerback Marcus Peters was 1-year, 1-week old. Safety Eric Berry was 5 years old growing up in Georgia. Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson was two weeks short of his 26th birthday and was backing up Dan Marino with the Miami Dolphins.
Quarterback Alex Smith was getting closer to his 10th birthday in San Diego and punter Dustin Colquitt was 11 years old and playing a lot of soccer in Knoxville, Tenn. Andy Reid was two months short of his 36th birthday and he was in his second season as an assistant coach with the Packers in Green Bay.
Those names were not on the radar screen of Chiefs fans during that first month of 1994. They were talking about quarterback Joe Montana, running back Marcus Allen, linebacker Derrick Thomas, defensive end Neil Smith and head coach Marty Schottenheimer.
It had been an attention-filled season for the Chiefs, welcoming Montana and Allen to Kansas City with the introduction of the West Coast offense installed by new coordinator Paul Hackett. They won the AFC West with an 11-5 record; one of those defeats came in the second game on the schedule when they were shutout by the Oilers in Houston 30-0. The Chiefs were the third seed in the AFC playoffs, giving them a first-round game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By his own description, Montana was awful in the first half of that game, completing just six of 15 passes for 73 yards. His first seven throws were incomplete. The man they called “Joe Cool” admitted he was flustered and out of sorts because of the pressure he felt in his role as the man that was going to lead the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl.
“I was so nervous, I kind of got myself all balled up with the idea of the playoffs,” Montana said at the time. “I wanted to do so well. I tried to be too perfect and I ended up putting us in a hole.”
Montana got his act together in the second half, driving the Chiefs offense to a pair of touchdowns and two field goals, wrapping it up in overtime with a 32-yard field goal and the Chiefs were headed for Houston. The would face an Oilers team that finished the season 12-4, thanks to an 11-game winning streak to close out the schedule.
Quarterback Warren Moon was the leader of the run-and-shoot offense that used four wide receivers, while the Houston blitzing defense was coordinated by Buddy Ryan, the grumpy grandfather that created the 46 defense in the mid-1980s with the Chicago Bears.
Hours before kickoff, Thomas and Neil Smith were walking across the Astrodome turf. Nobody in the NFL liked playing on the dome’s rug that was in a state of disrepair; the artificial surface was worn and there were large seams where the pieces no longer butted up against each other.
Smith reached down and pulled from a seam a large nail, about 10 inches long, that was rusted, but still had a very pointed tip.
“We’d better go in and make sure we are up-to-date on our tetanus shots,” Thomas said then with a laugh.
Smith was anything but sanguine – he blistered the air with a diatribe about the poor field conditions that echoed through the dome.
As they did in the Pittsburgh game, the Chiefs started slowly, trailing 10-0 at halftime after posting just 99 offensive yards and only 12 rushing yards. Montana was nine of 20 with an interception. Once again the Chiefs offense clicked in the second half as they scored four touchdowns and the defense clobbered Moon, sacking him nine times. Montana threw scoring passes to tight end Keith Cash, and wide receivers Willie Davis and J.J. Birden. Allen sealed the deal with a 21-yard touchdown run with two minutes to play.
Schottenheimer was the first person in the Chiefs locker room after the game. He stormed in, grabbed a soda and then flung a towel against a wall.
“F&%#$ Buddy Ryan,” the head coach yelled.
As everyone else filed in, there was great excitement in the room, but their opponent for the AFC Championship Game was quickly in their thoughts.
Had they known the next winning performance for Kansas City in the playoffs would take more than two decades, they might have celebrated a bit more. A week later, the Chiefs lost to the Bills in Buffalo 30-13 and wrapped up their 1993 season one game short of the Super Bowl.
And the Chiefs, their fans and all of Kansas City have been waiting for another chance to experience postseason success, a wait now of 21 years, 11 months and 24 days.