Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the Thick of Things Tradition: (most of) The 80s

I don't fully understand how this post, once complete and publish-ready, hovered there for most of 12 hours yesterday, and then is gone this morning, forcing me to write it again and pre-date it. I guess, it's somewhat similar to Todd Blackledge in that regard. I mean, we're talking Chiefs-Broncos football here. We're breaking down one of the best rivalries in recent (Editor's Note: By "recent," I mean stop looking at around season end 2005.) times, and what better way to do that than begin with the infamous quarterback draft of 1983, and move forward. Thing is, I won't be able to re-create the undying with and keen insight with which I originally crafted this post, but I'll make heartfelt efforts to let you know that I'm trying, much like Blackledge's Penn State flashiness never really translated to the pros. Anyway, 1983. I pick that year because Traditionally, I would compile some numbers to show how, back in the day, the Chiefs would almost always beat the Broncos by the rough score of 117-2, and in would come the colleague-inspired commentary with the token lines like "Yeah, but what about post-Model-T-invention football," or "Dude, all that happened before we were born," or the always-swell "Sure, but your team cheated by having Gatorade invented for them, then payed league high-ups for years, filling Canton with Chief busts while our deserving Bronco martyrs are annually left out in the Ohio cold."

So I thought, let's remove the hats and canes from the stage, and start with '83.

The Chiefs drafted Blackledge with the seventh overall pick (Note: Redacted) of that NFL draft, six picks after the Baltimore Colts took John Elway out of Stanford. Elway, as we all know, did not lead the Colts to many Super Bowl losses, eventually two right-before retirement victories, and walk away from the game, handing the franchise keys to one Peyton Manning. For the record, a few of the other QBs the Chiefs passed on include Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien, Dan Marino (Note: Redacted), and I think even Gary Kubiak was in that mix. But bygones and whatnot, right?

At the conclusion of the '82 season, Chief management decided that Marv Levy was not a good coach, and fired him. Nice. In came John Mackovic to replace Levy, and in October of that season, the tradition of early-season (typically narrow) Chief losses in Denver, coupled with late-season Bronco losses in KC, was really starting to sprout. In October 1983, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney threw for 365 yards, but the visitors fell to the home team, 24-27. When the teams visited Arrowhead, the Chiefs thumped Denver 48-17 before a still-record-low crowd of 11, 377 fans. The Chiefs called it a season at 6-10, while in Denver, the Broncos' nine-win campaign got them a wildcard berth, but they would fall to the Seahawks, courtesy of solid afternoons from Steve Largent, Dave Krieg, and the original Curt Warner.

The following year, in September, Denver took advantage of a solid afternoon from Sammy Winder while ignoring an admirable effort from Blackledge, blanking the Chiefs 21-0. By mid-November, however, Bill Kenney was back under center for KC, and they scarcely beat the Broncos at Arrowhead despite another afternoon of Winder up the middle. This time, they appreciated 126 receiving yards from Carlos Carson, and hung on to win, 19-16. They'd close the season at 8-8, while Denver took a big step forward, finishing at 13-3. Unfortunately for them, they hosted the Steelers in the divisional playoff, and took a 17-24 loss at the hands of Pittsburgh, home of pedophiles -- I mean, pierogies.

Moving right along. There have, in this specimen of two teams playing each other bi-annually, been occasions for a sweep, and 1985 is one of them. Denver travelled to Kansas City first in '85, and handled KC 30-10, then beat them again at Mile High in December, another close one, 14-13. Before 69,000, John Elway put up one of many 300-yard passing days, while Vance Johnson enjoyed his performance to the tune of 116 receiving yards. Kansas City was again relegated to a 6-10 campaign, while Denver, despite 11 victories, was left out of the post-season.

The balance to the rivalry was restored in 1986, as the Chiefs travelled to Denver in November, and promptly lost, 17-38. But, Denver was back in KC for their oft-annual woe, this one in the form of a 10-37 beating. Kansas City, showing some poise under Mackovic, puts together a 10-win season, making the playoffs as a wildcard. It was, however, a contest they quickly regretted, the 35-15 walloping the Jets game them causing a long flight home from New York. Denver, however, took another big step forward. Though they won 11 games in consecutive years, this time they had the division edge, and advanced to the post-season, handling the defending-AFC-champ Patriots in the divisional playoff, and eclipsing Cleveland by a field goal in some sort of mildly famous fashion in the conference championship. They would, however, meet their demise in the form of Bill Parcell's Giants in the Super Bowl, regardless of huge games from Elway and Vance Johnson.

Though things looked better in '86 for the Chiefs, they decided to go a different direction in '87; after firing Mackovic, they promoted their, um, special teams coach to the head rank, which in hindsight, was ingenius. In this spectacle of a season, Denver came to Kansas City early, and won, though it was backup quarterback/scab Ken Karcher under center, he of the 275-yard afternoon, connecting with receiver Bobby Micho for 100+. This of course was another one of those sweep years, and a trip to Denver for the Chiefs proved another close one (17-20) but a loss for the red and gold, no less. The strike caused clubs to miss a contest that year, likely all the better for the Chiefs as they finished at 4-11. Denver, though, went down a path familiar to them. With and without starters, they put together 11 wins, and lubed the visiting Oilers in the divisional playoff, only to face the same Browns again in the conference championship. It was another game for the ages as Cleveland's Bernie Kosar put up 365 passing yards, while Denver's Mark Jackson caught for 134, the Broncos getting the edge on a late-game Earnest Byner fumble, 38-35. Their luck again ran out in the Super Bowl, this time against Doug Williams and the Redskins.

As much as I like analyzing Denver successes, I'd much rather focus on four-win Chief seasons, like, take 1988 for example. Denver again travelled to KC early, and courtesy of Steve "Master of Play Action" DeBerg (Note: Todd who?), the Chiefs prevailed by a touchdown, 20-13. Kansas City kindly returned the favor later in the season though, falling 11-17 at Mile High. Both clubs were left out of the playoffs as Denver mustered a mere seven wins.

Finally, 1989. I say "finally" because wholesale changes are made at One Arrowhead Drive as Carl Peterson comes to town as GM. His first move would be to hire Marty Schottenheimer as head coach. I also say it because this season would mark the third Denver sweep of Kansas City in seven seasons, and anytime we can get away from those numbers is just dandy by me. The Denver game is the season-opener; the Chiefs fall 20-34. The game in KC is a Denver win by a field goal, 16-13. The Chiefs manage to show some improvement, finishing the year in the black, 8-7-1, while the Broncos put together an impressive 12-win effort, beat up on Cleveland some more in the AFC title game, get smoked in the Super Bowl again, blah, blah, blah.

There. An illustrious decade in the books. From the point of the '83 draft to the end of the 80s, Denver gets the nod with 10 victories to KC's four, three sweeps to the Chiefs' none.