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Chapter 10 - Deja Vu: The Chiefs QB Controversy During the Mid 80s

Posted Aug 13, 2015

…all over again

This is another in a season-long series on the Kansas City Chiefs search for a franchise quarterback. It appears weekly on Thursdays throughout the 2015 season.

SEE ALL PAST CHAPTERS HERE




At the start of the 1984 season, fate seemed to side with the Chiefs and with Todd Blackledge.  It was fate that Bill Kenney had been injured and finally Blackledge would get his chance.  It was fate that the first two games of the season would come on the road, and it was fate that even with this challenge Blackledge would lead the team to consecutive victories. 

Was it fate that the Chiefs would have their franchise quarterback and that Blackledge would join the other starting quarterbacks from the NFL draft class of 1983?

A statistical comparison of the Chiefs’ offense through the early weeks of the 1983 season, when Kenney and everyone was struggling to learn Mackovic’s new offense, and the first six weeks of 1984 when Blackledge was the starter after Kenney suffered a displaced fracture of his right thumb in the final pre-season game, would show that the latter was more productive. 

Of greater importance, the team had a better record and had also scored more points under Blackledge, although it could never be said that he had anything close to Kenney-like stats.

Blackledge would start the 1984 at QB

But sadly, it didn’t last and while Mackovic insisted he was “a one-quarterback coach,” he eventually went back to Kenney when Blackledge faltered to move the ball. 

It happened again the following year. The team got off to a great start at 3-1 and then went on to lose a record seven consecutive games until Blackledge relieved Kenney again.  Against the Rams, Blackledge threw six interceptions in a 16-0 loss.  The losing streak assured the franchise of its 11th losing season in the previous 12 years.

By the time the Indianapolis game rolled around, Kenney was a beaten and bruised man because of poor protection from his offensive line. He had been playing behind a line that was missing two starters due to injury. 

Mackovic’s famed offense was a shadow of what it had been in 1983. Against Denver, Houston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the Chiefs had a total of 127 yards of offense in the first quarter, an average of 32 yards.  They averaged 285 yards a game in those contests, Kenney compiling five of 24 first-quarter passes for 76 yards and no touchdowns. To no surprise, the Chiefs lost all these games.

With Kenney so beat up, Mackovic made the decision to go with Blackledge the last five games of the 1985 season.  He believed that giving him the ball for the rest of the way would help his confidence since he would not have to always be looking over his shoulder.  His only start that season had been against the Rams and his play had been dreadful.

With Kenney injured, Blackledge was the starter the final 5 games of 1985

The 1986 season brightened spirits for long-time followers of the Chiefs, who had stuck with them through the coaching and quarterback changes. It featured a four game winning streak — no small feat for a Chiefs team in the ‘70s and ‘80s — after a 3-3 start then a three-game losing streak and finally three consecutive wins.  To the surprise of all and with their backs to the wall, the Chiefs had to beat Denver at home, win at LA and defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and they did.

Defense and special teams were at the forefront of the wins, not offense.  The two units accounted for 10 touchdowns.  Twenty of the 24 points on the final day of the regular season win against Pittsburgh were scored by special teams.

Once again, Blackledge and Kenney split time throughout the year.  The team was 5-3 with each man starting. 

Blackledge started the first seven games before losing the job and started two more times, beating Denver and losing to the Jets when Kenney was out.  

Mackovic kept talking up Blackledge’s progress.  In order to help him, he had “re-styled the offense a little more to his way of play,” he said.  It did not work.  Then when Kenney came back, the style had to be re-worked again.  The back and forth turned out to be another disaster and the team’s standing stood as proof. The offense finished last in the NFL in yards and went over 300 total yards or 100 rushing yards in just five games.

Mackovic, hired for his offensive skills, was surprisingly fired after the season after taking the team to the playoffs for the first time since 1971.

Mackovic was dismissed following the 1986 season

Matters didn’t improve under new coach Frank Gansz, who took over in 1987, and while Blackledge was once again given the starting nod in training camp, the league was hit with another player strike and when the veterans returned Kenney was back as the starter until he was injured yet again — a hairline fracture to his left wrist. 

With another season in ruins and the quarterback issue no closer to being settled than it had been since 1984, it was evident that one of the two or both would likely be released. Blackledge beat management to the punch, requesting a trade, but was forced to stick around because of another of Kenney’s injuries.  In time, he was the one to go. Kenney had outlived another quarterback of the future, but with little reward for the team and its fans.

The question of who would play quarterback had lingered like a bad cold for a decade. Everyone associated with the debate had been exposed for their various shortcomings and the shortcomings of the team in general. It had been a delusion to suppose that any of the quarterbacks and the men who had found them could lead the franchise out of the predicament.

More change was coming.




Next time:  Why Blackledge didn’t make it

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