The historian in me says Chiefs versus Raiders remains the rivalry that most fans look forward to each year. After all, we did a large screen narrative on it in the team's Hall of Honor. You know, the old "team-you-love-to-hate" routine; it's a staple narrative every season for every team in the league, whether it's Steelers-Browns, Bears-Packers, Cowboys-Everybody, well, you get the drift.
But a closer inspection and a scan of old footage, newspaper columns and remembrances of the players who played the games over the past 25-or-so years would say otherwise, about Chiefs vs. Raiders.
Has the landscape changed? Is there a more-heated rivalry?
The Kansas City Star reported that Chiefs coach Andy Reid hauled out some old footage of Chiefs-Raiders to prep his charges for their first division game with their long-time AFL foes, earlier this year. Star reporter Randy Covitz, who has covered the Chiefs for years, called that game "one of pro football's hallowed rivalries."
And, indeed it was, but that would be "was," I think you can argue.
Clearly, in the early days of the AFL, the rivalry between the Chiefs and Raiders was a focal point for players and fans each year. Both franchises were at their peak and the games were a roughhouse blend of physical play and offensive artistry. Fights punctuated the play on the field (and sometimes in the stands). Old footage I recently watched of the last AFL game ever played between the two teams, leading to Super Bowl IV, was in my estimation, a far better played game than the final AFL-NFL showdown that came later, between Kansas City and Minnesota. It certainly was more physical and the outcome more in doubt, until late in the contest.
But in the '90s, that rivalry began to take second place to the one between the Chiefs and Broncos. Marty Schottenheimer had an appreciation for rivalries as an old AFLer and the term "Raider Week" was largely his concoction and took new meaning, under his leadership that had been missing, since the days of Hank Stram. But, the games never reached the emotional pitch that contests with the Broncos did – largely thanks to the dominance the Chiefs quickly established over Al Davis' charges, during that period. Schottenheimer retired from the Chiefs with an 18-3 record over the Raiders.
During the '90s, the AFC Western Division became the most competitive in the entire NFL, with the Raiders seemingly having an edge early-on over the Broncos, the Chiefs over the Raiders, and the Broncos over the Chiefs. John Elway was Schottenheimer's nemesis at Mile High Stadium, during the last decade, while at home the Chiefs could manage no better than a .500 record against Denver.
No matter where the games were played, they were tightly contested. Fans were ravenous for wins over Denver, expecting, as it were, victories – although difficult – over the Raiders. As Raiders fortunes declined and the Broncos rose, the historic rivalry, with its roots firmly in the old AFL, clearly took second billing. Wins over Los Angeles/Oakland became common place; any win over Denver, who won two Super Bowls during this era, was celebrated in a far greater manner. No doubt, the closeness of the losses drove fan anxieties higher. Again and again, Kansas City took the lead in games at Mile High, only to see John Elway lead his team to victory in the closing minutes. Losses by scores of 23-24 (1990), 16-19 (1991), 19-20 (1992), and 21-27 (1993) stung worse than had they been blowouts, and were testaments to Elway's skill and tenacity.
Meanwhile, victories over Denver at Arrowhead were cause for wild celebrations, particularly on those occasions, when a rare runaway victory occurred as it did in 1992, when Dave Krieg tossed two touchdown passes and an opportunistic defense, reminiscent of this year's, tallied three more scores.
Even the arrival of the sainted Joe Montana to Kansas City's huddle did not guarantee parity. While his team's 1994 Monday Night victory in Denver ranks as one of the greatest in that show's long history, the record shows that Montana retired with a 4-0 record against the Raiders, but split decisions with the Broncos.
The rivalry was no less intense with the retirement of Montana. Perhaps the most memorable game – certainly the one with an unforgettable emotional finish – came in Kansas City in 1997, when Pete Stoyanovich kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired to give the Chiefs the AFC West lead. A home playoff loss to the Broncos two months later, however, takes its place with the Christmas Day defeat to the Dolphins as one of the most disappointing in team history.
And so the rivalry continues, through different coaches, quarterbacks and eras. Has it displaced the one with the Raiders? For the moment, yes, but think of it this way: it continues what is really an old AFL tradition of heated competitions, between all the AFC West teams to include San Diego; that's how league founder Lamar Hunt would likely see it.