*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.
Bill Kenney had the numbers, some enormous numbers, over 4,348 passing yards in 1983, at the time the fourth best total in NFL history.
The offense improved under Mackovic but the record didn't. A 6-10 mark wasn't going to turn the tide of public support. The following year bettered it at 8-8, but the next year it was back to 6-10.
Under Mackovic's tutelege, Kenney was throwing the ball more than 40 times a game (upping it to more than 50 as the 1983 season wound down) and breaking a number of the Chiefs' single-season passing records. "Whoever's played quarterback for me has always broken records," Mackovic was quick to boast.
Kenney ran up some enormous passing numbers in 1983
Kenney was loving it, saying that his statistics proved, "I can play quarterback in the NFL, that I'm a good quarterback." Late in the season in a loss against the Chargers, he threw for 411 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Carlos Carson (acquired in 1980) and Henry Marshall (acquired in 1976) finally had opportunities to catch the ball and Kenney took full advantage. Levy's run-first offense was now a memory.
WR Henry Marshall was a favorite target for Kenney
But there was little balance as Kenney lit it up; the team struggled running the football. It was a complete reversal from Levy's old Wing-T approach which went too far to the other side, although the intent then was done more to keep a dreadful defense off the field.
"Marv thought we could control the ball by running it and keep the game close," a player at the time recalled years later. But now, the difference to pass and run under Mackovic was a disturbing 303 plays. Only three quarterbacks in NFL history had surpassed Kenney's passing yardage when the season concluded. The team's running attack ranked last in the league, however, a figure so low that eight individual runners in the league topped it.
"We're not going to be a running team," Mackovic insisted, "but we're going to have to be able to run."
None of this offensive fireworks seemed to matter much as only 11,377 spectators cared enough to show up for the final game of the season. Only one team in the AFC had a worse record.
What with the numbers Kenney was running up no one could say that quarterback was an area of concern, could they? Certainly not Lamar Hunt who believed going into the 1984 season that "we have one of the best quarterback situations in the league with the two guys we have. Bill hasn't proved he's a championship caliber quarterback yet, but he's coming along." He added that one of the team's shortcomings as another losing season ended had been Steve Fuller's failure to develop.
And what of Blackledge, the head coach's hand-picked drafted quarterback, the player who would give his offense and his team "stability," he had said? Mackovic said he would not insert Blackledge as the starter his rookie year and who could blame him.
Blackledge saw little action his rookie year
But as Kenney had been thrust into the limelight when Fuller was injured, now the same would happen for Blackledge. Kenney broke his thumb in the final pre-season game of 1984 and the job was suddenly Blackledge's, for how long would depend on how he did.
Next time: Deja vu…all over again