An infusion of new talent continued at Arrowhead. G Brad Budde (USC), the son of Chiefs Hall of Fame G Ed Budde, was selected as the club's first-round draft choice, making the Buddes the first father-son combination to become first-round draftees of the same team in NFL history. In a then-controversial move on August 26th, the Chiefs released K Jan Stenerud, who at the time was club's all-time leading scorer. He was replaced by journeyman K Nick Lowery, who had been cut 11 times by eight different teams himself. He finished his career with the club in '93 as the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 1,466 points. After enduring an 0-4 start, the club rebounded to post a four-game victory streak. After Fuller was sidelined with a knee injury late in the season, former Miami 12th-round draft choice QB Bill Kenney entered the lineup. He was so anonymous that when he appeared in that contest, the name on the back of his jersey was inadvertently misspelled "Kenny." Kenney went on to lead the club to a 31-14 victory vs. Denver (12/7) in his initial NFL start. The defense continued to evolve as DE Art Still and S Gary Barbaro became the first Chiefs defensive players to be elected to the Pro Bowl in five seasons. The Chiefs finished the year at 8-8, the club's highest victory tally since '72.
Kenney supplanted Fuller as the club's starting quarterback and directed the Chiefs to a 6-2 start, including a 37-33 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers at Pittsburgh (9/6) on Opening Day. Second-round draft choice RB Joe Delaney (NW Louisiana) electrified the club's offense by rushing for 1,121 yards, a team single-season record at the time. He was named the AFC's Rookie of the Year and became the first running back to represent the franchise in the Pro Bowl. Delaney registered a 193-yard performance in a 23-10 win vs. Houston (11/15), the best single-game total ever amassed by a Kansas City rookie. "I've played against the best - O.J. Simpson, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and (Delaney) ranks right up there with them," remarked Oilers Hall of Fame DE Elvin Bethea. "He is great with a capital G." Owning an 8-4 record with four games remaining, the Chiefs were poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years before hitting a three-game losing skid. Kenney missed the club's final three contests due to injury. Fuller guided the club to a 10-6 win at Minnesota (12/20) in the final contest played at Metropolitan Stadium as Vikings fans began dismembering the stadium in the second half, taking seats, pieces of the scoreboard and even chunks of sod as souvenirs. The victory assured the Chiefs of a 9-7 record, the club's first winning mark since '73 as Levy increased the club's victory total for a third consecutive year. Inspired by Washington's "Hail to the Redskins," Levy penned a fight song for the Chiefs, but much like the Wing-T offense, the concept never really caught on.
RB Joe Delaney underwent surgery in May to repair a detached retina in his eye, a radical procedure at the time. Optimism abounded at Arrowhead thanks to the club's promising 9-7 record from '81, but swelling labor unrest spelled doom for both the Chiefs and Levy in '82. The Chiefs split their first two games of the year before a 57-day strike by the NFL Players Association began at midnight on September 20th. The strike concluded on November 17th after six games were cancelled and one was rescheduled, but the Chiefs would never recover, dropping four straight games after their return to the field. C Jack Rudnay, who had been one of the franchise's most durable and decorated offensive performers over the past decade, announced on December 20th that the '82 campaign would be his last. Despite wins in two of the season's final three games, the Levy era concluded as the club finished the strike-shortened campaign at 3-6.
TRAGEDY, TRIUMPHS & TRANSITIONS
Marv Levy was released as the club's head coach on January 4th. Dallas Cowboys QBs coach John Mackovic was named the fifth head coach in team history on February 2nd. The 39-year-old Mackovic became the youngest individual ever to hold that post for the club. The Chiefs held the seventh overall pick in the quarterback-laden '83 NFL Draft and selected QB Todd Blackledge (Penn State). The five other signal-callers selected in the first round that year included John Elway (1st - Baltimore), Jim Kelly (Buffalo - 14th), Tony Eason (New England - 15th), Ken O'Brien (N.Y. Jets - 24th) and Dan Marino (Miami - 27th). LB Bobby Bell became the first Chiefs player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30th, providing some solace to the franchise which was still mourning the death of RB Joe Delaney.
With Kenney and Blackledge both on the roster, QB Steve Fuller was traded to the L.A. Rams on August 19th. Kenney earned a Pro Bowl berth after racking up a franchise-record 4,348 yards through the air, while WR Carlos Carson hauled in 80 passes for 1,351 yards. Despite the team's high-flying passing game, Mackovic had trouble finding a suitable replacement for Delaney on the ground. The highest scoring contest in franchise history took place as the Chiefs and Seahawks combined for 99 points in a wild, 51-48 OT loss at Seattle (11/27). A meager crowd of 11,377 attended the club's season-ending 48-17 win vs. Denver (12/18), the smallest attendance figure ever for a Chiefs game at Arrowhead as the club finished the year at 6-10.
Wayne Rudy, the only head trainer the team had ever known, retired and passed the reins to his assistant Dave Kendall in February. Pro Bowl S Gary Barbaro became the most notable Chiefs player to defect to the rival USFL, signing with the New Jersey interceptors Generals on February 2nd after sitting out the entire '83 campaign in a contract dispute. All-America NT Bill Maas (Pitt) and T John Alt (Iowa) were both tabbed in the first round of the draft. Maas was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Alt eventually became the cornerstone of the club's offensive line later in the decade. Kansas City's defense registered a team-record 11.0 sacks in a 10-6 win vs. Cleveland (9/30), coming one sack shy of the NFL single-game record. Kenney suffered a broken thumb during the preseason and was sidelined until the season's seventh week. Blackledge opened the first six contests of the season and had the club at 3-3. Kenney returned to the starting lineup at the N.Y. Jets (10/21), but inconsistency marked the rest of the season as the club dropped four of first five contests after his return. However, the team rattled off three consecutive wins to conclude the year at 8-8.
The Chiefs got off to a flying start with a 47-27 win at New Orleans (9/8), while Cherry tied an NFL record by registering four INTs in a 28-7 win vs. Seattle (9/29) as the club boasted a 3-1 record four games into the season. The club was then confronted with a seven-game losing streak that wasn't snapped until Blackledge was installed as the starter vs. Indianapolis (11/24). The team rebounded to win three of its final five contests of the year with Blackledge under center, further inflaming a quarterback controversy that continued into the '86 campaign.
One of the few remaining bright spots in a disappointing 6-10 season came in the regular season finale vs. San Diego (12/22) when WR Stephone Paige set an NFL record with 309 receiving yards in a 38-34 win, breaking the previous mark of 303 yards set by Jim Benton (Cleveland) in '45. Paige's mark was subsequently surpassed by a 336-yard effort by WR Willie Anderson (L.A. Rams) in '89.
LB Willie Lanier was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 2nd. On the field, the pieces started coming together for Mackovic. His offense displayed plenty of scoring punch, while the club's defense and special teams became increasingly effective. With the team sitting at 3-3, Kenney replaced Blackledge for the second half vs. San Diego (10/19), guiding the club to a 42-41 victory. That win was the first of four consecutive triumphs with Kenney at the helm, the club's longest winning streak since '80. Poised with a 7-3 record after 10 games, three straight losses in November put the Chiefs playoff chances in jeopardy. Two December wins gave Kansas City a 9-6 mark, putting the Chiefs tantalizingly close to their first postseason berth in 15 years.
The defining moment of the '86 campaign came in the regular season finale at Pittsburgh (12/21). Despite being outgained in total yardage by a 515-to-171-yard margin, the Chiefs were able to notch a 24-19 victory as all of the team's points came via special teams on a blocked punt return, a FG, a kickoff return and a blocked FG return. With a 10-6 record the Chiefs earned an AFC Wild Card berth, winning a tiebreaker with Seattle. Kenney was injured in the fourth quarter of the Steelers contest, meaning Blackledge would draw the starting assignment for the club's first playoff contest since '71, a 35-15 loss at the N.Y. Jets (12/28). Little did anyone know at the time that it would be the final contest of the Mackovic era.
One of the most tumultuous weeks in franchise history took place following the club's playoff loss vs. the Jets. Assistant head coach and special teams coach Frank Gansz, who had been an integral figure in the club's remarkable '86 campaign, resigned his position on January 7th in order to pursue opportunities as an NFL offensive coordinator. It was announced in an impromptu press conference that Mackovic was relieved of his duties on January 8th. A popular figure among Chiefs players, Gansz was reinstated on January 10th and was named the sixth head coach in franchise history.
QB Len Dawson became the third Chiefs player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 8th, while injuries forced the retirement of the club's all-time leading tackler LB Gary Spani. A duo of rookies made a splash in a 20-13 win on Opening Day vs. San Diego (9/13) as RB Paul Palmer returned a kickoff for a TD and RB Christian Okoye dashed for 105 yards. A 24-day NFLPA strike began on September 22nd. The club's contest vs. Minnesota (9/27) was cancelled before replacement games were conducted the next three weeks. Much like Marv Levy five years earlier, Gansz's grip on the club's coaching reins was crippled by the labor unrest.
Kansas City's replacement squad consisted primarily of players cut in training camp. One of the few bright spots among this motley crew was RB Jitter Fields, who remained on the active roster following the strike. The Chiefs strike squad received an ominous welcome in Los Angeles when in the early morning hours prior to a contest vs. the Raiders (10/4), an earthquake rattled Southern California. The visibly shaken Chiefs lost a 35-17 decision later that day. The low point of the year came the following week at Miami (10/11) in the first regular season game played at what then was known as Joe Robbie Stadium. Chiefs QB Matt Stevens was injured early in the contest, forcing into duty QB Alex Espinoza, a player who had never taken an NFL snap. The result was a 42-0 Dolphins victory, setting the stage for an 0-3 performance by Kansas City's replacement unit, giving the Chiefs a 1-4 record before the club's regular roster returned at San Diego (10/25). Five straight losses followed, giving the Chiefs a team-record nine-game losing skid. For the only time in team history, five different players started games at quarterback for the club. Behind Kenney, Kansas City won two of its last three games to conclude the strike-shortened 4-11 campaign.
The spring was marked by several notable trades as the club jockeyed to improve on its 4-11 finish in '87. Blackledge was traded to Pittsburgh on March 29th and 12-year veteran QB Steve DeBerg was acquired from Tampa Bay on March 31st. The Chiefs moved up one spot in the first round of the draft to select DE Neil Smith (Nebraska) with the third overall pick. Kenney opened the team's initial two games, but was replaced by DeBerg at halftime at Seattle (9/11). DeBerg guided the team to a 20-13 win vs. Denver (9/18) in his initial start as a member of the Chiefs. However, six losses and a tie ensued as Kenney and DeBerg jostled for the QB job. As the season drew to a close, it became apparent the winds of change were blowing across the organization. President Jack Steadman resigned on December 8th, while General Manager Jim Schaaf was relieved of his duties the same day. Steadman was later named Chairman of the Board. On the field, the Chiefs finished the year at 4-11-1 as questions swirled regarding Gansz's future and who would fill the club's leadership void. Those winds of change became a full-fledged gale one day after the season's conclusion when former Philadelphia Eagles and USFL executive Carl Peterson was named the club's President/General Manager and Chief Operating Officer on December 19th.
A RETURN TO PROMINENCE: PETERSON & MARTYBALL
After compiling an 8-22-1 record in two seasons, Gansz was relieved of his duties as head coach on January 5th. Peterson's selection as Gansz's successor was former Cleveland head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was named the seventh head coach in Chiefs history on January 24th. The first draft choice of the Peterson era set the tone for the next decade as the club selected LB Derrick Thomas (Alabama) with the fourth overall selection. Thomas paired with Smith to form one of the most feared pass-rushing duos in NFL history, compiling a combined 212.5 sacks during their illustrious Chiefs careers. The Peterson-Schottenheimer era got off to an inauspicious start in a 34-20 loss at Denver (9/10) as DeBerg's first pass attempt was intercepted and returned for a TD. The club won just four times in its next 10 games as former Eagles QB Ron Jaworski and QB Steve Pelluer, who was acquired in a trade from Dallas, each opened three games apiece during that span. DeBerg regained the starting job for the final five weeks of the season, generating four wins that put the Chiefs just out of postseason qualification at 8-7-1. A 34-0 shutout win vs. Houston (11/26) highlighted the club's stretch run. RB Christian Okoye became the first Chief to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,480 yards, while Thomas won consensus NFL Rookie of the Year honors.