The Chiefs walkthrough practice began before the team had information whether or not the rights to Orton had been awarded from Denver. As the Chiefs broke free from their first day of preparations for Pittsburgh, head coach Todd Haley called Palko over to deliver the news.
Though he didn’t get a definitive answer regarding the team’s plans at quarterback for Sunday’s game, Palko left the discussion preparing as if he will be the starting quarterback against Pittsburgh.
“He didn’t tell me either way,” Palko said of the conversation with Haley. “He just said that we’re full speed ahead for Pittsburgh. I was in the huddle today calling the plays and we have a really good plan that I’m fired up about.”
The addition of Orton comes less than 48 hours after Palko completed 24 of 37 passes for 230 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions Monday night in New England. The game was Palko’s first career start after a five-year journey that began as an undrafted rookie in 2007.
A Pittsburgh native, Palko vowed that the roster move wouldn’t affect his preparation for Sunday.
“You’ve got to understand something - I’ve been the practice squad quarterback, I’ve been the number three, I’ve been the number two, and the starter last week,” Palko said. “I think one thing that’s helped me prepare for this whole thing is whether I was a practice squad guy and had no chance of playing on Sunday or I was the three, the two, or the one, I prepared the same way, with the same intensity, with the same amount of time that I put in and that’s not going to change.”
“This guy is all football,” Haley added. “He’s been all football for his entire life. He’s said a number of times to me over the last couple years that, ‘I don’t have anything else. This is what matters to me, football.’ The great thing I said is that I saw no change in his preparation from the last two years when he was on the practice squad to the backup to then he was going to be the starter. I saw no deviation or change in his preparation and you’d say, ‘Well, wow, that’s not a good thing,’ but that’s a great thing because he worked that hard two years ago.”
A testament to Palko’s work ethic was is presence at the Chiefs training facility Tuesday despite the team’s United Airlines charter flight touching down at Kansas City International Airport around 5:00 AM.
Palko sat next to Haley and reviewed film during the entire three-plus hour flight and was in the Chiefs film room until 10:00 PM Tuesday evening.
“I said, ‘Did you sleep on the plane after you left watching with me? No, I couldn’t sleep.’ And I said, ‘Well, you need to go get some sleep,’ and I had to kick him out of here last night,” explained Haley. “And last week, it was probably at about midnight, that I started getting texts from Kurt Warner saying, ‘Let him go.’ I said, ‘I’m not keeping him. He’s as bad as you.’
“Those are good qualities to have and it won’t mean that you’re successful, but it’ll give you a chance to be successful, and that’s where we are.”
Palko is Pittsburgh through and through.
He grew up in Pennsylvania, played his college football next door at Pitt, made starts as a college player at Heinz Field, had a cup of coffee as the Steelers’ backup quarterback in 2009 and his brother, Luke, was once part of Pittsburgh’s personnel department.
This is a game that Palko has had circled for quite some time.
“I’m as focused as I’ve ever been and like I said, even when I was on the practice squad I’ve never really waivered or changed any of my mentality because at a moment’s notice, when you’re a third stringer you’re two plays away, when you’re a second stringer you’re one play away and so it’s something you have to be prepared for,” Palko said.
“This game is not for the faint of heart, you can’t be sensitive, you can’t worry about things you can’t control. This is a bottom line business and it’s about wins and we’ve got a big test ahead of us with these Pittsburgh Steelers coming into town and we’re excited about it.”
As for the addition of Orton, Palko’s teammates viewed the move similar to any other – an effort to increase competition across the roster.
“This is the NFL and guys are constantly going from one team to the next,” RB
Jones was a teammate of Orton for three seasons (2005-07) with the Chicago Bears. Orton started all 15 games as a rookie in 2005 leading the Bears to an 11-5 regular season record and an NFC North title.
“He was a really good player for us in 2005,” Jones said. “We went to the playoffs that year. He was a really good teammate, a good quarterback and has a good arm. He knew the offense pretty well for being a young guy, but that was a long time ago.”