When a team produces a worst-to-first turnaround, like the Kansas City Chiefs did in 2010, a number of players go on to receive national recognition.
But championships aren’t won with Pro Bowl invites or Player of the Week honors. It takes the effort of an entire roster to produce the best single-season turnaround in franchise history. The Chiefs 2010 AFC West Championship roster was lined with unsung heroes - possibly none more so than TE
“No disrespect to any of the other guys but I don’t know if there is a guy that cares more about this team than Leonard Pope,” Head Coach Todd Haley said during the 2010 season.
Pope’s role in 2010 was rather anonymous. Though technically listed first on the depth chart, he was actually more of a situational player. Moeaki started 15 games at tight end and enjoyed a record-setting rookie campaign while Pope often served as a sixth offensive lineman and a check-down option in the receiving game.
Pope made a career-low six starts and finished the year with just 10 catches for 76 yards and two TDs.
But Pope’s contributions to the 2010 Chiefs can’t be measured in statistics. Even with Moeaki representing the future at tight end, Pope never hesitated to serve as a mentor. He’s a locker room spark plug, knowing when to crack jokes and the right time to bring everyone back on task. He’s the veteran leader of a young crop of tight ends and was pegged by Haley to serve as an honorary player-coach during the bye week.
The majority of what makes Pope valuable can’t be found in a box score.
This weekend, however, Pope’s character became available for all to see when he saved six-year old Bryson Moore from drowning at a pool party in Georgia.
"All of a sudden, I saw Bryson going down in the water and I started screaming," Moore’s mother told the Americus Times-Recorder. "Leonard was inside, and he came out of nowhere and dove into the water without any hesitation, cell phone in his pocket and all. He saved my son’s life."
Fully-clothed, Pope jumped into the water with his cell phone and wallet in tow. He was allegedly the only adult at the pool party who knew how to swim.
“It was actually just a good instinct,” Pope told the NFL Network Monday night. “When you hear that motherly voice screaming, you know it’s something serious – she was screaming ‘he’s drowning’ – I didn’t drop anything, I just jumped into the water, brought him up and handed him to his mom.
“There was a life on the line and it just had to get done.”
Pope’s actions don’t come as a surprise to those in and around the Chiefs. Since Pope’s arrival as a free agent midway through the 2009 season, he’s always been a team-first player. He’s the type of player who routinely makes sacrifices for the betterment of his teammates and always puts himself second.
Hearing this story can’t help but bring back memories of Chiefs RB Joe Daleney, whose promising career was cut short after just two NFL seasons. Delaney drowned while attempting to save the lives of three youngsters in a Monroe, Louisiana pond.
Delaney couldn’t swim, but jumped into the body of water anyway and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal by President Ronald Regan. June 29th will mark the 28th anniversary of Delaney’s passing.
"I was so frantic and in a hurry to leave I didn't get a chance to meet with you, but I just wanted to say that I owe you everything because you would have made my world so much different that next morning if you weren't there when I needed you," Moore’s mother told Pope in a phone call arranged by the NFL Network. "It seems as though everyone was in shock, or couldn't move, and you didn't hesitate. I'm sorry everything got destroyed and wet but I just owe you everything. I would like to see you one day and personally thank you. I wouldn't have anything if you hadn't been there."
Pope is back in Kansas City this week despite an uncertain future with the Chiefs. He’s currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011.