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Twenty Years of Separation

Posted Dec 8, 2010

Welcome to the Twilight Zone of Chiefs Football

The similarities are startling. Some 20 years later, the Arrowhead cycle is churning out happenings that run eerily parallel to one another.

Go back to 1989 and you’ll see Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer taking hold the reins of a franchise in desperate need of a culture change. In 2009, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley were hired to do a similar job.

Starting with the obvious, both first-year GM/head coach combos doubled their respective win totals from year left by the previous season. The Chiefs went from a four-win team in 1988 to an eight-win team in 1989 and from a two-win team in 2008 to a four-win team in 2009.

In year two of their tenure, Peterson and Schottenheimer began a string of six consecutive playoff berths from the 1990-95 seasons. That 1990 playoff appearance was Kansas City’s first since a 1986 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game loss.

“What I remember the most is that our offense was big into the running game,” Pro Bowl RB Christian Okoye said of the 1990 season. “We would run the ball and everybody feared us in that aspect. When we stepped into anybody’s stadium, they knew that we were going to run the ball and we weren’t afraid to tell them that we were going to run the ball. We ran it effectively and people respected us for it.

“That’s what actually helped us set up a passing game for Steve DeBerg and we were successful in doing that.”

Sound familiar?

DeBerg paired with a successful rushing attack to become one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league, finishing the 1990 season with 23 TD passes and just 4 INTs. Those numbers, of course, match Matt Cassel’s totals through 13 games in 2010.

Running the football to set up the pass has made the Chiefs successful Haley’s second season. Much like that 1990 team, the 2010 Chiefs are knocking on the door of a playoff appearance for the first time in four years.

These similarities represent just the tip of the iceberg in a bizarre alikeness that separates 20 years of Chiefs football.

During Schottenheimer’s first season, he often utilized the rushing services of a young Okoye. The “Nigerian Nightmare” rushed for 473 yards in 1988 under the late Frank Gansz, but jumped out to his first 1,000-yard campaign with Schottenheimer calling the shots.

Jamaal Charles’ first 1,000-yard season followed a coaching switch from Herm Edwards to Haley. The second-year running back’s totals increased from 357 rushing yards in 2008 to 1,120 rushing yards in 2009.

Following Okoye’s 1,480-yard breakout season, Schottenheimer hit the free agent market to bring in another running back during his second offseason as head coach. It was there that the Chiefs found Barry Word to form a one of the league’s most formidable two-headed rushing attacks.

“When Barry came to the team, lots of people were saying that there was a running back controversy,” Okoye remembered. “I enjoyed it though because the thing is…I was the only running back running the ball and I was running it a lot. When Barry came, I knew that he was going to carry some of the load and kind of deflect some of my (hits).”

Again, sound familiar?

Thomas Jones joined the Chiefs fresh off Charles’ breakout 2009 season. Some of the same talk regarding a running back controversy occurred when Kansas City opened its 2010 training camp with Jones as the starter.

The addition of Word led to more offensive options and, more importantly, more victories in 1990. The team finished 11-5. Twenty years later we’re seeing the same thing happen with Charles and Jones, final record pending.

“(Word) helped out a whole lot and I didn’t receive nearly as many of the big hits that I had (in 1989),” Okoye said. “When Thomas Jones came to the Chiefs I was very happy because I knew that the running game was going to improve a lot and that it would help Charles improve and stay fresh running the ball.”

Just last week Charles said that he felt as healthy as he had all season and the Chiefs responded by giving him back-to-back 20-carry games. Charles, of course, returned the favor by going over the century mark on each occasion.  

Charles has embraced Jones’ arrival, looking up to the 11-year veteran like an older brother. Though Okoye/Word didn’t share the same age difference as Charles/Jones, Okoye remembers sharing a similar bond of friendship with Word.

“Barry and I became friends right away and we’re still friends today,” Okoye said. “I’m still talk with Barry. We were in it together and a lot of times after practice we would go out to dinner. We developed a good relationship and understood where we both stood.”

Regime changes, win/loss totals, playoff droughts, rushing acquisitions and quarterback efficiency; those five areas alone connect 20 years of Chiefs separation with a raised eye brow. Those numbers, however, aren’t the only similarities between the two periods in franchise history.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone of Chiefs football….

Outside of the above, the 1990 Chiefs played Denver at home and San Diego on the road in the month of December. That team, like the 2010 version of the Chiefs, also went on a December road trip to play an NFC opponent.

1990 was also the last time that the Chiefs produced both a 1,000-yard rusher (Word) and 1,000-yard receiver (Stephone Paige). Charles eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark two weeks ago and Dwayne Bowe sits 115 yards shy of his second 1,000-yard receiving campaign.

The alikeness goes even further if you’d care to nit-pick obscure stats such as second quarter scoring. Comparing those numbers from 1990 and 2010 yields an almost identical total and there are plenty more instances like these. When comparing second-year improvements between Schottenheimer and Haley, the list continues to grow.

For now at least, Chiefs fans are concerned about just one thing: a return to the playoffs. Chiefs Twilight Zone or not, returning to the NFL’s postseason tournament is dominating sports talk in town.

The Chiefs found a way into the postseason in Year Two of “Martyball.” Twenty years removed, the team is knocking on the postseason door in Year Two of “Haleyball”.

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