I couldn’t find a single flannel shirt, nor a pair of Doc Martins in my closet. I looked because with the Kansas City Chiefs playing like this, I figured we must be living in 1990s.
I wouldn’t exactly say I feel like a teenager again, but as a native Kansan who came of age watching Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith sack quarterbacks, it at times seems like I’m reliving my youth watching KC play.
This is old school Chiefs football. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are doing their best Thomas and Smith impressions, combining to make 12.5 sacks so far. Squint real hard and you might think nose tackle Dontari Poe is Dan Saleaumua clogging up the middle, and, hey, Eric Berry sort of sounds like Deron Cherry.
Yes, the Chiefs have finally remembered the formula for winning football in Kansas City: Take an experienced coach, defensive playmakers and pick up a leftover quarterback from San Francisco — this year it’s Alex Smith following in the footsteps of Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac. Win the turnover battle and make a few big special teams plays and suddenly you’re racking up victories and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the loudest, if not the loudest in the NFL.
It’s uncanny really. Smith is managing the game much the same way the other former 49ers did in KC, letting running back Jamaal Charles do his job and limiting turnovers. Meanwhile the defense is taking the ball away. It’s the hallmark of the “Martyball” era two decades ago when Marty Schottenheimer was king of Kansas City.
The Chiefs never had a season with more turnovers than takeaways under Schottenheimer. In 1993, 1995 and 1997 — years it won the AFC West — Kansas City was +10, +12 and +14 in turnover margin, respectively.
This season, the Chiefs lead the NFL at +10.
A failed experiment to make the Chiefs the Patriots of the Midwest with GM Scott Pioli, quarterback Matt Cassel and coach Romeo Crennel all coming to Kansas City after stints in New England ended with all three losing their jobs. The franchise reached its lowest point since the 1980s and the Chiefs bottomed out with a two-win season in 2012.
Enter Smith and coach Andy Reid, who quickly helped bring that winning feeling back to town, making 2013 feel a lot like 1993.
But diehard Chiefs fans remember the ‘90s weren’t all smiles. Reid is very much the modern equivalent of Schottenheimer, a highly successful coach in the regular season who has struggled in the playoffs and never won a Super Bowl.
For all the fun the sacks, interceptions, punt return touchdowns and the short passing game brought to Arrowhead in the ‘90s during the regular season, it was nothing but heartbreak in the postseason. An AFC Championship Game loss to the Bills following the 1993 season is the best playoff run Kansas City has enjoyed since winning Super Bowl IV.
So Chiefs fans are celebrating now, wearing red and rocking Arrowhead, but somewhere deep in the back of our minds, we’re wondering where it ends. A playoff berth? That’s looking promising right now. Challenging Denver for the AFC West crown? Maybe.
But more than that can be hard to imagine. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years. That includes a few times when Kansas City was arguably the NFL’s best in the regular season. Dreaming of a Super Bowl? That’s more than most Chiefs fans can wrap their mind around, even at 5-0.
But for now, those of us who remember the glory days can watch with young Chiefs fans and tell them that Justin Houston with his 8.5 sacks is playing a lot like Derrick Thomas used to.
For better or worse, they are playing old school Chiefs’ football in KC, and I’m going to sit back, reminisce and enjoy it. At least until January.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran sports writer whose work has appeared on ESPN.com, AOL Sports and in several major newspapers. He currently also contributes to Washingtonian and Cavalier Corner magazines. Follow him on Twitter: @ShaneMettlen