Chiefs football fans prepare for pre-season, begin to ‘paint the town red’
The greater Kansas City area has been obsessed with Chiefs football for more than a decade. You've heard of painting the town red? Well, Kansas City actually does that from August to January each year. Chiefs fans love hard-nosed football, the pageantry of Arrowhead Stadium, and the aromatic atmosphere of the tailgate capital of the NFL.
The first day of training camp signals the official beginning of Chiefs mania. Typically, training camp allows fans to slowly adjust their focus from baseball to football. But with the Royals' disastrous season spiraling out of control, the Chiefs suddenly become more than a passion -- they become a champion for civic pride. While the boys in blue boast one of the worst records in the league, the Chiefs last season earned one of the best records in the league. Kansas City needs the Chiefs right now.
And Kansas City will get the Chiefs on Friday as the defending division champs head to New York for a 7 p.m. pre-season date with the Giants.
I'll admit pre-season football is generally quite boring. The starters play very few snaps half the roster is filled with names you've never heard of and the coordinators refuse to reveal any of their game plan in a virtually meaningless game.
But I offer that the Chiefs' four pre-season games do hold some meaning. First and perhaps foremost, the games mean something to those no-name guys. These players are fighting for experience -- a chance to prove to themselves and others that they can play in this league. These players are fighting for a few unclaimed roster spots, buried deep on the depth charts but official Chiefs nonetheless. These players are fighting to fulfill the childhood dreams that so many of us clung to for years.
We far too often look at these guys as nobodies. They are indeed somebody and more often than not, somebody worth rooting for.
Here are a couple of guys to watch Friday.
¢ Running back Larry Johnson. The club's top pick in 2003 is not one of the no-names. But his is an overly scrutinized name. The Chiefs picked Johnson during a period when star running back Priest Holmes was rehabbing a serious hip injury and threatening a hold-out amidst a contract dispute.
Johnson, the most accomplished collegiate back in the draft, was added as insurance. Holmes, of course. recovered from his injury, settled his contract issues and set an NFL record for touchdowns in a season. And Johnson was left on the sidelines without a well-defined role and behind proven back-up Derrick Blaylock.
This year could prove different for Johnson though. The Chiefs have pledged to lighten the load on Holmes this season. Holmes is a year older, he's admitted that his hip is a little sore and his value is too high to risk injury because of overuse.
This presents an opportunity for Johnson and Blaylock. This could be an intriguing battle to watch. Blaylock looked good in limited time last year and has the support of the coach. But Johnson has the bigger contract and the support of the general manager. Look to see Blaylock emerge as the top back-up. But if Holmes goes down, Johnson will be the man in Kansas City.
¢ Full back/tight end Kris Wilson. The Chiefs infuriated many of their fans with the Johnson pick last year. How do you draft a running back when you have the best in the league and when you need defensive help? And they did it again this year with the Wilson pick. How do you pick a tight end when you have the best in the league in Tony Gonzalez and when you need defensive help? Well, the Chiefs claim he was just too good to pass up. They feel that Wilson can provide another weapon in KC's loaded arsenal.
Offensive coordinator Al Saunders excels in creating match-up problems for opposing defenses. Saunders and company maintain that Wilson may be the ultimate match-up problem within this scheme. They are expected to use him at fullback, at tight end and even send him out wide as a receiver.
Wilson's quickness and hands allow for his maximum versatility. On the downside, his smaller size may prevent him from full-time work at tight end. The intrigue with Wilson is a strategic one. It will be interesting just to see Saunders use Wilson, Gonzalez, Holmes and "the human joystick" Dante Hall.
Look beyond the scoreboard and beyond the stars this pre-season. Enjoy the games that don't matter and the performances that do.