This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
To see all the category page for this series, of which there will be one for every franchise, click here.
Like the Jacksonville Jaguars in my previous installment, 2012 was not a very good year for the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact the just-completed season was an obvious nightmare on multiple levels.
But make no mistake, the Chiefs are one of the proudest organizations in pro football, with one of the most loyal fan bases around. On Fridays before game days during the season, fountains in the city are dyed red – match that Green Bay!
Other than moving out of Dallas after their first three years in the AFL, not much has changed with Kansas City football. They changed the logo upon arriving in KC, have toggled between white and red road pants over the years, painted the facemasks white in the mid-1970s – and this past year they finally moved the small player numbers from the sleeves to the shoulders because – well, there isn’t much sleeve on football jerseys these days.
I had one of those Tudor electric football games as a kid. Chiefs versus Cowboys. I spent countless hours affixing the jersey numbers to players I knew were on the team via my football card collection and games I watched on television.
The cost for getting all 26 teams, 2 sets (for offense and defense), and home and away uniforms? Well, the cost would even be prohibitive by today’s standards. Plopping $60 for Madden every year is a bargain by comparison. (Not to mention the price and shipping/handling time of replacing the small cotton felt footballs that inevitably got lost…)
Okay, back to the UFP.
Since my 64-player bracket went so well with the Packers, I have decided on a downsized 32-player version for the Chiefs. The best part is that there is equal talent spread between each generation.
For a franchise that has not touched the Super Bowl since the AFL/NFL merger, there has still been a lot of talent going through Arrowhead Stadium over the years.
HANK STRAM BRACKET
#1 Bobby Bell (OLB 1963-74, HOF) v. #8 Abner Haynes (RB 1960-64)
Bobby Bell was one of the great physical specimens of his era, or any era.
A Rose Bowl participant and an Outland Trophy winner at the University of Minnesota, Bell earned All-Star/Pro Bowl recognition in nine of his years in the league.
At 6’4”, 230 lbs, Bell was said to have run in the 4.5 range, and Coach Stram was once quoted as saying that Bell could conceivably play any of the 22 positions on the field. Bell also found the end zone nine times in his career.
You will see a lot of great running backs in KC lore. Abner Haynes was the prequel to many others who followed.
Haynes gets mentioned somewhat unfairly for a clerical error that occurred during the coin toss preceding overtime of the 1962 AFL Championship.
On a blustery late-afternoon, Haynes was instructed by Coach Stram to have his team defend a goal (into the wind) should his team win the coin toss. The then-Dallas Texans did win the toss, but Haynes said “We’ll kick to the (scoreboard) clock.” By saying “We’ll kick,” Haynes effectively mucked his hand, and the opposing team not only got the ball, but the wind as well. Haynes got off the hook when the game went into the double OT. The teams switched sides and the Texans made the winning field goal.
Haynes accounted for over 6,500 yards from scrimmage and 56 TDs in five years. Lack of longevity with the Texans/Chiefs keeps him from going any higher on the list.
#4 Jim Tyrer (OT 1961-73) v. #5 Ed Budde (OG 1963-76)
Two AFL-era Big Uglies take center stage in the #4/#5 pairing.
Tyrer was the slightly more decorated of the two, earning All-Star/Pro Bowl recognition in ten consecutive seasons while Budde earned post-season recognition seven times. In KC’s Super Bowl IV victory, Budde had the assignment of holding fort on HOF DE Alan Page.
Son Brad Budde was a unanimous All-American at the University of Southern California and had a seven-year career with the Chiefs himself.
The life of Jim Tyrer and his wife ended in unfortunate fashion with a murder-suicide several years following Tyrer’s playing career. It was said at the time that Tyrer was experiencing financial difficulty.
Had the tragedy occurred today, it’s possible that the cause been diagnosed as a CTE case. Nonetheless, Tyrer has not been under consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame since.
#3 Johnny Robinson (S 1960-71) v. #6 Jerry Mays (DL 1961-70)
Two defensive stalwarts whose careers practically both spanned the entire AFL era. Per Pro Football Reference’s EloRater, Robinson currently ranks at #149 while Mays checked in at #251.
Robinson intercepted 57 passes in his career, achieving 10 INTs twice, and was a HOF finalist several times during the 1980s.
Mays was an SMU alum who started his career at home with the Texans and started 126 games between 1961-69. Mays was part of a late-1960s defensive line that included Buck Buchanan, Aaron Brown, and Curley Culp.
#2 Len Dawson (QB 1962-75, HOF) v. #7 Fred Arbanas (TE 1962-70)
Quarterback has not traditionally been a position in which the Chiefs have great lineage. Dawson remains by far the franchise’s best.
After holding a clipboard for the NFL’s Browns and Steelers early in his career, Dawson is one player whose career ended up taking off in the AFL. In the 1966 season Dawson produced a 101.7 QB rating and completed 11 of 15 passes for 152 yards in the first half of Super Bowl I.
Arbanas was one of the game’s top pass-catching tight ends in an era before pass catching became a huge part of the job description. He also preserved after losing sight in one of his eyes after an on-field injury midway through his career.
LAMAR HUNT BRACKET
#1 Buck Buchanan (DT 1963-75, HOF) v. #8 Jim Lynch (OLB 1967-77)
If Buck Buchanan was coming out of high school now, SEC programs would be banging his front door down trying to recruit him. But growing up as an African-American in the south during his day was a much different world.
Buck became one of four future Hall-of-Famers coached by Eddie Robinson at Grambling State. He was the number one overall pick of the 1963 AFL Draft, while he was not selected until Round 19 by the NFL.
It was said that the foresight of AFL teams in identifying and signing African-American talent went a long ways in the AFL eventually gaining equal footing with the NFL.
Buck’s legacy lives on with the top defensive player in FCS college football being annually awarded the Buck Buchanan award. Buck was ranked #67 in the Sporting News all-time Top 100 list in 1999, just behind teammate Bobby Bell at #66.
Jim Lynch was an outside backer who benefited from working alongside Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell. Although he only earned post-season honors once, his 11 years with the team gets him into the field.
#4 Deron Cherry (FS 1981-91) v. #5 Emmitt Thomas (CB 1966-78, HOF)
A couple of all-time ball-hawkers duel it out in our #4/#5 matchup.
Deron Cherry intercepted 50 passes in his career and was a perennial Pro Bowl selection throughout the ‘80s. He was also noted for his off-field humanitarian efforts.
Emmitt Thomas recorded 58 picks in his career, including 12 alone in the 1974 season. He was awarded Hall of Fame induction in 2008 by the Veteran’s committee.
#3 Otis Taylor (WR 1965-75) v. #6 Nick Lowery (K 1980-93)
Although I probably over-seeded him, Otis Taylor could flat out ball. Taylor averaged nearly 18 yards per catch over his career and was another the Chiefs organization wisely got out of the historically black college ranks (Prairie View A&M).
My first inclination was to put Hall-of-Famer Jan Stenerud in the bracket as my kicker. However Jan only converted 64% of his attempts during his Kansas City career. That was ahead of the curve for his generation, and Stenerud was one of the pioneers of a revolution that saw football convert from traditional ‘straight-on’ kickers (many whom also played other positions) to soccer style specialists. In fact Stenerud and Jerel Wilson resulted in pro football personnel people re-thinking the way they looked at the kicking game.
But 64% today won’t get you far in pro football. Mason Crosby and David Akers only did marginally better in 2012, and those are the types of numbers that have fans wanting to figuratively egg their front yards.
Meanwhile, Lowery was 80% during his Chiefs career, and three times led the league in FG percentage.
And with all due respect, I’m only making one spot available to kickers in my bracket.
#2 Willie Lanier (MLB 1967-77, HOF) v. #7 Art Still (DE 1978-88)
Jim Lynch was the Chiefs first-round pick in 1967, and he had a solid decade-plus career. Willie Lanier was the second-round pick, played the same timeframe, and became a Hall-of-Famer. The sight of Lanier and his over-sized helmet in that era remains intimidating.
Art Still was the number two overall pick of the 1978 Draft and likewise had a decade-long career , earning Pro Bowl recognition four times and recording 14 ½ sacks in 1984.
Still’s tenure occurred during a lot of the organization’s lean years. He was a very good player, just slightly below the franchise-changing type expected of a #2 overall pick.
#1 Derrick Thomas (OLB 1989-99, HOF) v. #8 Marcus Allen (RB 1993-97, HOF)
The fortunes of the franchise turned once Derrick Thomas arrived as the fourth overall draft pick in 1989. Over the next 11 years, he would help redefine his position recording 128.5 sacks, including bagging Seattle QB Dave Krieg seven times in one game. Unfortunately he did not quite record that eighth sack on the game’s final play.
I really wanted to put Marcus slightly higher in the seeding, as he proved to have plenty left in the tank after being infamously kicked to the curb by Raiders owner Al Davis. Allen scored 15 times in his first season in KC, and 47 times overall.
#4 Albert Lewis (CB 1983-93) v. #5 Neil Smith (DE 1988-96)
A battle between defensive players who ended their careers eventually taking their talents to AFC West rivals.
Lewis closed his 16-year career playing five seasons with the Raiders while Neil Smith finally got his elusive Super Bowl rings as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Lewis recorded 42 picks in his career, despite the fact the opposition rarely threw at him (6’2”, 38” vertical) as time went on. Neil Smith recorded double-digit sacks for four consecutive years and finished his career with 104.5 sacks overall.
#3 Priest Holmes (RB 2001-05, 2007) v. #6 Joe Montana (QB 1993-94, HOF)
Priest Holmes was the top player in fantasy football in the early 2000s, scoring 51 times between 2002 and 2003 and going over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive years. Not bad for a player who went undrafted out of the University of Texas.
Most of Joe Montana’s legacy occurred somewhere else, but he still had a lot left in the tank in his final two years in Kansas City, leading the team to two playoff wins following the 1993 season and throwing for over 300 yards in what proved to be his final game in a Wild Card loss to the Miami Dolphins.
#2 Will Shields (OG 1993-2006) v. #7 Christian Okoye (RB 1987-92)
As of this writing Will Shields is knocking on the door for a second time as a Hall of Fame finalist. He earned Pro Bowl recognition in each of his final 12 seasons in the league.
When he came out of Azusa Pacific, NFL Draft scouts looked at Okoye as a physical freak. His 40 times seemed impossible for someone weighing 260 lbs, and Okoye only turned to football after being rejected from Nigeria’s Olympic team in track and field, where he excelled in the hammer/discus/shot put.
Soon after arriving in Kansas City, the legend that would quickly become known as the Nigerian Nightmare was born, as Okoye rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in 1989 as the league’s most punishing runner.
But it was that battering ram style that put a premature end to his career. Okoye, however, remains unstoppable in Temco Bowl.
HERM EDWARDS BRACKET
#1 Tony Gonzalez (TE 1997-2008) v. #8 Mike Garrett (RB 1966-70)
When Gonzalez was selected with the 13th overall pick in 1997, Mel Kiper Jr. proclaimed the converted basketball player to be the second coming of Russ Francis.
Turned out he was underestimating him. Including his 2009-12 tenure with the Atlanta Falcons, Gonzalez recorded 70+ receptions in 14 consecutive seasons. Arguably, he is the best tight end in pro football history.
Mike Garrett is outsourced from the Hank Stram era as first-round opposition. He was the first stud tailback to come out of USC, a prequel to many others who followed. Garrett earned an AFL All-Star bid in 1967 and averaged nearly 4.5 yards per in his four+ years with the team.
#4 Larry Johnson (RB 2003-09) v. #5 Dante Hall (PR/KR 2000-06)
Not the most popular figure in Chiefs history, Larry Johnson proved to be every bit the equal of Priest Holmes once he got his opportunity, accounting for nearly 4,300 yards from scrimmage and 40 touchdowns in 2005-06.
Prior to the dawn of Devin Hester, the title of most feared return man in recent NFL history went to Dante Hall. He accounted for 12 return scores during his seven-year tenure with the team.
#3 Willie Roaf (OT 2002-05) v. #6 Jamaal Charles (RB 2008-present)
The majority of Roaf’s HOF career came with the New Orleans Saints, but he also earned Pro Bowl recognition in each of his four years with Kansas City.
Jamaal Charles hit a roadblock with a 2011 ACL injury, but he has been solid otherwise with a near 6-yards per carry average.
If Jamaal can stay healthy and put up a few more years of numbers, then his seeding would definitely move up amongst the recent players.
#2 Brian Waters (OG 2000-10) v. #7 Derrick Johnson (2005-present)
Waters was a fixture on the KC O-line for a decade-plus, starting 149 games and earning All-Pro recognition in 2004 and 2005. Much of the glory of the success of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson goes to Waters.
Derrick Johnson is the second currently active player on the bracket after being a 15th overall draft choice eight years ago. He has now made the Pro Bowl in his last two seasons, recording triple-digit tackles both times.
Tony Gonzalez, Buck Buchanan, and Bobby Bell each easily breeze through their regionals.
The Marty Bracket is very close, but I have to go with Derrick Thomas over James Shields.
That leaves Gonzalez, Buck, Bell, and Thomas.
Buchanan and Bobby Bell are very much in the conversation as the franchise’s best ever, but I will rank them third and fourth in my book.
That leaves Derrick Thomas and Tony Gonzalez, and the case is equally strong for each. Thomas obviously was robbed of his last couple of seasons due to a tragic accident that ultimately claimed his life. As it is, he ranks #1 on the ballots of a lot of Chiefs fans.
This is a tough decision, but I’m going to go simply go with the best tight end ever.
My choice for Kansas City Chiefs Ultimate Franchise Player is…