AFC Championship: Chiefs try to defy odds
Kansas City, Mo. — The even-keeled executive with the crisp suit and winning smile stood inside the mostly empty Kansas City Chiefs locker room, his team having just won a home playoff game for the first time in 25 years.
He talked about how much it meant to their long-suffering fans. Spoke glowingly about coach Andy Reid, and his young superstar quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. He praised the rest of a team that captured its third straight AFC West title before knocking off the Colts in the playoffs.
It wasn’t until Clark Hunt was asked about winning the AFC title game that he became emotional.
You see, the Chiefs were founded by his father, the late Lamar Hunt, who along with seven others in what would be called “The Foolish Club” founded the AFL.
The personable Texas businessman’s importance to establishing the modern NFL was honored in 1984, when the league renamed the silver trophy awarded to the winner of the AFC championship game the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
So it’s easy to understand why his son, now the team’s chairman and the most visible face of the ownership family, would have tears in the corners of his eyes at the thought of holding it for the first time with a win over the New England Patriots on Sunday night.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Clark Hunt said. “Since Andy came here we’ve had a lot of shots, but we finally have a chance to win the AFC championship, and to do it at home is so special for us.”
The Chiefs have never played an AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium. They won at Buffalo to reach the first Super Bowl, and in Oakland on their way to their lone Super Bowl triumph in 1970.
They lost their only other appearance in Buffalo in January 1994.
Indeed, the opportunity to return to the NFL’s biggest stage for the first time in 49 years has been a long time coming. The Chiefs lost eight consecutive postseason games during one maddening stretch, and squandered the No. 1 seed along the way. They had great individual players – Tony Gonzalez, Priest Holmes, Joe Montana – yet never managed to hoist the AFC championship trophy.
Former coach Dick Vermeil, who took the Eagles to the Super Bowl and won it with the Rams, said this week that “my biggest regret” was failing to deliver it during his five seasons in Kansas City.
“It would be great. I mean, when your name is on it, that’s a pretty big thing,” said current Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who still remembers meeting Lamar Hunt during an ownership meeting years ago. Hunt died in December 2006 at the age of 74.
“To have the opportunity to work with his kids and Clark in particular, I understand the importance of that,” Reid said. “Not that he has to tell me. He doesn’t have to say anything.”
In fact, the Chiefs make sure everybody knows the importance.
“One of the awesome things we do with our player development team is that they take us through the whole history,” Mahomes said. “We come over to the museum that we have in the stadium and they take us through how he made the AFL, pretty much from scratch, and had this vision for what is now the AFC and combined it with the NFL and made this beautiful league.
“It truly is special for someone like that who has created your franchise,” Mahomes added. “You want to do whatever you can to bring honor to him and that family.”
New England (12-5) at Kansas City (13-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:40 p.m.
Line: Chiefs by 3
Outlook: Kansas City is hosting its first AFC title game in franchise history. … The Patriots beat the Chiefs 27-20 in Foxborough in January 2016 in the only playoff meeting. … The Patriots beat the Chiefs in Week 6 in a game featuring 946 yards of total offense. … The Patriots are playing in an NFL-record eighth consecutive conference championship game.