Arrowhead is undoubtedly the best home stadium in the NFL. Perhaps the world. The volume level of the fans here make it so. While the fans remain as loud, loyal, and true as you will find anywhere, there have been players who have not claimed Arrowhead — and Kansas City for that matter — as their one true home.
Back in the days before Curt Flood (baseball) and the birth of “free agency” professional players had to stay with one team their whole careers unless they were traded. Actually, in the NFL, free agency already existed prior to that time but, it wasn’t until 1962 that R.C. Owens decided to move from the San Francisco 49ers to the Baltimore Colts. Of course, that resulted in the 9er’s owner Vic Morabito refusing to even talk with the Colts Carroll Rosenbloom… ever again.
The point is… there was a time when players stayed with one “home” team… but nowadays even the stars like Tony Gonzalez, or Jared Allen, don’t stay with their original organizations: by choice or not. The most recent Chiefs player who has found another home is the long time fan favorite, running back Jamaal Charles. Now, Charles is the subject of many fan’s vitriol and consternation. Some of it deserved, some not.
There have been many Chiefs players to come and go, find other homes and get away unscathed by the slings and arrows of Chiefs fans. The reason for that may have to do with the longevity of a specific player and for others, it has to do with the reason for their leaving and, maybe more than anything, the way those players handled that transition.
Take RB Larry Johnson for example. Johnson had grown to become Chief fans-least-favorite player but, was within reach of the organization’s all-time rushing record when he made a public slur and it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back resulting in his being cut. I’m fairly certain that there aren’t fans out there lamenting LJ’s exit. However, the transition process for many other ex-Chiefs has not been as clear cut in terms of the public’s perception.
How about Joe Horn? Some of you may be saying, “Joe who?” The Chiefs drafted the 6-foot-1 inch 209-pound wideout in 1996 and he played in K.C. for 4 seasons averaging 220 yards receiving per year during that time. However, he then went to New Orleans where he averaged 1,089 yards per year for seven (7) years. Now, you don’t hear many fans — if any — crying foul because Mr. Horn went on to star for another team when the Chiefs could have certainly used that kind of sustained production. Marty Schottenheimer was the coach who drafted Horn and Gunter Cunningham (HC from 1999-2000) was the coach who decided Horn was expendable.
Many times when fans are upset over losing a star player they should be upset with the organization and not necessarily the player.
In the case of Jamaal Charles, he was willing to take less pay to stay with the Chiefs but JARD — John-Andy-Reid-Dorsey — decided not to offer him a contract at all. So, yes, we should be upset with the team, specifically Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Reid. That is unless their move was the right move in the timeline of JC’s career which in all likelihood is coming to an end. However, if JC is successful in Denver we should be even more upset… and… if JC is responsible for helping the Broncos beat the Chiefs this year then we should storm the castle gates and barbicans. I know I will be there with my pitchfork (a little too medieval?… yeah, I thought so too, oh well).
On the other hand… when Charles finally signed with his new team, the Denver Broncos, he said, “I’ve always been a Broncos fan” and “I’m looking forward to playing the Chiefs twice each year,” presumably to get some revenge.
Jamaal Charles also said, “I always wanted to play with Denver. Growing up, John Elway was my favorite player,” then JC went on, “I just like the environment, the team, and the organization. I wanted to be a part of it.”
You may recall when CB Brandon Carr left the Chiefs in the spring of 2012 to sign with Dallas for 5 years and $50.1M. I was hearing a lot of Chiefs fans bemoaning Carr’s move, and yours truly was originally one of them. In the meantime, here in Dallas, Carr was interviewed on local stations ad nauseum expressing similar sentiments which JC is expressing now: as a kid, he always imagined playing for his new team. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that… you can’t fight a lifetime of another person’s hoping and dreaming. Home is in the heart… so he’s right where he should be. I just never would have thunk it. Do I wish him well? Sure… just not on the weeks he’s playing the Chiefs.
Neil Smith is a different case for me. I refuse to cheer for him. Maybe I’m wrong when it comes to Smith but, after being drafted in the first round in 1988 and playing for nine seasons in Kansas City, at a time when the Chiefs had finished first or second in the AFC West for 8 straight years (1990-1997) I, like many fans, thought they were always on the brink of breaking through and winning their first Super Bowl since January of 1970 (and back in the 1990’s, the Super Bowl was only 20 years earlier and still fresh on many Chiefs fan’s minds). The reality is that the Chiefs could not afford Neil Smith. They were stuck in a negotiating year with Derrick Thomas and still shopping for a QB — like Elvis Grbac, God forbid — so Smith was the odd man out.
In many respects, you can’t blame Neil Smith for going to a Super Bowl contender. Smith was as much an integral part of those two Broncos championship runs as RB Terrell Davis. Neil Smith is in the Chiefs Ring of Honor but, for some reason, I’ll never forgive him for signing with a Chiefs rival.
On the flip side, I love that RB Marcus Allen came to the Chiefs in 1993. I can understand if the Raiders fans felt the same way about Allen as I do about Smith… however, the Chiefs didn’t win a Super Bowl within the next two years like Smith did with the Broncos. Plus, Marcus Allen’s long-standing feud with Raiders owner Al Davis was legendary and at the same time, you can’t blame Davis for saying Bo Jackson was going to be their starting running back. A black hole catch-22 that worked out well for the Chiefs.
I’m still a big Marcus Allen fan but, he went into the NFL Hall of Fame as a Raider so there’s that “home is where the heart is” thingy rearing its head again. You can’t fight it. You just eventually come to the understanding about how everyone is that same way. Consequently, I don’t go into great jumpin-jehosifat-gyrations every time the free-agency season begins, because I really only want players to come to Kansas City who… really want to come to Kansas City.
So, in the end, in my mind, it’s all a game of homes. The question for any player is… “Where is home to you?”
Along those similar lines… after 19 years in the Dallas area, I am moving back to Kansas City in June. Hallelujah! Home, Home… Home at last!
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