The Kansas City Chiefs open the 2013 NFL season with a road game Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla. With general manager and coaching changes this year, hopes are not just resting on a reversal from last year’s 2-14 record. It’s more about ending a drought that has now lasted 20 years.
Ironically, at the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week for the Kansas City Chiefs everyone there enjoyed a full plate, while eight-year veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson shared with the event’s emcee, Mitch Holthus, a rather desperate feeling.
"Oh, we’re starving," he said. "It’s a mentality that you have to have. All of us are hungry, so you’ll see that this year."
Johnson and punter Dustin Colquitt are the senior members of the team. Since their rookie seasons in 2005, they’ll be playing under their third general manager and fourth head coach. Though the length of Johnson’s career would suggest he may be running out of opportunities for post-season success, he dispelled any notion this week that he’s on the back end of his career.
"No, I’m good. I can do it all, man," he said. "My role on this team has increased. My body feels good."
Not since the ’93 season have the Chiefs won a playoff game. At that time they rode their championship aspirations on ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana, for a two-year stint.
"We definitely had two very fine football teams and I wish we could have won another Super Bowl for the Chiefs," Montana said in his 1995 retirement announcement.
Now they’re lifting their hopes with another ex-49er quarterback, Alex Smith.
"I’m ready for this. This is a new opportunity for me. I can’t say how excited I am for it. I’m thankful for the opportunity," said Smith.
Though Smith hasn’t played a regular season game yet, he was the most popular figure at the Chamber luncheon, and was welcomed with roaring applause.
Among the established NFL teams, only the Detroit Lions and the Cincinnati Bengals have endured a longer playoff-victory drought than the Chiefs. That prompted Clark Hunt, the Chiefs chairman of the board, to take a more active role in turning around the franchise this year, which started with the hiring of general manager John Dorsey.
"During that interview period, I made a statement to Clark. I said, ‘I consider this franchise one of the crown jewels of the National Football League,'" said Dorsey. "Clark sat there for awhile and thought about it. He asked me, ‘Why John?’ You know why I said why? Because you have an owner that’s willing to win."
Dorsey and Hunt then teamed up to hire former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid to be the leader on the Chiefs sideline.
"You know I’ve been in this league a long time now and in particular as a head football coach and there are certain families that stand out. The Hunt family is just top," said Reid.
With changes at the top and on the field, Clark Hunt is determined to steer the Chiefs out of their doldrums.
"We’re excited about the upcoming season. Having John and Andy as our leaders is going to help us achieve our goal of building a team that can consistently compete for championships," said Hunt. "I don’t if that will be this year, but I do know with the two of them at the helm we’re in great shape."
That’s encouraging to long-suffering fans like Bob DeWitt, a season-ticket holder since the late 1960s.
"You keep thinking each year it’s going to happen. Maybe this is the year," said DeWitt. "I certainly think that the franchise has put together an organization that can really make it happen."
No one will argue about the appetite that the organization and the fans have in winning during the playoffs again. Whether or not the Chiefs will satisfy that hunger starts with a road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars followed by the Chiefs home opener against the Dallas Cowboys.