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Old 04-21-2005, 07:38 PM   Topic Starter
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Elizabeth Merrill; Remembering Chiefs' drafts that worked

Remembering Chiefs' drafts that worked


Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The war room consisted of three guys eyeballing grainy film. The top picks were assigned babysitters so no slickster from another league could steal them away.

Lamar Hunt is sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta, reminiscing about the draft, trying to remember how he pulled off 1963.

"Sometimes it works out that way," Hunt says. "There was a lot more ad-libbing in those olden days. There were a lot more mistakes, too."

Ahh, what Chiefs fans would give today for those "mistakes." Hunt drafted 28 players that year the franchise came to Kansas City. Five of them became Chiefs Hall of Famers; two are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They played in two Super Bowls together.

Times are different now, Hunt says. Football players don't stay with a team for 10 years. Fans aren't as patient, either.

"There's a lot of second-guessing, isn't there?" Hunt says. "It's a very inexact science, let's put it that way. It's easy to make mistakes, and it's hard to pick superstars with the competition of 32 teams.

"Everybody has the same basic information. It comes down to a matter of opinion. Some teams make the wrong choices, and some make the right ones."

It's draft time again, time for baby-faced hope, change and two days of wheeling and dealing from the Chiefs' front office. This is president/general manager Carl Peterson's chance to shape the franchise's postseason future. It's been done several times before. Maybe the Chiefs are due for another good one.

The 2005 draft has at least one thing in common with the successful ones in 1963, 1996-97 and the late 1980s_the Chiefs have put a priority on defense. Will it produce a Neil Smith, a Mike Garrett or a Mike Cloud?

Here's a look at the drafts in Chiefs history that have changed the face of the franchise:


They all had nicknames, like "Butterbean" and "The Duck" and "Bluto," and when one of them died, Ed Budde found himself in a car. He drove 12 hours to say goodbye to Jerrel Wilson two weeks ago.

"I don't fly," Budde says. "I don't like being locked up. But it never crossed my mind not to go. Hell, no. I'd always do it for my people. I'd never miss it."

There was no doubt this group was close, Budde says. And loaded.

In a eulogy at Wilson's funeral, Hunt said the 1963 class was the best in Chiefs' history. It was the first and last time the franchise had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Hunt went with defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, who was considered a risk.

Buchanan played at Grambling, which had a small-school label, and his highlight videos didn't help.

"Pretty obscure," Hunt says. "You had a couple of people who saw film and wondered what kind of cameraman they had."

Buchanan became the prototype for future pro linemen. He was in the Pro Bowl or the AFL all-star game for eight straight years and led the Chiefs to two AFL championships and one Super Bowl title.

That was the thing about the Class of `63, Hunt says. They had staying power. Budde, the eighth overall pick, played 14 seasons with the Chiefs and was considered the AFL's best guard. Bobby Bell didn't miss a game in 12 seasons.

Bell, a Hall of Fame linebacker, wasn't drafted until the seventh round in `63.

"I think everybody wanted to start a dynasty," Budde says. "We all fell in love with Kansas City, and we all lived here in the offseason. There was real camaraderie. Everybody liked each other whether they were black, white, red or anything else."


When Neil Smith was handed a Chiefs hat in 1988, he wasn't the happiest new millionaire.

The night before the draft, Smith was on the phone with Los Angeles owner Al Davis, who told him he was going to be a Raider. Smith played at Nebraska. It didn't take much research to figure out what the Chiefs were about in 1988.

"They weren't very good back then," Smith said. "The first year, I could remember no fans at all."

But Smith, a punishing defensive end who was the No. 2 overall pick, soon sensed a change in Kansas City. The Chiefs were making a commitment to defense. They followed by drafting Derrick Thomas as the fourth overall pick in 1989, a move that put Kansas City in the playoffs in 1990.

Thomas, the first draft pick for coach Marty Schottenheimer, became the Chiefs' career sack leader. He pushed Smith, and the two found ways to top each other. Peterson, in his first year as president, made a major score with Thomas. He told Schottenheimer if they ever have the fourth overall pick again, "both of us will probably be looking for other jobs."

They made other big defensive moves by drafting linebacker Percy Snow in 1990 and cornerback Dale Carter in 1992. Dave Szott, a seventh-round pick in 1990, played on the offensive line for 10 seasons.

The Chiefs were in the playoffs for six straight seasons from 1990 to `95.

"When they brought Marty in, it began a different era," Smith says. "One thing I have to say about Marty Schottenheimer, as much as I hated him the way he practiced: He never let anyone be bigger than the team. I had a lot of respect for that. He took a bunch of young guys and some older guys and mixed them together.

"They put a nucleus of players together and drafted very well. You really didn't have a guy who didn't contribute."

Smith says the defenses in the early to mid-`90s had a cockiness, a belief that no team was going to put up more than two touchdowns on them.

He was eventually traded to Denver but has kept a home just east of Arrowhead Stadium for the last 15 years. And he's glad he was handed a Chiefs hat in 1988.

"It was great for Neil Smith," he says. "I found my wife and family here.

"I never had so much fun. I know I dominated in college for so long with great defense, but doing it on the professional level was great. Arrowhead was the place people didn't want to come to."


As Smith and Thomas got older, Peterson looked ahead. He spent the first four picks of the 1996 draft on defense, and it yielded safeties Jerome Woods and Reggie Tongue, defensive tackle John Browning and linebacker Donnie Edwards.

By 1997, they were all starting for a team that went 13-3.

Woods and Browning are still with the Chiefs. Edwards was cut by the Chiefs in 2002 in a salary-cap move but became a Pro Bowler at San Diego.

"That was a good draft," Hunt says. "A darn good draft. All four of them are still playing."

So is Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs traded up in the first round in 1997 and drafted Gonzalez as the No. 13 pick. Hunt was surprised that the big-time tight end was still around in the middle of the draft. He's started every season since 1998.

Peterson says the focus on defense paid off in that draft era, and he's hopeful it will happen again in 2005. Not everybody shares his optimism.

"I don't think I'm probably saying anything they wouldn't say themselves, but they've dropped the ball a lot in the offseason," says former Chiefs tackle Bill Maas. "The personnel department has been there a long time, and no changes have been made. They're all friends, all buddies, and they've known each other for years and years. No matter who hits, who makes it or who misses, they're all still there.

"I think if you look at the draft history in the last 10 years you can say there's reason for change."
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